Barely Scraping By, Part Two–A Trio Of Scrapers

When Jacques Pépin began work as a chef in France at the age of thirteen, one of his first tasks was to scrape flesh off of the bones of cooked pieces of meat. Said scraps were then made into rillettes, pates, terrines, and other meat paste delicacies. Then the bones were used for stock. Waste not, want not.

The same sense of economy makes me a huge fan of scrapers. Sandpaper is expensive, and a disposable product as well. The fact that sander dust is a carcinogen doesn’t help the comparison. A scraper which is the cost of a few packs of sandpaper can do literally thousands of scrapping jobs.

Here are three models of scrapers. The big green machine on the lower left is a Kunz #12, a near exact copy of the old Stanley #12. This German made edition is ideal for larger jobs, like the Walnut table top I am currently refinishing. The list price is a hefty $169, but I found this one on flea bay for $25. Being a miser has its advantages. The design is circa 1870, which was the heyday of hand tool design.

Directly above that is the classic Stanley #80 cabinet scraper. This flea market purchase was only a couple of bucks, and these things literally never wear out. The #80 has a more sensitive adjustment mechanism the the #12, and is capable of doing very fine work.

The most versatile of scrapers is the Stanley #82 on the right, which can use any size or shape scraper blade. The current blade in use is the classic Bahco (Sandvick) Swedish card scraper. The #82 will prove very handy when I start my upcoming chair seat carving projects.

When primitive man scraped meat off of animal bones, did they make terrines out of it? Doubtful. However, they certainly used scrapers as one of the earliest tools. They were also barely scraping by.

Making Pepper Mills Out of Green Wood

Bright and Shiny

This trio of mills are Christmas presents for the in-laws, all of whom can put away some chow. Primitive man that I am, I made these from green (unseasoned) wood, and skipped the whole pricey and unnecessary kiln-dried process. The cost was lowered even further by using wind blown wood from last February’s tornado, a good portion of which is still lying on the ground on our property.

The first, and possibly the most critical step, is wood choice. I have more wood varieties at my disposal than I can literally shake a stick at. So I went with the easiest one–sourwood. That’s the wood I have that is least likely to split, out of everything around here, as it has the lowest T/R ratio–always check the inter webs for T/R info before using a wood for a green woodworking project. I made four blanks, two of which had absolutely no splits. The third had only a tiny hairline split on one end, which I just filled with beeswax. The fourth split along its entire length, and will be recycled into another project.

I began with a part of the tree that is rarely used, except for spoon carving, the limbs. Sourwood is so difficult to split that a small limb usually doesn’t split at all, even from the pith. Because of the roundish nature of limbs, I was able to skip the first step of roughing out with a hatchet, and went straight to peeling bark with a drawknife, and then rounding out the blanks with a concave spokeshave. After that the 3″ x 11″ blanks went straight on to the foot powered lathe.

The roughing tools below are specialty tools made specifically for foot powered lathes. The 2″ chisel and the 1 1/2″ shallow gouge can be used in any combination, though I go gouge, and then chisel. These make fast work creating a perfectly round blank.

Ashley Iles Pole Lathe Tools–The Chisel on the Left has a Homemade Cherry Handle

Conventional lathe tools are perfect for detail work such as forming the beads. Below are a diamond parting tool and a 3/8″ spindle gouge. Once the details are roughed in, it’s Zen break time. The green wood needs to dry for at least a day.

Detail Tools

There are two good reasons to let green wood dry for awhile. It turns easily, but dries to a rough finish. It also dries into an oval shape, which would render it useless as a mill. The level of dryness is easily seen from how much moisture there is in the shavings coming from the turning work.

Grinder design is a matter of taste, as a perfectly round grinder would function as well as a fancy one. I just copied the design of the grinders sold by the manufacturer of the mechanism, Chef Specialties up in Pennsylvania. The width of the three different sized holes that must be drilled are included with the grinding mechanism kit. They are much easier to use than the old Peugeot mechanism that I made our grinder with, though Peugeot grinders are more durable than their cars.

