The (Mason) Jar-inator!
I think perhaps the nicest thing about Mason jars is that only a tiny percentage of those who own them are actually using them for the purpose for which they were invented. They are the most eminently hackable of food containers, and yet consist of only three pieces. However, in spite of all its elegant simplicity of design, the Mason jar falls victim to the defects of its virtue, for like the famous Venus de Milo, it suffers from an excess of streamlining: it hath no handle.
Oh certainly, one can buy specially-made “Mason jars” with built-in handles – sometimes they even come with working lids! How wonderful. I won’t bother telling you how much a six-pack of these contrivances go for at Pottery Barn; it would only make you weep. Of course, if one of these charming “novelty items” should fall and break, you will have no further use from it. What is more, if you should find yourself wanting to actually can something, or worse still, many somethings, good luck in “re-purposing” your “Mason jars” to their original function, or storing them conveniently once you had finished. What a delightful invention.
However, to make hot tea or coffee in a handle-less Mason jar, is to court burnt fingers and a shattered beverage container, if you must subsequently transport your beverage any distance at all. You could, I suppose, convey it about with a hot pad or oven mitt. And won’t you look the veritable Beau Brummel doing it.
It was, when presented with this very dilemma, that I first envisioned my proudest creation: the Jar-inator™. My prototype came into being approximately two years ago, after having broken a wide-mouth Mason jar in the very pursuit mentioned above. Earlier that day, I had wound a length of paper towel around my jar, and was just in the process of opening the door to my suite, when the toweling, wet from an errant slosh of my Darjeeling, gave way, and the entire affair came crashing down at my feet, spraying me with near-boiling liquid and shards of broken dreams.
That evening, after putting the children to bed, I repaired to my garage laboratory, intent on solving this puzzle once and for all. After approximately 20 minutes of vigorous hacking, I came up with what is now known as the Jar-inator — Mark 1™. It consisted of two pipe clamps, a two-and-a-half-inch section of dowel rod, a piece of metal from a hanging file and two nails. It was not pretty. It was, however, so very effective, that I overlooked its many flaws for nearly two years, and ignored the many “what in God’s name is that” comments from my bemused coworkers.
Now, I am ready to right the wrongs, both aesthetic and functional, of my previous design. These were as follows:
Aesthetic Crimes: ·
- It be illin’
- The handle was too small
- The handle tended to spin on the two nails I used to attach it to the metal bracket
- The clamps weren't attached to the handle, so it was kind of annoying to slip the jar into the Jarinator ™
- The clamps could only be tightened so far by hand, and then I had to use a dime, an appropriately-sized key, a butter knife, or some other implement to tighten them enough to secure the beverage
I have, I believe, addressed all of the above defects, and what’s more, have created an heirloom-quality Mason jar accessory of which anyone could (and should) be proud. In the interest of promoting the public weal, and possibly becoming a finalist in the Mason Jar Challenge, I now present my improved design to the People. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give to you, The Jar-inator, Mark the Second™.
Also, in case my hint above was too subtle, please vote for me in the Mason Jar Challenge!
The Greater Good!
Tools and Materials
- Dowel rod, roughly 4 inches (10-ish cm) long, ¾” – 1” (2-2.5cm) diameter, additional lengths of 1” and ½” for caps (see below)
- Defunct hanging file folder
- Two screws, wood or machine, pan or flat head ideal, round head not so much, little to no unthreaded portion, one ½” - ¾” long, one ¾” – 1” long, and 3/16" diameter.
- Two hose clamps, worm gear-style, sized to fit your mason jar (or other, plentiful, jar type) – generally, at least 3 ½” max diameter (8-9 cm)
- Crafting-style foam board and/or excess material from adhesive “feet” (see below)
- Aluminum flat bar, or other sheet metal, of a gauge compatible with the slot in the head of the screw in the hose clamp’s worm drive
- Drill/drill press, with bits sized to slightly less than screw head and screw threaded portion
- Wood saw or hack saw
- Miter box (sort of optional)
- Tin snips
- Selection of “micro” files (rat tail, pippin and flat, ideally)
- Gorilla/Crazy glue
- Sandpaper, various grits (150, 220)
- Wood stain
- Water-proof or water-resistant sealer (I used shellac)
- Safety glasses (not optional), ear protection (drills are loud); contact lenses/sunglasses and long hair that covers the ears are probably not sufficient (I’m talking to you, younger me.)
The Handle (Lathe-free)
This is the thing that makes a Jar-inator™ what it is, and what sets Mark the Second apart from the first iteration. The trick here is to find a balance between your hand width and the height of the jar. I started out with a 4 ½” (11.5 cm) handle, and found that it was “bottoming-out” on the Mason Jar, and resting on the table. I considered whether this might add more stability, then decided that I didn't care, and that it looked wack. I had already carved, stained and finished it by this point, of course, which was all just gravy. I cut it down to 4” (10-ish cm), lopping off some of my hard work, and tried to pretend that it was the dowel rod manufacturer’s fault. Which of course, it was.
