Quick Like a Dutchman

During the last year, I have been trying to figure out how to build the Dutch Tool Chest in two days during a class without sacrificing any of the joinery or important handwork lessons. I think I have it pretty much nailed. If you are interested in building one of these chests (featured in the October 2013 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine) during two long days, here’s how to get […]

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How to Make Small Carving Tools

How to Make Small Carving Tools

By Mike Burton

I learned to make small carving tools out of necessity. I do intricate, detailed carvings, and the selection of small carving tools in catalogs is painfully limited. Solution? I started making my own. Not only can I make unusual sizes and shapes, but the handles are shaped to fit my hands. Plus, these tools are very inexpensive. Give them a try—there’s nothing like the feeling of using a tool that you have made yourself.


Supplies and Equipment

The raw material of these carving tools is drill rod, a tool steel available in various diameters. You can buy it from local machine shops or industrial suppliers for about $2.50 for an 18-in. length.

You’ll also need a metalworking vise, but it doesn’t have to be fancy. Be sure it has a flat “anvil” area for flattening the rod. My vise cost $15.

For heating the rod, use a MAPP gas torch ($35 at home centers). This is just like a propane torch except it’s designed for MAPP gas, which burns hotter than propane. You can’t use MAPP gas in a common propane torch.

A selection of files, small grinding stones and a small diamond hone will be needed for shaping the tools.


Working Safely

The flame from a MAPP torch is even more dangerous than the flame from a propane torch, so follow these safe work habits.

■ Prepare a safe work area. Remove sawdust, rags, finishes, wood scraps and any other flammables from your work area.

■ Keep the lights down low. This makes it easier to see the flame, and easier to judge the color of the heated rod.

■ Avoid tip-overs. The torch is top-heavy, and easy to tip over. I found an old, widemouth coffee pot that the cylinder of my torch fits into. When I’m not using it, the torch rests steady in the pot. You can rig up something similar.

■ Wear safety glasses. Tiny pieces of hot steel and scale can be dislodged at just about any stage in this project. Always wear your glasses.

■ Manage the heat. Whenever possible, work on long (18-in. or so) pieces of rod. Cut the finished tool off the end. If you need to heat a short piece, grip it with locking pliers. Don’t try to use drill rod thicker than 3/16 in.; MAPP gas won’t be able to get it hot enough.


The Basic V-Tool

The simplest small tools are filed directly into the drill rod, without any forging. This small V-tool is a good example.

Click on any image to view a larger version.

1. Form a v-shape with a triangular file on the end of an 18-in. piece of 5/32-in. drill rod. Bending the tip of the rod will give you room to work.

3. Form the cutting edge with a file and diamond hone, then straighten the shank. If this is the only tool you’re making, proceed to heat-treating (Photos 10 and 11) and attaching a handle (Photo 12).

2. Refine the inside with a diamond hone ($10). You may need to file down the plastic sides of the hone so it will fit in the tiny V.


Gouges, Chisels, and Skews

Very small gouges, chisels and skews can be filed directly from drill rod, just like the V-tool, using a small rat-tail or flat file. Refine the inside with a rolled-up piece of 320- to 600-grit sandpaper or a diamond hone. Larger tools need to be forged, as shown below.

4. Flatten the tip of the drill rod for larger tools. Heat the tip to a bright red glow with a MAPP torch, quickly place it on the anvil section of the vise, and hammer it flat.

5. For wider tips, first thicken the end of the drill rod by heating it to bright red and pounding the end to “upset” (compress) it. You can make the rod half-again thicker this way. After upsetting, heat the tip again and flatten it.

6. Make a crease to further widen the tip by hammering it against the edge of the vise. For more width, make several creases in a fan pattern. Heat the rod again, and hammer out the creases.

7. Use a swage to hammer the heated rod into a gouge shape. The swage is made from a length of 3/16-in. drill rod and a large bolt. The rod fits on a groove filed into the head of the bolt with a 1/4-in. rat-tail file. Sandwich the red-hot tool blank between the rod and the groove; then hammer.

8. Use a socket as an anvil to open up or form gouge shapes. Different socket sizes can be used for gouges of different shapes. This is also a good method for making curved detailing knives.

