Carve A Traditional Celtic Lovespoon archive

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Lovespoon expert Sharon Littley shows you how to carve a traditional Celtic lovespoon in 20 steps - perfect for beginners


The lovespoon is a traditional Welsh custom dating back to the 17th century, where men would gather their creative talents and carve a decorative wooden spoon for a chosen lady as a symbol of their love and affection.

The custom still continues but nowadays it is used to celebrate a number of family occasions such as christenings, engagements, marriages and anniversaries.

This project follows a simple step-by-step Celtic knot lovespoon to get you started on the road to carving these traditional tokens.

The Celtic knotwork consists of 'unders' and 'overs'. Where a line continues over another, this is the over; the one that comes to an abrupt stop is the under, and it is usually the 'under' line that is carved away first.

Step 1

Transfer the design to the wood. Remember also to copy over the centre line - it helps to check that everything is aligned to the centre. Hold your hand on the top half of the paper and slowly peel back the sheet to see if everything has been transferred. If not, let the sheet fall back into place and go over any missed sections and lines not easily seen

Step 2

Cut out the spoon - outside shape only - using a scrollsaw if you have one, otherwise use a handheld coping saw

Step 3

Shade in the internal areas to be removed as it easily identifies what needs to be cut out, and then drill the shaded areas

Step 4

Remove the internal shaded areas by feeding the scrollsaw blade into the drilled hole and proceed to cut it out. Repeat for each shaded section until the spoon is the same design as the drawing

Step 5

Draw an outline along the side of the spoon to show what shape the finished spoon will be - this line is a guide only and can be changed as work progresses

Step 6

It is time to begin carving - do not carve the back/underneath until the top of the spoon is finished. Remove wood down to the line marked along the side

Step 7

Redraw the lines back onto the spoon that were removed when shaping took place, then make a stab cut along the spoon bowl. Allow a tolerance line - this will be removed when you have the correct levels/shape. When making a stab cut, ease pressure off as the chisel nears the base line - the line drawn on the side - otherwise the unsightly cuts, if left, will look awful

Step 8

Make stab cuts each side of the under/over lines and remove wood chips. Each cut will be angular and will need to be the same depth so that they look as if they will meet under the 'over' line. Continue with the remaining under/over lines. Don't worry yet about the dotted line on outer edges

Carving the heart

Step 9

Soften the angular lines once all the unders/overs have been cut, so that the Celtic knotwork appears as a nice continual and flowing line. These lines can be sloped over all the Celtic knotwork to give a camber effect

Step 10

As you work on the under/overs where the heart is, remove wood at the base of the heart first - remember to stab cut - so that it allows the 'under' cuts on the Celtic knotwork to be done and to stand proud of the heart

Step 11

The heart is rounded to give a cushioned effect by changing the angle of the gouge to take more away from the top of the heart down towards the back of the spoon. Careful that the corner of the gouge does not dig into the Celtic knot lines surrounding the heart

Step 12

You are now ready to shape the bowl. First remove wood so that the top of the spoon follows the line drawn along the side

Step 13

For hollowing out the bowl, draw a line approx 2-3mm in from the edge of the bowl as a tolerance to reshape the bowl if the shape is not right. Do not stab cut this line. Work with or across the grain. It is better to use a long bent chisel for hollowing out the bowl. When satisfied with the overall shape, tidy up any areas that need it

Step 14

Now let's begin to shape the back of the spoon. It is a good idea to use a clamp and some offcuts of wood for support under the curved areas as it will be difficult to carve, as the top surface, which now rests on the bench, is not flat

Step 15

Shaping the back of the spoon bowl - this is done in the same way as shaping the heart, i.e. by changing the angles of the chisel to remove wood

Step 16

Periodically place your finger and thumb into the bowl so that you can gauge thickness of the remaining wood. Don't remove any more if it's getting thin

Step 17

Once the back of the spoon is finished, it should look like this

Step 18

Now let's carve the back. Draw, then carve the lines on the back of the spoon - remember the 'over' line on the top becomes an 'under'on the bottom. I have also continued the shape of the Celtic

knot onto the back of the bowl for added effect

Step 19

Tidy up any unsightly cuts using a knife, chisel or scraper. The scraper is especially useful in the bowl of the spoon

Step 20

The next process is to sand the lovespoon. Not everyone likes a sanded finish so if you do not intend to sand, then the cuts need to be clean. If sanding, the crisp lines need to be maintained, so it is a good idea to use double-sided Sellotape to stick sandpaper to offcuts of wood, wax modelling tools etc, so that consistent pressure can be applied. Make sure internal areas are also sanded


The final two stages are to apply a sanding sealer to the whole area, remembering to get into nooks and crannies. This will raise the grain so allow to dry, then lightly sand once more using very fine sandpaper such as 600 grit. Finally, apply a coat of wax, leave for approximately one hour, and then rigorously buff off so that your finger glides over the finished surface.

Woodworkers Institute

Tagged In:

beginner , Sharon Littley , lovespoon , Celtic

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Tools You Will Need

Lime: 267 x 110mm (10 1/2 x 4 1/4in)
1. 6mm No.1S
2. 8mm No.2
3. 12mm No.2
4. 12mm No.5
5. 14mm No.7L
6. 3mm No.8
7. Scalpel/carving knife
8. Scraper
9. Clamps
1. Abrasives 240, 400 600 grit
2. Chestnut cellulose sanding sealer; Chestnut cellulose thinners; Liberon Black Bison Liquid Wax

Handy Hints

Stab cuts - these are done by holding the chisel at 90 degrees to the wood and pressing down - separate the fibres so that the resulting chip of wood, when removed, comes out cleanly with less chance of the chisel slipping into an important area of work. If you cannot hold the chisel at 90 degrees to the wood, then it is better to create a wall than it is to undercut - a wall is where you make the base of the cut wider than the start of the stab cut; an undercut is where the base of the stab cut is inset compared to the start of the stab cut.

Diagrams Click an image to enlarge