Other styles of grinder kits are available, and I am making a salt grinder out of green turned black cherry. Anyone who would turn dry cherry on a foot powered lathe would end up needing orthopedic help.

Fans of English Hand Tools–Buy Now!

I just got this email from Classic Hand Tools, a great English tool seller–the crashing pound is going to mean large price increases. In their own words:

Our new mob in control in No.10 have tried something radical to boost the UK economy. Only time will tell whether their gamble will be justified. All we know is that the pound has tanked a massive amount and big price rises are now on the very near horizon for your premium hand tools. We will do our best to be as skinny with margins as possible but that won’t stop prices increasing soon. We have been saying this for a while but we didn’t expect the pound to be hammered so hard. Luckily we have got reasonable stock levels on many lines but that won’t last too long. 

Classic Hand Tools

I have an Ashley Isles turning tool on the way already, but I will scour the inter webs to see if I need anything else, although truthfully, I have almost reached the point of Maximum Tool. I suppose there is always good old fashioned hoarding.

Optimus 45 New Tool–A Jet Cleaner Pricker from the UK!

More Solid Brass

Everyone who has an old Optimus stove complains about the pitiful disposable tin prickers based on the original Optimus model. Optimus is all about being on the opposite end of disposable. A kerosene stove jet is going to clog, and will have to be cleaned in order to function. Those clever Brits have an answer to that problem.

Above is a nice sold brass pricker with replaceable needles. Even better is the fact that the end that holds the needle in place is also machined out to serve as storage for spare needles, and this device comes with twenty. That’s probably enough for a pricking lifetime.

Anyone can buy these on fleabay, or at Julian Shaw, the owner (not the actor) sure knows his stuff. Just don’t order things during a heat wave in England, if you need your pricker ASAP.

Armin Trösser Coffee Mills–Beloved by Coffee Snobs Everywhere

Back in Grinding Shape

Melanie Jane and I finally realized about a week ago that our old German manual coffee grinder has been AWOL for at least the last twenty years. This one on fleabay looked grungy but fine, and it was nice and cheap. So we bought it, without having any knowledge that we were treading onto the fetid grounds of coffee grinding controversy.

For a few moments, after I hit the inter webs and searched for these grinders, I thought I had broken through the dramatic forth wall, and was sitting in Café Nervosa with the cast of Frasier; but slowly the outlines of the argument became clear. It’s all about the food and volatile oils. The parallel between stone ground corn and metal ground coffee is clear. Corn ground at a high speed has the volatile oil overheated and changed chemically–burned, in fact. Coffee ground with fast spinning blades suffers the same fate, as opposed to that ground slowly in a mechanical mill. I am beginning to side with the snobs, logically, but I will still have my pot of Community Coffee Coffee and Chicory every weekday morning.

At any rate, here is how to refurb an old grinder. I polished the metal parts with some automotive buffing compound, and gave the wooden cabinet a good work over with some Walnut oil wax finish, applied with my high tech old smart wool sock with a big hole in it. I fiddled with the mechanism until I found the adjustment, which is at the bottom of the grinding mechanism, and accessed by removing the drawer. I tightened it down as far as I dared, and this thing began to grind like the German Tier (beast) that it is.

We bought a couple of pounds of Fair Trade, organic coffee to go along with our purchase, and the real competition began. Right now the result is Guatemala One, Peru Nil. The match resumes this weekend.

Making Sourwood Tool Handles

Unfinished and Shellaced

Sourwood is a fairly common tree in the South, known primarily for its Lily of the Valley like blooms, and the famous Sourwood Honey, the result of the partnership between said flowers and honeybees. One particularly large (for a Sourwood) tree was uprooted when it was whacked by a broken off White Oak during our latest tornado. That led me to search for uses of Sourwood lumber.

The most common answer for traditional uses of this wood was for tool handles. More deep diving came up with spokes and arrow shafts. These things all had something in common, which is the best quality for all of these dinguses is resistance to splitting, even when made from green wood. This is the result of the fact that Sourwood has a very low T/R ration, which means it is unlikely to split while drying from green wood to seasoned.

