Making Kitchen Tools

Limitless Possibilities

Wooden kitchen tools can be made with just a few carving tools, or you can go in whole hog like I have done, and have a dozen or more tools to use. After all, the person who dies with the most tools, wins. Even though you’re still dead.

The bottom one, painted with some homemade iron oxide Swedish Red paint, is a traditional Swedish butter knife, though we mostly use those as jam spreaders. Multi-tasking is fine.

The middle one is my version of a butter knife, made from walnut. The finish is blonde shellac, which I also made, with the help of the bugs who laid the resin.

The spoon at the top is also walnut, with a food grade linseed oil finish. I made the distinction between the heartwood and sap wood part of the design. It came out nicely.

This is just part of a large set I am making for in-laws, as they gave me a stack of logs. MJ also has a niece who is renovating a house, and has a kitchen with nothing in it. That won’t last much longer.

Time to give a shout out to a great US tool company. Flexcut tools in PA make some great carving tools. These would have been much harder to make without their tools.

The folding carving knife was a present from MJ, and it has two blades of different lengths, but it insures her that she will have spoons and spatulas for life. The small drawknife is a recent purchase, but I used it on all those items in the picture. That honking giant bowl gouge took some time to find, and naturally it was being sold by my favorite woodworking store in Atlanta, Highland Woodworking. It’s a full 2″ wide on the business end, and will take out a serious chunk of wood. Bowl carving is in the near future.

Mallet, Part I–Dogwood Root Club

Seriously Hard and Dangerous

At the University of Alabama, I lived at the Men’s Honors Dorm, a somewhat notorious institution called the Mallet Assembly. It was home for everything from high minded intellectuals to infamous perverts. I prefer to think that I was in the former category.

So now I have undertaken several projects of making mallets. My first is every traditional woodworker’s dream, a splitting club ( aka, a maul), made from unbelievably hard dogwood root. The club is used to strike the back of a froe (pictured), which is a wood splitting tool. Mine happened to be made by the Amish.

One of our many thunderstorms this year blew over one of our big dogwood trees, and actually uprooted it. All I had to do was cut the root off with my old double bitted axe, and shape it right there on my shaving horse (also pictured), with a drawknife and a spokeshave. This club is full of heavyosity.

The first trial run was that piece of walnut, which it split with only four whacks. The second run was on some hornbeam, which is impossible to split. I did it anyway–after cutting through ninety five percent of the hornbeam log.

Cookbook Bench

Let’s Cook

MJ wanted a bookstand for our cookbooks that can be moved around in the kitchen, so I dove into my scrap pile and came up with some goodies. My total cost for new components for this stand was 9 1/2 cents.

Most people make these out of plywood, but I had some 1/4″ thick poplar boards in the scrap pile, along with some cherry pieces parts, and I made just a very few saw cuts. The molding on the front is actually some crown molding, which I grooved with an old Stanley 45 combination plane. I used the same plane to cut the bead at the top.

My contribution to the design was to drill eight holes in the base, and use handmade French nails as a means of keeping the books open. There are actually sixteen possible arrangements for the nails, to accommodate different sized books.

Because there are three different varieties of wood used, I finished it with a dark amber shellac, which was also made by yours truly. I did have some help from the lac bugs, which is where shellac comes from. It is also used in making candy like Raisinettes and Jelly Beans, so there is another food connection. I doubt that people who eat those even know that they are eating bug parts.

That’s it in action with one of my favorite cookbooks. You have to like a book that has both a cow and chicken on the cover.

Child’s Rocker Repair

Almost Ready to Rock

Family heirlooms, if they can be reclaimed, should never be thrown away. My in-laws commissioned me to repair this probably homemade child’s rocker, which was found in a shed, and was in seriously rough shape. One back leg was broken, two slats in the seat were broken, and every joint was coming unglued. There is a good chance that MJ’s grandfather Richter, who was born in Germany, made this, as he was a master carpenter.

There isn’t much that isn’t completely rotten that can’t be repaired with a couple of bar clamps, a c-clamp, some fasteners, and half a bottle of glue. And then there is the ingenious part of the repair.

Animals at work

I needed something to brace up the broken slats, so I searched my scrap pile for the best item. Then there it was–a River Birch piece that had been peeled by a Beaver, that I found on the river. I thought, how can anything be more appropriate, to fix a home made rocker?

