Making small carving tools from scrap

I’ve been working on a relief carving of a freehand Tudor rose in Jelutong in recent weeks after going to a local woodcarvers meeting and being guided towards it as a practice piece.

I used their tools for the initial stages and planned to finish it with my own but when I got home I found I didn’t have anything small enough for the detail work inside the petals.

I’d read a couple of carving books where they talked about making your own small tools so decided to have a go. I’d read Mike Burton’s “Make Your Own Woodwork Tools” a number of times and he’d mentioned that street sweep bristles make good small tools. I work near a street that happens to be cleaned by a street sweeper so have picked up a decent collection of bristles over time but up until now haven’t had a use for them. I took one from my pile, gave it a quick going over with sandpaper to clean the rust off it and snapped it in half by bending it back on itself and then straightening it again until it broke.

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I decided it would be easiest to shape the profile before I put them into handles so did that with a small file. The one on the right already had the shape of a skew so all I did was sharpen it a bit. The other had a small gouge shape filed into it and the outside shaped to match.

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The next step was to make handles and as I had some dowel kicking around in a corner of the workshop that I’d salvaged from a wooden clothes airer it seemed fitting that I should use recycled wood to go with the recycled blades. I cut them to 11cm long which seemed about right for the blade after acouting for the bit that would be in the handle, and drilled them with my hand drill. If you want to mark the center of a dowel you can either use one of those plastic center finders, eyeball it and fix it when shaping or use a combination square and draw two lines at right angles to each other. I used the center finder since I had one handy.

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The next step was fitting the blades to the handles. I used a glue called weldbond to do this and just put some in the hole and some on the blade before fitting them together. I’ve found it bonds wood and metal pretty well which is good because that’s what it claims to do!. Then I clamped the blade into the vice and tapped the handle a few times with a hammer to set the blade properly.

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The next step was to shape the handle. My wife gave me a Pfeil carving knife last birthday and I’ve found that it really opened up my ability to shape wood. A few quick strokes and the handle had started to take shape

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A few more strokes and a little sandpaper and it had really taken shape

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All that was left was to give it a coat of beeswax to seal it and keep my hands from making it dirty and I had a finished carving tool. I did the other one the same way.

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I put it to the test on the tudor rose carving with great results. It has a bit of flex in it but that can be an advantage when trying to make certain cuts and the recycled steel takes and holds a very good edge. I’m just glad I have a stockpile of it now in case anyone else decides to have a go making some tools of their own and it gets harder to find!

One final picture shows it in use, and you can see the find clean shavings it takes. I’m very happy with the result for both this gouge and the skew and may make more if I find a need for different shapes later on.

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