Salad forks are treen, which is an archaic English word for useful household implements made of wood. Implements made of stamped steel or plastic today were made of wood in the past, and many of them were turned. These salad forks are typical of treenware and are the brainchild of my good friend King Heiple, who often assists me with my turning classes.
This is actually a pure spindle turning project, but it’s challenging. To turn the tulip shape of the blades requires “turning on air.” With a 3" wide blank, the three inch circle circumscribed by the tips of the blade measures 3.424". Since it is 1/2" thick, you are only cutting wood 30 percent of the time (1" is 30 percent of the circle). More importantly, your tool is cutting air 70 percent of the time, so any wavering will cause havoc. A bit of speed really helps overcome the air, with 800 to 1,400 rpm being a good place to start, depending on lathe size and your bravery.
While this job can be done without band sawing the rough shape first, the beginner is well-advised to do so. It makes a great demonstration that amazes friends to simply chuck up the full-size blank and make chips fly, but it is much quicker to band saw first, especially if you are making a number of sets. You can also band saw the tines, if you want them, at the same time.
Getting it Going
Start with a 1/2" x 3" by 12" blank of suitable wood. You can use almost any wood, but one that will resist salad oil is best. Cherry, maple or white oak are great choices.
Crucial to good results is to find a perfect center on both ends. Setting a marking gauge to 1-1⁄2" best does this in the 3" dimension. Mark from both edges on the first blank to check centering and correct as necessary. Dividers are the best way to find the center in the 1/2" dimension. Centerpunch the resulting crosshairs, to make chucking quick and, above all — perfect.
Next, band saw the rough shape of the fork. The first rough blank can become the template for subsequent forks. This is also a good time to cut slots for the tines if you want them. Tines have no influence on functionality but I’ve found that they greatly influence sale-ability — tines make them look snazzy. Cutting tines on one and leaving the other plain is a popular approach for customers or relatives. Drilling a 1/8" to 1/4" hole at the terminus of the slot forming a tine is useful to prevent splitting later on, and a drill press is the best way to accomplish this task. It also helps in sawing to the proper place and is decorative. You can simply band saw the slots and sand with a folded sheet of sandpaper or use a scroll saw. If you own one, using a scroll saw to make two cuts can make the slots wider or even serpentine. A good scroll blade will leave such a clean finish that you may find it unnecessary to sand.
Mount the Blank
Now it is time to chuck the blank in the lathe. I use a mini stub center, but any small center will do. Once turning at a good clip, the resulting ghost looks like a tulip. The turning can be entirely accomplished with a roughing gouge; however, care must be taken that the tool does not ride back up the curved part of the blade as you approach the handle stem. The beginner will find it easier to use a spindle gouge in this area.
Good design makes the blade taper toward the tip. The shaft should be smaller in diameter than good judgment would dictate at the point where it meets the blade and thicken gradually to the end. I do like to make the shaft more or less straight at the end where you grab it.
Once turned and sanded to the desired finish, it is time to band saw the curve that forms a distinctive blade. At first, I penciled a line I wanted to saw to, but I quickly dropped this step, as it is child’s play to do it by eye. More important is to use a good size backer block to hold the blade square to the table. This keeps fingers away from the saw blade, making the operation safer, and gets the fork blade to a uniform thickness throughout.
The final step is sanding, which I do with a 6" by 48" belt sander. I remove the top guard to sand the curved side of the blade and take a little bit off the leading edge, if there’s any trace of the original center mark. This is a great production project and the holiday season looms!