9. Grind the inside to refine the shape of a gouge using a cone-shaped grinding wheel in an electric drill or rotary tool. Roughly form the bevel, but don’t sharpen yet. The tool must first be heat-treated.

10. Slow cooling on an electric burner (annealing) will reduce stresses built up in the metal during forging. Heat the first 1/2 in. of the tool tip bright red, keep it red for 30 seconds, then place between the coils of a burner set on high. Every 10 minutes, lower the heat until the tool is cool.

12. Attach the handle last Heat the handle end of the tool and hammer the last 1/2 inch or so square to prevent twisting. Drill a hole in the handle, add a bit of carpenter’s glue and pound the handle onto the tool. For bent tools, hold the shank with locking pliers and pound on the pliers. Give the bevel a final grind, sharpen, and you’re ready to carve.

11. Tempering produces a hard, durable edge. Heat the tool tip to a bright glow for 30 seconds, then plunge into cold water. Polish the end of the tool to a mirror shine with fine sandpaper or emory cloth. Heat the tool slowly, keeping the flame about an inch below the cutting edge. When the edge turns a medium straw color, plunge it into cold water. (You may want to practice this!)

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker April 1999, issue #72.

April 1999, issue #72

Purchase this back issue.



Fast Prototypes of Bamboo-leg Stools

While waiting for a flight to Alaska today I decided to spend my morning knocking out prototypes of a folding camp stool using bamboo turnings. The first piece of custom furniture I ever owned was a bookcase that my grandfather made for me. The bookcase was huge – almost 7’ tall – because all I did as a kid was read, write, build stuff and blow things up with fireworks. […]

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A Place to Call ‘Hone’

When I think of all the things that improved my sharpening skills, two things loom large. No. 1 is practice, of course, but close behind that is a dedicated sharpening tray. About 14 years ago I built a shallow tray from scrap plywood, nails and glue. No fancy joinery, no water-resistant materials and no finish. The tray sat beside my bench and contained all my sharpening mess, keeping it off […]

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Hot Pipe Bending

Hot Pipe Bending

Shape wood with a propane torch.

By Garrett Glaser

Here's a simple, but effective way to bend thin stock (1/4" thick or less). The only tools you need are a length of 1-1/2" galvanized pipe, a propane torch, a jig to hold them both, and a fire extinguisher–just in case. The pipe is attached to a fl ange through a hole in 3/4" plywood. A jig securely holds the propane torch (Photo, above). This jig rests on the bench and clamps in a vise.

Any woods that take to steam bending are suitable for hot pipe bending, including oak, ash, elm, hickory, beech, birch, maple and walnut. Although there are exceptions, most softwoods and exotic woods are not good candidates. In general, air-dried wood bends more easily than kiln-dried wood. Kiln drying “sets” the adhesive compound between the wood fi bers (called lignin) in a way that makes it resistant to the softening eff ects of heat and moisture. This doesn’t mean kiln-dried wood is impossible to bend; bending it is just more diffi cult.

Always start by making test bends, using extra pieces from the same batch of blanks that you’ve prepared for the real McCoy. Having plenty of extra blanks is important, because you never know where a hidden weakness might lie, and watching a piece break when you don’t have a spare is a real bummer.

Soak in water overnight the pieces that you plan to bend. If you don’t have a large enough container to completely immerse the pieces, wrap them in a soaking-wet towel sealed in a plastic bag.

Ignite the torch, adjust the fl ame to low, and clamp the torch into position on the cradle, with its nozzle 1" or so inside the pipe. It will take a few minutes for the pipe to get suffi ciently hot. Test by dripping water onto the pipe. If the water boils in place, the pipe isn’t hot enough. When the water skitters off , you’re good to go (Photo, top right).

To create a tight curve, slowly rock the strip against the hot pipe with a seesaw motion and apply steady, gentle pressure until you feel the wood relax. Then increase the pressure. When the bend is near the end of the strip, hold the strip with Vise-Grip pliers to protect your hand from the hot (really, really hot!) pipe. To create a larger, more gradual curve, move the strip along the pipe in 1/2" increments, applying fi ve to ten seconds of pressure in each spot, just enough to feel the slightest bend. Check the fi t as you go (Photo, above). To unbend a curve that’s too sharp, simply fl ip the strip over . To make S-curves, work both sides of the strip.

