Mindful, creative and transformative, the art of wood carving is truly magical for Swedish crafts carpenter Moa Brännström Ott. In her new book, Carving Kitchen Tools, she reveals how beginners can get into the craft and start creating their own beautiful wooden kitchen tools

Images: Fredrik Ottosson

I don’t carve wood because I need another spoon. Neither do I carve to make my next object better than my last, or quicker  to complete. For me, it’s the process that’s the whole point. It’s always a bonus that I end up with a finished object. I am a comfort carver. I can sit with the same spoon for several hours, several days, and carve tiny, tiny facets. I carve a little, touch it a little, look at it a little, carve a little more. 

There is something magical in how a simple piece of wood, that doesn’t look like it’s much more than a humble log, can attract a human’s full attention – sparking the creative urge and desire to spend hours transforming it into a spoon. Absolutely fantastic things can hide in those pieces of wood. The happiness you feel when you find a piece of wood, cut it and start carving it, and when you get to see the different hues in the wood, the pattern of the growth rings and other details that only you as the carver will notice – it’s like striking gold! 

Let your crafting be exactly what you want it to be. You carve for your own sake, not for anyone else’s. The principal aim with crafting nowadays is to fulfil the desire of your hands and your soul. Try to find your own expression. It doesn’t have to be unique and it doesn’t have to be perfect. The most important thing is that it makes you feel good and you find joy in your creative practice.

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Butter knives 

For the beginner, the butter knife is the perfect tool to start with. As a rule, it’s impossible to fail (it can have many different appearances and you’ll definitely produce a knife that can spread butter, efficiently or not). But the butter knife isn’t just a project for beginners. I still think it’s loads of fun to make butter knives and they are appreciated gifts. You can use a surface treatment if you want, but it’s actually not necessary. The butter will take care of that!

[Above] Wood: birch with red heartwood, spalted birch, standard birch

Finish: linseed oil and butter Year of manufacture: 2005–2020 Size: 16–19cm (61 /4 –71 /2 in)

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1. Axe out a blank, either as a ‘fillet’ from a branch or thinner log, or as a wedge if you have a thicker log. Axe the blank flat on both sides. Draw out the shape of the butter knife, either freehand or using a template. If the blank is thinner at one end, it can be a good idea to place the blade facing the thinner side, because you usually want the handle to be thicker than the blade. If you are using a wedge-shaped blank, turn the blade of the butter knife towards the thinner edge. It’s best to use a straight and knotfree blank and to draw out the knife so that it follows the grain of the wood. If there is a movement or curve in the blank, you can try to place the shape of the knife so that it follows the curvature of the wood.

2. Axe off the material outside the knife’s shape and saw off any protruding areas at the ends. Saw stop cuts into the concave shapes. For the stop cut by the knife blade, either place it along the line of the shape or straight in from the edge. Make sure the stop cut is an even depth on both the top and the bottom.

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3. Roughly cut out the shape using your axe. Cut off the material over the stop cuts. Be careful and counter the weight of the axe head as the wood splits, so that the cutting edge of the axe doesn’t end up in the butter knife blade. Then cut the shape all the way into the line. Also make the blade of the butter knife thinner with the axe, if it’s too thick. Be sure to thin it out from both sides, not just one side.

4. Swap over to the carving knife and start by shaping the outline and the thickness of the butter knife. For comfort, the handle should be thicker than the blade. The blade should be around 4mm (1 /4 in) thick across the spine, then thinned out down towards the edge, which should only be around 1mm (1 /24 in) thick. Carve until you are happy with the outline, thickness and overall shape. If you are working with green wood, this is the stage where you leave the butter knife to dry before you go onto the next step of making the finishing cuts. However, there is so little material in a butter knife that you are usually able to get going with the finishing cuts on the following day.

5. Now you can start to round off or chamfer any edges and carve details onto the handle and blade. It’s a good idea to test out the angle of the butter knife edge by ‘air buttering’ and then adjust the angle accordingly. Be sure to carve out a new surface across the whole butter knife if you started with green wood, to achieve that nice surface that only a cut made on dry wood can give. When you feel it’s finished, you can use your knife straight away – just start spreading butter with it.

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Find more craft inspiration in Carving Kitchen Tools by Moa Brännström Ott, published by Pavilion Books, £16.99