So how does one gain experience or “become” experienced? Gary Player – arguably one of the greatest golfers ever – would often say ” the more I practise the luckier I get” I think that this is obviously key to getting better at your craft – you just gotta do it plenty! The skill will improve even though the improvement will be almost imperceptible.


One of the dramatic visuals is ALWAYS keep your first spoon! This picture is of the first spoon I carved. My son keeps asking me to rework it as I have improved my skills a little. Not a chance – I do want to see where I have come from in my carving. There are so many things wrong with this spoon but hey – it may not be a piece of art but it still is functional.

With each piece I carve a little more knowledge is gained. I can carve a little thinner, a bit faster. I have less grain pullouts and importantly as my wife says – I hardly ever cut myself.

I find myself focusing on different aspects like the artistic appeal.


With these scoops the lines of spalting totally dominated the design of the spoon for a more artistic representation.


This very bendy spoon was pushing out the envelope to see if I could make a spoon out of any piece of root, no matter how twisted. I really like this piece.


This pair was carved from a piece of Birch firewood to take advantage of the very striking brown and white.

I often hear – “do something that scares you everyday”. I usually get scared carving really thin. Sometimes though, the outcome is quite pleasing and experience is definitely gained.


One piece in Olive I got so thin I could see light through it – now that was scary!


So keep carving and oh yes – keep that first spoon!



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So what motivates me to carve?

“Good, better, best. Never let it rest. ‘Til your good is better and your better is best. ” – St Jerome

This inspirational quote is certainly part of it. I love being able to try and improve my skills not only with carving but most things and I believe that is true with us all. We want to be better at everything we do – even just a tiny bit better.

I have been doing woodworking for many, many years – most of my life in fact. I have only been carving for the last few years. The main reason for that is is one of practicality. I lived in Africa and had many resources of space, machinery, labor etc etc. As a fairly recent resident now in the USA I have had to start again. Carving uses few tools, quite cheap to start, and can even be done indoors with not much mess! The labor is me so that is cheap!

If you add to that, the limitless creativity possible and raw material availability and sustainability, it becomes almost the ideal hobby.


I love the way that art – in its pure and natural form –  combines or indeed merges with functionality in a finished piece, as this coffee scoop in Spalted Birch demonstrates. I further love the fact that this piece like all other works are absolutely unique. There is not another like it in the whole world!

Fantastic to me is when someone buys one of my carvings as this is the ultimate validation of my work. It obviously appeals not only to me! (And now I can buy that knife or tool I have been yearning for)

Sometimes my carving has a masochistic element to it like a piece I just recently finished.


This spoon is carved from Colophospermum Mopane – one of the well known and loved woods from Southern Africa lowlands.  It is extremely hard and to make matters more interesting, it was very dry – been in my possession for at least 10 years. It took me weeks to carve and much resharpening of tools but I persisted and am very pleased with the outcome. Don’t think I shall sell this one!

On occasions I may add a small embellishment, more to test my ability rather than improve on the effect nature provides.


I can’t say it improves the spoon – just makes it different.

I am currently working on a 3 spoon set as a wedding gift and I must say this is one of my greatest joys. When you give a gift such as this it ticks so many boxes. It’s hand-made by the giver with love. It is unique and it’s a natural material. Hopefully it is also useful and attractive. These are the first two and I am working on the last which is a scoop. All in Birch that has a rare dark part of the grain. She is a chef so they certainly will be used!



Well that’s it for this week

If you follow me on instagram I usually post a carving pic every day. The link to my account “zambesiboy”  can be found at the top right on this page.


More on bloodless carving

One of my next blogs will be more of a Bio on me as suggested by others. This short blog however gives a further link on safe carving – following on from last week. I had some assistance in a slightly longer video showing both my carving techniques for carving towards myself and away from myself. The link for this is at the end of the blog.

One of my important supplies when I started carving was to have a box of plasters nearby! Blood has a nasty habit of ruining a carving that is nearly finished. Thankfully over the last year or two I have hardly ever had to use a plaster.

There are a couple of obvious disciplines you also need to adhere to to assist the actual carving process to also make your hobby or work safer.

  • Have all your knives covered when not in use – even if it is just a cardboard slip cover.
  • Never ever carve without looking and focussing on the blade action. It is easy to get distracted by conversation with a visitor or the TV, a pet or whatever. If something distracts then stop carving until you can give the blade your full attention again.
  • Use sharp tools. Forcing a blunt knife increases the risk of a slip.
  • lighter cuts increase control – the opposite is true!

