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Build a Spoon Extender

(With a Bagel Toaster Add-on)

By Jim Wood
Published April 3, 2005
Last update: April 3, 2005
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Though I continually strive to reduce my pack weight, I must confess that there are a few camp conveniences that I have come to regard as indispensable. Among the most cherished of these trail luxuries are the spoon extender, along with its faithful companion, the bagel toaster.

Why Bother?

  • Do you ever eat directly from Ziploc or freeze-dried meal bags? Ever notice that your spoon never seems to be long enough, because you always end up with food-covered hands? 

  • When stirring a simmering soup or stew on your stove, have you ever wished for more of a buffer zone between your naked hand and the hot liquid below?

  • Have you ever pined for a way to toast bagels or other breads using your camp stove (especially after they've been traveling with you for several days)?

  • Ever wish for a way to dry out kindling in order to build an emergency campfire?

 

Well, if you're willing to suffer the pain of carrying one more ounce (or a little less) in your pack, you might find this little two-part project interesting. 

 

Note that all of the photos contained within this article are linked to larger versions that can be accessed by clicking on the red "(+)" in the caption area (or on the photos themselves).

 


 

Jim's Spoon Extender

Several years ago, while tent-bound during a storm in the Sierras, I began to ponder solutions to the weighty problem of undersized trail spoons (actually, I was nearly delirious with boredom, having run out of more meaningful matters to consider). Anyway, the first thought was simply to find a spoon that was longer that the standard Lexan models that most of us use. After returning to civilization, however, I discovered that such a tool did not exist. Candidates included all manner of cooking and other specialty spoons, but all were deemed to be unsuitable, often for weight reasons. It also finally dawned on me that even if I found a double-length model, I probably wouldn't even want it since it would be too awkward to pack.

 

And so, breaking the problem into two pieces, the spoon extender was born. It's simply a plastic tube that most existing Lexan or other spoons can plug into in order to extend their working lengths (it doesn't work well most with titanium sporks, however). The trick was finding a tube that was ultralight, sufficiently rigid, and exactly the right diameter to serve the purpose. Having conducted an exhaustive inventory search at the Backpacker's Raw Materials Emporium (Home Depot), it became apparent that I would literally need to "roll my own".

 

Jim's Spoon Extender (+)

 

Build Instructions

The key ingredients for this project are a sheet of plastic and some tape. As with most things in life, however, nothing is ever quite that easy. You may need to hunt around a bit for the right kind of plastic, since many of the options available at stores like Staples or Office Depot don't work very well. An ideal choice would the kind I used for my original prototype: an 8" x 11" sheet of clear acetate designed for use as a report cover (sold by Ibico in connection with their binding systems). It's 7 mils thick (1 mil = 1/1000 inch) and is just about perfect for the spoon extender. It's expensive to buy, however, and I'd guess that most of you don't have a box of this stuff lying about. So, a couple of other possibilities include:

  • Office Depot Clear Project Files (product # 741-341). You'll need to cut them in half, since they're double thickness. A single sheet is about 6.5 mils  thick; a pack of 10 files (20 sheets) costs $4.49.

  • Overhead transparency film, perhaps left over from the old days (pre-PowerPoint) of corporate presentations. The 3M variety I have is 3 mils thick, which is about the thinnest material you'll probably want to use (but still works well). The Staples brand is about 4 mils thick (0.10mm) and costs $22.88 for a pack of 100. CompUSA is another retail source. Epson, HP, IBM, Agfa and several other companies still make transparency film, so you may be able to find it in packages of less than 100 sheets. 

The key is using a plastic (or perhaps other) material that's both lightweight, yet sturdy enough to form a rigid tube when rolled up. It should probably be 3 to 7 mils thick for the best results. For the tape, I'd suggest 2" wide clear packing tape (either standard or heavy-weight will do). Available in almost any store that sells office and/or school supplies. 

