Some friends of mine have a "Big Green Egg" barbecue. In this, they cook the most amazing, and delicious, things.
The key feature of this burner is its controllability, but on a recent visit the heat would not turn up. After six hours of slow cooking, the finishing crisp could not be achieved as even with all air ports open, the fire would not get hot.
Raking round the edge of the plate holding the coals got some spots red hot, showing that there was still plenty of fuel, but insufficient air. The tools supplied with the grill are designed to not fit through the air holes in the base of the firebox, and there was no way to poke a tiny little hole which would allow the combustion to be reinvigorated.
Their garage was innocent of wire, and they had no wire coat-hangers from which I could make a poker. Accordingly, the pork had to be removed from the Big Green Egg (other charcoal barbecues are available) and finished off in the electric oven.
I was so irritated by this that I have made them a specially designed tool to prevent the issue causing problems in the future, and since it was already overkill, I made a nice case for it too.
This is not designed for raking the clinker out of a blast furnace: it is the fire iron equivalent of a Von Graefe knife.
Step 1: Making the Wire Poker
The first two images show a pack of bedding at the local homeware store. I had previously bought some bedding in similar packaging. Before discarding the packaging, I had cut the plastic from the wire stiffeners. They turned out to be made of very hard steel, which was thinner but harder and stronger than ordinary fencing wire.
Since I had no measurements for the firebox and the Egg was at the other end of the country, I went for margin and used the longer edge for the reach of the poker, and made a guess that five inches would be enough vertically. This figure was also influenced by my decision to make the case from 6" by 1" boards (150 by 25 in metric)
The wire should not be cut with your pliers! You will damage the cutting jaws. I learned that the hard way on a previous project. The wire cuts easily with a hacksaw with a good blade, but the end is jagged. I smoothed the poking end off with a file.
The other end will be buried in the handle, so doesn't need to be smooth if you are willing to be careful while handling it. I wanted the poker to have a never-bent straightness to the shaft, and for the shaft to be as long as possible, so I cut the end which would be inside the handle around the corner. Once that was straightened it would still be slightly bent, but again that would be concealed within the handle.
Step 2: Making the Handle
I used inch and half dowel which fitted my hand nicely. Other hands are available, as are other sizes of dowel.
I grabbed a decent handful, and marked where I thought was a good length using masking tape. That turned out to be about 5 1/2" or 140mm. I sawed at the mark, then sanded the ends to a more comfortable turn, and then worked through a few progressively finer grits until the surface of the handle felt nice.
I offered the curved end of the poker shaft to the handle to work out how deep the hole would need to be, then found a suitable drill bit which was a couple of mm thicker than the wire. This was to allow the glue to squeeze round the metal later on.
Mounting the handle in the drill press to get a nice hole was a bit of a kludge. Please ignore the feeler gauge which I had to use to get everything in line.
After the hole was drilled, I got the handle end of the shaft roughly straight and did a dry fit.
Step 3: Poker Assembly
Never having used any epoxy before, I thought I'd give it a try to hold the rod in the handle. I followed the instructions to mix it, and used the mixing rod to drip it into the hole in the handle. I covered the end of the handle with masking tape to stop the epoxy getting into the end grain.
I held the handle and rod upright to let the epoxy cure, which can take a while.
Not visible in the final photograph:- for safety, I wrapped a flag of white masking tape around the end of the poker while it was standing upright. This made the wire end more likely to catch the eye and less likely to catch in it.
Step 4: Case Pieces
This section is the key to the making of the case.
Two sections of 6" by 1" formed the mass of the case. I cut a hole right through the base, and then a matching hole through a piece of 4mm ply.
I could have routed out a groove for the metal rod, but it was a lot easier to cut one in the thin ply with a jigsaw.
Step 5: Adding Magnets to the Case
During a test placement of the poker in the case, I became concerned that it might not lie flat.
I had some small magnets, so I drilled some shallow 10mm holes in the 6" by 1" along the line of where the poker would lie, filled them with hot-glue and then pressed the magnets in, leaving them slightly proud of the surface.
Step 6: Case Assembly
I lathered the three layers of the case base with PVA (Elmer's) and clamped.
Then I used an edge-following bit in the router to trim the two layers of ply.
Step 7: Final Steps on the Poker
At this point, I realised that although the poker handle fitter flush in the case, it was a little too flush and would be awkward to remove.
Since the case didn't have enough room to remove material for a finger-hole, I decided to cut that in the end of the handle.
I used a Forstner bit to cut a semicircle from the end of the dowel, then sanded off the rough bits.
Finally: sanding with 240 grit and a couple of coats of varnish, with 320 grit in between them.
Step 8: Case Lid Routing
To allow the lid of the case to close, we need a hole. Unlike the body of the case, the lid does not have a covering sheet of ply, so this hole has to be routed out.
I had marked the hole required before gluing the base layers together.
I offered up the handle in the base to the lid to get the required depth of cut, then routed it out freehand, then squared off the corners with a chisel.
Step 9: Case Finishing and Fittings
I test fitted the hinge with just a few of its screws, and verified that the poker fit in the case with the lid closed.
Then I removed the hinge, sanded the case and lid down to 180 grit and applied three coats of varnish, sanding between.
The hinge, clasps and handle were then fitted, giving something which looked from the outside like a case.
Step 10: Case Lining
To line the cut-outs in the case, I used some scraps of adhesive backed felt. Ordinary felt and contact cement would work fine too.
To line the hole in the lid, I cut a piece of felt appropriately, then removed a patch of the backing paper from the middle of the piece, and pushed it down into the hole. Then I worked around the felt, removing pieces of backing paper, pressing to the wood and trimming the overhang.
That worked OK, but it was a little awkward in the corners where a tiny square of felt had to be removed, so I changed tack for the hole in the base, and cut separate pieces. This worked just as well but was a little less fiddly.
Then I cut a couple of long, thin strips to line the groove for the poker shaft. It was surprising how wide that strip had to be: even though it looks narrow and shallow, it actually needed 20mm (almost an inch) of felt.
To ensure solid hold of the metal of the poker by the magnets, I left the last two magnets at the far end of the case exposed.
Step 11: Crimes, Concealments and Conclusions
Crimes and Concealments:-
I got a bit enthusiastic with the PVA and had to clean up the squeeze with a knife. Fortunately everything was covered up or fixable, but it is one of those "less is more" jobs.
Some PVA transferred from my finger to one of the cauls which I was using while clamping the case together. The caul was friable (chipboard) so I was able to scrape the damage off with a knife.
One of the catches was put in the wrong place. It was only about half a millimetre off, but that was enough. Redrilling the pilot holes with that offset would have been very difficult, so I went for the old "bang a matchstick in the hole" trick. That worked fine.
Adding the finger-grip to the butt of the handle was difficult and needed a lot of cleaning up. Next time I make a fitted case for something, I will remember to design the finger-holes from the beginning.
I am really happy with how the case turned out. It is definitely overkill, but it is also a way of expressing disappointment in my friends that they didn't have any wire in their garage.
The technique of layering sawn planks with jig-sawn and un-sawn plywood to make fitted cases worked really well.