Having a mandoline in your kitchen is not essential, but once you own one you will wonder how you lived without it.
The most basic unit is a rectangular frame that holds an adjustable cutting blade in the center of a sliding surface. Moving food back and forth over the blade creates uniform slices. A small plastic version of this can be found in almost any kitchen store for less than a fair bottle of wine.
Without any built in support, holding the basic mandoline at an angle with the bottom end on the counter and the blade facing up can be a bit of a challenge. The blades are generally extremely sharp and don’t discriminate between a carrot and the tip of your finger. Practice with easier ingredients, such as cucumbers, at first. After mastering softer foods, such as apples, squash and potatoes, try something solid like beets or carrots.
There are, of course, dozens of more complicated mandolines. It is worth the investment to purchase one with a folding stand.
The stability of this style offers less chance of injury while letting you produce more consistent slices. Most of these are also equipped with a serrated blade allowing you to create waffle cuts, as well as supplemental blades for julienne or French fry cuts.