 

Step 1:  Assuming that you're starting with 8" x 11" sheet of plastic, lay it out on a table top as shown below. Next, apply a piece of packing tape about 10" long to the top (8") edge of the plastic, so that half of the width of the tape is stuck to the plastic, and the other half is left exposed. When you're done, the sticky side of the tape should be facing up. Don't worry about the tape ends hanging off the sides of the plastic - you'll trim them later.

 

 

Plastic sheet materials (+)

 Taped plastic sheet on table top (+)

 

Step 2:  Use a wooden pencil or similar cylinder to help get the plastic rolling. You'll have to judge how tightly to roll the sheet, since it needs to have just the right inside diameter (probably a bit over 3/8" or so) to hold your spoon handle securely. When the sheet is mostly rolled to the tape end, you can insert your spoon handle to test the diameter. If it's too tight, you can release the tension a bit to expand the diameter. If it's too loose, you'll need to re-start the roll. It'll probably take a little trial-and-error to get this step right.

 

Step 3:  Once you're satisfied with the inside diameter, just continue to roll the sheet right onto the exposed edge of the tape and seal. Now you can trim the tape with a pair of scissors, or even cut the roll to a shorter length. If you're interested in the bagel toaster described below, I'd suggest making your new spoon extender about 7" long. If your roll was not quite straight, you can trim both ends to square them up. 

 

Rolled and sealed sheet (+)

Works with forks too (+)

 

Depending on the thickness of the plastic you use, you may find that it's not necessary to use the full 11" of sheet length in your roll. To save a few grams of weight, you might try shortening the sheet some and trying it again. Conversely, if after using the full 11", you find that the tube is not rigid enough, you'll probably need to use a different kind of plastic. Alternatively, you could also try taping two pieces end-to-end for added strength. 

 

And before we leave this section, let's allow our imaginations to run wild. You might even want to use your new creation to extend a fork or knife, so you can adjust the roll size accordingly during the build process. In the end, you'll probably find that the weight of your extender is less than  ounce.

 


 

Jim's Bagel Toaster

Bagels have been popular with backpackers for a long time. As a bread source for the trail, they're hard to beat since they're nearly indestructible and can last a week or more before they begin to mold over. After even a couple of days, however, they can get pretty tough to chew and by the end of a week, they can become jaw breakers. The solution is simply to toast them. Doing so will help keep them soft and tasty until they reach end-of-life.

 

While I'm sure there are plenty of tools that could be used to toast bagels (or other breads) over a camp stove, the spoon extender makes an ideal "handle" for the model described here. To construct Jim's Bagel Toaster, you'll need a single stainless steel or chrome-plated skewer about 15" long. Wal-Mart sells a package of four for $1.98 in the kitchen department. Skewers that have a square or round cross-section tend to work a little better than those that are flat and thin.

 

Bagel toaster add-on (+) Start with a single skewer (+)

 

Important: You may be tempted to use another of those all-purpose wonders, the household clothes hanger, but there's a warning here. Almost all steel coat hangers are painted or otherwise coated with substances that could be hazardous to your health. Since the toaster is going to come in direct contact with your food, you'd need to remove all traces of such substances from the coat hanger before using it for this purpose. The problem is also compounded by the fact that the heat from your stove could alter the chemical composition of these coatings, potentially transforming initially benign chemicals into toxins. Bottom line: I'd skip the coat hanger and invest the two bucks in food-safe skewers.

 

Build Instructions

Constructed as described here, you'll probably find that your bagel toaster weighs about  ounce.

 

Step 1:  Assuming that you start with a skewer similar to that shown above, you can either cut the loop-end off using a hack saw, or straighten it using a pair of pliers and/or a bench vise. Either way, you'll want a finished length of 14"-18" (if you're using the Wal-Mart skewer, I'd suggest just cutting the loop off).

 

Step 2:  Using needle-nose pliers, bend the skewer in the middle to about the angle shown below. It's sometimes difficult to get both end exactly the same length, so when you're finished bending, you may need to shorten one end or the other with a hack saw to get them even.

