I’ve had to strap myself in for the last couple of weeks riding this roller coaster called ‘life’, and have had all three hands busy at the wheel. Anyways… I am never too far removed from the spoon carving addiction.
For those of you that might still be in this spoon carving process, I wanted to mention a couple of words regarding ‘finishing’. Of course, that word carries two different connotations. The first being, “get ur done” and the second is applying a ‘finish’ to seal and/or protect the wood. While the first use of the word might be the most useful at this point, I am instead going to look at the second…. The application of some sort of finish.
Not being one to create something that is actually functional, I have the luxury of being able to experiment with a broad range of finishes…. and have over the years. But in discovering that I am inherently lazy and have an acute case of ‘get-it-done-itis’, I have come to appreciate those finishes that are easy to apply, dry quickly and give an elegant look to the wood without a gloppy buildup.
The tactile quality of the finish is as important to me as the visual. If it feels like plastic, I don’t like it. If the wood feels ‘dry’, I don’t like it. What I do like is… for the finish to showcase the grain of the wood, giving a ‘saturated’ appearance to the natural color of the wood and without distracting in any way from the wood… or the spoon. This is what I like, but have yet to fully and consistently achieve it.
There is this look that I have heard referred to as a ‘gallery finish’. I’m sure that means different things to different folks, and for me it is more of something I recognize in other’s work. So before leading into a brief and incomplete listing of possible finishes, the best recommendation that I can give for finding the right finish is that when you see a finish you like, ask the maker how he or she went about it. And then experiment.
Of course, in making functional spoons, there are many more considerations to choosing a finish other than look and feel. I mean, you might actually be putting that thing into your mouth (or at least your food)… so your choices are going to be limited to those finishes that are approved for such a use, aka NON-toxic. But you really don’t have to sacrifice the aesthetic qualities in order to obtain a finish that will also extend the useful life of the spoon.
You gotta,I mean just gotta use a finish that is water repellent. There are two kinds of finishes…. penetrating and film-forming. The film-forming finish is going to chip, crack and, with use, in a very short time going to become a mess. Water has a way of messing with wood, causing the wood to expand… and then as the wood dries it shrinks… and then your really cool spoon splits down the middle.
The penetrating finishes are far better suited to protecting the wood spoon, not only from water, but from heat and even stains (spaghetti sauce and the such). Most of these are going to be some sort of oil, or oil combination (usually wax).
Some folks use vegetable oils but they go can rancid after a bit. I suppose you could wash and reapply regularly and that would help… but still, I think there are better alternatives. Coconut oil is reportedly resistant to rancidity. Walnut oil and Almond oil a bit less so. Although, it seems like there are a lot of makers that swear by the Walnut oil.
Mineral Oil seems to be quite poplar, in part because it is easy to come by, inexpensive, easy to reapply and doesn’t go rancid. Sometimes it is combined with a wax (paraffin or beeswax) for more protection. Mineral oil is petroleum based and that is a little weird when you think of it.
Raw Linseed (flaxseed?) oil has been used. Is that stuff still around?
100% Pure Tung Oil can be used.. just make sure that it is not one of those tung oil ‘finishes’ with all sorts of additives. Pure tung oil dries really hard and makes for a durable finish. I think if I were to make a functional spoon, and I am sure I will one of these days, I will probably use Tung oil (I have it) or the mineral oil…. Or maybe the walnut oil. (That sounded ambivalent?).
Some of the prepackaged finishes could be used. “Good stuff”, Behlan’s Salad bowl finish and Meldo’s, etc…. A lot of these have unnamed ‘drying agents’ and I’m not really sure what they are…. So I’d be tempted to shy away from them.
The Behlan’s I’ve used before, but not on a functional spoon. One thing I liked about that product was that I could build up coats gradually and the finish came out looking almost like a lacquer. Even though I believe it is billed as penetrating, it does build up a ‘skin’ and I think under heavy kitchen use, this could chip and lead to all sorts of problems.
No matter which product you use to finish your spoon with, it is recommended to allow a curing time before use.. depending on which product this could be several days.
For the NON-functional spoon the choices are even more numerous. I’m not even going to look at stains and paints, although they can be categorized as ‘finishes’. But outside of these we are looking at:
Oils ~ Easy to apply, penetrates the wood, rag on-wait-rag off.
Varnish and Polyurethane ~ Good protection but dry slow, allowing for dust contamination. Usually brushed or sprayed in coats with sanding in between. I have pretty good luck with thinning the stuff and wiping on with a lint free cloth. Takes a few more coats but gives a respectable finish, if not totally durable.
(There are oil/varnish combinations and a lot of these can be rubbed on as well.)
Shellac ~ Fast drying (alcohol based), limiting dust contamination… but you’ve gotta work fast.
Lacquer ~ Fast drying as well, beautiful finish for those that have the skill. I usually mess it up even with the fool proof sprays.
Water-based finishes ~ Basically latex paint without pigment. I never got interested enough to try them. Plus, I don’t think they are that durable.
Personally, for non-functional spoons, I like the Waterlox satin. I really liked the finish on Norm Sartorius’ spoons and this is what he uses. Call me a copy cat! But the dang stuff is expensive at almost $40 quart. And then, it wants to dry up in the can once it is exposed to air. Some folks drop marbles in or squeeze the can to keep the air out but that is too much trouble for me. I just use what I can until it goes bad and start saving up for another can. It is that easy wipe on, wipe off, buff out, repeat that I like. I haven’t quite got the technique down yet, but I am improving a little bit.
No matter which finish though, it seems like the wood used makes a big difference. Sometimes it will look almost glossy with a couple of coats and some woods I can get 6 coats on and it still looks a bit dull. I suppose it has to do with the density of the wood, but it seems more inconsistent than that.
My ears are open to any interesting finishes that I haven’t tried. I mean, only the easy, foolproof ones.
As for the spoon carving, I finished 2-3 new spoons that aren’t worth the showing. I had posted at the end of the last blog segment, hoping to see how everyone is coming along. Since it is kind of buried there, feel free to give us and update on your progress, or in some of our cases, regress.
That reminds me of something I read the other day…. “If ‘con’ is the opposite of ‘pro’, what is the opposite of progress?”
-- I just got done cutting three boards and all four of them were too short. (true story)