Brass & String Cheese Cutter

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This article is from Issue 64 of Woodcraft Magazine.

This classical instrument cuts cheese by the slice.

Overall dimensions: 31⁄2"w × 1⁄2"t × 31⁄16"l

While woodworkers like showing off their latest cutting board creation during friendly gatherings, here’s a way to solicit an even more wide-eyed response. This brass, wood, and string gadget gleams with style while functioning to divvy up a block of aged cheddar. I’ll show you how to work brass in the project with tools you already use for wood.

Make the handle

1 Mill a piece of walnut to 1⁄2" to match the width of the brass rectangle stock and cut the handle blank to 23⁄8 × 8". (The extra length is for safe machining.)

2 Install a 1⁄2" core-box bit into a table-mounted router. Adjust the bit to 1⁄8" above the table. Locate the fence 1⁄2" from the center of bit as shown in Figure 2. Now, rout a 1⁄8" deep groove the length of the blank on both faces.

3 Next, round over the edges of the handle blank (Figures 1 and 3) with a 1⁄4" round-over bit, feeding the stock against the router table fence.

4 Crosscut a 3" handle from the blank and sand it through 220-grit.

With the side held in the bench vise and the tap square to its face, cut the hole threads, lubricating as needed with cutting oil.

Fashion the brass sides

1 Scrollsaw two 31⁄8" lengths from 1⁄8"-thick × 1⁄2"-wide brass stock. (I used a fine blade for cuts that require little filing and sanding.)

2 Lay out and drill two 9⁄64" holes for the handle screws (Figure 3). 

With the brass piece clamped firmly in place, drill the hole at the drill press using a twist bit at 3,000 rpm. To keep the bit from wandering, use a center punch to indent the hole locations. Repeat for the other brass piece. Countersink the holes for #6 brass wood screws using a countersink bit at 250 rpm.

3 Locate and drill the holes for the roller screws using a #36 wire gauge drill bit (see the Buying Guide). This bit is ideally suited for a #6 NC 32-per-inch plug tap. Now, tap threads for a #6-32 machine screw, as shown in Photo A. The key to successful thread tapping is keeping the tap square to the material being tapped. Also, it is important to go slowly while using moderate pressure, turning the tap clockwise as it cuts the threads. When it starts to bind up, turn the tap counterclockwise, backing it out of the hole. Clear the metal fragments from the tap and continue on. Be patient; you will probably have to clear the tap six or more times. Some practice in scrap metal may be helpful if you have never thread-tapped a hole before.

With the side blanks temporarily screwed to the handle, use a fine-tipped marker to trace the handle’s shape onto the blanks.

4 To transfer the handle’s shape to the brass side blanks, first wrap painter’s tape around the ends of the handle to protect them. Using the brass blanks as templates and aligning them with the handle, drill pilot holes into the handle at the countersunk hole locations. Next, secure the brass blanks temporarily in place using steel screws. (Steel screws will tap the holes, preparing them for the softer brass screws later.) 

Finally, transfer the handle shape on the blanks, as shown in Photo B.

Hold the brass side blank firmly to cut the coves and rounded ends while following the cutlines.

5 Scrollsaw the sides to shape (Photo C) with a 12.5 TPI skip-tooth blade. Smooth the cut edges of the brass with files and 150-grit sandpaper wrapped around a block or dowel as needed. Scrollsaw the 1⁄32 × 1⁄32" slots for the cheese-cutting wire, where shown in Figure 3. Use the scrollsaw blade to shape a slight chamfer on the outside corners of the wire slots and to knock off sharp edges that could cut the wire. Finally, smooth and polish the brass sides with fine sandpaper and steel wool.

Note: Test and fine-tune the fit of the sides by reattaching them to the handle, marking any waste areas, and touching them up with sandpaper prior to polishing.

Prepare the brass roller

1 Scrollsaw a 215⁄16" length of 9⁄32" OD × .014 brass tube, and touch it up at a disc sander as necessary to square the ends and remove burrs.

2 Retrieve two 1⁄4" OD × .140 ID × 1⁄2"-long nylon spacers. Apply a light coating of epoxy inside both ends of the brass tube, and insert a nylon spacer into each end, flush with the ends of the tube. (The spacer will push the epoxy into the tube where it will bond to the brass and act as a stop.) Allow the epoxy to cure, and then polish the brass tube.

Final assembly

1 Finish the walnut handle (I used Behlen Salad Bowl Finish).

2 Attach the brass side rails to the walnut handle with screws.

3 Referring to Figure 1, mount the roller with the brass machine screws, leaving them proud. Now, secure the assembly in a vise with the roller end up. (I taped cardboard to the vise jaws to prevent marring the handle.)

4 Cut a length of .014" piano wire to about 6" long. Wrap the cutter wire clockwise around one of the screws. While keeping the wire aligned with the slot, tighten the screw to firmly secure the wire.

5 Next, bend the wire sharply into the slot. Using needle-nose pliers, pull it tightly across to the second slot and bend it down sharply to 90°, wrapping it clockwise around the remaining screw (Photo D). Tighten the second screw. Clip off any excess wire with side cutters. Now, cut the cheese.

Note: Clean your cheese cutter using warm soapy water and wipe dry. Refinish with salad bowl finish as needed.  

About Our Author

West Des Moines craftsman and designer Jim Downing has established himself as a top woodworking designer, having created furniture, home accessory, and outdoor projects since the early 1980s. In total, he has designed for 12 publications, with five of them being well-known woodworking magazines.


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