CHINA — Al Mather has never made a biscuit in his life, but his biscuit cutters? They are a delicious work of craftsmanship — round sheaths of ash decorated with nothing but the natural, contrasting grain of the wood.

The handle — the hardest part to make — is a round knob, solid and uniform to stand up under a firm grip. The bell-shaped cutter is the opposite — thin and delicate-looking, yet somehow just as strong. Throw one on the ground, and it will bounce several times but not crack. The light and dark grain of the wood forms interesting patterns, like waves coming onto shore.

Craft shows are overrun with wooden rolling pins, spoons, spatulas, ladles and other kitchenware (Mather makes some of those himself), but it’s not often you see a new take on a biscuit cutter. Mather’s was inspired by an aluminum donut cutter with a red handle that belonged to his mother.

He had been selling his cutters at little shops in Eastport, Bar Harbor and Bangor when, last April, the website contacted him about selling them in its online shop. The website, based in New York City and the brainchild of former New York Times food writer Amanda Hesser, attracts millions of home cooks every year.

“With a lot of trepidation I said yes, because I immediately was concerned about how many hundreds am I going to be making per month?” Mather said. “And my stock at that time was one ash tree laying on someone else’s property that I’d stop by once in a while, cut off a piece and make a few biscuit cutters.”

Mather’s fears proved to be “slightly exaggerated,” but the attention did lead to steady work. This winter, he got another bump in sales from a blog post wrote about him — they called his biscuit cutters “the prettiest pastry tool in our kitchen to date” — and it took him three weeks to catch up on inventory. Mather estimates that in the past year, he’s sold 425 biscuit cutters through the website.


Once he’d caught the eye of national food press, the magazine Garden & Gun discovered him as well, and he said he’s sold another 300-plus biscuit cutters through their website since the holidays. (He also has his own website,

Mather was a Baptist pastor living East Machias when he first got seriously interested in woodworking. His grandfather was something of a pack rat, hoarding tools and other stuff at his home until it was overflowing. When his grandfather died in 2002, the family distributed his belongings, including a lathe that Mather coveted but lost to an uncle who was faster on the draw. Later, at a family reunion, the uncle announced that he wasn’t using the lathe after all, and if anyone else wanted it, they could have it. Mather snapped it up. He had no experience woodworking but had always liked the idea of it.

“I basically tried on my own to learn,” he said. “I bought a couple of books, but I didn’t even know enough to understand the books at first. I didn’t speak their language. So I spent a couple of years really finding out what tools did what. I don’t really recommend trying to learn on your own, but I survived it with all my fingers and toes.”

When it comes to talking about his craft, Mather is modest and taciturn. He views his wood turning and his creativity with wood as a way to glorify God and to serve others. He sees himself as “a servant who also turns wood.”

“The Lord is the one who turns hearts and souls,” he writes on his website.

Mather, whose snow white hair and beard give him a bit of the aura of St. Nick, works out of a tiny, dark workshop in his basement in China, where he and his wife Bobbi moved last October. It’s his father’s house. When Mather noticed that his father, 91, could no longer shovel snow like he used to or keep up with housekeeping, the couple moved in to help care for him. Now in between congregations, Mather saw a “real chance” to do something with woodworking that he would enjoy and could earn money from.


Mather mostly works from dried “blanks” — uncarved blocks of wood — that he purchases and can turn directly into biscuit cutters after drying them in a kiln. To make larger cutters, he uses wood he cuts from logs that he dug out of the snow this winter. Mather prefers ash, because it’s easier to see the contrasting grain, which creates the undulating curves on the cutters. But he will do custom pieces. One customer asked him to make a set of cherry biscuit cutters for her daughter to match her cherry wood kitchen. (The gift for someone who has everything?)

As he starts shaping the cutters on the lathe, wood chips fly. After making the cutter and the handle, he sands the pieces, then rubs them with a non-toxic oil. He likes the occasional “imperfection,” such as a small piece of bark or a knot.

He makes the cutters in several sizes. The 3-inch is most popular. They cost between $24 and $40. Mather thinks he could probably make more money, maybe by increasing the price by $5 each, but he wants ordinary people to be able to afford the cutters.

Mather works in his shop two to three days a week, making three biscuit cutters an hour. Some days he has a lot of energy and can ramp up the production (which can be rough on his hands). Other days the lure of the sun and blue sky call him out of his workshop early.

Mather’s wife, Bobbi, keeps two of her husband’s biscuit cutters on her kitchen window sill, which she uses to make her own biscuits.

The reviews — at least from hungry husbands whose wives have cut biscuits with Mather’s handmade implements — have been stellar. “I have heard that the biscuits taste better when you use this biscuit cutter,” Mather teased with the proverbial twinkle in his eye. Then he confessed that when people ask if his wooden biscuit cutters do a better job slicing through dough than the rim of a glass, he has to be honest and say no.


Some people have called his biscuit cutters works of art. Not every cutter reaches that level, Mather says, but sometimes “the grain of the wood, the shape, the curves — everything fits together just right.”

“Ultimately, I believe the artist to be God himself,” he said. “He made me. He made the ash.”

Mather also makes walnut and maple rolling pins and spatulas out of cherry, walnut, ash and maple. For kids, he makes wooden ice cream cones, topped with a bit of crocheted ice cream, made by his wife. But it’s the biscuit cutters that have brought him modest acclaim.

Mather went through several variations before he got the cutters just the way he wanted them. “This biscuit cutter has been in the works 13 years,” he said.

He likens his own learning curve to that of a concert pianist: “It’s taken them years to learn to play it, and play it well.”

Meredith Goad — 791-6332

[email protected];

Twitter: MeredithGoad;

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