Carving a Welsh Love Spoon #1: Designing the Spoon

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Blog entry by Brit posted 08-30-2015 01:49 PM 2273 reads 5 times favorited 17 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Carving a Welsh Love Spoon series Part 2: The Caged Ball »

On my woodworking bucket list, I’ve always wanted to have a go at carving a ball in a cage and a chain. With this in mind, I decided to incorporate these elements into my next spoon project (This will be my 4th spoon). So I grabbed a suitable piece of Lindenwood and sketched out my design. I went through a number of iterations before ending up with this.

However, while I was ripping down the two sides of the spoon with my saw, it occurred to me that a caged ball and a chain were two elements often found in traditional Welsh Love Spoons, so I decided to tweak my design a bit more and try my hand at carving one of those. After far too much pontificating, I ended up with this.

For those of you who haven’t heard of Welsh Love Spoons before, the tradition started in the 16th century when shy, bashful young men would hand carve a spoon as a token of their affection for one of the local hotties. They would expend a great deal of time and effort in designing and carving the spoon and many a candle lit evening would be given over to this pursuit. If the girl accepted the spoon, it signified that she was interested in ‘stepping out’ with the boy and a relationship would ensue. The community would then recognize them as a ‘couple’. It must be remembered too that engagement and marriage were not common in rural Wales until the end of the 18th century. Most young people would just live together in a simple house where the spoon would hang on the wall much like a wedding photograph does today.

Although the carving of ‘love spoons’ is not unique to Wales, I don’t think any other country went so far in terms of decorating their spoons. There is really only one hard and fast rule when carving the spoon which is that it must be carved from a single piece of wood. Typically, the bowl of the spoon would remain quite simple and understated, whilst the handle of the spoon would be more elaborately decorated with symbols of the young man’s affection. These design elements remained pretty constant right across Wales, but the exact meaning of them seemed to vary from region to region. Here are some of the elements that you might find on a Welsh Love Spoon together with what they signify:

Chain = together forever

Diamond = wealth or good fortune

Flower = affection

Cross = faith

Ball in a cage = love held safe or the number of children desired

Heart = love

Horseshoe = good luck

Key or keyhole = security

Celtic knotwork = eternal love

Lock = security or I shall look after you

Twisted stem = two lives become one

Dragon = symbol of Wales or protection

The bowl of the spoon also symbolized that the young man would provide for the girl and the intricacy of the design and the skill with which it was executed, let the girl know that the young man was good with his hands and practical.

So if we look again at the design I’m going for, you can see that it incorporates some of the above elements.

Since the caged ball and the spoon bowl involve the most aggressive knife work, I think I’ll tackle those elements first and keep the existing strength in the middle section until the heavy work is complete. So in the next episode, I’ll show you how I go about carving the caged ball. I’m kind of making it up as I go along here folks, but I hope you’ll find it interesting and informative and perhaps even have a go yourself.

Ok cover me, I’m going in.

-- Andy -- Old Chinese proverb say: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

17 comments so far

View waho6o9's profile


7124 posts in 2000 days

#1 posted 08-30-2015 02:13 PM

A favorite for sure and a great pictorial, thanks Andy!

View waho6o9's profile


7124 posts in 2000 days

#2 posted 08-30-2015 02:14 PM

Oops double post

View ToddJB's profile


6795 posts in 1554 days

#3 posted 08-30-2015 03:05 PM

Woah. This looks like quite the undertaking. I would have any idea where to begin. How big is this?

-- I came - I sawed - I over-built

View Brit's profile


6586 posts in 2266 days

#4 posted 08-30-2015 03:16 PM

I just measured it Todd and it is near enough 12”.

-- Andy -- Old Chinese proverb say: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View rilanda's profile


156 posts in 1578 days

#5 posted 08-30-2015 04:23 PM

Looks very interesting Brit I wish you luck, I have just started a project which I am making for my wife of 55 years next month and that is two hearts that are intertwined, made from one piece and it has just taken me 2 hours to separate them although they still remain locked together if you know what I mean. I will post it when finished. Good luck with the spoon will follow it with interest.

-- Bill, Nottingham. Remember its not waiting for the storm to end, but learning to dance in the rain that counts. If you dont make mistakes, you make nothing at all.

View Brit's profile


6586 posts in 2266 days

#6 posted 08-30-2015 05:01 PM

Congrats on 55 years Bill. I’m sure your wife will love the hearts. It can take quite a while to do some of this stuff, but the results are worth it I think. I’ll be doing most of this in my hotel room during the week, so it isn’t like I’ve got anything better to do with my time.

-- Andy -- Old Chinese proverb say: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View Don W's profile

Don W

17882 posts in 1991 days

#7 posted 08-30-2015 09:43 PM

Well done Andy

-- Master hand plane hoarder. -

View Mauricio's profile


7115 posts in 2575 days

#8 posted 08-31-2015 02:27 AM

Pretty cool, I had seen these before but didn’t understand the meaning. I look forward to following along!

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

View stefang's profile


15512 posts in 2757 days

#9 posted 08-31-2015 10:28 AM

Wonderful design Andy, I’m looking forward to seeing the final product. Strangely enough we have the same tradition here about suitors carving something for their intended, and spoons were one of these, but there were often other items made too depending somewhat on the skills of the suitor. The Norwegian spoons could also be very complex and detailed designs. I can imagine these traditions were perhaps more common in different countries than one might think and it would be interesting to know how they spread from place to place. Traveling merchants or journeymen perhaps.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View AnthonyReed's profile


8606 posts in 1864 days

#10 posted 08-31-2015 02:14 PM

One of your many endearing qualities is how you set your sites so low…

This will be exciting to see your rendition come to light. Thanks for sharing with us Andy.

-- ~Tony

View WayneC's profile


12642 posts in 3521 days

#11 posted 08-31-2015 02:44 PM

Very very nice. Looking forward to seeing how it comes out.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View terryR's profile (online now)


6231 posts in 1732 days

#12 posted 08-31-2015 02:44 PM

OMG, Andy.
Looks like an advanced lesson in carving. (meaning: way past my skill level) I admire your courage, and wish you luck! :)

-- tr ...see one, do one, teach one...

View dbray45's profile


3147 posts in 2200 days

#13 posted 08-31-2015 03:06 PM

Andy, this is going to be nice. I can’t wait to see how it looks when done.

Question, if you make a mistake, do you start over?

-- David in Damascus, MD

View helluvawreck's profile


22707 posts in 2290 days

#14 posted 08-31-2015 03:09 PM

Andy, it’s a great pattern and this is going to be very interesting.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. Henry David Thoreau

View duckmilk's profile


1587 posts in 748 days

#15 posted 08-31-2015 03:46 PM

I ll be doing most of this in my hotel room during the week, so it isn t like I ve got anything better to do with my time.

- Brit

No pubs nearby? Seriously, what an interesting project to follow. You really like to challenge yourself, don’t you?

-- "Duck and Bob would be out doin some farming with funny hats on." chrisstef

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