I leave all my sanding for those times when I do not need to be at full concentration. I have a large stainless bowl that sits on my lap and I can converse, watch TV etc while sanding. Sanding takes at least as long as carving so it it nice to be able to be sociable while pursuing my hobby.

Ok without further ado – here is my YouTube link:


Carving without cutting yourself

When I first started carving I used plenty of plasters so as not to stain my work red! It took a while but I worked out a way of controlling a “slip” that resulted in cutting myself.


My carving tools of choice are made for me by “bidaweebushcraft” (check him out on instagram) His blades hold an edge for a very long time and sharpen well – you can literally shave with them. The consequences of a slip with these can be dramatic to say the least.

I hold the spoon being carved, in my left hand (I am right-handed), the knife in my right hand and then push the blade with my thumb of my left hand. The right hand really acts like a pivot and does not make any forward motion in the cut. I find this very stable and safe. This photo demonstrates the technique.

Carving away

The video shows the motion.

Now when I am in a position where I need to carve toward myself because of the grain direction and needing to hold the spoon in such a way that there are no other options, I still perform a two-handed carve. This time my thumb acts as a brake, both opposing the cut and steadying the cutting motion. Hopefully this next photo will clarify my description.

Carving toward

And here is the video of this action.

It does seem counter-intuitive to carve toward oneself but there are times when it is impossible to do anything else. My advice is to always take very light, short cuts when doing so. If you are forcing a cut then you are much more likely to slip and do damage to a finger!

Till next week, happy creative carving.



Kindling Keepsakes

One of the hardest things I do is stacking firewood and preparing kindling. This is not borne out of any arduous effort required, but of NEEDING to examine each and every piece to see what possibilities it may contain! That delays the whole process of preparing for next winter, but I can’t help it – even my 6 year old grandson says ” is there a spoon in here, Oupa?” There usually is…….

This blog is a celebration to some of those firewood or kindling spoons.

This is the most recent one finished.


This came from a small offcut after finishing a repair of a garden bench. So much of my material comes from kindling offcuts. That is the only way I have got my hands on some Walnut.2016-05-03_154655824_CDC76_iOS

All the kindling is usually so dry and that makes the carving very different. It’s much harder physically but then on the good side the sanding is easier.


This scoop recently finished is in very, very dry Cherry – really gives a satin finish.


Sometimes even a very plain piece of Maple can be quite pleasing when given a little elaboration as on the end of the handle.


Even a small bit of practical embellishment can add to an already pleasing grain. This is spalted Ambrosia Maple – an offcut again destined for the kindling pile. Fortunately – other possibilities were spotted!


Finally another scoop from the same piece of spalted Ambrosia Maple kindling.

So in a nutshell I guess what I am saying is don’t burn that piece until you have really assessed its possibilities of creating something useful, and perhaps even beautiful too. One thing that will always be true is, unlike so much around – it will be unique!

Keeping it fresh

Part of my assistance in enjoying my hobby of carving is to be busy with several projects at the same time. This is probably counter-intuitive for most, but it works for me. A glance into my carving bowl will certainly validate this…….


As you can see I have many projects on the go – some are nearing completion, some I have only roughed out. Some have a first few cuts to get the feel of the wood and grain and some are just being planned.

I find this keeps fresh interest for me as if one piece is particularly difficult, then I just move on to another piece for just a while. Sometimes one item will take me weeks to complete but I will admit that as I get to the final stages, then I find it hard to put down. This can get me into plenty of trouble when chores need to be done! We have all been there, right?

One of the other things I like to do is tweak a similar design that pleases me. So I often have several spoons or scoops that are similar, but just a little different.


This couple I am working on at present, although similar they will be quite different on completion, (sounds Irish – “Exactly the same but entirely different!”) The one bowl will be flat and the other heavily scalloped. I have no idea which I prefer but we will see in due course when they are both finished.  Both are in Walnut.


With this pair in Maple, I hope to make the stems very different. One will be horizontally wider and the other vertically, but then transitioning to horizontal.

Lastly I want to draw your attention to my carving bowl. I have a large stainless steel bowl that allows me to carve indoors while being sociable, and retain most of my shavings in the bowl. The bowl has a large lip which allows me to let it sit between my legs and is very comfortable while I carve above it. Keeps the missus company and keeps the house clean!




This may seem a strange topic for a blog on woodcarving. Humility by definition : “a modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness.”

Mahatma Gandhi wrote ““It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.”

I have been certainly humbled by working with wood – who hasn’t? However some of my great pleasures have indeed come from wood too.



