What You Should Know about Lovespoon Carving
Centuries ago, if a young woman received a lovespoon from a young man, she knew he intended to be more than just her friend. Intricately carved lovespoons symbolized the giver’s deep affection. The fellow who crafted a lovespoon for a young lady sent her a clear message of his intentions.
Lovespoon carving is an ancient craft that overflows with symbolism, sentiment, and intricate craftsmanship. Surprisingly, it’s also an excellent project for today’s wood carvers, whether they’re novices or experts. Let’s explore lovespoon carving as it was and as it is today.
The Beginnings of Lovespoon Carving
No one knows who carved the first lovespoon, where he lived, or the year he carved it. It’s entirely possible, though, that he was a Welshman. Many of the oldest lovespoons displayed in museums are from Wales, including a spoon carved in 1667.
Tradition holds that lovespoon carving was the commoner’s way to turn a useful household item into a work of art. When a man married a wife and started a family, he needed spoons for his household.
Why ordinary spoons turned into embellished lovespoons is a mystery. Various theories speculate that the romantic young man:
- Really wanted his sweetheart to know how he felt about her.
- Needed to convince his future father-in-law that he would be a good provider.
- Was a sailor who filled his time away from his loved one by carving his love and dreams into the handle of the spoon.
For whatever reason, lovespoons became increasingly ornate. Men carved tokens of their affection and dreams along the neck and handle of their lovespoons. As lovespoon carving increased, especially in Wales, some designs became symbolic. For example, leaves and flowers meant growing affection or blossoming love. A knot symbolized two lives entwined, a cross stood for faith, and a diamond meant riches. Even centuries ago, a horseshoe represented good luck, a bell indicated a wedding, and hearts stood for true love.
Welsh carvers often incorporated national symbols into their lovespoons. For this reason, a harp, a dragon, or a daffodil often graced the handle of Welsh lovespoons.
Ornamentation on the Rise
As the tradition of giving lovespoons increased, so did the ornamentation on the spoons. Over time, lovespoons transitioned from being useful items that were ornately carved to decorative items mainly for display. Handles got longer and wider in order to hold several symbols. Scrollwork became increasingly complex.
Some carvers fashioned lovespoons that held wooden balls in the handle and served as a baby rattle. Others placed spoons at both ends of a carved wooden chain. Lovespoon carving had become the craft of expert woodworkers.
Lovespoon Carving Today
In several ways the craft of lovespoon carving hasn’t changed significantly in more than 400 years.
- Wales continues to be the epicenter of traditional lovespoon carving. Areas in and around Cardiff, Wales boast several family-owned companies that still design and make an array of lovespoons which they sell worldwide.
- Many lovespoons are still crafted by hand. Although some shops utilize power tools, many companies, especially in Wales, still complete the entire process by hand. Just as their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers did, these craftsmen sketch the design, carve the lovespoon, sand it carefully, and then coat the finished product with beeswax--all by hand.
- The basic design remains the same. A lovespoon is still a spoon. It may be embellished beyond the point of being a practical utensil. It quite possibly holds sentimental value. It may tell the story of the carver’s family and dreams. But in basic design, it’s a spoon.
One significant change
Although lovespoon carving still appeals to skilled artisans who have mastered the art, it’s becoming known as an excellent craft for beginning woodcarvers looking for an initial project.
Lovespoon carving serves novices well because:
Lovespoons are comparatively small. The beginning carver can design a small lovespoon on a single piece of wood that’s only a few inches tall and a couple of inches thick. If the design fails, the carver hasn’t ruined an expensive piece of wood or spent dozens of hours on a botched project.
Lovespoon carvers can use many varieties of wood. Hardwoods like oak, birch, beech, walnut, and maple make excellent carving material for lovespoons. Some carvers prefer fruit trees like apple, black cherry, or pear. Limewood (or basswood) was the traditional favorite of lovespoon carvers, and many still prefer it today.
Because of their small dimensions, lovespoons provide an excellent way to use off-cuts--scrap pieces--from larger projects. Some artisans also use repurposed wood from unwanted furniture or decor in their lovespoons. The aged wood from repurposed pieces is often darker with a more distinct grain. It works up beautifully and results in a lovely piece.
Lovespoons are generally very inexpensive to make. As we mentioned, they’re relatively small and are excellent projects for using scrap or repurposed wood. They don’t require lots of hand carving tools, expensive power tools, or exotic finishes. All of these factors mean that a simple lovespoon is an attractive project for woodcarvers on a budget.
There is no “right” or “wrong” way to make a lovespoon. Novice carvers can relax and design something that fits their personality and skill level. They don’t need to include “required” components or meet a set of predetermined standards.
Lovespoon carving is a great way to learn basic cuts such as stop cuts and push cuts. Stop cuts are made straight down into the wood and are used frequently by carvers of virtually any skill level. They serve as boundaries that protect parts of the wood from accidentally being cut away. Once the stop cuts are in place, the carver uses short push cuts toward the stop cuts to remove the wood and reveal the design.
While carving simple designs like hearts, flowers, or rings into a lovespoon, the rookie carver learns the craft. He or she practices basic cuts until they become a habit. This aspect alone suits lovespoon carving particularly well to beginning woodcarvers.
Wrapping it up
Lovespoon carving is an ancient woodcraft that combined skill, sentiment and symbolism. As the craft grew, the carvings increased in complexity and size.
Welsh carvers excelled as lovespoon carvers and continue to make a variety of lovespoons, many of which are still fashioned by hand in family-owned shops.
Although still a craft enjoyed by expert carvers, lovespoon carving is also popular with beginning carvers. Lovespoons are excellent projects for novices because they are small, inexpensive, and relatively easy to carve using only basic, hand-held tools. Carvers have lots of options regarding the design of the project and the wood they use; they learn basic wood carving practices as they fashion a unique and personal project.
If you’re interested in your own lovespoon carving, check out our guide: The Best Wood Carving Tools for Beginners