Completed Spurtle

As the Spurtle turns….

This past weekend I was busy in the shop working on a variety of projects. Sunday I spent most of my day doing some wood-turning at the lathe.

A favorite warm up project of mine is to make a traditional wooden spurtle.

Variety of Spurtles
Variety of Spurtles

What’s a spurtle?

A spurtle is a traditional Scottish kitchen tool that dates back to the middle ages. Traditionally made from maple this utensil is often used to stir soups, and beat the lumps out of porridge.  If you are not big on porridge, it also works well with a wok and will not damage your pots and pans.

Dan turning on the lathe
Dan turning on the lathe

Over the weekend, my friend Dan Farnbach stopped by the shop for a quick lesson on the basics of spindle turning. He was a quick study and picked up a lot of the basics.

Roughing Gouge
Roughing Gouge

I learned about turning Spurtles from my friend and master wood turner Rich Friberg (NBSS PC2 Instructor). It’s a great way to make use of small pieces, produce something usable and explore design possibilities. For this piece I like how the small beads echo the light and dark similar to what you see in the curly figure itself.

Handle Detail
Handle Detail

A good spurtle is generally about a 10-12 inches long, held in the hand similar to a pencil or chop stick and stirs using a wrist action. I tend to like the designs that flair out a little bit at the bottom and are well balanced in the hand. Beyond that, the design possibilities are endless. The spurtle shown here is made from curly maple and finished with mineral oil. With use the finish can be renewed with more mineral oil or salad bowl oil.

Completed Spurtle
Completed Spurtle

If you make some spurtles of your own, make sure to share some pictures with us. If you get really good at making and using them you might want to enter the World Porridge Championships and compete for the Golden Spurtle.

Good luck and happy turning!

ADMINISTRATIVE NOTE:
Earlier this evening many of you may have received a partial post related to Sloyd showing a partial table — that was an accidental misfire wherein a draft got posted prematurely. But fear not, I do have some more Sloyd related posts coming up soon.

8 thoughts on “As the Spurtle turns….”

  1. I mostly make chisel handles with small pieces that size
    but will make a spurtle sometime this winter when I can’t
    be outside. Like your articles. Keep it up.
    vic

    1. I have made hundreds of spurtles over the years my ones are 11″ long with a thistle design handle they sell very well I have been turning for 22 yrs jam 82

      1. Very good to hear. Thank you for the comment.
        If you have time and can send/share a photo I’d love to see the thistle design handle you described. I just searched on google for spurtles with that description and it sounds like it would be a very nice variation.

        Take care,
        -Bill

  2. Nice spurtles … but ‘traditionally made from maple’ ? Where did Scots get maple from in the middle ages ?

    Traditionally made from beech or sycamore, I think.

    1. Hi Jock,

      Thank you for the comment. You raise an interesting point. I agree with you and believe that early historical examples most likely would have been beech or sycamore. It seems unclear how much if any Maple was available in Scotland in the middle ages.

      I think places like wikipedia with entries like this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spurtle “Traditionally made from Scottish Maple Trees” can be misleading. From slightly more reputable resources like this one http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2002/06/14891/5585 we can see that the only maple in Scotland today is the Field Maple which is often confused with Sycamore according to this page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acer_pseudoplatanus

      The history section of the above link was interesting if true:

      “Ted Green (2005)[citation needed] believes that the sycamore has been present in Britain since at least the Bronze Age citing that Sycamore pollen has often been confused with that of Field Maple in Bronze Age and Iron Age burials[citation needed]. He suggests that it should be renamed “Celtic Maple”.

      The lack of old native names for it has been used to demonstrate its absence in Britain before introduction in around 1487, but this is challenged by the presence of an old Scottish Gaelic name for the tree, fior chrann which suggests a longer presence in Scotland at least as far back as the Gaelic settlement at Dal Riada. This would make it either an archaeophyte (a naturalised tree introduced by humans before 1500) or perhaps native if it can be seen to have reached Scotland without human intervention.

      It has been suggested that it could have been common up until Roman times when it went through a decline possibly brought about by climate change and human activities, surviving only in the mountains of Scotland.

      At the moment it is usually classified as a neophyte, a plant that is naturalised but arrived with humans on or after the year 1500.[7]”

      Living in the U.S. I cannot back up any of the above without doing some more in depth research. Most spurtles I’ve seen and handled in person were made by domestic wood turners using hardwoods that turned well and each of them having a slightly different story as to where they came from, the most important design ideals etc much like any other orally passed down tradition. Most seemed to be made from various species of US domestic Maple, Beech, and Hornbeam and generally worked out well for the user.

      If you find any better historical information in your travels I would be happy to see it.

      Take care,
      -Bill

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