Mystery Project: Revealed


It’s been a few days since I announced my upcoming mystery project, and asked if anyone could guess what it will be. Well, there have been a few responses – good guesses all – but all incorrect, and since I doubt that there will be any other guesses I thought I’d reveal true answer. It’s not a herb cutter. It’s not a cigar trimmer. It’s not a device for making dolls house shingles. It is in fact…

…a biltong slicer!


My friend is from South Africa, and biltong is a type of dried, cured meat popular in that country. It is a little like beef jerky, and it is apparently quite difficult to cut with a knife. Biltong slicers are quite common in South Africa, but not so much in the Channel Islands, hence the request for me to build one.


   I must confess to a little trepidation in starting this project. The thing itself is relatively simple, and I’m sure once I get stuck in it’ll be fine, but not only will this be the first project I’ve undertaken for someone else (aside from family), it will be the first proper woodworking job I’ve attempted without a plan or cut list to work to. I’ve had to give the slicer back now, but I have taken some photographs and measurements to help me with my design.

Original, abandoned design

Originally, I had intended to use the left over apple from my mallet project, and use that as the base and handle support for the slicer. My design also incorporated walnut for the handle and also for some supports for the apple base, and a slice of acacia for the cutting board. I started to work on the apple log in order to get the rough shape, but it became apparent that the wood still had a little too much moisture content. Recently, I have noticed one or too small checks in my mallet head – nothing to cause concern, and they dont’ seem to be 20150512_172252getting any worse – and I supposed that I had just jumped the gun in using it before it had fully dried out. Whilst I can get away with this in a mallet, I’d hate to have that happen on this project, especially as it will be used in food preparation, so that idea will have to be scrapped.

My new design still makes use of walnut and acacia – the former for the base and handle supports, the latter for the cutting board – but I am also going to use zebrano, for the handle.

New design – top elevation

One reader had speculated that my design might incorporate the use of panga panga, no doubt referring to my recent acquisitions. Unfortunately, like a lot of exotic wood species, panga panga can prove difficult to glue due to a high resin or oil content of the wood. I am planning on glueing most of the components of this project, the only hardware being to affix the blade and conceivably the handle, so the panga panga will have to wait for another project.

The brief for this project stipulated that it should stand apart from the example I was loaned. I think hope my design does that. The base will be curved and shaped in contrast to the rather pedestrian rectangular original; the blade will be integrated into the handle, rather than being crudely bolted on; the cutting board will be a slice of a log, complete with bark, as opposed to a simple square of wood; and off to one side will be a depression or ‘bowl’ carved into the base for the cut biltong to accumulate into.

I have a little non-woodwork related work to attend over the next day or two, but I should be ready to make a start on this new project this weekend.

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