I shaped a nice curve in it with a spokeshave, coated the top with glue, and attached it with a couple of fasteners. It is a little crooked, but the slats were broken in different places, so I had to angle it ever so slightly.

If you are wondering why my 23 ounce framing hammer is sitting in the seat, it is my clamp to keep down the broken slats while the glue dried. That hammer was yet another present from MJ, who actually remembers sitting in this chair. With any luck, kids will still be rocking in this thing, a hundred years from now.

Favorite Woodworking Planes, Part Two–Block Planes

The Best of the USA and the Bundesrepublik Deutschland

These are some of my most used planes. and two actually live in the tool tray on top of my work bench. They are that useful. To make this brief, they are a Stanley #60 1/2, a Stanley # 18, and an EC Emmerich wooden block plane with a sole of lignum vitae. Now it’s time for my closeup, Mr. DeMille. (Sunset Boulevard ref).

60 1/2

The least used is the Stanley 60 1/2 “low angle” block plane, though there is some debate over how low angle it actually is. It has an adjustable mouth, which is the key feature. The only reason it isn’t used more is the crappy blade that Stanley put on these planes. Therefore, it spends its time in my green woodworking tool bucket. I am eventually going to spring for one of those fancy Veritas plane blades, and at that point it will be look out, wood.

Germans, They are so Clever and Industrious

This beauty I would never have bought for myself, but I opened a package one Christmas from MJ, and there it was (She is of mostly German and Swedish extraction, and knows her woodworking tools). This E.C Emmerich block plane came with one bad mother of a plane blade, so no upgrade was needed. It’s built like a modern German Bundeswehr Panzerdivision, and cuts like it means business. It’s partner is hiding behind it, and that’s one of only three planes I have ever had in new condition–an old Ulmia Scrub Plane, which happens to be the only bench plane that I have personally purchased new. Those definitely live in my tool tray on the bench.

The Crown Jewel

This Stanley #18 knuckle joint plane gets a workout ever time I make something. Like all things over a hundred years old (such as myself), it has a secret weapon.

That Means Oil Hardened

Yep, that’s the extra thick and hard Lee Valley blade, made in Canada. Those things are worth far more than the money they cost. It does make this dingus as heavy as a sea anchor, but as my friend Torsten Fisch used to say, in his thick German accent, “Size matters. Bigger is better.” Of course, he did work for Mercedes.

Cherry/Pine Hall Tree

It’s the Stairs that are Crooked

The problem with being rusticated with your dear spouse is that she finds a hundred things for you to do. The truth is, I needed to do most of these things anyway.

A case in point is the Hall Tree, all but one of the pieces of which I have had for years. I finally got the last piece of pine for this, as the upright part of the tree is laminated from three pine boards (three 1″ x 3″s). The Cherry feet came out of my famous scrap pile, and the post is attached with a tenon. And then there is the hardware.

The small iron hooks are Amish handmade, and the nails were handmade in a World Heritage site nail factory in France. The big hooks came from my favorite tool seller, Lee Valley, which is based in Canada.

The big framed dingus in the background is one of the favorite magazine features that I have written. They also published one of the photos I took as a full page intro, of MJ fly fishing for brook trout. If she will model for free, I suppose the least I could do is make her a hall tree. And buy her a beer.

Favorite Woodworking Planes, Part One–Jointers

Big Honking Planes

All of my Jointer planes (used to edge plane boards for gluing, such as tabletops, or for general leveling), were bought used, which saved me hundreds of dollars. That left me with enough money to buy a fancy plane blade for the 22″ long Stanley #7C (that’s the iron one, with a corrugated sole). It’s an extra thick cutter, made by Veritas/Lee Valley in Canada. It will seriously slice up some wood, even though it cost more than the plane did.

The plane is something of a mashup of parts, with a wrong sized lever cap (the thing that holds the cutter on), and handles of different kinds of wood. I did just order a new correct sized lever cap from Fleabay, as I have numerous projects which MJ has ordered me to complete.

Ebony, Cast Iron, Steel, and Rosewood–and a little Brass

However, when I really want to flatten some wood, I reach down in my tool rack under the workbench, and grab the German made old 23 1/2″ beech wood Ulmia/Ott jointer (also in the top picture). It’s light, sharper than a razor, and easy to use. It’s the only large plane that permanently lives under the workbench. It’s that useful, and I used to feel guilty about how little I paid those Canadians for it, on Fleabay. Used to.

