The Coltello Pizza Cutter
How I made the worlds Best Pizza Cutter.
I know, its a bit of a stretch to call anything the best ever, yet I can confidently say that this is the world's best and most comfortable pizza cutter, as well as being the sharpest!
It was created as a premium cutter a step above our best selling pizza cutter, to eliminate blade side to side wiggle completely. No cutter feels as stable and comfortable as the Coltello, and I can guarantee you that no other pizza cutter is this sharp. Their edges are honed to perfection. Keep your fingers well clear, you're cutting your pizza with a rotating razor blade.
It took me two years to design, and figure out the recipe to produce them.
This is the story of how the Coltello Pizza Cutter came to life.
The Story of the Coltello Pizza Cutter.
This has been the hardest thing I have done up until this point in my life. It at times exhausted me mentally, physically and emotionally, sometimes all at once.
This is the story of those challenges, and how they were overcome, to bring a simple idea to life.
Lets start at the beginning.
Everyone loves pizza, so it makes sense that we sell a lot of engraved pizza cutters.
Our very first pizza cutter, was terrible.
We purchased the whole thing for like 4 dollars and sold them for 20 with postage. We just threw them in a plastic bag and put them in the mail after engraving them. We didn’t have any idea what we were doing when I started this business. The cutters were floppy and fragile, and you could feel them bend under the slightest cuts.
For the price, most customers knew what they were in for, so complaints were rare, but we did get enough complaints, and enough sales to look for a better option.
Our Second Pizza Cutter.
So, I purchased some metal hardware from China, and made wooden handles for our second pizza cutter. Woodwork is comparatively easy and forgiving compared to metalwork, I didn’t want to get into that, so I let China do the sharp bits.
At a trade show down in Melbourne, Saare and I went to look at laser cutters, and saw the CNC Metal machining centers.
I said, no way, I’d never want to get into that. It felt so cold and mass produced to me. I came back from that show, loving the warm personalized woodwork that I do.
Our second pizza cutter was a massive quality improvement from our first cutter. China laser cut, bent and riveted the metal parts together for us. We made the wooden handles, and created a wooden gift box to fit the cutter. People loved, and still love our premium cutters.
Fast forward a year or two, after selling a butt load of cutters, our Chinese supplier has upped their prices and dropped their quality, while shipping costs to bring the hardware in is getting painful.
We start to get a complaint here and there that the blades have a bit of wiggle, a slight side to side movement. We notice that half of the blades on the latest shipment have not been riveted in as tight as the factory used to do them, so I get out my press and hammer and try to mend the hardware of 600 cutters.
Now it's at this point where a little thought enters my mind.
I’m thinking screw this, I want to be in charge of my own quality and manufacturing process, I can make these cutters better. Better looking, better cutting and with no blade wiggle.
I design a 3d model of the cutter which is the easiest part of this process, but you get it out of your mind and into the computer. At this stage, you can now program any machine to make the parts.
So, I binge on YouTube videos how to run a CNC mill, and I put a deposit on one.
It takes 8 months to build and get delivered.
When the truck arrives with the 20ft container on the back, the driver gives the driveway one look and says he cant bring the truck in, because he cant turn around and the trees are in the way.
I ask him, what do you drink? I’ll pop down to the store right now to get you a bottle or rum – its like the Australian currency to get anything done. He tells me he doesn’t drink, but at least I get a bit of a smile, and his attitude starts to change.
He tells me, the container will hit the trees, and I say I don’t care, let me go get my chainsaw right now.
He realized, he’s not getting out of this easy and comes down the driveway without hitting a single tree. A bit of maneuvering and the container is on the ground. He leaves with a couple of freshly made camphorwood chopping boards for his wife.
The next day we have the forklifts coming down the driveway, and they figure how to remove the 5 ton machine from the container. A couple of chains around the pallet base dragged it from the back to the front of the container, where the fork could then lift it out.
After installation and levelling of the machine, it took another 8 months and two failed attempts for the power company to connect our power to run it. The power company then decided not to charge me for the expensive 3 phase connection which was an incredible gift.