To keep from scorching the wood, lift the strip off the pipe every fi fteen seconds (or any time the surface near the pipe begins to look dry) and quickly rewet it with a sponge before continuing. A little scorching is okay if the damaged surface will be hidden. But scorching can also ruin a piece; at the very least, it’ll require additional sanding.

As with steam bending, springback is likely to occur as the pieces dry. How much the piece moves depends upon a number of factors, including the type of wood used, the character of its grain, and the whims of fate.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker August/September 2010, issue #149.

August/September 2010, issue #149

Purchase this back issue.

Click on any of the images to view a larger version.

The pipe is ready when water droplets bounce off the surface. If the droplets stick and boil, the pipe isn’t hot enough.

This bending method resembles blacksmithing, because each piece is shaped to fi t, one curve at a time.


Questions About the ‘Moxon Vise’

Almost every day I get some sort of question about the ‘Moxon vise,” a double-screw vise that I wrote about for the December 2010 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine. It’s an ingenious portable vise that has been around for almost 400 years, yet it still generates controversy and questions whenever it is in the limelight. I know this blog entry won’t stop the questions, but it might help you decide […]

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The Most Domesticated Dog

One of the unanswerable questions in woodworking is: What type of bench dog is best? (Other unanswerables: What does Peter Follansbee hide in his beard? How many puns are possible with the word “rabbet?” Would you like to see my feathered crotch?) At least on the bench dog question, I have answered it for myself. I prefer a round wooden dog that I make myself. I’ve had these dogs for […]

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Butterfly Inlay

Butterfly Inlay

Make a perfect fit with a shop-made template.

By Tom Caspar

Don’t you just love it when something that looks extremely difficult turns out to be oh-so easy? Making butterfly inlay with a plunge router is a good example. The technique is very easy to learn. All it takes is a set of router accessories and some 1/4-in. plywood or hardboard to make your own template.

Butterflies appear to bind two pieces of wood together, but they’re really just for show and are only 1/8-in. thick. Few pieces of authentic Mission-style furniture were dressed up with butterflies, but in recent years they’ve become a common decorative theme in reproduction Mission furniture, adding a light touch to heavy-looking pieces.


Your router

The easiest way to make inlay is with a plunge router, but it’s possible to use a fixed-base router instead. The only problem with using a fixed-base router is that you’ll have to tip it into the cut by hand, which takes some practice. This technique may also put a good deal of stress on a fragile router bit.

Whatever kind of router you use, its base must accept a Porter-Cablestyle template guide. This is a stationary ring that screws onto the router base. If your router’s base doesn’t have a hole sized for a Porter-Cablestyle template guide, you can buy an adapter base.


The inlay kit

Inlay kits are available from several manufacturers, but they’re all very similar. You get a template guide, a 1/8-in.-thick collar that snaps onto the guide and a 1/8- in. solid-carbide bit. The bit is usually a spiral downcut that cuts exceptionally clean, chip-free edges.

The inlay set we used also includes a centering pin for installing the template guide in your router base. If the guide isn’t centered, the inlay may not fit well in the recess.

Click any image to view a larger version.


This kit has everything you need to make both the inlay and the recess it fits into:

1/8" Bit

Snap-on collar

Template guide

Guide-mounting ring

Make the template

All you need is one template to make both the inlay pieces and the recesses they fit into. Our shop-made template produces perfectly symmetrical, straight-sided butterflies, but you can modify the template for any shape or size butterfly you want. You can also buy a template that has seven different sizes of butterflies (see Source, below).

The material you make the template from should be 1/4-in. thick. If it’s thinner, the router’s template guide will bottom out on your workpiece. Most of the material you probably have on hand, such as plywood or hardboard, is actually less than 1/4-in. thick. You can use it, however, if you add a shim, as shown in Step 4, below.

