Community Philosphy Blog and Library

Handmade wooden utensils by HOMEGROWNer Steve Racz

Our HOMEGROWN Holiday Swappers have hopefully all received their goodies by now. I must say, I am THRILLED with what I received: Handmade serving fork and spoons from native New Zealand wood! Swapping partner and HOMEGROWNer Steve Racz included a lovely story about the materials and his craft and has graciously agreed to share the information here.

“Your project  was made from  a New Zealand native tree called Rimu. It is endemic to New Zealand ( ie: it is found only in  New Zealand ). Here is some information about this wood , its uses, sustainability and where in particular your wood was sourced from. I hope this gives you a sense of the uniqueness and preciousness of this resource. Sadly most of the Rimu has now been cut down. The good news is that what remains is under strict management controls and can now be considered sustainable. There is no export of this wood except as finished goods.”

fork_spoon set

“The wood for your spoon/fork project is recycled Rimu timber which was taken from a roof demolition of a house in Christchurch, New Zealand.  The pieces are taken from ‘sarking’ which in North America we would term as roof decking. In New Zealand roofs are typically corrugated steel or tiled roofs. Sarking is the first layer above the rafters over which go some battens which are then used as the foundation for either the tiles or the steel roofing. In New Zealand sarking was solid wood cut about ½” (10-12mm) thick and about 4-6” wide ( 100-150mm) ( today sarking has been replaced by nothing more than a layer of tar paper). Typically sarking was rough cut but the wood used in most cases was still of a very high quality.”

This wood was sitting under cover and dry for possibly 80-100 years as part of a house construction after having grown in the forest for 300-400 years (possibly longer), so this wood could easily be 500 years old!

"This wood was sitting under cover and dry for possibly 80-100 years as part of a house construction after having grown in the forest for 300-400 years (possibly longer), so this wood could easily be 500 years old!"

You can see how slow growing this wood is by looking at the growth rings in the wood especially visible on the sides of the spoon/fork near where it starts to flair out into the spoon/fork head.  It took about 25 years to grow an inch of wood.

"You can see how slow growing this wood is by looking at the growth rings in the wood especially visible on the sides of the spoon/fork near where it starts to flair out into the spoon/fork head. It took about 25 years to grow an inch of wood."

“Historically spoons were rived from a log and rough carved with an axe. Riving, or splitting wood was usually done with a froe and a mallet. A hatchet was used to shape and smooth the general shape. The bowl was then carved with a spoon knife – a curved bladed knife.
The process has as much to do with the tools available as with the materials used.
Spoons, bowls and general eating utensils, termed ‘treen’ were fabricated as needed out of wood before metal and plastics were commonly available and where needed by generally skilled homesteaders. As the tools for fabricating it were probably part of the general tool kit of most households and the materials from which they were made were abundantly available, treen making was probably considered just another chore in a homestead much like growing crops, making soap, spinning yarn or drawing water from a well.
The method of splitting the wood from a log to form the blank for a spoon serves several purposes. It takes advantage of the natural tendency of wood to easily split along its grain which runs in the direction of the trunk. This eliminates the need to cut wood with a saw, a laborious process. Also, wood split this way takes advantage of the natural strength of the material. By splitting the wood along its grain, cross grain is eliminated, giving strength to the spoon and eliminating the tendency to warp.
As with anything utilitarian, fancier versions were also created by folks artists and today we regard treen making as a specialty woodworking craft.
While I would very much like to produce spoons in the traditional way, the material being used here dictates the process in this case. The wood being used is Rimu which is recycled from house renovations . As the wood was already milled for house construction, there is no need to rive the blank from a log and the grain direction is imposed by the recycled piece. Since the availability of Rimu is now limited, care also has to be taken to use the existing resources as carefully and as efficiently as possible. As a result, the blanks are cut from the wood using a bandsaw but even still, care is taken to use the straightest grain from the recycled pieces and to cut along the grain as much as possible.”

