Hand Substitutes

Holding Things – Adaptive Cutting Board

An adaptive cutting board holds things in place while your useful hand performs the desired operation, such as peeling or slicing. A few styles can be found online. My personal preference is one called a Swedish cutting board. It has three important features that need discussion. 

A vise along one side of the board can secure a bowl, a jar, or a vegetable so you can stir, open, or slice without the object sliding away. The positioning posts on the vise can be moved to a choice of positions. There is a pattern of holes on either side of the slot where the back-plate slides. With this choice of positions for the posts, you should be able to find a configuration that will work with almost anything you’ll want held in place. The vise is the feature that sets this design apart from other adaptive boards. You can remove the vise and positioning posts and wash all the pieces. The vise clamp contains brass and stainless-steel parts which will prevent them from rusting. 

Suction cups on the bottom keep the board from sliding around. The suction cups hold the board so well on a slick surface that moving the board can be a challenge. I have removed two of the suction cups, which are screwed onto the bottom. Just two suction cups provide enough holding power for anything I’ve needed. An easy way to break the suction is to insert a toothpick under each suction cup to break the seal. The board will pop loose when the seals are broken, and you will be able to move the board.  If you rotate the board with one suction cup still attached, be aware that you may loosen the screw attachment of the suction cup.  From time to time, check that the suction cups are screwed in all the way.

Stainless steel spikes embedded in the plastic base provide a way to impale fruits and vegetables, so you can perform the desired process. Spikes are the main feature of most other adaptive boards. Spikes can puncture or scratch your hand if you are careless. With the Swedish style board, however, the spikes are embedded in a removable block that can be turned upside down and reinserted in the board, which tucks the spikes into unused space under the board. A negative about the removable spike block is that normal wear and tear on the plastic loosens the fit of the block. To compensate for the looseness, I use a spring clip to secure the plastic block in place when I use the spikes.  Also, the spikes hold dense food, such as a sweet potato, so tightly that repositioning the food can be a challenge. A little extra effort is required to learn how to release dense foods with fingers or to use a narrow tool between the spikes for leverage.

Board cleanliness is important. A drawback of almost any cutting board is that knives do make cuts/scores in the surface of the board. A surface hard enough to withstand knife damage would dull knives. Surface features such as holes, gutters, and seams can also catch food particles and liquids. Keeping a board clean is not difficult. Generally, just use dish soap to clean and rinse the board thoroughly after every use. Many boards are dishwasher safe. To remove stains and to assure the board is not contaminated, clean the board with diluted bleach.

Other adaptive boards have walls on two sides which provide a barrier against sliding plus spikes as another anchor for food.  To create a similar slippage barrier on the Swedish style cutting board, I place a large bag clamp on the outer edge below the spikes. Imagine the red clamp shown in the onion slicing picture moved down to the front edge.  Position bread/toast against the spikes on the top and against the bag clip on the side.  With this arrangement, you can push butter/spread toward the stops.

Positioning Equipment

I think most people just naturally place a cutting board in line with the edge of a countertop. While learning to work with an adaptive board to prepare food, I noticed some things. When I stand square to the edge of the countertop and place my arm on the countertop, the natural position of my arm is roughly 45-degrees to the edge. If I place my arm perpendicular to the edge, I shift my body to a roughly 45-degree angle to the countertop, especially when using the vise on the Swedish board. I started experimenting with positioning my cutting board and my mandoline slicer, etc. In some cases, the angle of the equipment can make the job a little easier. I encourage you to find the best placement of equipment for yourself. It’s hard enough to cope without a second hand. Give yourself any advantage you can.

Surface Helpers

We love the smooth sleek surfaces in our modern kitchens, but keeping things from sliding on a smooth surface is an ever-present challenge for the 1-armed cook.  The most obvious replacement for a missing hand is a torso.  Pulling things against our bodies frequently answers the need.  I’ve seen people use knees as a vise and that also sometimes gets the job done.  Pushing things against a back splash or other wall is sometimes useful, and of course, the kitchen sink is a contained area.  None of these solutions put the work in the ideal position for working with a knife or other kitchen tools.  Some other solutions include:

  1. Some kitchen equipment is equipped with “non-slip” feet.  These rubbery surfaces help when minor force is being exerted but can fail when the work being performed is more vigorous.
  2. Short of the sure-fire vise or spikes of a Swedish cutting board, silicone mats can be very useful.  There are a variety of mats made for baking, rolling dough, or just to protect surfaces.  I have a 15.5″ X 23.5″ silicone mat that I use for dough and just for generally reducing the slipperiness of my granite counter top; I even use it when writing my shopping list because it keeps my paper still while I write.
  3. Con-Tact also has a textured shelf liner with excellent gripping power and it can be a help with holding things still. I’ve also found that a piece of this material does a good job of holding a slice of bread still while I spread butter.
  4. Another handy solution is a slightly damp kitchen towel.