• A range of servers and utensils made from native Australian species by Richard Vaughan. Great gift ideas!
    A range of servers and utensils made from native Australian species by Richard Vaughan. Great gift ideas!

One of the typical symptoms of being a woodworker is having a collection of bits of wood too darn gorgeous to discard, but too small to have any obvious use. This can in fact be a blessing. Small items like the ones shown here are very welcome gifts which make use of the pretty bits you’ve stashed.

Sander Clause in your workshop

All these items are easy and quick to make. It’s simply a matter of bandsawing the shape, then sanding to refine it. A linisher and/or bobbin sander are handy, but certainly not essential, as you can set up a belt sander to perform the same function. Lacking those, you could just hand sand, but it’d be much quicker and well worth your while to buy at least one of the range of very affordable drum sanders which turn a pedestal drill into a very effective sanding shaper. These use standard sandpaper rather than requiring a special sleeve.

Shaping on a sander is exhilarating. You can stroke sweet and subtle contours and lines to be discovered and savoured by hand and eye. And you can think of this as the ‘Sander Clause’ in your Christmas preparations.

Shaping and finishing

For items you may want to keep symmetrical such as salad servers or sushi boards it helps to cut out a profile in lightweight cardboard. Folding this pattern on the centre line enables symmetry. When you are bandsawing a profile on two faces, as in the salad server, start with a squared-off piece of wood. Trace the profiles from your patterns onto face and edge of the block. Bandsaw the piece in one dimension, but stop the cut just before the blade exits and then back it out along the cut. This will leave your marking attached for cutting the second profile.

Sawing a piece as narrow as the sushi board on edge is made easier by clamping or taping it to another board which is square face to edge as this provides a wider bearing surface on the bandsaw table. This technique was use to cut the feet of the olive wood board so it could retain its natural edge shape.

A sharp cabinet scraper is also useful for shaping. Once you have the shape sanded to 150 grit on the sander of your choice you hand sand through to at least 400 grit to make the most of the wood’s figure. Meticulous sanding is particularly rewarding on small pieces. The wood is enhanced and sealed with walnut oil, available from better delicatessens if not from your supermarket. Walnut oil is worth having at home anyway because it gives a delightful flavour to pesto…

You should recommend that the lucky recipient simply wipes the utensil clean rather dropping it in the sink or (horror) in the dishwasher. The gleam can be refreshed by a light wipe with walnut oil every so often.

You will need to exercise a little consideration in how you choose to use each piece of wood. For example, camphor laurel has a distinct fragrance which would might taint the taste if used for food utensils. And the fine edge and point of the redgum letter opener is asking a fair bit of that wild figure and won't withstand normal use for very long. I just wanted to play with the shape in an offcut of the salad server. A straighter grain would work better in this case.


The chopsticks shown here have only slight variations on the theme. They are all shaped from strips about 10mm square and 250mm long. Flattening the usually round tips into oval or rectangular section improves the grip on food. Likewise variations of the handle end personalize the way they sit in the hand. You could also make a box or cloth sleeve for a more impressive presentation.

The woods used here are Tasmanian myrtle (Nothofagus cunninghamii) and jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata). Jarrah quite often has an attractive black flecked appearance. This piece used here has an unusual and striking banded figure. Many of Australia’s inland trees are small in section, but dense and fine-grained which makes them ideal for this economical use.

Dip Scoop/Spreader

The design of this spreader allows for a smear or a dollop as generous as the taste deserves. The sheoak (Casuarina fraserana) used here may be abrasive on tools, but what a fine finish and how spectacular in appearance it is, making it ideal for small items. Certainly it is a more longlasting use than when it was known as ‘Baker’s Wood’ because it provided strong heat for excellent bread. It grows as an
understorey timber in jarrah forests and unfortunately a fair bit has been wasted.

Sushi/Pate/Cheese Boards

Two of these boards were sawn from a plank of Tasmanian myrtle which somehow evaded being cut for veneer. The glorious figure transforms the simple shapes into showpieces. The ends of one board were dimpled underneath with a small carving gouge as a secret delight for touch and eye. The olive tree trunk was collected as a curiosity years ago and what a treat it was to discover its turbulent figure. Many fruit trees in fact are fine-grained and have beautiful colours waiting to be enjoyed.


Made of celery top pine (Phyllocladus aspeniifolius) and river redgum, these utensils have a gentle round along the back of the handles which makes them a pleasure to hold. The generous spoon face can give a useful serving.

Pate/Soft Cheese Spreaders

Celery top pine is unique to Tasmania and not too hard to distinguish from other pines. It also has the characteristic of imparting no taste to foods which makes it a perfect wood for kitchen uses. It’s easy to work and quick to shape on a sander.

The plush purple of the purpleheart (Acacia carneii) is as intense as the sunset skies of the dry wide inland of Australia where it accumulates its growth rings slow and tight. It is a very hard and close-grained wood, so it rewards fine sanding to 1000 grit or better with a handsome lustre. Its remarkable colour barely diminishes over time and it could well be used for jewellery.


This one is made of mulga (Acacia aneura), another Australian desert timber. You can come up with a huge range of shapes for stirrers and spurtles.

Endgrain Cutting Boards

These boards are made of celery top pine, Tasmanian myrtle, and Queensland maple (Flindersia brayleyana). Dressed boards were docked to 30mm lengths, then glued together with epoxy glue. PVA joints may separate after contact with moisture from regular use and cleaning. Setting up to cut the blocks accurately and then gluing them on a flat surface such as melamine coated MDF will minimise any cleaning up and flattening. I was glad of my modest thickness sander for these but a belt or orbital sander would do fine. With a variety of timbers machined to the same dimensions you could easily come up with some interesting patterns.

The Letter Opener

The world hasn’t moved entirely to email yet and letter openers offer a lot of scope for shapes to be sanded out of wondrous fragments of wood.
I would have spent over an hour making each of most of the items for this article, though it would probably work out a bit quicker if each were made in multiples. However I know I’d much rather spend an hour in my workshop than in a shopping mall, and how lucky are we to be able to make gifts which really are unique.

Richard Vaughan is a furniture designer/maker who lives in Brisbane and teaches woodwork classes in his Darra 'shedudio'. He can be contacted via richardvaughan.com.au

This story was first published in issue 28 of Australian Wood Review.

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