Cutting the spoon blank from recycled rimu sarking on the bandsaw The desired pattern is largely drawn freehand and there is a lot of freedom at this step. This pretty much determines what kind of spoon or utensil you will be making from the wood. Since all wood is used, sometimes it is the shape of the piece remaining from a previous project which dictates what will be made.   Since we are then starting with a blank closer to the final shape, shaping with a hatchet would be overkill at this point and wasteful. The spoon is still shaped with handtools but because we already so close to a final shape a much finer handtool can be used. A spokeshave is the main means of shaping the handle round and the back of the spoon to a curved surface and to clean up any bandsaw marks.

"Cutting the spoon blank from recycled rimu sarking on the bandsaw: The desired pattern is largely drawn freehand and there is a lot of freedom at this step. This pretty much determines what kind of spoon or utensil you will be making from the wood. Since all wood is used, sometimes it is the shape of the piece remaining from a previous project which dictates what will be made. Since we are then starting with a blank closer to the final shape, shaping with a hatchet would be overkill at this point and wasteful. The spoon is still shaped with handtools but because we already so close to a final shape a much finer handtool can be used. A spokeshave is the main means of shaping the handle round and the back of the spoon to a curved surface and to clean up any bandsaw marks."

- The spoon is clamped and the handle rounded with a spokeshave The next step is to shape the back of the spoon and this too is done with the spokeshave. You can see the spoon beginning to take shape now.  Spoon making is not unlike carving an elephant – remove all of the parts which do not look like an elephant!

"The spoon is clamped and the handle rounded with a spokeshave: The next step is to shape the back of the spoon and this too is done with the spokeshave. You can see the spoon beginning to take shape now. Spoon making is not unlike carving an elephant – remove all of the parts which do not look like an elephant!"

Back of the spoon being shaped   From here the next step is to carve the bowl. Since, in this case, we are not making a deep bowl such as that which might be used for a soup ladle, we don’t need to drill out the bowl or carve a steep angle into the bowl.  Instead of a curved knife carving spoon, a shallow gouge chisel is used.  At this point the spoon shape is nearly final and what follows next is a lot (a lot and probably never enough!) of sanding with increasing grits of software from 100 grit to 400 grit. Any imperfections in the shape or tool marks are touched up at this stage though the absolute removal of hand tool marks is not pursued with fanaticism. The spoon is finished with several applications of pure linseed oil ( ie: flaxseed oil), linseed oil of course being perfectly food safe.

“Back of the spoon being shaped: From here the next step is to carve the bowl. Since, in this case, we are not making a deep bowl such as that which might be used for a soup ladle, we don’t need to drill out the bowl or carve a steep angle into the bowl. Instead of a curved knife carving spoon, a shallow gouge chisel is used. At this point the spoon shape is nearly final and what follows next is a lot (a lot and probably never enough!) of sanding with increasing grits of software from 100 grit to 400 grit. Any imperfections in the shape or tool marks are touched up at this stage though the absolute removal of hand tool marks is not pursued with fanaticism. The spoon is finished with several applications of pure linseed oil ( ie: flaxseed oil), linseed oil of course being perfectly food safe.”

From the workshop of Steve Racz Murchison, New Zealand

From the workshop of Steve Racz Murchison, New Zealand

Thank you, Steve, for sharing your story and your skills with us – the utensils will hold a place of honor in my kitchen!

What stories do you have from your swap? Stay tuned for the next swap later this month – SOUP!!

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2 Responses to “Handmade wooden utensils by HOMEGROWNer Steve Racz”

  1. Wow, what a great way to recycle such a valuable wood. I loved reading about this project. Definite re-tweet 🙂

  2. I enjoyed your article on making wooden ware…. Have you checked into the toxcicity of Rimu wood? I have noticed a lot of spoon makers in the United States use woods that are highly toxic (Cherry, for example) I’m wondering that over time if this wood be dangerous?
    I have been making wooden ware since 2002. I see soooo many sites with such beautiful wooden utensils. Right now my spoon making is slowed to a stop because my wife and I moved and I have my tools in storage. Hopefully, I’ll be up and running by spring.
    Again, a very nice article on making wooden ware….
    John

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