The story of the Microplane, the wood rasp that became a beloved kitchen tool, is already pretty well known. But an article in Gear Patrol goes even farther back, to the early ’90s, when Grace Manufacturing, the Arkansas-based family business behind the Microplane, decided to make a wood rasp in the first place.
Grace Manufacturing, you see, was originally in the computer printer business. In the ’80s, it was doing pretty well making small photo-etched parts for mechanical printers. But then the dot matrix printer arrived. (Do you remember those?) And Grace Manufacturing had to think of another thing to start manufacturing.
Richard Grace, the family patriarch, is, writes Will Price, “an inventor in the truest spirit of the word, someone who treats ideation as a profession, not a calling. He doesn’t speak in buzzwords and has never hosted a TED Talk. He simply makes things and finds uses for them later.”
So one day back in 1991, the Graces convened in a conference room and began listing potential products on a whiteboard. Someone observed that the chemically etched metals they were making for the printers were very sharp and that they were going through Band-Aids “by the bushel.” So they decided to make something sharp: a wood-carving and -shaping tool.
The Microplane was initially not a success. For the first three years, sales were so slow, the Graces thought about manufacturing something else. And then Lorraine Lee, one of the proprietors of Lee Valley Tools, a Canadian hardware catalog, had the brainwave of using a Microplane to shave an orange for zest for her Armenian orange cake. “She was so astounded by the results,” Price writes, “she had the description of the product changed in the store catalog to include its effectiveness at this seemingly niche kitchen task.” Four years after that, Amanda Hesser wrote about the Microplane in a New York Times article called “The 3 That Make A Kitchen Complete.” And you know what happened then.
The Gear Patrol piece is a nice success story, but what makes it especially charming is that the Microplane hasn’t eclipsed the people behind it. Grace Manufacturing remains a family business, and Chris Grace, Richard’s son and the current CEO, still remembers sitting with his father and watching the Microplane’s first appearance on QVC. “When are you going to get the woodworking on?” he asked.