Make a LÖFFTEL
Utensil Project: A Löfftel is a spatula / spoon hybrid that’s sort of the multi-tool of cooking. Make one today and you’ll forever wonder what you did without it.
For the wood artisan, making an object that can be used on a daily basis is very satisfying. Not only will you use your Löfftel regularly, but it’s simple enough to craft that you can make a few at once to give as gifts. This really is the gift that keeps on giving. On top of that, a Löfftel is a one-of-a-kind, functional utensil that will surely spark a conversation when dinner guests come over.
Coming from the spatula family, the löfftel is a name created from the German words spoon (löffel) and spatula (spachtel). It’s essentially a handle and a slotted flat blade with a small bowl imbedded on one side. The three radiuses in the blade accommodate a variety of pots and bowls, while the blade allows for scraping, mixing, stirring and adding aeration. The spoon-like pocket is designed for taste testing. They can also be made in right- or left-hand versions, depending on the preference of the user. The difference is in the layout of the business end; the spoon-like pocket should be near the user side of the utensil when brought to one’s mouth. Be sure to make extras, as your spouse, family and friends will all be requesting one.
Split Your Blank
While you can always use shop offcuts or pieces from a board that has been kiln dried, it’s also fine to cut your workpiece from a piece of firewood. Domestic wood is generally great for making utensils.
Trim to Size
After ensuring one face is flat, draw the profile onto the blank and remove most of the waste with a band saw. Notice the four small black dots on the far end of this blank locating the pocket and slot.
Machine the Pocket
A core box router bit can be used to create the pocket. Although a router bit is usually used in a router, using a drill press running at a fairly high speed might even be easier for this specific situation, as the bit isn’t going to move side-to-side at all during the cut.
Sanding the Pocket
Elzner adheres some thick abrasive paper to the head of a large bolt (above), then chucks the bolt in his drill press (below) to help smooth the pocket. A sharp carving gouge, or some hand sanding, will also help with this step.
Drill the Slot
Use a Forstner bit and drill press to remove most of the material for the slot.
Smooth it With Hand Tools
With the slot roughly formed, use an assortment of hand tools to shape it. Rasps, knives, chisels and files will all come in handy. Don’t feel the need to get it perfect at this stage, as it will be easier to complete the slot once the blade of the Löfftel is thinner.
Continue to bring the blade down to final thickness and shape, striking a balance between looks, strength and function. Using a pencil or marker to mark where the blade needs to be thinned is a great approach.
Refining the Slot
Now that the blade is much thinner, the slot can be refined further. It’s a lot weaker now, and with all the work you’ve put into it, you want to ensure you don’t break it.
Tools and materials
Everyone has a slightly different approach to making an item like this, but I start with dry hardwood, an axe, hand saw or band saw, 1″ diameter core box router bit, 1-1/4″ sanding pad on a spigot (DIY – as shown below, the pad is glued on with Crazy Glue), carving knife, 1/2″ diameter Forstner bit, belt sander, dry and wet sandpaper (100 to 500 grit), hot water, and finishing oil.
This project starts with your selection of material. Choose a straight-grained dry hardwood – cherry, maple, apple, hickory and ironwood are some of my favourites. You can use a shop offcut or a piece of firewood. Square up your chosen piece of wood to approximately 3/4″ thick x 3-1/2″ wide x 13″ long. If you’d like to make more than one Löfftel, I recommend making a template to use to transfer the shape to your piece of wood. Once marked out, proceed with cutting out the profile with a saw.
Make the pocket
Now is decision time for whether it will be right- or left-handed. Make the pocket using a drill or router with a 1″ diameter core box bit. I aim for this hollow to be 5/16″ deep. To finish the inside of the pocket and add a radius, I use coarse sandpaper adhered to the head of a fairly large bolt. There’s nothing wrong with hand sanding, but that approach will take longer. A rotary tool, with carefully chosen sanding attachment, might also ease the process.
Drill three 1/2″ diameter holes with a Forstner bit to remove most of the material to create the slot. Although it can be straight, creating a curved slot is attractive. Round and fair the slot with a coping saw, wood rasp or file, and carving knife. Aim for a visually appealing slot that’s evenly curved, with all its sharp edges eased nicely.
Give it some shape
I use a belt sander with a 60-grit belt, but an edge or disc sander would also work well. Beginning 1/4″ below the pocket, start a taper that’s approximate 8° towards the edges. You will mirror that taper on the opposite side to achieve a 1/8″ edge for the bottom and front of the Löfftel, with a small radius on the top. Continue from the pocket and sand a taper that blends into the handle. Change the belt to 220 grit and round all the corners and smooth all the surfaces you can. Now you can clamp the utensil to a fixed surface to hand sand and blend all the curves.
The next step will be to place the utensil into hot water for wet sanding. This will raise the wood fibres. When dry, use a fine grit to sand the surface of the utensil smooth. You can repeat this a few times to get even more of the grain raised, though there are diminishing returns. Lastly, apply a food-safe oil to the wood. This is a great way to enhance the grain and colour of the wood, and also add some protection from stains down the road. Now it’s time to head into the kitchen to test your new creation.