After the power company gave us our site power, the electrician hooked up the machine. We pushed every button and nothing… I go through every manual they sent trying to figure how to get even a light on. Meanwhile the electrician is in the back and finds a panel of circuit breakers that he turns on one by one.
The machine boots up and I play with the menus trying to figure things out. I have zero idea how to run this thing, or how to even load a file onto it for machining.
Two Months after playing with it and learning, the screen is completely dead and I found out that, although the machine has a warranty from the manufacturer, the control system which runs the machine is not covered by that warranty, and it should be purchased additionally. This turns out, could only be purchased from Fanuc when the machine is purchased.
So I’m stuck with a very expensive dead machine.
A week after negotiating with the manufacturer and Fanuc in Japan, they agree to sell me the warranty after the machine has been installed. I pay them $2000, and they send their technician out a week later to come repair the machine.
Machining the Pizza Cutter.
The body of the cutter is quite thick. It gets cut from a solid block of aluminum, and it needs to have both sides machined. When you flip the part over to machine the back side, it's critical that everything gets lined up correctly otherwise parts and features don’t meet up.
This was its own challenge.
The blades need to be steel, stainless steel to be exact. I have heard that stainless steel is a difficult material to machine, but my machine was built for it right!?
Turns out that you can only get two types of stainless steel in Australia easily, and they are both difficult to machine and cannot be heat treated. – I called every single steel supplier in Australia to try and get a easy to machine version.
So I got some 304 grade stainless to test my blades on, which is incredibly hard to machine and very unforgiving of your tools.
I’d go through hundreds of dollars in tools a day to try and figure out how to cut this material. Some tools are glowing red hot with coolant on, some just simply disintegrate. I try different tools and recipes and finally get a result that works, but I only get 4 blades out of a set of tools, which makes the blades much too expensive.
So I do some research and import a stainless blade steel called 420 Grade which is a bit easier to machine, and can also be heat treated to keep that perfect edge on the cutter.
The worst day I have had during this process was when I crashed the machine, because I manually changed some code in the program and I got it wrong.
This machine is incredibly powerful, it has no problem pretty much destroying itself if you get something wrong.
When I make the blades, there comes a point where I pause the program and install some screws. The machine is told to stop so I can put the screws in, then I just push the start button after the screws are installed so it keeps going. I made a change to this process and I got it very wrong.
A large Face mill – the largest tool that we use rapidly plunged at full power into the parts and fixtures.
The machine alarmed out – but only after crashing into and shifting our production pallets which are bolted to the machine table. It was like watching a car crash. I have the utmost respect for this machine – even before this crash.
I’m glad there was no one around within earshot when this happened, because that was the most intense 2 minutes of swearing in my life.
I reset the machine and get ready to realign the pallets, which requires quite a costly German tool called a Haimer.
I call this tool up, and the machine drops both this gauge and the large tool that was currently in the spindle. I feel devastated.
I think I just broke the machine, and I question everything. Why am I doing this? Why am I even running my own business? Things would be so much easier if I just go work for someone else. This machine should already be paying for itself, and now its broken. This is so incredibly hard. I just want to get back to woodwork and do the easy things I’m good at. I felt like an absolute failure, and my mind was going in a very wrong direction.
And then I just got back to work. I called up the manufacturer on WhatsApp who answered immediately, and he told me exactly how to repair the machine by changing some control settings.
An hour later, the machine is back in operation.
I change a lot of machine settings to prevent this crash from happening again, and the manufacturer agrees to test and load new crash protection settings from their side also.
I’m now respectfully comfortable with this machine after nearly a year of running it. It's not the machine that makes a mistake, it does exactly what you tell it to do. Every mistake I have made with running this machine, or any other machine I own, has been because I programmed it to do it.
The main parts, the sandalwood handles, the body and the blades are sorted.
Making the decision to buy a CNC Lathe.
I needed a machine to make the small parts.
I didn’t want to rely on off the shelf screws and bolts, so I ordered a CNC lathe to make them look and function exactly how we need.
