Boil ’em, mash ’em, put ’em in a stew!

Well, the pertinent method of preparation today is to mash them.  In our kitchen was a contraption that was everything I dislike about kitchenware.


It doesn’t work very well because the cheap plastic flexes when you’re trying mash down on your boiled potatoes.  The waffle-pattern face is hard to clean without adding any utility.  And it’s made in China.  But it was cheap!  I decided something better was in order.

I took a piece of walnut and chucked it in the lathe.  The billet for this project is 3″ x 3″ x 12″.  After turning it down to a 3″ cylinder and cutting down a drive stub, I measured in from the ends and sized down to the diameters at a few points.  The big end stays at 3″.  The little stem is ¾”, and the two bits on the left are 1¼”.


After that, I started connecting those points fluidly.  Watch where the main body takes a very quick turn into the handle because it’s easy to catch the side of the gouge.  The finial on the end can be a ball or an “acorn” style.  I prefer the latter because it keeps it from looking too chunky.  The business end of the masher is not flat.  Instead, it’s a shallow convex curve.  This lets it get into the bottom of a bowl more easily.


Once it’s properly sanded and the drive stubs are cut away, add a coat of the mineral oil/beeswax blend and it’s ready for the kitchen.




So yesterday we went over how to fit a socket chisel with a new handle.  Yay!

But what if the chisel in question has a tang?  Un-yay?

No big deal.  The big difference is that instead of fitting a socket, we need to fit a ferrule, and we have to bore a hole in the handle.  Other than that, it’s pretty much the same.  But for today, I thought I’d show a variant of this process.

My wife had a dog grooming comb that had broken teeth, and it was annoying her.  She asked if I would fix it.  Really, she said, she just needed the gap-toothed section gone, then she could use the leftover spine as a handle.  I said I would not only do that, but make it better.


The first thing was to pull out the teeth from half of the spine.  When that was done, I smoothed the spine down with a file, and then filed a few divots into it with an old saw file.  I’ll get to why, but then I drilled a matching hole in a piece of cherry, deep and wide enough to accept the spine.  If this were a chisel handle, I would need to bore a tapered hole.  My big tapered Irwin drill (for #14 screws) works for most of the small ones. If you need a bigger hole, or don’t have tapered drills, then there’s a section in The Joiner and Cabinet-Maker that goes over chiseling a tapered hole.  Either way, you want the hole to have a diameter large enough that the chisel tang will slide in to ¼” or a little less away from fitting completely.  That will allow us to seat it securely later.


Once you have the hole bored, fit the handle blank into the lathe, with the tang hole going over a live center.  Take the ferrule you’re using (I use a lot of ¾” brass tube, but in this particular case I’m going to use a little copper) and set the inside diameter on your outside calipers.  Mark the length (I usually use 5/8″) of your ferrule on the blank, then turn that section down to where it will only just let you get the ferrule started.  Then seat it onto the blank by malleting the back of the blank.  Don’t hit the ferrule until it sits flush with the live center end of your blank.  Then, you’ll probably have to get out a punch and steel hammer and gently tap around the circumference of the ferrule to make sure it seats dead flush with the shoulder of your prospective handle.  You’ll probably have a smidge of wood sticking out of the end, but that’s fine, and you’ll pare it off flush later.


Once your ferrule is fit, turning the handle is straightforward, with the procedure of sizing down to your target diameters, then connecting points just the same as before.


When the profile is done, and sanded to 400, I put some garnet shellac on while it’s still in the lathe.  This really accentuates the reddish tones of the cherry.


Finally after the handle is done, I epoxied the comb into the handle.  A tang chisel wouldn’t need epoxy, but seated with a mallet up to the little shoulder on the tang.  Since the comb wasn’t tapered, we needed something more.  The little divots we filed into the handle help create a mechanical lock between the rough walls of the hole and the spine of the comb.  If you were bedding a rifle action into a stock (one of uses for epoxy in woodworking) you would strenuously avoid doing this, but for this purpose, it will keep everything together through thick and thin.  Once the epoxy cured, I sanded the shellac down and put on another coat, finishing at 800 grit.  Then a little paste wax over that, and the comb (or a notional chisel!) was done.


