When I started spoon carving I had no preference. All wood was fine, as long as I had something to carve. In a way, it still is. When my wood supply runs out, I am happy with (almost) everything. Many types of wood can be used. Also softer woods, as long as you take this into consideration in your design. I do not use wood from coniferous trees, because it contains a lot of resin and therefore it smells strongly and sticks to your knife. I prefer harder hardwood with a fine grain. So-called ring porous wood, with a lot of tannin like oak I don’t prefer. I also find ash wood too coarse in structure.
What is the best wood for spoon carving? These are my favourite species.
My first experiences
My first experience with carving was with hard woods. My first successful spoon, which I still use, comes from a piece of beech wood that fell off the tree during a storm. I often have wood from the crew that prunes the tall-cone fruit trees. It was much later that I got my hands on softer woods such as birch and alder.
I still prefer harder woods. The wood lasts longer and “matures”, making it easier to cut. Wood that has been lying a bit longer often gets beautiful discolourations. If hardwood is slightly drier, you can cut the spoon in one go to a mirror-smooth finish. Examples of hardwood are wood from fruit trees (apple, cherry, pear, plum, walnut), but also less obvious fruits such as hawthorn. Spoons made of beech wood, hornbeam and plane tree are very beautiful.
Of the softer woods I like to work with are maple and alder. Birch also cuts well, especially the Scandinavian ones where the wood has grown more slowly than here in the Netherlands. The super wet softwood is like a sponge. It springs back and you only get a super smooth finish when the wood is almost dry and is ‘cut’ with super sharp tools. Hazel is also suitable for carving, is nice and soft and has a beautiful grain pattern. Soft wood is very suitable for novice spoon cutters. It cuts easier and therefore faster, is less stressful for untrained muscles, requires less force and is therefore safer in connection with slipping. You cut a lot of spoons more easily and so you will learn faster.
Discovering new types of wood remains fun. It is always a surprise how the wood behaves. Will it cut tough or does the knife slide through? How is the color when it dries? Is there a big difference between the heartwood and the sapwood? What happens when the wood oxidizes? Does the wood smell, does it smell good or not? Does it stain the hands?
Which wood do you choose?
So you can choose from almost any type of wood. But what is the best wood for you? Actually, the answer is: the wood you have. Because without wood you can’t carve a spoon.