Friday, July 18, 2008

Something Utilitarian

This past June I visited Japan for two weeks and had a fruitful time studying aspects of design and craft as I encountered them- especially those little things that crop up in everyday life. At a meal one night with friends, we were served a dish of soft tofu curds garnished with shaved dried tuna and sea salt in a small cedar bucket, with a wooden spoon as a serving utensil. For some reason, the design and purpose of the spoon stuck with me. Up 'til that time I had never carved a spoon so I thought I'd give it a try with a piece of dense cherry from my stock.
In no time at all, I began thinking about the qualities that make a good spoon- I type them here in a rough way as they came to me:

The shape of the bowl relates to the intended foodstuff it will carry- will it be a liquid and therefore more ladle-like shapes needed? A solid, but loose or granular food needs a square front edge to dig in; something drier but clumping (mashed potatoes?) can be transferred with a shallower bowl.
The angle of the bowl in relation to the stem, and in turn how it relates to the angle with which it's held.
The graceful curve in elevation starting with a tight turn for the bowl, and slowly arcing to a taper at the end of the stem.
How the stem fits in one's hand at the points of the fingers' grip and where it rests in the fleshy part between thumb and forefinger.
The center of gravity and the relationship between the mass of the bowl and that of the stem.
The finish of the carving- rough hewn to provide a satisfying grip, or polished to compliment the elegance of a meal?
The transition between the bowl and stem needs to be considered- abrupt, or tapering?
How will the bowl feel in one's mouth, if it's to be a personal spoon?

I'll end the brainstorming there, but the point is, even the simplest of tools can require an exercise in forethought and design.


todd said...

wow damn nice spoon you carved there. i've done a few now and i know how hard they can be to get right

Doug Sanders said...

Thanks. They are tough- especially from a technical standpoint of shifting grain direction of the wood when you're trying to carve and scrape or sand.
Have a look at
for some completely non-functional spoons.

Lorenzo said...

Hi Doug. I would like to comment your point about the quality that are needed by a spoon more than your perfect execution. I had a similar thinking (somehow) few days ago watching a mobile phone, a chair and some other stuffs when i was eating at restaurant.
Sometime, some daily use tools are designed by tradition. They works perfectly, but they don't struck us for design. Otherwise, some spoons or fork looks cool on shops and are crap on our mounth. To think about a balance of this points (or maybe just to think, before do) is a good point in my view. As usual, sorry for my english.

Doug Sanders said...

Thanks for the contribution, Lorenzo. You've shown that design to an Italian is a part of life! As with most things, a bit of thought before action always results in a better outcome. I have some hard maple waiting to become Spoon II: A set of four. Stay tuned.

david turk said...

Hey Doug,
Looks good. You didn't give a size for your spoon. Is it full size, or miniature?

You want to talk utilitarian wood, check out these bikes, forwarded to me via Mike Stauffer via Jeff Mills:


Doug Sanders said...

Thanks David- the spoon is regular size- maybe 7-8 inches.
I'll have a look at the bicycle link.