Getting a handle on things

Once the steel is ready, we need to put a proper handle on our chisel.  While you could make the profile from most anything, only a few domestic woods are really suitable for a bench chisel.  I specify bench chisel because some of the weak but showy woods could be okay for a paring chisel that won’t be hit with a mallet.  But for a bench chisel that will be hit with a mallet, you have to get something tough.  Hickory, and white oak are the most easily obtainable, but I’ve had good success with scarcer woods like persimmon, osage orange, and hornbeam.  For this particular build, I’ll use a hickory billet I split out of a log months ago.  It’s roughly 1 ½” square and 6″ long.


I have two sizes of handle I typically make, both based on a classic Marples profile.  The watershed is at about ¾”.  This keeps the smaller chisels balanced, while providing the larger ones with a little more strength for the pounding they can take.  In any case, we need to start with the most critical aspect first: the interface between the steel and the wood.  If you were able to get the old handle stub out whole, then you can measure directly off of it.  If, on the other hand, you had to take it out in pieces like this one, you will have to measure the inside of the socket.  It can be tricky to do (especially on the smaller chisels), and you’ll need a set of inside calipers to measure the narrow end; dial calipers won’t reach.


Using a sizing tool, cut down to just more than the size you need on both ends.  Then you cut a bevel that connects those two points.  At the very end, I like using a wide scraper because it helps prevent cutting a non-uniform bevel.  At this point, you need to cut and try, cut and try.  A live center is critical here.  Dead centers chew up the end of the bevel too much.  When you rub the socket on the bevel you’re cutting, you’ll see the high spots that are preventing the proper fit.  Cut those back.


Once you get your bevel almost up to the shoulder where the steel and handle will mate, you’ll need to undercut the back of the bevel a little bit so you don’t bind on the interior corner.  Only a smidge is enough.  You’ll probably also have to cut most of the front of your handle to give your tools clearance to work up near the shoulder.  The fit you’re looking for is when you have a little bit of room (wobble free!) between the shoulder and the end of the socket.  When we seat the handle later, that will compress a bit, and if you don’t leave a little room for it to take up, you will splinter off the end of the shoulder.  This one is right where we want it.


Once the steel fits the wood, finish up the rest of the shaping.  Here, you can see the target diameters have been cut in, and now I’m connecting them with a gentle arc.


A quick truing with a skew chisel’s planing cut, and a little sanding are about all that are left once the shaping is done with the gouge.  I rag on some oil and buff in some wax while the handle is still on the lathe.  Rather than part the handle off the lathe, I just stick it in the bench vise and saw the drive stub off, then pare it smooth.  A little more wax, and I’ll call it done.  And now we have a functional tool that, with a little more care this time, will last for years to come.




No!  That’s a mandrill!  I’m talking about a mandrel, which is, according to Oxford, a “cylindrical rod around which metal or other material is forged or shaped”.  Well, in this case, we’re making a mandrel for pastry crust, so we’re not likely to be forging anything.  If you are forging pastries, you’re doing it wrong.

But this example is for little quiches or tortes that have a very thin crust.  The more uniformly we can form this crust, the better the result will be.  This same principle has been followed in dies and patterns.  You make the reverse of what you want to stamp or cast the shape of what your end result should be. We need to start by taking some measurements.


That’s the pan we’re using.  Since the pastries are small, I need to account for a 1/8″ crust.  If they were larger (like a normal muffin tin), I would size it to accommodate a 3/16″ crust on account of the greater weight of the filling.  My Starrett dial calipers on the right are my trusted companion when it comes to this kind of measurement.  I can use the inside jaws to get the top diameter, but the bottom is out of reach.  So I use a set of inside calipers (middle) to gauge the diameter, then read it out as a measurement using the dial calipers.  Finally I get the depth using my combination square.