The T/R ratio is the ratio of tangential to radial shrinkage, which for wood working purposes, should be as close to one as possible. This info is easily obtained for most species via a simple Google search. Species with very low T/R ratios are usually little used or non-commercial woods, such as Southern (evergreen) magnolia, and sourwood. Evergreen Magnolia has a T/R ratio of 1.2, and sourwood is 1.4.

Making the traditional octagonal carving tool handles was simple enough, and only needs two or three tools–a drawknife (optional), a smoothing plane, and a drill. Take a round limb of unseasoned Sourwood slightly larger than the final handle, and rough it with a drawknife or plane into an octagon. Continue spinning it around, and taper it down to an inch or so at the tang end. When satisfied with the results, drill a tang sized hole and whack in the tool blank. The green Sourwood will slowly shrink around the tang of the tool, and will never, ever, come off.

I bought these Italian made carving tools from Mountain Woodcarvers for $6 each, although they are mistakenly selling them as USA made. I didn’t have the heart to tell them about the mistake. They might raise the price.

Spud or Peeler?

Because I have more sourwood on the ground that I can say grace over, I also decided to turn another limb into a handle for a log processing tool, a bark peeler, aka bark spud. This one a a beastly tool that doubles as an axe/brush cutter by having both sides beveled and sharpened. It is made by Ochsenkopf (Oxhead) in Deutschland. After five months of drying, the handle has no sign of a crack or split. Big tool handle is in a permanent world of hurt in this household.

Sourwood Mattarello (Rolling Pin) and Hanger

Honking Big Rolling Pin

A Matterello is a specialty Italian variety of rolling pin, used primarily to turn out wide sheets of pasta. Generally, the sizes run from two to four feet long, the longest widths used by professional pasta makers (Sfoglino). The one I made is a more overall useful length of about two and a half feet long.

The reason I chose to make one out of sourwood is two fold. The first is that it turns easily while green, like many hardwoods; the much more important one is that it has a very low T/R ratio, which means it is unlikely to split while drying–even at the pith, or center of the tree or limb.

The T/R ratio is the ratio of tangential to radial shrinkage, which for wood working purposes, should be as close to one as possible. This info is easily obtained for most species via a simple Google search. Species with very low T/R ratios are usually little used or non-commercial woods, such as Southern (evergreen) magnolia, and sourwood. Evergreen Magnolia has a T/R ratio of 1.2, and sourwood is 1.4.

My original intention was to make just a straight cylinder, until I realized that such a tool would be difficult to store. I finally realized that the more traditional design with a knob on each end is to hang the mattarello vertically. So I made a hanger as well.

Nice Fit

The hanger is Virginia juniper/red cedar, with juniper being a more accurate name. I drilled a one inch hole, sawed out the sides, trimmed the business parts with a paring chisel, and finished off with a carving knife. The finish of the mattarello is walnut oil wax, which makes it both exceptionally long and exceptionally fragrant.

Growing Mushrooms, Part Five–A Cornucopia of Mushrooms

Branched Oyster

As soon as I saw that the Latin name for Branched Oyster mushroom was Pleurotus cornucopiae, I had to grow some. This is a widely sought after variety well known to mushroom foragers, as it has an enormous range in the wild, and in many locales, can be found all year. Once again, the substrate here is just used coffee grounds with their filters.

The container is the difference. That’s a one gallon glass canister that was made in the US, and costs the princely sum of ten bucks. If someone had set out to design the perfect mushroom growing container, they could have done no better. The lid is left cracked open slightly as the mycelium expands, removed daily for the water spritzing, and then replaced to maintain humidity.It obviously comes off permanently when the young shrooms reach the top of the container.

The Mushrooms Two Days Earlier

Commercial growers in this country use plastic grow bags, which like all plastics, end up in our enormous waste stream. The glass canisters, with proper treatment, could last for generations. As far as single use plastics go, just remember P.I.E.–Plastic Is Evil. Last week, for the first time, plastic microbeads were found in some dude’s bloodstream.