And then there is the first jointer I bought, a Stanley/Bailey #31. It’s a full 24″ long, but they made these in two inch increments up to 30″ long, the last of which must have been a special order by Andre the Giant. These are called “transitional planes,” as they are wood bodied, but with iron adjustments. They were completely out of favor when I bought five different ones at an Indiana Flea Market, and I doubt I paid $50 for the lot. They are excellent tools.

For a good long while, hand tools like these were only sought after by country living Luddites such as myself. Now a whole boutique industry has emerged to make planes that are fantastically expensive. A jointer this size from one of those companies now costs more than the monthly payment on our Prius Eco. I’ll buy one, as soon as one comes out that I can ride to the Farmer’s Market at the Festhalle, like our Prius.

Cherry Computer Desk

Corporate America, Beware of MJ

The giant Alabama based corporation Melanie Jane works for has rusticated her indefinitely, and possibly permanently. Then they tell her last week they have ordered her yet more computer equipment. Time for a new desk and some extra space. It’s not exactly Virginia Woolf’s a room of her own, but it is pretty nice.

I have one of the finest scrap wood piles in history, this having been salvaged from it. The Black Cherry wood is over fifty years old. How do I know that? Because the tree this wood came from fell on me. Hereby hangs a tale, as the Bard of Avon might have said.

Home Office, with Two Shelves of Cookbooks

The new corporate office above is overseen by a framed program featuring none other than actor Cleavon Little, who played the sharecropper Nate Shaw at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, in the play All God’s Dangers. Unlike Bob Marley’s song, Nate shot the Deputy, but he did not shoot the Sheriff. But it was in self defense.

At any rate, back to the story. My grandfather was one of the finest loggers for the brand new Tennessee Vally Authority, as they were building the giant chain of lakes on the Tennessee River in Alabama, which would be Wilson, Wheeler, and Guntersville. He would tell tales about trees so large that they had to weld two two man crosscut saws together, just to cut them down. So old growth forests were replaced by water, and the valley could have cheap electricity, and the world’s finest fishing for smallmouth bass. Everything is a trade off.

We had this beautiful tall Black Cherry tree by our house, when I was a small child. It produced massive quantities of black cherries, which were inedible for anything other than birds. The birds would eat them in mass quantities, and then crap black cherry colored crap all over the clothes on our clothesline. Note: no one we knew owned a clothes dryer back then.

My mother pronounced a death sentence for the tree. My father was dispatched as the executioner, and he grabbed his double bitted axe, and drove his old Plymouth down for me to sit, on, and witness his skill as a lumberjack. I was instructed to sit on the hood, and watch the remarkable display of skill.

Remarkable, it was. He managed to make the tree fall in exactly the opposite direction than he intended, and I was transfixed as the tree headed straight for my head. Only the limbs hit me, but the Plymouth took a strong blow to the roof.

I forgot about the entire incident, and soon enough went off to college for ten years. My father went on to join the choir invisible during that time, and so his sheds full of goodies remained untouched. I returned home for the summer before I started my first professorial job, and there they were–a double bitted axe, and a giant pile of cherry lumber, that had been drying for over twenty years. As a victim, I claimed all of it.

I was looking in my outdoor tool closet the other day, and found the axe. I had put a new handle in it, and I am about to grind it sharp, so I can also cut down trees in the wrong direction.

This reminded me of the great poem by Gary Snyder, “Axe Handles.” Here it is (copyrighted by Gary, btw).

Axe Handles

BY GARY SNYDER

One afternoon the last week in April
Showing Kai how to throw a hatchet
One-half turn and it sticks in a stump.
He recalls the hatchet-head
Without a handle, in the shop
And go gets it, and wants it for his own.
A broken-off axe handle behind the door
Is long enough for a hatchet,
We cut it to length and take it
With the hatchet head
And working hatchet, to the wood block.
There I begin to shape the old handle
With the hatchet, and the phrase
First learned from Ezra Pound
Rings in my ears!
“When making an axe handle
                 the pattern is not far off.”
And I say this to Kai
“Look: We’ll shape the handle
By checking the handle
Of the axe we cut with—”
And he sees. And I hear it again:
It’s in Lu Ji’s Wên Fu, fourth century
A.D. “Essay on Literature”-—in the
Preface: “In making the handle
Of an axe
By cutting wood with an axe
The model is indeed near at hand.”
My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen
Translated that and taught it years ago
And I see: Pound was an axe,
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on.

Indeed we do (my comment).