Now, for the sizzle: we’re going to pretend that our hands are an incredibly slow and inefficient lathe! Here’s how:
Take a pencil, and make a line all the way around the handle, about one inch from the end. Now do the same to the other side. Now, as carefully as you can, press the rat tail file to the line you drew and slowly rotate the work piece with your other hand. This will slowly gouge-out a line right where you want it. Unless…
Your wife asks you to watch Mud with her, and you, not-realizing that this is a Matthew McConaughey film because you spend your life under a rock, say “that sounds super, dear.” Once you’re face to face with his terrifyingly chiseled abs, you understand your error, but not before the rat tail file has wound its way up the side of the handle you are carving in an irritating and not-at-all-attractive spiral. You vow to send Matt hate mail in re his abs, and begin sanding off what is now known as The Mark of McConaughey, and ... it disappears!... until you stain it, at which point it magically reappears, for the express purpose of reminding you, in perpetuity, that only in a true democracy can a morally-suspect stoner from South Texas make Time Magazine’s "Most Influential People in the World" list. Thank you, democracy.
On a side note, I was at the pizza parlor the other day (locally-owned) eagerly anticipating another bout of violent dyspepsia, when I ran into one of my neighbors buying a pie for the kids. She explained that it was her and her husband’s movie night, and that the pizza was the children’s dinner.
“What are you seeing?” I asked, innocently.
“Ah, was it Gary’s turn to choose?”
“No it was mine.”
“Now you see, I would never have pegged you for sci-fi person!” I exclaimed, delighted at how multi-layered people can be.
“Oh, is it sci-fi? I just knew about the Matthew McConaughey thing.”
People are not multi-layered at all.
Now, where were we? Oh yes! We were cheerfully carving up a piece of wood we had recently nicknamed “That Texan Bastard’s Head.” It takes a while to get the lines deep enough. I’d say roughly an hour of carving/filing. Give it a quick sand with 150 grit paper, followed by 220 grit. You should now have something that looks a bit like a miniature table leg. This is the point in your work when people with a lathe always say “why didn't you just use a lathe – it would have taken about two seconds to do that!” Gently remind them that not everyone has a lathe; and if everyone did, then the title of this section probably would not have been “The Handle (Lathe-free)” — it would have been “Hey everybody! Check out what I did on my lathe in about two seconds!” Then ask them to go away.
Now, stain the piece a nice dark color so that The Mark of McConaughey will really pop, and finish it with a few coats of shellac or Polycrylic. I chose the former, because I feel it’s less toxic as it’s drying. Both should be reasonably non-toxic once dry.
The Bracket Thingie
This is the thing that connects your lovingly-crafted handle to the clamps. I used a section of mild steel from a defunct hanging file, which I picked up from the trash can at work. It's amazing how many of these things are thrown away, and they're so useful! You can use the metal for projects like these, and the folder material is great card-stock.
Anyway, you're going to mark off the end pieces at two (2) inches (5 cm) each, and the middle section to match the length of your handle (but probably not longer than four (4) inches (10-ish cm) for your average Mason Jar). Mark off these with pencil.
Bend the bar stock so that the end sections are at right angles to the middle bit. Sort of like a capital "C" or a " [ " shaped thing. You'll note that this picture is pre- the "oops-the-handle-is-too-long" revelation.
Drill the Parts!
You're going to need to drill holes in each end of the handle. When I'm trying to find the center of a circle — especially a less-than-circular circle, I tend to trace around it onto a piece of paper, cut along my traced line, then fold the paper in half, and in half again. The place where the two fold lines intersect is the middle of your piece. Line up the paper on the end of the handle, then take a thumb tack, and run it through the center of the paper, into the wood. Now, as carefully as you can, drill into the handle vertically. Choose a drill bit that is slightly smaller than the diameter of the screw you'll be using. In my case, since I'm using a 3/16" screw, I used a 11/64" bit. You may want to drill a pilot hole with a smaller bit first.
Same basic idea here, only this time, use a bit that's the same size as the screw diameter. The metal is quite thin, and you don't want to put any unnecessary stress on it when you run the screw through it. You'll also want to ensure that the holes are equally far from the end of the bar on both the top and bottom pieces. If one hole is positioned closer to the edge or end than the other, your handle will sit at an odd angle, relative to the back of the bracket, and the Mason Jar.
