Interview Subject: Sarah & Jen
Object in Question: Spatula
This morning Zac and I had the great pleasure to see Sarah and Jen married. The ceremony was in a gazebo in a park a few blocks from their house; during their vows, the skies opened up and it began to rain in a circle around all of us. Afterwards, we walked to a local restaurant and ate and drank the afternoon away.
Before eating, we gave Sarah and Jen their object: a handmade spatula, flexible and curved to fit the hand. Here’s Zac’s overview of the making process:
So, what to make for a couple that loves to cook? There’s a whole world of possible kitchen accessories, appliances, and tools, but what can be made in under 8 hours, with little tooling or materials cost?
Hand tools seemed to be the answer, something simple but elegant and effective for cooking or serving. Coincidentally, Cooks’ Illustrated had just done a special on that most basic of cooking tools, the spatula. They concluded that this:
the Wusthof Gourmet Turner Fish Spatula was the “best” spatula. Catchy name, right? But it’s got a thin, flexible blade that’s sturdy enough to flip heavy items, and an angled edge that’s handy for scraping pans and getting into the corners of pots.
So in designing a spatula for Jen & Sarah, I based the shape on this and tried to figure out how to make it relatively quickly and easily. The numerous slender slots were out, as was the riveted resin handle. The blade material, stainless spring steel, is readily available and can be worked with most metalworking tools – the challenge was making a dime-thin piece of steel feel comfortable in the hand with no added handle. In working out a design, it’s always easier to use paper or cardboard to start with – in this case green oaktag from an old file folder. The designs evolved from top to bottom – a 2.5″ wide strip of spring steel with an angled scraping edge and a 90° twist in the handle to give a rounded gripping surface.
Unfortunately spring steel is, well, springy. It’s the stuff watch springs are made of, as hard as an average knife blade, with a definite dislike for bending. It comes in 5′ long strips, coiled and tied, with a large warning tag. Cutting those bands sent the strip dancing merrily across the shop floor as it straightened out in a matter of seconds. How, then, to bend it?
Enter a recent Craigslist find – a kick press from the boonies. Originally set up to punch oblong holes in thick plastic, it’s rated for 5 tons (a little optimistically, I think) and has a nice tall space for tooling.
Those 5 tons of pressure, exerted over a fairly small area, can quite easily bend spring steel given the proper tooling. This might not be quite the proper tooling, but it could be made quickly with what I had on hand – some small channel & a few pieces of scrap steel.
And with a few measured kicks, it can make fairly nice bends in the springiest steel.
So, tooling taken care of, now to cut out the blank.
And with a little grinding & punching, it’s looking less like a piece of debris & more like a kitchen utensil.
And with a few kicks of the press and some cutting and grinding – cameras and steel dust don’t get along, so unfortunately no pictures – it’s looking like a real spatula.
And it even looks at home in a pan! Hopefully Jen & Tyler will like it! They’ve promised to send pictures of it in use – we can’t wait to see them.