I ordered the lathe at the time when the world started running out of computer chips during Covid, as everyone bought Play Stations and laptops to work from home. This meant I couldn’t get the Siemens control system that I needed, and had to wait 6 months for them to build a new one.
The machine build time and delivery went way over time, but it wasn’t a problem. It gave me some time to prepare the driveway and service my forklift to prepare for the delivery. I planned to unload this machine myself as it only weights 1.2 Tons.
Delivery and installation of this machine was pretty straight forward. It was small and light enough to be maneuvered into place with a pallet jack.
The electrician hooked her up and we made sure the motors were spinning the right way which is common for 3 phase installation. Everything seemed fine, except we couldn’t get any hydraulic pressure building and we figure we had to swap two wires around which fixed the hydraulics. Well at least for two minutes.
It seems a hydraulic bypass screw shifted or got knocked in transport or installation so the motor burnt itself out after two minutes of operation. The manufacturer blamed the electrician for installing 3 wires wrong, we told the manufacturer they have no idea what they are talking about, and tell them to get effed, burning that bridge.
We’re all on our own with the CNC Lathe now.
I order a replacement motor elsewhere, as the manufacturer wouldn’t honor their warranty and wanted to charge us crazy prices for a new motor.
We do the repairs. The new motor works perfect and I once again see how hard it is to machine stainless steel. I did all the test parts in brass which is really easy and forgiving, and decide let's just stick with it. It looks great and evens out the balance with the sandalwood handles. The stainless steel just seems to eat the tools.
Creating the Sandalwood Handles.
Making the handles consistently and reliably was a huge head scratcher for this product.
The sandalwood comes in in dry logs from Western Australia, which we then cut into thin slices, and process them down into perfect blanks to cut the handles from.
It took me a long time to figure how to hold the handles down to machine them. They need to be held perfectly flat. I tried to hold them down with two different vacuum fixtures that I built which woudn't work.
So, I had to rethink it completely.
I ended up building an air powered clamping fixture that holds 4 blanks down perfectly flat. As you clamp, it both pushes the blank towards the fixed end and it pushes it down flat towards the table. It holds and releases the blanks with the push of a button which save a lot of time.
Making the wooden gift boxes, that’s easy. We have perfected our timber machining and finishing techniques.
Cut them, sand them coat them, install their hardware and velvet then brand them. No one makes a gift box as efficient and as high quality as ours.
All the parts finished.
So here it is, all the parts and components off the machines. Now its time to put a lot of love and care in to hand finish them.
The brass gets belt sanded on the face then laser etched and given a clear coating to prevent tarnish.
The aluminum gets blasted by glass beads then belt sanded and polished on the exterior for that contrast before being etched with their serial number and date.
The blades also get a glass bead blast and a polish before the knife edge is ground and honed to perfection.
The sandalwood is polished and oiled and the whole cutter comes together perfectly.
Every part of this cutter is replaceable and comes apart for easy cleaning if you get some Mozzarella (or even better Parmesan) stuck where it shouldn’t be. It’s a tool for a lifetime.
I have been out of my comfort zone every single step with this process, but I have enjoyed it. I couldn’t wait to get to work to try a new technique, or to redesign a part or fixture to make this product work. Now that it's done, it's an incredible sense of peace.
I have learnt how to drive two new machines that scared the kombucha out of me. I have learnt more about metal, coolant, and probes than I ever wanted to know.
I don’t think I ever want to be a big business. I like what I do. I got my collection of machines that I can create whatever I dream of.
My wife Saare helps me run the business. Our prices are high enough to keep demand to a manageable level.
We don’t use any harmful chemicals creating our products. Our coolants are vegetable based, our oil coatings are organic tung oil, linseed oil and citrus oil. We don’t believe in using anything that can harm ourselves or the environment. Our timber is taken from dead fallen trees, apart from camphorwood, which is an invasive weed species, so we actually help the environment by getting rid of it, letting local species flourish instead.
We’re proud of what we do, and we do our absolute best with what we have.
I’m grateful I get to share my passion with you, and if you like what we craft, feel free to get your very own Coltello here - and experience the passion, care and unmatched quality that we put into each one.