Whether it is a summer barbecue or a tailgate party in the fall, you need to convert your masterful hamburger mixture into patties to put on the grill. This patty press will help you create perfectly formed patties that stay together better while grilling and fit nicely on those buns. You can make this press in an evening using materials you probably have lying around in your shop. Find and purchase the PVC pipe that makes the plastic cylinder at a local hardware store or a big box type store. It’s important to get the PVC before you start turning so you can fit the other wooden parts to it.
Selecting the Wood
Choosing a wood species for this patty press is limited by only a couple of considerations. Because it will be used in food preparation, it is better to be safe than sorry. Some people have extreme allergies to nuts. These allergies can actually be life-threatening. Although unlikely, nut woods like walnut, hickory or pecan may transfer some oils that could spark an allergic reaction. I recommend using a close-grained non-nut wood: cherry, maple or even yellow poplar would be good choices. The press you see here was made from alder, another good species choice.
When it comes to finishing the wood for this project, choose a nontoxic, oil-based product like Salad Bowl Finish or even mineral oil. A coat of food-safe paraffin wax will help to seal the wood and keep hamburger from sticking to it. Clean your press with mild soap and hot water after use, and reapply finish if needed. Or, you can leave it without a finish. A curious but important fact to note is that wood has been proven to have a natural resistance to growing bacteria, making it a good material for cutting boards or, in this case, a patty press.
The steps to making your patty press are as follows:
Find and then mark the centers of two 6" x 6" x 1-5⁄8" blanks. Mark the centers on b oth sides. These will become the top and base pieces of your press.
Cut one blank — the base — to a circle about 5-1⁄2" in diameter. Cut the other — the top — to about 4-1⁄2" in diameter. If your plastic cylinder pipe has an inner diameter other than 4", you will have to adjust the blank sizes accordingly.
Mount the base blank between centers (Figure 1). If you use a serrated Stebcenter for the drive and live center, there will be less damage to the surfaces that will need fixing later.
Using a bowl gouge, rough the blank down to round (Figure 2). Remember, this is not spindle turning. You will need to cut in from the sides just like turning a bowl.
Smooth the surface toward the tailstock and make a dovetail tenon (Figure 3) sized to fit in your scroll chuck. Reverse the blank and mount it into your scroll chuck, grasping the dovetail tenon.
Move the tailstock out of the way. Turn the face of the blank flat and smooth (Figure 4).
Measure the inside diameter of your plastic cylinder (Figure 5) using a pair of dividers. Transfer this measurement onto the face of the base blank, marking it. This circle should be exactly the same diameter as the inside of your PVC cylinder.
Cutting in from the edge of the blank, form a tenon slightly larger than the marked circle (Figure 6). The height of the tenon should be about 1/4". Leave the side of the tenon very slightly tapered.
By trial and error, carefully reduce the diameter of the tenon until the cylinder fits tightly onto the tenon (Figure 7). In effect, you are using the base as a jam chuck to mount the cylinder for shaping. The tenon must fit tightly in order to securely hold the cylinder.
Note: a jam chuck is a piece of wood attached to a faceplate. The wood is machined to allow a friction fit on another piece of wood (or, in this case, the PVC cylinder) that will hold the workpiece tightly enough to turn. You “jam” the workpiece into or onto the wooden chuck — hence, the term, jam chuck.
If you overshoot the mark and make your tenon just a little too small, place one or two layers of paper towel over the tenon and then mount (jam) the cylinder onto the tenon.
Now that the cylinder is held securely by the base, use a scraper to smooth and round over the exposed end. Reverse the cylinder and reduce its height to about 1-1⁄4". Shape the exposed end as you did before. Scrape a small cove into the side of the cylinder so it will be easier to handle when in use (Figure 8); the cove acts as finger grip.
Next, remove the cylinder and trim the tenon on the base to achieve just a light friction fit when the cylinder is placed over it. Shape the outside edge of the base as desired (Figure 9). Sand the base up to 320-grit, then set the base and cylinder aside for now.
Starting the Top
Grab the top blank you marked earlier and mount and turn it between centers as you did with the base blank. After you raise the dovetailed tenon, mount the top in your scroll chuck. Now turn the top down so it fits smoothly within the cylinder (Figure 10). It should move freely. Sand the face and sides of the top and set it aside for the moment.
Mount some wood to be used as a jam chuck onto your scroll chuck or on a faceplate and turn its face flat.
With your calipers, measure the diameter of the top and mark the face of the jam chuck. Cut a recess in the jam chuck so that the top fits tightly in place (Figure 11 and Figure 12).
With the top mounted in the jam chuck, turn a tenon, forming it into a shape that can be easily grasped and handled (Figure 13). Do the final finish sanding and set the top aside.
Take a moment to carefully enlarge the recess in the jam chuck to fit the tenon on the face of the base that you had set aside earlier (Figure 14).
Turn off the dovetail tenon that was used for mounting in the scroll chuck, leaving the surface flat (Figure 15). Finish sand the base and unmount it from the chuck.
You can leave the surface of the wood bare or use an oil finish as mentioned earlier. Don’t use vegetable or salad oil since they will likely turn rancid with time.
Using the Patty Press
1. Prepare your ground meat mixture using your favorite recipe.
2. Place the cylinder loosely onto the tenon on the base.
3. Spoon meat mixture into cylinder. You may need to adjust the amount to achieve desired patty thickness.
4. Using a twisting motion with the top, compress the meat into the press.
5. Using a twisting motion to break surface tension, lift and remove the top.
6. Remove the cylinder from the base, leaving the patty in place.
7. The patty will usually adhere to the base, which will allow you to move it to the platter. Turn the base over and use a knife to break the tension, thereby dropping the patty.
8. Use wax paper or equivalent to separate the patties.
9. Repeat steps 2 through 8 until the meat mixture is gone.
10. Put ‘em on the grill and enjoy.
Now that you have mastered using a jam chuck by making this simple project, you can take your turning to the next level by using the technique in a variety of turning situations. Happy turning!