Got fish?

Time to quit babbling about the bench and actually use it. I needed to make something for a friend’s birthday, and I recently found a wonderful book at my favorite used bookstore.  Now out of print (but sometimes still available), The Art of Elegant Wood Kitchenware by Tony Lydgate has a number of beautiful designs, and looks like many months of small projects. Can’t have too many of those, can we?

The instructions in the book for this sushi tray were a little sketchy – but this isn’t a terribly difficult project, and there’s a lot of wiggle-room for using the techniques you’re comfortable with.

The slats are curly maple, and the chopsticks, feet, and condiment holder are mesquite.  I found it a little easier to do cut the dados in a slightly different order. First, starting with a solid block of maple, cut the dados for the feet, then the chopstick holder.  Then – and only then – switch back to a regular blade and rip the slats to width. Then switch back to the dado stack, and cut the dado for the condiment holder.

Take the block that will become the feet, and trim it to thickness to fit in the angled dados. Rather than make two cuts for the feet, since their finished height isn’t really critical, take the block the feet are made from and rip it down the middle with one cut at the correct angle.  That ensures that the angle will be exactly the same on both feet. Then, clamp them together, and trim them to the correct height with a hand plane – you shouldn’t have to touch the angled edges except to sand slightly.

The edges of the slats are eased with a block plane instead of a router… I think it makes the finished tray look slightly more organic. Once sanded, the tray was glued up with 1/4″ spacers between the slats.  The slots for the chopsticks and the condiment tray were cleaned up with sanding blocks.

The chopsticks were made – no, I’m not kidding – by shanking 5/16″ blanks in a drill, and holding them against a belt sander to turn the tapers. It worked quite well, but I got more even results by marking across them with a pencil at where I wanted the tapers to stop, so I kept them turned evenly.

The hardest part was the condiment tray. Partly, because I insisted on making it in mesquite… again.  (Well, it’s a Texas-made tray, for Texas sushi. Probably catfish).  After cutting the block to length, I hogged out a rough (very rough) version of the cups with a hand-held router, and grabbed a leather glove and a carving gouge.  It was sharp enough that once the cups were cut, I had fairly minimal sanding to do.  Not a difficult process – this was the first hand carving I’ve ever done.  Just labor-intensive. My shoulder was singing pretty hard when I was finished.

The finish needed to be both food-safe and easily renewable.  All finishes are food-safe, once they’re cured.  But I only had three days in which to get this made, so I just wiped it down with six or seven heavy coats of mineral oil.  That way, it will be easy for its owner to renew it after washing.

This was the first real AB (after-bench) project.  There’s no doubt, the Roubo is the perfect planing bench.  I am, however, going to have to build a riser for detail work in the very short future.  At my Advanced Age, I need to bring small parts a little closer.  But the best part was that I never even had to think about workholding. Every clamping operation was easy and instinctive. Gotta love that.

Music was from Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble. Seemed appropriate.

More little stuff ahead. Stay tuned.

Ross Henton

3 comments on “Got fish?

  1. E.J. Eiteljorge says:

    Highly recommend using grape seed oil instead of mineral oil on mesquite! for whatever chemical reason grapeseed oil, which is also food safe, really brings out the color and the grain.

  2. Ross Henton says:

    Thanks – I’ll try that. I’ve never used grapeseed oil on anything but salad!


    • E.J. Eiteljorge says:

      Hey, if you’re in Dallas you might look into the Texas Mesquite Association. We have two shows per year (1 in Fredericksburg in the Fall and 1 in San Angelo in the Spring) plus a Mesquite Woodworking seminar every Spring. The website is


Leave a Reply to E.J. Eiteljorge Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s