Once I have measurements, IT IS VERY IMPORTANT to account for the crust thickness before you start cutting.  The side measurements need to be reduced by two crusts, and the bottom by one.  This will give you finished size of the mandrel.

Centre up your blank in the lathe and start cutting a groove close to the major diameter, at the distance your depth needs to be.  Remember to leave a sacrificial stub.


Once you’ve gotten there, you can cut the minor diameter at the bottom, and rough in the taper.  I have no idea what the angle is.  It’s irrelevant.  If the top fits, and the bottom fits, and it’s a straight line between them, I don’t need to try to measure the angle.


When the rough turning is done, you’re going to have to start nibbling.  I like to use a square edge scraper.  Measure frequently with your dial calipers, and leave it a few thousandths oversize because you’re going to sand it later.  If you need to cut back the handle portion so you can fit your scraper in there, that’s fine, but don’t cut too far back into the handle area or it may impinge on the knob.


Now put a knob on the top so your baker can use it.


Sand on the lathe.  Cut off the drive stubs and round off the knob.  For truing the bottom of our mandrel, I’ve found it easiest to run it over a piece of sandpaper on glass.


A swipe of finish, and our mandrel is complete!  It should give your resident baker consistent crusts every time.




Turn, turn, turn

So the next project I have in mind is in a new discipline: woodturning.  My lathe is an old Delta, circa 1935.  It was, in the hoary past, mounted on a shopmade stand, but it still has the original 1/4 hp motor which is plenty of power for the projects I make.  The only modification I’ve made to it has been to replace the drive belt with a Power-twist belt.  It slips a lot less under load, and gives me more torque.  So let’s stop talking tools and make something!  In this case, a rolling pin.


Start by finding the centers of your billet (by going across corners), and mount it between centers.  I prefer to use a live center, but a well-lubricated dead center works too.  I usually use a drive center on the headstock, because it’s lighter and easier on my old lathe than a scroll chuck.  This blank we’re using is cherry, and about 2 1/4″ square.  Using a roughing gouge, turn it down to a cylinder.  Once I’ve got that done, I’ll go ahead and make the knob on one end before I have to move the toolrest.  On the headstock end, I leave a sacrificial bit about 5/8″ long.  Turn that down to as small a diameter as you can, but be careful not to hit the drive center!  From that new shoulder, I make a mark 2″ in, and turn that section to about 1 3/4″ in diameter, and freehand a knob shape.  No pattern for it, but mine frequently resemble the front knob on my smoothing plane when I’m done.  Leave a fillet about 1/8″ long where the knob meets the main cylinder.  It gives it a more defined look.


Once that knob looks okay, I’ll move the toolrest down to the tailstock end.  I usually leave the sacrificial bit around 3/8″ down here.  Just be careful when forming your knob that you don’t go too far down in your shaping, or that little stub will break off and the workpiece will go flying.  It’s impressive, but best left unrepeated.


Now, the fiddly bit here is making sure that you have a consistent main cylinder so your dough is flattened evenly.  I size a couple of places to the smallest diameter on my rough-turned cylinder.  Then, I’ll gingerly touch off the high spots with a skew.  Check yourself with a straightedge to make sure there aren’t any low spots left.  Since we cut the knobs already, those areas shouldn’t be in your way. Once that’s done, go ahead and sand it on the lathe.  Make sure there aren’t any torn spots before you get done with the coarse grits.


Now, take the rolling pin over to the workbench and cut off the sacrificial stubs that the lathe was using to run.  I saw, then pare smooth, and sand to the right contour.


Finally, rag it with some mineral spirits to get the dust off, and once that’s dry, apply your finish.  Then you can try to use it for leverage for pie.  Why pie?  Because according to the Backroads Diner in Attica, Ohio, pie fixes everything.  I’ve not tried it on everything just yet, but I’m working on it.