Cutting List

1. Make two rectangles of 1/4-in. material (A) and cut them in half at a 15-degree angle.

2. Flip one half of each rectangle over and glue it to the other half. You don’t have to clamp them. Simply apply a thin bead of glue to one edge and rub the two pieces together. Pull the joint tight with a piece of masking tape and set them on a flat, non-stick surface, such as a piece of melamine or waxed paper.

3. Cut two larger rectangles (B) from the same material and glue all four pieces together. Use the same rub-and-tape technique. Make sure all the top surfaces are even.

4. If your material is less than 1/4-in. thick, shim the template with cardboard, plastic laminate, mat board or whatever you have on hand. The total thickness of the template and shim should not exceed 5/16 in. Cut a hole in the shim that’s about 1/8-in. larger than the hole in the template. Glue or tape the shim to the template.

5. Draw centerlines on the template. (If you’re using dark hardboard, first apply a dab of white correction fluid to make these lines more visible.) Cutting the corners off the template makes it easier to clamp the template to a workpiece.

Rout the butterflies

Prepare some straight-grained blanks 3/4 in. x 1-1/4 in. x 16 in. It’s a good thing to have a little bit of contrast in color or grain pattern between the butterflies and the surrounding panels. Butterflies made of white oak go well with panels made of red oak, for example.

Attach the template guide to your router base and install the bit. Adjust the plunge depth of your router so it cuts 1/8-in. deeper than the template and shim.

Clamp the template to a blank. You can center it by eye. To cut butterflies near the ends of the blank, support one side of the template with another piece of 3/4-in. wood. Set the router on the template and butt the guide against one of its inside edges. Plunge the bit and follow the pattern clockwise.

Cut the butterflies

Stand the butterfly blank on edge and glue it to a backer board about 6-in. wide. Run a piece of tape along the top of the butterfly blank. Then put a zero-clearance insert in your tablesaw, which is essential to make this cut safely. Rip a 1/8-in.-thick strip from the blank, remove the tape, and you’ve got six identical loose inlay pieces.

Rout the recess

Put the collar on the template guide. Adjust the plunge depth of your router to cut a recess 1/32 in. to 1/64 in. shallower than the thickness of the butterfly inlay.

Clamp the template to the workpiece. For vertical alignment, match the template’s center glue line with a centerline drawn on the workpiece. For horizontal alignment, match the centerlines on the template with layout lines on the workpiece.

Rout the recess. Take it easy, because the 1/8-in. bit is fragile.

Glue the butterflies

Cut the corners of the recess with a chisel or knife. They’ll be rounded after routing, but they must be cut to acute angles so the inlay fits.

Spread a thin layer of glue in the recess, put in the inlay, scrape off any glue squeeze-out, and cover the inlay with a small piece of white paper. Clamp a thick board over the inlay and let the glue dry. The paper will absorb any further glue squeeze-out. After the glue dries, remove stuck pieces of paper by lightly wetting them. Level the inlay with a block plane or by scraping and sanding.


(Note: Product availability and costs are subject to change since original publication date.)

Woodcraft,, 800-225-1153, Router inlay set, #09I16; Replacement 1" bit, #09I17; Router adapter baseplate, #144931 (fits routers by Sears, Ryobi, Makita, Bosch, Porter- Cable, Milwaukee, Hitachi, DeWalt, Fein, Elu and Freud); Butterfly inlay template, #146903.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker March 2003, issue #99.

March 2003, issue #99

Purchase this back issue.



An Observation on Vintage Handplanes

Note: I started writing this blog entry more than a year ago. I shelved it and have revisited it several times since. Each time, I thought: I don’t need this kind of grief. For whatever reason (four beers, perhaps?), I offer this as an observation based on teaching students, both amateur and professional. For the last decade I’ve had the privilege of teaching woodworking students all over the world about […]

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A Correction to my Entry on Polissoirs

My recent article on the new polissoirs from Don’s Barn and a long-term test of the burnishing effect from the tool had a significant error: The photo showed the wrong sample board. That similar-looking sample board was given to me by woodworker Steve Schafer – he’ll be blogging about the finishing schedule on that sample board in the near future. Last night I rooted through my wood rack to find […]

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