Pastry Cutter Progress

In this project I only had two disasters.  I often keep my projects in sewing boxes because they’re cheap, stack well, have semi clear sides (so you can see what’s in them), and have nice rubber handles.    The down side is that they do not have locking lids.   That used to worry me, but in all the years I’ve been using them it had never bitten me.   Until this year.   I was hauling the box out of the trunk of my car when one of the latches caught on my jacket pocket, and dumped everything out into my driveway.  In the dark.   In the pouring rain.     Trying to find tiny clear plastic Moomin facial features in that torrent was no fun.

The other disaster was more burocratic.   I have Wednesday nights to do these kinds of projects.  It’s my night off from being a Dad and I often spend it at TechShop.   Normally booking the laser is pretty easy, but in the run up to Christmas the schedule gets filled up by busy Christmas Elves.   This year I forgot to make one of the weekly reservations and was suddenly looking at doing much of the lasering on the day before Christmas Eve.  That put a big kink in my gluing schedule.

snufkinGlueUpI used two kinds of glue in this project.   Most of the parts are bonded using acrylic solvent welding, and the bond between the metal push rod and the plastic cap/base was done with J-B Weld’s Kwik.  I knew that aligning and solvent welding the thin “outline” parts that form the cutter would be a pain, so I laser cut a wooden form that could be placed inside the sections and force them to stay alighted while I applied solvent around the edge with a syringe.  Not being plastic I wouldn’t have to worry about them getting glued in place.   I also made the alignment pieces have some “cutouts” so  those sections would be easier to get in/out and wouldn’t pull solvent away from the plastic pieces via capillary action.  The only downside was that these forms left a small amount of black charred-wood-crud on the insides of the cutters, but most of that could be removed by the light sanding I needed to do anyway.

moominStampPartsI made Moomintroll’s face out of a lot of tiny separate pieces.   I figured that way each Moomin face would be slightly different and that would be nice.  What was less nice was the large amount of time spent positioning every eye and eyebrow with tweezers, and the addition time needed for swearing every time my syringe full of solvent knocked one of those tiny little pieces out of place.   On the other designs I grouped the pieces together.   Snufkin only has his face, pipe, and hat feather.  MUCH easier to position and glue.   When I suddenly was faced with a week less time to do this gluing I decided to build something to make the gluing go faster.    I thought “what if I build some sort of vacuum clamping setup?”

vacuumClampI wanted something that would hold the parts in place as the solvent did its work, and also let me see what was going on in case something got knocked askew.   I got a fish tank air pump, reversed the valves so it was sucking instead of blowing, and used that in conjunction with two 1/4″ acrylic sheets and some weather stripping to make a vacuum clamping area.   I thought  “I can apply the solvent, put the cover on, turn on the pump, and I’ll be able to see everything.   This is the sort of desperation that comes from suddenly loosing a week of gluing.

Was the vacuum clamp a success? As it turns out the weather stripping leaked enough to make the clamping action very slight, but it did make a nice clear box with just enough clamping action to hold the facial features in place while I then piled a big heavy chunk of metal on top to provide the final clamping pressure.  So all in all I judge the vacuum clamping chamber to have been a “modest success” instead of a complete waste of time.

snufkinPaintedGluing and painting.  To make the images of the characters on the tops of the cutters I laser etched the designs though the acrylic’s protective paper. Then I used a piece of rubber to squeegee the paint down into the etched areas.  Finally once the paint has dried some I peal the paper way.  It’s best to do that before the paint has fully dried because the fully cured paint is stronger and pulling the paper away can pull bits of paint out of the design.  When the paint is still weak it comes away clean.

Making Custom Moomin Pastry Cutters

moomintrollAndLeafEvery year I do some sort of Big Christmas Project.  This year I decided to keep it kind  of low-key.   We have some pastry cutters in the shape of leaves.  They’re nice because they let you stamp the veins of the leaf on, and cut the leaf out in a simple sequence.  When we make pie we often also make “Cheese Leaves” from left over crust so the kiddos can have some fun stamping them out, and sprinkling on cheese.  That way they also get a tasty snack long before the pie itself is done. I thought it would be nice to make some of these awesome cutter/stamper in more personalized fun shapes.

