Things That Delight Me – 1: Prep Sheets

I do a lot of projects involving nasty gooey things – ranging from benzoin for candle-making to epoxy resin for cold casting, and tuna fish or onions for lunch. These are all things that you want to cut, spill, mix, chop, and whatnot, without making a mess of anything that’s expensive to replace. For example: shaving partially cured epoxy resin off of a granite counter-top can distract you from real fun.

A couple years ago I was doing some life-casting and wanted something that things wouldn’t stick to, that was reasonably workable, light, indestructible, inexpensive. Of course there are really only two things that fit the bill for that, one being ABS plastic, the other polypropylene. I ended up with a bunch of 8″x12″ pieces of 1/4″ low density polypropylene that I table-sawed off a larger piece.

low density polyethylene cutting/prep board

low density polyethylene cutting/prep board

Turns out they make great kitchen prep boards, too! So that was my Celebration Of Consumerism Day* gift for last year: I gave lots of people stacks of about 6 of these mini-boards. Drill a hole in the corner with a Forstner bit and you can hang them. They fit conveniently in a dishwasher. Paint wipes off, garlic doesn’t penetrate, they’re dishwasher safe (apparently) and you can cut on them, paint on them, glue on them, and they’re cheap and indestructible. Best of all, if you’re making a dish where you need separated ingredients you can just take the top board off the stack, with whatever’s on it, and set it aside. When I am doing stir-fry I’ve got one board with my garlic and ginger and cilantro/allspice, one loaded with veggies, and another with shredded chicken. I’m a fanatic about my knives, so I don’t even want to cut on something as hard as wood (don’t get me started on bamboo!) and this stuff is the perfect density. They’re small enough you can just shuffle them around while you cook. You can feel like Jacques Pepin, even if you can’t cook like him!

Ridout Plastics is a great place to get stuff. One of the things I like is that you can get stuff pre-cut. So if you ever wanted a lucite box, just order the pieces pre-cut from the appropriate thickness and size sheet, and it’ll show up in a brown truck a week or two later. The easiest way to get these is to just get a 4×4 sheet and order it cut to the mix of sizes you want. You can also get 1/2″ thick sheet and make great big yuppie butcher block table-tops with them. My leather-cutting bench is surfaced with a 10′ x 4′ sheet 1/2″ thick. There is no amount of cutting, carving, or banging on I can bring to the battlefield that will hurt that at all. It also guarantees that the table will never, ever, blow away in a high wind.

I was so chuffed with these that I made too many sets, so I boxed one up with a letter and sent it to the people at America’s Test Kitchen. Naively, I expected a letter reading something like “Dear Mr Ranum. We have made a small altar to you here in The Test Kitchen, and we burn incense before it every day in honor of your simple genius…”  But instead I got a form letter saying “Thank you for sending us the samples of your product; we do not accept gifts from vendors, so we donate any samples we recieve to charity.” Boooo.

If any of you absolutely want a few of these and don’t have a FWATS** or are a budding chef low on cash, contact me offline and I might be able to cut you a stack – I almost always have stacks of poly scrap in my build room.***

PS – do not use ABS plastic for cooking applications. It’s basically hard butyl rubber and it will make your food taste like Newt Gingrich’s armpit. No, I didn’t try it. You can tell ABS is nothing you want near food the first time you smell it hit a saw blade.

(* Start the war on christmas early, folks!)

(** Friend With A Table Saw)

(*** Cut strips of this to make easy-glide runners for table-saw top sleds! Countersink and screw small strips onto facings of drawers!)


  1. dakotagreasemonkey says

    I use the very thin cutting boards (sheets, really) I can buy at several stores, some color coded for the food. Usually 4 for about 6 bucks. They are only about 1/16″ thick, and only last about a year before they are cut up too much to use anymore. Yours, at 1/4″, probably last way longer!
    I am jealous of your leather cutting bench. It sounds fantastic!
    I have used Ultra High Density Polyethylene as cutting boards, too. They were scraps left over from lining transition chutes of conveyor systems for mines. Rock is hard on steel, wears it out real fast.

  2. says

    I love repurposing industrial materials for unexpected uses. My favorite example (not my idea, unfortunately) was a guy who made leather moccasins that were soled with aramid/rubber conveyor belt material, hand-stitched with fine stainless steel cable. Last time I saw them, they were holding up better than he was – they’re over 30 years old.

    I didn’t know there were thinner sheets available preconfigured as cutting boards! That’s cool!

    The leather cutting bench is a piece I made for my ex-wife back when she was doing saddle-making. I’m quite proud of the design; it’s a real beast but it’s mostly held together by gravity. I also made a leather tooling bench in the same style, with a rebated top filled with wet sand. I don’t think it weighs “a ton” but maybe 500#… It sure deadens some whacks. I’m not sure if I want to post pictures of that sort of stuff – it may be too specialized and over the top.

    Never thought about rock wearing out steel like that, but of course it would. There’s a place in Clearfield I visited a few years ago that makes pressed abrasives (e.g.: grinding wheels) and they have some interesting problems with abrasion, too. I was surprised to learn that they mold their materials in tungsten molds. Yeah, I guess that’d do it. The guy never got around to explaining how you make a mold out of that stuff. I assume it’s not as easy as “take a big block of tungsten and put it in a milling machine…”