Make the Screw Covers (AKA the Caps)
One of the aesthetic and functional ... idiosyncrasies ... of the first version I created was the use of an uncovered nail to secure the bracket to the handle. Because the nails are smooth, the handle spun like an axle on the bracket, and because the nails were exposed they were icky. I solved this by using screws, each of which has threads wound in the opposite direction, relative to its "mate" on the other end of the handle. This keeps the handle immobile; however, the exposed screws still look lame.
To solve the aesthetic weakness, I made covers for the screws. The "Caps" are made from the same dowel rod as the handle. The top cap is ½” long, and the bottom ¼”. Using the same technique as I did when drilling the handle, I made a hole in each cap, deep enough so that roughly half the screw extends beyond the end of the cap. The length of the screw will depend on what you have on hand, but you'll want a shorter one for the bottom cap, than you do for the top. When you drill your holes this time, you'll definitely want to make a pilot hole. Also, you'll make a larger hole, so that the entire head of the screw will fit inside. In my case, the pan head screw fit snugly inside an 11/32" hole.
Now, fit the screw inside, apply Gorilla Glue or Crazy Glue, and let it dry thoroughly. When the glue has dried, sand, stain and seal the caps. You can use the screw to hold the cap during this process, and to hang the cap from while it dries.
Conveniences: "Turners" and "Belt-Loops"
As noted in my introduction, tightening the clamps was a pain in the first iteration. To solve this, you could either carry a screw driver with you, or insert something in the slot of the worm drive to act as a permanent "screw driver." I opted for the second. I had a scrap piece of aluminum lying around, from which I cut two, roughly ¾” X ½” pieces. The original finish on the aluminum was anodized an unpleasant "brass" hue (because, you know, brass is so expensive, why not just use some nice, cheap, specially-treated aluminum to mimic it), and since I was going to have to shape the pieces a bit, I just sanded the finish off. With a flat file, I widened the slot in the worm drive slightly (this was the only place where the cheaper, galvanized ones I bought were superior to those of the original Jar-inator ™, whose stainless steel was ridiculously hard to work with). I also removed some of the material from the bottom of the aluminum pieces until they fit in the slots of the worm drive. When they fit snugly, I glued them into place (Gorilla or Crazy Glue again).
The "belt-loops" were made from the top of a tin can, were roughly ¾” long and ½” wide. Once I had the clamps to roughly the size of the largest jar I intended to use, I cut off the excess clamp. I then tightened the clamp to the size of the smallest jar I intended for it to hold, and wrapped the "belt loops" around the clamp to hold the flappy ends of the clamp in place, and glued the loops to each other, and the clamp. You'll probably want to re-tighten the clamp prior to gluing the loop, so that you don't end up gluing the clamp to itself, which I hear is kind of irritating. If you should happen to get some glue where it shouldn't be, acetone nail polish remover will soften it enough to remove it with some vigorous scrubbing.
Foam Padding and Assembly
If your standard Mason Jar has a weakness, it's the squarish shape of its sides. While this is nice for canning things, because your jars can be arranged neatly on your shelves, it's stinky for attaching clamps to, because the clamp is only touching the jar at the corners. You can improve the hold by using craft foam board (the thin stuff).
Cut a strip that's long enough to cover one half of the clamp — ideally the side that doesn't "feed" through the worm gear, if you intend to use your The Jar-inator, Mark the Second ™ for jars of multiple sizes. I originally had it on both sides, but then removed it from one side, and replaced it with the excess material from a sheet of "rubber feet," such as the kind you would put on the bottom of a glass cutting board, for example. If you decide to cover the whole inside of the clamp with foam, you will need to leave a space for the bracket directly opposite the worm gear.
Now, attach the foam with glue, or the "rubber feet stuff" with it's own adhesive. Let it dry, and then glue the bracket to the clamps, in the space you made opposite the worm gear.
Tighten the "caps" onto the handle, running the screws through the holes in the bracket, and your Jar-inator, Mark the Second ™ is complete!
Straw Men, Etc
"But Green Gentleman!" you say. "Are we only to drink from Mason Jars in your limited world-view?"
Not a bit of it!
As I have alluded to repeatedly throughout this Instructable, the only things that limit the jars from which you may now freely (and safely) drink are the size of your clamp, and your own imagination! Pictured here, you will see the The Jar-inator, Mark the Second ™ in use with an applesauce jar!
"Ah, but what of the BPA in Mason Jar lids?" you pointedly ask.
Curse you! But you are quite right. To the best of my knowledge, Mason Jar lids do tend to contain BPA. If you like, however, you can replace the lid of the mason jar with a solid polypropylene plastic cap from a mayonnaise or nut butter jar. Specifically, once made Phoenix Closures in style/size 55G, TAB 44H or TAB 6l, all of which are very common, coming from Hain Canola Mayonnaise, Sunbutter sunflower spread, and many other products!