Shop Spotlight: The Only Way to Eat Oysters is Off a Carved Oyster Platter
Paul Sampson and his wife, Jula, have turned their love of mollusks and woodworking into their business, Oyster River Joinery.
Paul Sampson’s first oyster platter was born of necessity. The woodworker used to cradle the oysters he served at skeet-shooting and yard-work parties in the ridges and troughs on his tailgate, but his new truck didn’t have them. Heading out from his woodshop at the end of a workday, he hurriedly carved a dozen wells into a scrap of wood and brought it to that evening’s gathering. His friends loved the platter (and the oysters) so much they wanted their own.
The platters that Sampson’s Oyster River Joinery turns out today are a far cry from that first rough plank: made of polished cherry, mahogany, walnut, or birch, they’re elegant enough to display when not in use. Sampson and his wife, Jula, work as a team: he creates his signature wooden platters and applies a special board balm that she makes. “I love making the platters almost as much as using them,” Sampson says.
Sampson was born into a family of architectural woodworkers. As much as he enjoys architectural woodworking, he found the work often left him with expensive off-cuts of lumber piling up in his shop. “Eventually, you get buried in short pieces of wood,” he says. “So my love of oysters helped me regain some shop space.”
Each platter is made out of a single piece of wood that Sampson carefully selects, with special characteristics in the wood accentuated during his creation process, so each varies in color and shape. Each also includes a leather strap, so it can be hung on a wall. The platters are available in half-dozen and full-dozen sizes. He also offers a fish platter to serve fish like smoked trout or lox.
Maine is important to Sampson and his business, and he takes a lot of pride in the closed-circle of his business. “I can cut a tree on my land, have a friend saw the log for me, and I can make a variety of items out of the wood,” he says. “Then I can purchase local oysters and other Maine foods to put on my Maine-made platter.”