How to Make Small Carving Tools
How to Make Small Carving Tools
By Mike Burton
I learned to
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.
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
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.
3. Form the cutting edge with a file and diamond hone, then
2. Refine the inside with a diamond hone ($10). You may need to
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
5. For wider tips, first thicken the end of the drill rod by heating
6. Make a crease to further widen the tip by hammering it against
7. Use a swage to hammer the heated rod into a gouge shape.
8. Use a socket as an anvil to open up or form gouge shapes.
9. Grind the inside to refine the shape of a gouge using a
10. Slow cooling on an electric burner (annealing) will reduce
12. Attach the handle last Heat the handle
11. Tempering produces a hard, durable edge. Heat the tool tip to
This story originally appeared in American Woodworker April 1999, issue #72.
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