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Scoop Making-Art of Handcrafting Wooden Shovels

Updated on August 23, 2017

The Last Scoop Maker - Harvey Ward

Harvey Ward was known as, The Last Scoop Maker. That title came to him from the documentary that film maker, Jack Ofield made about his scoop making that was broadcast on PBS in 1974. Harvey was the last of his family line to make wooden shovels for a living. Each wooden shovel was cut with an ax and carved out by hand. He made scoops just about everyday of his life, starting when he was about 14 years old or for about 78 years. Making a Wooden Scoop requires a great deal of upper body strength. Harvey managed to perfect his craft so well that the entire process of building a scoop from start to finish was done in 51 minutes. He claims he wasn't the fastest though. That titled belonged to his father, Joseph, who was not only renowned for making the fastest shovels but also for an extremely smooth finish which was achieved with a single ax head. Harvey used a double ax head for his craft.

Harvey was the focus of a wood shovel making book and the PBS film documenting his scoop making is still circulating film festivals around the world.


Photo Credit: Photograph by Jack Ofield 1972

Scoop Making History

Harvey's family made "scoops" for hundreds of years which was traced back to his Delaware Indian roots. In Native American tribal families were assigned roles. Harvey's family was assigned to make all the wood tools and other wooden utilitarian ware needed by the tribe.

In the 1700-1800s, in the northeastern United States there were plenty of wooded forests. In later years, Native American's traded beaver skins with the English to obtain metal tools. These metal tools made making wooden shovels and handcrafted objects much easier. Often tribesmen melted down the metal and customized their own tools to suit their needs.

Harvey's family made wooden bowls and plates to eat off of and other needed objects such as firewood boxes. The tradition was passed down from one generation to another until Harvey and his brothers were taught as teenagers to make wooden shovels.

Mr. Harvey Ward was the Last Scoop Maker - Photo Credit: Photograph by Jack Ofield 1972 - Displayed with permission

Harvey cuts a Log into Three Sections

Starting with a 6 foot log, Harvey uses only an ax to partition each log into three sections. He marks each log with a pencil mark then uses the double headed ax to indent the pencil mark.

Learn Woodworking with this easy step by step DVD and Instructional Book

Man is a tool-using Animal. Nowhere do you find him without tools; without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.

- Thomas Carlyle

Splitting a 6 Foot Log

Once the ax marks are deep enough Harvey adds triangle wood blocks using the side of his ax to split the block. He has been doing this for over 75 years and hits the pencil mark with precision accuracy.

Honing out the Wooden Scoop

This is the part that takes the most effort. Each scoop is now chiseled with Harvey's ax until it is almost completely formed. Most people can't walk and chew gum at the same time, but Harvey is not only making his "scoop" swinging an ax but most likely he is parting some important words of wisdom the whole time he is working. Never losing his breath or stopping for a break.

The Bowl is Being Formed

Harvey has honed out the handle and works the shovel part. With each stroke of his ax the curved bowl begins to appear.

The Final Touches of Shaping the Shovel

Harvey removes wood from the handle and pares down the wood from the shovel, refining the shape of the shovel with each stroke of his ax.

Shaping the Back of the Wood Shovel

Once the inside bowl is formed the back of the shovel is then formed by chipping away the wood until the shovel is rounded as well. All the while Harvey uses nothing but his ax.

Harvey Pares Down the Shovel in Stages

His rough honed wooden shovel is about 80 percent complete. Harvey takes the shovel he axed out into his woodshed and begins to fine tune the shovel by chipping away the rough wood. In this photo he works in the area where the handle meets the bowl.

Carving out the Handle

Using tools he fabricated, Harvey carves out his signature handle. The "D" shape handle has been his family trademark as far back and anyone can remember. The "D" shaped enables a person to get a larger scoop load on the shovel without putting strain on a person's back. Prior to the Ward Family design, shovels were made with plain long handles like a broomstick.

The Inner and Outter Edges of the Bowl are Filed

Harvey uses a sharpened file to smooth out and shape the bowl edges to its completed shape. It looks like he is using the file on the inside of the bowl but he is actually adding a flat ridge to the sides of the bowl.

Harvey puts his Whole Body into his Shovels

Using a wood file, Harvey uses both feet to steady his wooden shovel and begins the process of filing the handle and hand grip and creating a smooth surface to his "Scoop."

Paring Down the Shovel's Rough Handle

Harvey uses a paring knife to whittle away small pieces of wood on the handle and makes sure it is smooth and easy to use. He also cleans out the handle hole with the knife.

The Finishing Touch of Harvey's Scoop

Using another tool that has been customized for "scoop making," Harvey scrapes the inside of the bowl of the shovel to a smooth surface, so smooth it looks like it has been sanded. He goes over the shovel to smooth any areas that need a final touch.