I’m a big fan of  Tove Janson.   My mom read me many of her Moomin books when I was a kid, and I have in turn read them to my kids.   Tove Janson’s illustrations are fantastic, and The Moomins have a nice way of dealing with life.  When a flood traps them on the second floor of their home they don’t moan and complain.  They cut a hole in the kitchen ceiling and marvel as seeing  that room from a new perspective.  They take turns diving for breakfast fixings.   I decided it would be fun to make some Moomin themed pastry cutters.

I knew I could make food safe parts out of laser cut acrylic, and I went to work in illustrator making a prototype out of clear acrylic scraps.  I had to see if quarter-inch acrylic could be stacked and glued to make the fairly deep cutter.  Here you can see the rough initial prototype of the Moomintroll cutter next to the commercial maple leaf that inspired this project.

Moomin Cookie Cutters from the Garage

I enjoy making things which help to make other things. There’s something kind of empowering about it.  From lathe attachments to custom waffle irons these projects keep popping up.  Give someone a custom waffle and they enjoy it for one meal, but give someone a custom waffle iron,  and they can enjoy the waffles when ever they like. The big drawback to the waffle iron project was that it was a LOT of work to make.  So I tried to think of things that were a lot simpler to make, but had that same flavor.  The kind of gift were someone can go through a little ritual, and end up with something unique that reminds them of you.

The idea strikes

So one day I was poking around in a cooking utensil store when I happened to spy some cookie cutters.  Perfect! How simple is that?  On closer inspection I realized that most cookie cutters are made from a strip of sheet metal. Commercial cutters all seem to be made of either copper, stainless, or galvanized steel. The strip is bent into the desired shape, and either spot welded or soldered shut.  The edge of the strip away from the cutting edge is folded over which adds tiffness, and also keeping that side from being sharp when you press on it.

All you need is some sheet metal, tin snips, and some lead free solder.  Heck I had all that stuff at home. Now all that was needed were a few designs for some custom cookies.

To work on designs I took some aluminum foil and made a strip that was as long as the pieces of scrap copper I had around.  I folded the top edge over, and started in shaping the piece.  This is a good way to prototype because it can tell you exactly where along the strip the bends have to be, how long a strip you’ll need for various designs, and you can start over again and again until you get the shape you like.  Very handy.  Here are a few things I tried to keep in mind when making the design:  Keep a strait-ish place on the design for the metal overlap to go.  Don’t do too many tight turns and twists  That  will make it too hard to bend the sheet, and don’t leave sections of the resulting cookie so thin that they’ll either burn or crumble.

Moomins enter the picture

My first design was to make a cookie cutter shaped  like a Moomin.  The Finnish author Tove Janson wrote  some great children’s books about a family of Moomins that live in Moomin Valley. They are wonderful books, and I thought that Moomin shaped cookies could be iced up to look like any of the main Moomin family members.   I’m not sure if anyone actually sells Moomin shaped cookie cutters commercially, but I rather hope not.

Once I had the first design worked up in aluminum foil it was time to cut some strips of copper and see how hard they were to shape.  I cut some strips, and marked a line about 3/16 from the rough edge. I figured it was fine to have the uneven cut side folded over inside where it wouldn’t affect the final cutter, and use the nicely cut strait side to form the actual face of the cutter.

I folded the 3/16 strip over by clamping the piece in the vice between a piece of angle iron, and a board with just the 3/16 edge sticking up.  I hammered that over using a piece of wood and a hammer.  Then I unclamped it and just hammered the strip the rest of the way over to form the reinforcing bead of the cookie cutter.

Then it was time to start shaping.  If you have tight double backs it’s best to locate and fold those in first while you can still get at them to hammer them flat.  After that I just used a system of gentle bends done by hand, and tighter bends done between two metal rods that I had clamped into the vice vertically.  That mostly did the trick. Once I had the shape closed I soldered it shut with lead free solder.  A little bit of soap and water, and project complete!  Amazing.

Show me the cookies

I also made a cookie cutter in the shape of a key, so that mom and Stan could make “CookKeys”  Stan used to be a lock smith, so it seemd apropos. I gave them the untested cutters for Christmas. I was a bit worried that the little Moomin feet would burn, but it doesn’t seem to have been a problem, and I’m sure they’ll be fun to nibble on.

I think the cutest bit about this project is the set of images mom took of her first batch of cookies made with the cutters.  Legions of Moomins piled high on the counter.  What a hoot!

Cutter in action

Fresh from the Oven

Final Mountain of Moomins

The original page in the Internet Archive.