Maple Fry Fork

Maple and Walnut

I wasn’t familiar with the Swedish term “fry fork” until this year (Google translate says that the Swedish is “stek gaffel,” for what that’s worth). I ran across it in the new English edition of Carving Kitchen Tools, by Moa Brännström Ott. I was so intrigued by this book that I made sure that it arrived on the first day of publication, 2/1/2022.

Spoons, Fry Fork, Butter Knife

I made my fry fork before I knew there was such a thing. It excels at flipping bacon, and most of all, making soft scrambled eggs. Here’s how to make them, from a French farmhouse, to the great writer Elizabeth David, who learned the technique there, to her student Jane Grigson. That’s how cooking works.

Soft Scrambled Eggs

Eggs (One per person)

Sea Salt

Olive oil

That’s it. The trick is in the cooking. I like carbon steel pans for this, as they heat up fast, and cool off quickly.

Give the eggs a thorough beating, and heat up the olive oil in the pan at high heat. As soon as the oil begins to spread out, starts moving around and forming thin layers at the point of the heated surface, and thicker layers elsewhere, turn the heat to the lowest possible setting, and take a break. When the oil has returned to an even surface, pour in the beaten eggs. Then do nothing.

What, no running around like in a cooking competition? This is more Zen than that. When the eggs begin to set, slowly separate and turn the curds to the desired size. Serve the eggs while they are still moist–no rubber eggs here.

The fry fork is just the tool for this dish. Carved from green Maple, I call mine the trident style for obvious reasons. If Neptune wants to banish me to ten years of roaming the eastern Mediterranean in an Odyssey, eating great seafood, kicking butt and taking names, and generally playing ancient Greek James Bond, I’m down with that-especially if I get to slaughter all the local scumbags, who are eating my food and drinking my wine, when I finally get back to my home city. No wonder that poem is still so popular.

Making Oil Wax Finishes

Cooking the Finish

First, to clear up a common confusion between paste waxes and oil wax finishes. Strangely enough, a paste wax is a surface polish, and an oil finish is a drying oil based finish that soaks/penetrates into the wood, and eventually dries into a polymerized surface. Two examples follow.

When wax is melted with a solvent, say terps, mineral spirits, or citrus solvent, it becomes a paste wax, or a pure wax held in solution by a solvent. When wax is melted by a heated oil, sometimes in combination with a solvent, it becomes an oil wax finish. Time for some specific examples.

Melting away in my Trangia 25 cookset (still less than $100, alcohol stove included), is some oil finish composed of 4 oz of Walnut oil (highest oil content of any drying oil), 2 oz Beeswax and Carnauba wax, and a teaspoon of Citrus solvent. This is definitely the best smelling finish I have ever cooked, and should be durable as well. Here’s the Roman workbench with a couple of coats on it.

Still needs Four More Legs

The Citrus solvent idea came from Christopher Schwartz, who uses a 3-1 ratio of oil to wax. I tend to go with 2-1, but to save time, I should have dissolved the Carnauba wax in the Citrus solvent before adding the oil and beeswax. I applied the finish with a high tech applier, an old smart wool sock that has a big hole in it.

The possible combinations are almost endless:

Oils I have used–

Walnut Oil (my favorite)

Polymerized (heated) Linseed Oil

Oils to experiment with–

Sunflower seed oil

Tung oil

I have made mass quantities of paste wax with Tung oil, to the point that I have run out of it, as well as the Citrus solvent. Time to make a shopping list.

Waxes I have used–


Carnauba wax

Note to self–Dissolve the Carnauba wax in Citrus solvent first, then add the oil.

Waxes to experiment with–

Candelilla wax

Bayberry wax

Candalilla wax fascinates me, as it is not as hard as rock hard Carnauba, but harder than soft beeswax. One day I will look up the technical specs. I once owned somewhere between a few hundred to a few thousand wax myrtle bushes, growing wild on a twenty acre farm in south Alabama. The seeds are the source of Bayberry wax. If I had known what I was doing back then, my whole house could smell like a Bayberry candle now.


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