Not all woodworking involves perfect cuts and power tools. Wood can easily be shaped by hand tools, carving away sections to take on almost any shape you can imagine. I made these simple salad servers in an afternoon, with a solid game plan you could shape your own servers in time for dinner!
Wood carving is not quick, but can be very relaxing. A good way to think of wood carving is in stages, or layers. You'll start with roughing out a very general shape, then progressively step through stages to refine the shape into something more detailed.
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Step 1: Tools
Shaping wood doesn't require much in the way of tools, mostly a method of cutting your stock down to size, some finer instruments to make details, and a method to smooth it all out after shaping.
A 4-way rasp has a flat side and a half-round side, each end will have a coarse and fine. the half-round side is great for contoured surfaces, and the dual roughness provides a great combination of removing or smoothing material.
Step 2: Rough Shape From Scrap Wood
Since salad servers are items that will see little wear when being used we can use a soft wood to shape them from, like pine. Pine, and many other soft wood can be found in hardware stores, either as wood studs in the building materials aisle, or as planks of hobby wood in the craft aisle. I had an old desk that I disassembled and use for projects. This desk was pine and had a large flat top made from a few planks of wood.
Using a pencil I sketched out a rough shape of what I wanted my salad server to look like right onto the wood. You can change your design while you shape the wood, this is just to get a basic outline. When you've got a shape you are happy with I made these pencils line darker to define the outline that would be cut out.
I used a hand saw to roughly cut around the outline, we can be as messy as we like with the cuts here since the entire shape will be refined by hand. Repeat this process to make a second salad server. Now that we have our server blanks we can start refining the shape.
Step 3: Clamp Your Work
Hand shaping is very relaxing, but will become frustrating quickly if you don't have your work piece clamped down. Since we're using such soft wood clamping directly onto the wood blank would cause an indent, instead a sacrificial piece of wood was put between the clamps and the blank which distributes the load from the clamps across the wood and doesn't leave indents in the blank.
Once clamped I refined the shape of the handle by using a wrench as a guide, making the sides straight and copying the curved bottom of the wrench onto the wood.
Step 4: Shape Handle
Working on the handle first, the bottom was rounded over and then the side edges were rounded over using the rough flat side of the hand rasp.
The handle sides were shaped down until there was a gentle taper from the center to the sides and bottom. Repeat for the other salad server.
Step 5: Flip Over and Repeat
Remove the clamps and flip the wood blank over, clamp the blank and repeat the shaping with the rough side of the rasp to match the underside.
The rough rasp will leave tool marks on the blank that look a little ragged, this will all be cleaned up with final sanding. At this stage we're looking to remove as much material as possible to get the shape we want.
Step 6: Refining Head Outline
With the handle shape refined to the general shape the head can be given the same treatment. The sketch lines originally laid were a good starting point but can improved by making the head shape symmetrical. I used a compass for this, but any suitably sized round object would work, like a can or lid.
Continuing the centerline of the handle up through the head a compass point was placed on the center line and extended to find the largest circle possible to fit within the sides and top of the head. Pressing lightly a circle was scribed into the wood.
The blank was clamped back to the workbench by the handle, the excess wood outside the scribed circle on the head was trimmed with a jigsaw. The shape will be refined smoother with a rasp, so the cuts don't have to be exact.
Step 7: Head Dish
These salad servers have a concave serving head carved from the blank. To achieve this the coarse end of the half-round side of the rasp was used to remove material from the head. The coarse rasp will remove plenty of material, and the half-round side will provide the gentle curve needed to dish the wood - this part can take a while as there's a lot of material to be removed to make the dishing shape.
After about 20 minutes the head was dished to the rough shape.
Step 8: Sanding Smooth
Using the fine end of the rasp the head shape can be smoothed out, removing the tooling left from the coarse end of the rasp and filing down any rough or ragged edges. After learning about sanding we're ready to start sanding the rough shape smooth.
After some time with the fine end of the rasp the surface can be smoothed out more with coarse grit sandpaper, the grit of the sandpaper should be finer than the rasp - most fine rasps are equivalent to about 60-80 grit, so moving to 100 grit is a good choice.
Move your way up the sandpaper from 100 grit to 200 grit to smooth out the entire head surface.
Step 9: Cut Tines
To cut the slots on the head of these salad servers (are they called tines when they are this wide?) a reference line was sketched at thirds along the width of the head.
Referring back to Making Perfectly Straight Cuts, I used the circular saw to cut at the pencil lines, ensuring the handle was firmly clamped to a sturdy workbench before cutting.
Step 10: Final Sanding
With the tines cut into the head the entire piece can be sanded completely smooth. Start with sanding between the tines with 100 grit sandpaper, then sand the entire salad server with 150 grit, moving up to 200 grit.
If you have a power sander you can carefully clamp it in your bench vise or to your workbench upside down and use it as a sanding station - don't clamp the sander too tightly, otherwise you risk cracking the plastic casing.
Same as with hand sanding, start with a coarse grit and move up the the finer grits.
A power sander can make quick work of sanding, but careful not to overdo it and sand a flat spot on your server. Take your time to ensure an even sanding job over the entire piece.
Step 11: Stain (optional)
Staining your salad servers is entirely optional. I like accenting the imperfections and any tooling left on the wood that wasn't removed from sanding, adding a darker stain will make these imperfections pop. There's plenty more to say about wood finished that's covered in the Color and Finishes Lesson, if you want to learn more
Allow stain to penetrate the wood for a few minutes then wipe off any excess, apply a second coat of stain if you want to build up a darker color. Allow the stained wood to dry completely before applying any sealers or final finishes.
Step 12: Protect Wood
To seal and protect the wood during use the salad servers were finished with a coat urethane, this will protect the wood from food stains, moisture, and keep the stain from rubbing off.
All urethane finishes are food safe when they cure, so it won't matter which you use. For this project I decided to try something that was listed as "food safe", which is overkill but I wanted to try something new: Emmet's Good Stuff.
I applied 2 coats or urethane finish, allowing drying time between coats, then allowed the finish to cure completely overnight before use.
Step 13: Put Those Servers to Use!
Your hand shaped salad servers are now complete! To clean, make sure to hand wash only and with a soft sponge. These servers were were immediately put to use in a big bowl of salad. Yum!
These handmade salad servers are a great way to show off your new woodworking skills, and they can be customized endlessly to suit your style.
Have you made your own salad servers, or hand shaped wood project? I want to see it!
Happy making :)
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