 

    Bending with needle-nose pliers (+)

Skewer bent (+)

 

Step 3:  Using a file (or perhaps a bench grinder) sharpen the second end of the skewer to about the same point as the already-sharp end. Don't over do it, however; you're not going to perform surgery with this thing - it just needs to be sharp enough to poke through some bread.

 

Your new toaster is now ready to use; just insert the bend-end into the spoon extender a couple of inches. You'll find that the "springiness" of the toaster prongs should create a secure fit against the inside walls of the extender. If that's not the case, remove the toaster and bend the prongs out a bit for a tighter fit.

 

Completed toaster in extender. (+)
Note optional holes at end.

Toaster in use with stove (+)

When you're finished using your toaster, you can remove it from the extender and re-insert it backwards into the tube for storage as shown below. If your extender is longer than the toaster, the toaster should fit without the sharp ends protruding from the tube. If you're concerned about that possibility, you can modify the extender by adding a pair of optional 1/8" holes on either side of the extender, centered about 3/8" from one of the ends.

 

Perhaps the easiest way to make the holes is by melting through the plastic with a hot soldering iron (the kind whose tip is a sharp point). Alternatively, you could hold a nail in a pair of pliers and heat the tip over a candle until it is hot enough to melt the plastic. Likewise, you could create the holes with an electric drill.

 

When storing the toaster inside the extender now, insert one end in one of the new holes and the other side into the tube itself. The toaster now won't slide all the way into the tube, since the top edge of the tube will serves as a stop. 

 

 

Storing toaster without using holes (+) Storing using optional hole (+)

 

If it turns out that you've constructed a relatively short extender, but proportionately longer toaster (whose points protrude through the end of the tube when stored), you can protect the points using a wine cork (even half a cork will do) as shown below. 

 

Storage using cork (+)

 

Stupid Toaster Tricks

Your new bagel toaster can perform some other tricks. It can be used as a fork at mealtime or for roasting hot dogs or marshmallows over a campfire (just don't get the plastic extender too close to the heat). You can do the same over your stove, but the drippings can get messy. Alternatively, if you wanted to extend the reach of your toaster (perhaps when using it with a large campfire), rather than using the plastic spoon extender as a handle, you could fasten the prongs to a stick by wrapping them with the picture hanging wire mentioned below.

 

The toaster can also be used, along with your stove, to help start an emergency campfire if the wood you're using is wet (which is often the case in emergency situations). To accomplish this small miracle, you'll also need a length of bendable wire, perhaps 25" to 30" long. Lightweight braided picture hanging wire works well. I carry a piece of this wire in my utility kit, since the weight is negligible (less than 0.1 oz) and it can be used for a wide variety of applications.

 

To build the fire, first gather a handful of kindling wood and bundle the sticks together with two or three tight wraps of wire as shown below. Next, start your stove, insert your toaster prongs under the wire at the top of the bundle, then hold the bundle over the flame, "cooking" it until it dries and begins burning. Once ignited, the kindling can be carefully moved into position on the ground, where it can serve as the core for the rest of your fire. By the way, of the two components required for this trick, the wire is actually more critical than the toaster. In a pinch, you could use a 12" to 18" stick in lieu of the toaster prongs to hold the bundle over the stove.

 

And finally (or maybe not), the toaster can be used as a whisk for stirring your cook pot when inserted into the extender as shown below. Doing so might help allay the lingering concerns that some have about the potentially carcinogenic effects of exposing plastics directly to boiling liquids. If the fit of the toaster in the extender is a bit loose in this position, insert the toaster through one or both of  the optional holes described above to help create a tighter fit.

 

                 Wet kindling bundle (+)

Preparing to "cook" the wet kindling (+)  

Removing burning bundle from stove (+)

The toaster as whisk (+)            

 

 

Please let me know about your experiences with spoon extender and bagel toaster through the Base Camp Feedback Forum.

 

Good luck!

Jim Wood.

 




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Copyright 2005 James E. Wood. All Rights Reserved.