Olive wood has to take its fair share of showing me humility. The piece I got my hands on came from a good friend but was extremely dry – intended for knife handles and never used. It was lying in the workshop for many years. It is dated Oct 1991 on the piece so at least 25 years in the cut state.


As I worked with it I found the grain seemed to lift from whichever direction I carved and initially I became very frustrated. I persisted though – making sure my chisels were very, very sharp and I took lighter and lighter cuts. I found I had to constantly rotate the piece in my hands carving from many different directions until I found the one that worked. The very next cut beside however, may be a different direction altogether!


Slowly I began to have more success and pieces are turning out to be quite pleasing. Olivewood has a very striking grain and is certainly lovely to hold.


However…. starting to see daylight on this piece so maybe another healthy dose of humility is on the way……..!


“To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.” Criss Jamie

More on Spalted wood

I briefly wrote previously on spalting and Spalted wood and I want to re-visit this as it interests me greatly. As far as I am aware all wood can be found in its spalted form and indeed one can even cause Spalting in wood. I have not tried this myself but there are articles online to describe this.


This is a piece of Spalted Pine and in its raw state just shows very distinct and defined lines of spalting. However within these lines separate and again well defines areas have completely different coloration. This will be revealed in a finished carving.


This was carved from the block shown. If you look closely the bowl of the spoon is a different color to the other “sectors”.

Is the wood compromised in any way? This piece fortunately is all still very hard and well structured. If spalting is allowed to continue then the wood will become soft and eventually completely rotted away. The key obviously is to use the wood well before that and once dry the spalting organisms die and the wood retains its structure and integrity.

Spalting can be limited to only one area and can provide a stunning contrast to a piece.


This is a piece of Oak where the spalting is largely just near the outside of the wood.


This was carved from that branch and illustrates just how dramatic an effect the spalting can add.


This piece of heavily spalted Birch appears rotten to the casual observer.


And here are the resultant carvings from that seemingly rotten piece of Birch.


You never know what treasures are hidden until you start to carve!

Different Grains

Carving wood has so many different possibilities within the wood itself insofar as how one is able to work it. Not only will different wood species react differently to the knife but even the same wood depending on its state.


Maple – even when spalted like the picture above has a fairly structured grain and is quite easy to carve using the usual techniques and one can take quite aggressive cuts until near the desired finish. When finishing off, the best cuts are very small and conservative so not to risk a “blowout” where a chunk of the grain lifts.

Carving green or wet wood is by far the easiest giving quick results in the final shape. If you are carving wet wood and are interrupted just submerse it in water until you are ready to continue. Before you are ready to sand you will have to let the finished carving dry thoroughly. This cannot be done too quickly though or one runs the risk of splitting. wrap it in a cloth and put it in your cupboard for the time necessary to dry completely.


Some wood like this small scoop in Cherry has a very short grain that I find best to carve holding the knife at a 30 to 45 degree to the direction of the grain. again this reduced the risk of grain lifting. This was very dry for me to carve and so quite hard. It finished rather well though.


I love carving pieces of wood that I find on trails and the more weird the more I enjoy it. If you attempt a piece like the one above it will need many different approaches as the grain is at different angles over very short distances and in this piece I wanted to leave some bark on so one has to be very careful not to chip it off while carving.


This scoop in very dry Olive wood was another instance in very careful carving needed. The grain went in every which way and lifted out unless one too the smallest and lightest of cuts

The best advice I can give in this instance is a VERY sharp knife and short, light cuts. No shortcuts!

These blogs are intended to be for interest and discussion only and not and instructional manual – I hope you enjoy them.

Take Better Photos with a Lightbox

While I am certainly not a professional photographer there are a few tricks to help me achieve a better quality photo. For quite a few photos I use a home hacked light-box which certainly helps in removing unwanted shadows or shine on my spoons. This light-box is simply constructed from an old aquarium, some transparent plastic–from a trash bag–and a large piece of white paper.


As you can see I have just covered all sides with white plastic, trying to make it wrinkle free. So this diffuses the light and prevents the shine so often seen on objects when photographed without a diffuser or filter.


Then a piece of stiff white paper is loosely placed from the top back to the bottom back and then to the front creating a “invisible” curve. This gives the optical illusion of infinity. Being white it helps reflect light.

Sufficient light is achieved by putting the lightbox outdoors in full sunlight or by shining lights from all angles through the plastic – simple.


Lastly you can add a piece of fabric for background texture and then photograph your “masterpiece”!2016-03-08_142019612_E5952_iOS

Without some fabric texture the object appears to float – also very effective.

I hope this cheap hack helps with your photos.