Harvey, The Last Scoop Maker

Harvey places yet another handcrafted wooden scoop in his pile that will be shipped to the gunpowder factory in Pennsylvania. Gunpowder factories and grain factories used Harvey's wooden shovels to prevent fires and to prevent contamination to grain.

Woodworking Minus Patience = Firewood

Mr. Harvey Ward, My Great Grandfather, Passed Away in 1982

Harvey and his wife of 75 years are laid side by side in rest. As a tribute to his lifelong livelihood, his memorial stone was inscribed with a "Scoop."

Excerpt from the The Last Shovel Maker Video

My grandfather was a lifelong scoop maker. His children and grandchildren made scoops from time to time after his passing, but grandfather was the last of his line to make scoops for a living during his entire lifetime. In 1974, a documentary was made of his craft making skills. The video was:

Filmed on location by Jack Ofield and Aired on PBS in 1974

To see an excerpt from the film or purchase the video in its entirety, The Last Shovel Maker

To see more films by Jack Ofield, visit New Pacific Productions

Harvey Ward's Wooden Scoop as Collector's Items

Harvey made his last scoop in 1982. He sold them for years for $8. After the PBS broadcast he had so much demand that he was forced to raise the price to $15 to keep up. Any scoops that are around now are more than 30 years old. Most are 40-80 years old. Depending on the condition, they currently retail for approximately $300-600 each.

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Scoop Making, The Story of Harvey Ward by Nancy Miller is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Do you have a Wooden Scoop that looks like one of these?

Do You Need Your Scoop Identified as a Ward Model?

I get inquiries from time to time about Wooden Shovels that people have acquired here and there asking if it is an authentic "Ward" shovel. I am getting pretty good at identifying them. If you have a wood shovel and would like to know if it is from the Ward "D" Scoop line, please contact me and I will provide you with an email for photo submission. I can't tell you the year it was made or the value only if it is authentic.

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    • Walter Janicek profile image

      Walter Janicek 2 years ago

      Hi Ace of Hearths,

      several months ago I have sent you the dimensions of the referenced Scoop and several digital images for confirmation.To date I have not received a reply from you

    • AceofHearts profile image
      Author

      AceofHearts 2 years ago

      Mr Janicek,

      Please send photos to of you wooden scoop to: WardScoops@gmail.com and I will try to give you some authentication information of possible.

      Ace of Hearts

    • Walter Janicek profile image

      Walter Janicek 2 years ago

      Hi Ace of Hearths,Today I purchased a wooden scoop shovel at an Estate Sale in NJ.Online investigation of this beautiful item led me to this article and you.In my best educated guess from reading this article I believe I am privileged enough to own a Ward creation..but not sure family member to to credit it to.I would like you to review images of it and if you would be so kind as to give me your opinion if it can be attributed to Ward.Thanks so much for your consideration.Love your article.Walter Janicek.

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 3 years ago from Vermont

      I love learning about hand crafted tools and items. Harvey was a true craftsman - lucky you to have so much family history. Welcome to Purple Star Pastiche ... this lens is now featured as an award winner.

    • AceofHearts profile image
      Author

      AceofHearts 4 years ago

      @anonymous: You are absolutely right. Thank you for the insightful input!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I believe that in the photo frame where you say he is using a file to level the sides of the scoop, he is actually using a drawknife. In the film/video it is explicit that it is a drawknife as he is making shavings, not the scrapings one would get with a file.

    • profile image

      Best-tablets-and-Notes 4 years ago

      Pretty unique and amazing.

    • LauraCarExpert profile image

      LauraCarExpert 4 years ago

      Now that is some hard work!

    • greenmind profile image

      GreenMind 4 years ago from USA

      Brilliant, really. Who knew?

    • Vikk Simmons profile image

      'Vikk Simmons 4 years ago from Houston

      Great page. I'm always amazed at what people have managed to accomplish. This is really incredible if you think about it. Our lives are so different now.

    • profile image

      wilsonkht 4 years ago

      This is wonderful lens. Amazing woodcraft.

    • InfoCoop profile image

      InfoCoop 4 years ago

      What a wonderful story about your great-grandfather. Such a legacy!

    • profile image

      JoshK47 4 years ago

      What a wonderful story, and wonderfully shown with all those pictures - thanks so much for sharing! Blessed by a SquidAngel!

    • DentalTalk profile image

      DentalTalk 4 years ago

      Wow what a great story, It was interesting to see that they were used in the gunpowder factories, makes sense!

    • profile image

      moonlitta 4 years ago

      Peace for your great grandfather. He reminded me of my grandpa (who used to craft wooden objects, too, though they were not shovels).