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How I make wooden spoons and spurtles.

JOHN HUMPHREY TRAIL, B.C. CANADA

I was just re-reading 78/1 and found I had missed the article on wooden spoons.

While I do not sell my crafts at fairs (yet) and rarely make spoons, I do make a fairly large quantity of cooking utensils from wood. Most of what I make are "spurtles," which is a Scots word for flat blade stirring paddles of a variety of sizes from just big enough for stirring coffee to large enough for 50-qt. stock pots.

I never use any wood that does not have edible nuts, fruits or sap. This completely eliminates almost all softwoods, including basswood and poplar. Any resinous wood will impart flavors, and most softwoods will impart flavors which can't be completely cleared without strong bleach. My personal favorites are maple, walnut apple, and especially pear wood.

I start be roughing out the blanks with my power saw. Almost all my source stock is round billets gotten from one of the local tree trimmers: the pieces too big to put in the chipper, that would otherwise go to the dump.

I use hand planes and surform tools to waste off the excess down close to proper shape, then use 80 grit cloth backed sandpaper to the proper final shape. I find that a few minutes with 120 grit and a final polish with 200 grit is all I need on the wood I use.

I never use anything to finish my cooking utensils with that cannot be drunk or eaten. I do not use linseed oil or Danish oil, even though both are approved for food contact when cured, as both will leach into hot water. My wife routinely uses a 20-inch-long walnut spurtle when making tomato sauce. It may be constantly immersed in simmering sauce (acid!) for hours at a time. Nothing will withstand that treatment for long.

For that reason I use olive oil for a finish. I have found that any other edible oil will eventually go rancid.

I apply oil fairly simply. If I am making just one tool, I wipe oil on until no more soaks in. I repeat this over several days. Even the hardest woods (apple and pear) absorb 10% of their volume of oil, with walnut up to 20% of volume.

For larger batches, or when I'm lazy, I immerse the tool in olive oil for a few days. I made a tank out of 4" plastic sewer pipe capped on one end and a screw cleanout on the other end. I made mine 24" long to accept the length I make some tools.

All of my tools should be re-oiled whenever they appear dry.

All sizes of tools require roughly the same amount of work to make. Once the blanks are cut it only takes about an hour to waste down to shape, and about half an hour for sanding.

My oldest spurtle is only about 8 long, made from maple. Its color is now a light chocolate brown, with the grain only dimly visible. It has been in daily use for 13 years, stirring anything needing stirring, from soup to chili, as well as being used as a flipper when frying in nonstick pans. It has sat in the sink for hours, then run through the dishwasher, and back into use before it has had time to dry. The scraping edges are a bit fuzzy now, but I can't get it away from the wife long enough to dry it before resanding, even though she has four others.

As you can see, my work is meant to be used. I intend my tools to take rough treatment for years. Most are cooking tools, rather than the usual table serving utensils. While I know I could make a spoon small and light enough to eat with I would never feel comfortable with its durability.

RELATED ARTICLE: A special spatula

LARRY MCWILLIAMS TULSA, OKLAHOMA

Here's a spatula that will flex, but won't break. Sounds like a $19.95 bargain on late-night tv, but you can't even buy this one: you'll have to make it. Here's how.

Use 16 or 22 gauge steel. Carbon steel will be fine but I made this one from stainless steel scrap.

The flipper part can be any size you want. You can also adjust the length of the handle parts, such as for outdoor grilling. The main thing is to make sure you feather the edges of the flipper part and round or smooth the edges of the handle parts before welding.

Weld the long handle part onto the flipper first. Smooth out all of your welds. Snugly fit up the backup handle and hold with C clamps while welding. Smooth out the finished welds and buff.

That's all there is.

If you use carbon steel you might want to cure the metal, as you would a cast iron skillet. This will put on a rust-free finish.
COPYRIGHT 1995 Countryside Publications Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Humphrey, John
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:May 1, 1995
Words:822
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