Photos by Kristy Davison.
The moment has arrived: the sun will soon be tucked behind the mountains; birds chirp an evening lullaby; and bellies are full of, well, let’s be honest, probably hot dogs and potato chips — it’s the magical hour of the campfire.
Your companions for the evening are likely: a) your friends, drawn like moths to the campfire’s flames and will, if unprovoked — except for the occasional cooler run — remain hypnotized for hours by the blaze; or (b) your children, in which case by now they’re defiantly karate chopping your last nerve as you quietly debate with your spouse whose turn it is to throw them a bone. Either way, why not introduce knives to the situation (carving knives, of course!), and then see what happens?
In this instalment of Highline’s bushcraft series, Mahikan Trails’ Dave Holder shows us how to carve a spoon from wood found in a campfire bundle. Bushcraft is typically thought of in the survivalist sense — skills needed to keep from giving up the ghost in the wilderness — but, here at Highline, you’re invited to consider the art of bushcraft as a way to get better acquainted with nature. Our aim is to teach skills that readers can share with their families or channel to impress their buddies — an alternative outdoor adventure. So pull up a tree stump and a sharp blade, and let’s get down to whittlin’.
1) Pick your tools
A few fundamental tools will help coax a spoon from wood: a Mora knife (or typical bush knife with a blade about as long as your hand), sandpaper, an antler tine and beeswax. If so inclined, carving knives such as those pictured here can be purchased from Lee Valley Tools. Take our word for it: don’t use a folding knife; a rigid blade is key.
2) Choose a cord of wood
The wood found in a campfire bundle is typically a softwood such as pine or spruce. Choose a piece that has a long, straight grain and few knots — unless you’re the kind of person who favours a struggle.
3) Split the wood
Using a bush knife and a log as a hammer, split off a piece of wood about the thickness of a pinky finger and as wide as the bowl of the spoon. This is surprisingly easy and satisfying.
4) Draw an outline
Feeling confident? Freehand that sucker. If not, and there’s a spoon handy, use it to draw a rough outline of the soon-to-be masterpiece on the piece of wood. Use a chunk of charcoal from the fire to do your drawing, for a more outdoorsy feel.
5) Shape the spoon
The carving direction is very important, as shown in the video below. From mid-bowl to the end of the handle, carve towards the handle. From mid-bowl to the top of the spoon, carve towards the top of the spoon. This means carving from the fat part to the skinny part to avoid cutting into the grain and losing a portion of the spoon. Next, determine which side of the wood will be the top of the bowl and which will be the bottom. If there’s any damaged wood to be carved out in the centre, use that as the top of the bowl of the spoon. If there’s damage along what will be the edge of the bowl, use that as the bottom as it will be shaped out. Keep in mind minor damage or imperfections in the wood can actually have a neat effect on the finished product.
6) Carve out the bowl
If you’ve got a spoon knife (with a curved blade, pictured above), now’s its time to shine — wiggle its blade across the bowl area “scooping” out the wood. If you’re using a bush knife, hold the knife like a pencil and crosshatch the bowl area, then use the blade to pry out small chunks of wood. Aim to make the depth of the bowl about half the thickness of the wood. Watch the video below for a demo.
7) Sand, burnish and wax
If there’s sandpaper handy, super; if not, sandstone can be used to rub down the coarse edges of the spoon. Then, an antler tine or bone from dinner is perfect for burnishing the wood to close off the fibre, says Holder. Rub it quickly back and forth across the wood. (Please do not attempt to approach an ungulate to complete this process.) The wood can also be dyed with wild berries before waxing; the colour won’t last but it’s another way to reach out and touch a bit of nature. Lastly, rub bees wax into the wood to seal and extend the life of the spoon. To care for this object of desire, after each use, wash it with dish soap and re-wax.
And that covers it – how to scratch a spoon out of firewood.