Saturday, July 27, 2013


Some say necessity is the mother of invention. I had made a few pizzas using radiant mass. (Instead of taking a "cold" pizza pan or stone in/out of the oven, the dough goes directly atop preheated fire brick in the oven... crust deliciousness.) We were having friends over for pizzas in a couple weeks, and I was tired of burning myself using my ugly grease splatter guard, so I needed a legit peel (paddle).  Most have an excessively long handle for my small kitchen, and are generally pretty plain. I could knock something together until I get that wood fired brick oven in the "piazza"...

Like most every design, I started by sketching a minimalist shape of the item and then see if it goes in unexpected direction by sketching for a few days as inspiration strikes. First, I tried laminations of wood to provide color... nothing. After numerous squiggles and wavy "modern" handles attached to a board yielded more uninspired blech, I came upon two potentials, a Les Paul guitar shape and a swan shape. These seemed fun & unique enough to avoid purchasing a generic one and cutting down the handle. The guitar might be better reserved for later since:
  1. It needed a long handle to stay proportioned
  2. I'm not a rock star (I can barely play the radio) 
So after a jaunt to the copier, I had my small rough idealized swan head sketch enlarged to handle size. Planning... "check."

After resawing a cherry off-cut to ~1/4", I realized that it would be too thin for comfort in the handle portion. So after book matching the main body, I doubled up the handle area to provide a bit better grip (using Titebond II for water & food safety). This worked, but provided a challenging transition area when shaping. 

I struggled with embellishing just the handle, or carrying on into the body. I decided to shape the body to have a bit of a wing tip shape. I was worried that the points would be fragile or hazardous, but despite being dropped a few times, it's fine. Same with a few "feathers", I was worried they'd get full of crud or snag the dough, but it's all good, since my carving is more like an etch... (and I usually roll-out on parchment paper)
For the shaping, I started by sawing it out and then rounding over most of the main bits, with my then new milled tooth file, a good fast cutting shaping tool prone to chatter in some directions. What the file couldn't handle, chisels and sandpaper took care of. The carving is just knifed in and pared out. There's so little of it, that at least to my eye, it looks likes it adds a nice splash, without being enough to highlight imperfections in my "style". Finished with a splash of mineral oil.*
A couple things I learned from this project:
  • Bulbous end of the handle adds nice control
  • Neck reversal integrates a handy hang hole
  • It doesn't take a ton of tools, or skill to add a little character to a piece.
  • Making organic shapes is fun
  • When emulating nature, there aren't many constant radii. Necks etc are always tapering as needed. This is hard to get right.
  • Using a simple thing you've made is something great, yielding that little bit extra enjoyment EVERY time you use it. Those split second grins when you think, "I made this, it works nice and looks decent too." Those add up to satisfaction.
  • Scrap woods make great fast kitchen projects. (I need to make some spoons soon.)
A few months later, we hosted a wine and cheese party. This peel project encouraged me to once again raid the scrap bin, to make the 18-20 needed cheese boards. After receiving comments on the variety of the boards (due to the scraps in the bin) from our guests, they started claiming them as door prizes. It was nice to see my pragmatic solution ("We need a bunch of one time use cutting boards for a fancy party!") turned into something that others enjoyed. It's my hope they're occasionally pulled out to cut an apple or something and the user thinks of us and that evening. That's some of the beauty of handmade objects, they come with a back story that Crate & Barrel can't provide.

*Last night, prior to shooting some photos for this, I refreshed the oil finish after quite some time. Something sparked that I should try out Don's version of Roubo's Polissoir that I picked up at HandWorks and that the missus wrote a bit about.... Wow! It works superbly! Looks like I need to write my first tool review...

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