Simple things

“The bitterness of poor quality is remembered long after the sweetness of low price fades from memory.”
– Unknown

We use a lot of simple things every day without stopping for a second to think what went into making them. Or why we like some of them more then others. A spoon is a spoon, right?

Maker cannot afford that thinking, or he ceases to be a maker. Here are a few examples of things I made that have more to them then some might see at a glance.

1. Candle

Candle

A candle is easy to make: melt some wax, take a wick, pour wax into a form or a jar with the wick strung in it. Let it cool and enjoy. A good candle is not easy to make.

First off, what’s a good candle?

A good candle is the one that burns cleanly, without making soot. A good candle does not go out on it’s own. A good candle does not leak wax all over the place. A good candle burns most of the wax without leaving a cratered-out wax shell around it. A good candle is pretty bright and does not flicker too much. A good candle will light up and do all of the above right on the second and third and tenth lighting. A good candle does not poison everyone in the room.

It is not simple to make a good candle.

I will not bore you with all the details of how to make a good candle, there are plenty of resources for that already. Suffice to say the above candle is a good candle I made, and before it came at least three dozen candles ranging from mild catastrophe to poisonous abomination.

So, my good candle: jar made from cut bottle, soy wax, home made cotton wick with boric acid as mordant.

 

2. Cooking spatulas.

I like cooking. As a matter of fact, I love cooking. One of my most often used cooking tools is a spatula. Pretty much any time there is a frying pan on the stove a spatula is nearby.

I have used many spatulas over the years. First I ditched plastic. It’s just wrong: no matter how “heat resistant” they claim to be, they always melt. Or worse. Have you ever smelled burning plastic? Enough said.

Metal ones went out even faster. A cheapest frying pan I have is $45. Metal spatulas make frying pans single-use devices.

Wood works well. It’ hard enough to stand up to abuse when they are made right and from the right wood. Yet soft enough to not damage the pans. If it catches on fire it’s unfortunate but at least it does not render the kitchen uninhabitable.

They are inexpensive, and can be quite beautiful in their simplicity.

But what makes a good cooking spatula?

Spatulas1

First, the wood. It should be strong enough to stand to the abuses of the work they do. So softwoods like pine are out of the question.  They should not be poisonous (duh!), so no walnut. They should not splinter easily, and they should not deform from constant wetting-drying cycles. This leaves us with a handful of choices, but my favorite is black locust. Actually, it’s my favorite wood for many things, but it’s particularly good in the kitchen. It is very tough mechanically and chemically. It does not rot easily. It keeps it’s form. It has a beautiful natural color, and it does not easily pick up stains from cooking, so it keeps the color well.

This is my well used locust spatula, showing the color but very little wear:

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Can you tell it’s been in constant use for over a year?

Second is the form. The handle should be comfortable and easy to grip. The business end is shaped to fit the curved side of the pan with one edge and has a sharp point on another side to pry stuck bits off the pan. The front edge is thin so it’s easy to get under fragile pieces of food without leaving tastiest bits on the pan.

So here we go, my favorite spatula. Black locust and linseed oil finish.