More Combs

Why break a perfectly fine comb? Well, to see if it can take some punishment.

January being my month for prototyping and study, I eventually settled on combs as a project. If you view many Youtube videos about making a comb, it appears to be just a one-two-three proposition, and there you have it. But, unfortunately, what seems to be straightforward is not. as is often the case, things can become a little more complicated than they first appear. Yes, anyone can make a comb using the video as a guide. How practical, durable, and effective that comb will be may be an issue, though.

At a show, one year couple came to my booth, and while the wife was picking out spoons, the husband was flexing them to see how sturdy they were. Luckily none snapped, but I was alerted to a tendency of some people to absent-mindedly bend and twist woodenware. Since then, I’ve designed the shafts of spoons to be graceful but strong. With combs, I’ve adopted a similar practice and put a bit of effort into testing the structural abilities of some of the prototypes to bend. Can you still break it? Sure! But I’ll know that much more than average effort was required.

The key to the added strength is making the comb’s spine thicker. It turns out that this also aids in making it easier to grip and use the comb and improves the appearance. You get all this from the cracks and crunches of breaking an otherwise good comb.

Why does a wooden comb need a thicker spine? Because the strength of the comb teeth requires that the wood grain flows the length of the tooth; be perpendicular to the body. Too thin a spine, and the lovely piece of wood cracks.
I am still making prototypes. There is a bit more to test out, and time spent at this stage on structural concerns means fewer issues later in making the combs. My wife has agreed to test the product but insists that the drawings I’m working on of hairsticks for long hair get a priority on the work schedule. There is a certain amount of compersion, a joy in seeing my wife get pleasure from using the comb I made, that exceeds anything possible if the comb had merely been purchased.

Combs of wood, ivory, bone, and shell were probably the origin of good grooming. A good comb can shape, hold, or groom hair into shapes. Combs are found in archeological sites going back thousands of years, but most of us never give more than a casual thought to something essential to beauty.
Like a spoon, a comb is something essential; its utility is valued, but its aesthetics makes it a pleasure to use.

7 Replies to “More Combs”

  1. I have never seen combs at a woodworker’s display, so you would do well here. But why would someone pick up a spoon and begin trying to bend it? I like to run my fingers across the wood–always smooth as glass–but if I pick up a bowl, it is almost always with reverence. You should get a sign ‘You break it–you buy it.’

  2. I think primarily, like so many destructive impulses, it’s a “guy” find of thing. but as a maker I have to take durability into account.
    I also appreciate your comment on “smooth as glass” but a lot of times a bit of texture is nice.
    Especially with woodenware meant for food we tend to finish wood by progressively smoother grits of sanding, and buff out the final bits. We then finish with a food safe mixture of mineral oil and beeswax ( some peoples recipe vary). This gives us a nice sleek finish – just a tad bit of texture with a glass finish to the bowl or spoon bowl. Maintaining that under heavy usage is hard. I have a great food safe varnish that I use on bowls, but hesitate to use on spoons because people expect the oil finish. I’ll eventually introduce it because it lasts much longer without care than the traditional finish – and very few people maintain their woodenware.
    And I do have a you read it you bought it policy.

    1. I’ve done some blanks today, and I’ll be posting some more refined pieces in a couple of days. this has been a productive winter so far. BTW, Tracy, I’ve started looking at nursery catalogs for native plants. It’s not too early to start planning for the woodland garden.

      1. You have certainly been working very hard, Lou.
        Weird weather here. Like winter. I may miss a whole mosaicing season. There is a lot of garden stuff in my outdoor workshop (not to mention my dining room) … That’s my excuse anyway. Now is a good time to get your seeds. Or do you buy seedlings?

      2. Germination of lots of the woodland natives around here is very iffy – part of the reason that they are rare I guess, germination is very sporadic so I leave it to the nurseries that know what they are doing. So, I get plants from about three or four nurseries that I trust. Sometimes I’ve been offered plants fro peoples property when they don’t want them. It’s dicy because even after researching their needs some just don’t make it despite your efforts. but it’s fun. and watching for them to come up in the spring is a favorite activity.

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