Creating New Tools

Somewhere, at some point, I saw where another wood turner created some of their own custom tools. As per usual, I decided that I could do that too. Notice I said “could” and not “should” here.

Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way… I know that I need carbide or high-speed steel for sharpness and safety. However, I figure a little experimenting isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as I’m smart and safe about it. I’m not saying that you should try this yourself (unless you really want to, in which case it’s not my fault if anything goes wrong).

The first tool I made was about a month ago. I took a used rock chisel I got for a dollar at an estate sale and mounted it into a wooden handle and sharpened the edge until it was similar to a parting tool. It works ok, and at slower speeds, it’s actually been a decent scraper as long as I keep it sharp. Since I didn’t document what I did on that one I obviously had to do another.

This time I tried a rusty file I picked up for 50 cents at an estate sale. If I botch it, I’m certainly not out anything. Besides, it’s all about the three R’s: reduce, reuse, and recycle, right?

The Candidate

I started with getting a majority of the rust off using a wire wheel on a grinder. I almost did too good of a job though, because I wanted to immediately put it in the tool box instead of finishing the experiment. I stopped myself because I already have several other flat files and I really don’t need another.

After the rust was off I proceeded to grind away the file part from the first few inches and add an edge to the tip. Some of this was just for me to get used to using the grindstone, and some of it was for me to see just how easy or hard it would be. Ultimately, it was pretty straightforward.

After buffing and grinding

One thing I did learn quickly was that I needed to quench the file every so often. It became very obvious as the metal started to overheat and started to lose its edge. A dip in some water in a scrap bowl worked perfectly for this project. I’ll need to be careful that I didn’t make the metal too brittle when I test it this weekend, but that’s what protection is for, right?

Not the best edge, but it’ll do as I figure out what I really want this tool to become.

I had already turned a handle from some 2×2 douglas fir that I bought a few weeks earlier. It’s certainly not the best wood in the long run. but I’m not trying to create an heirloom tool here. At least not yet. I then added a hole to the top of the handle where I was going to mount the converted file. I stepped up the drill bits until I got to 5/16″. That was big enough to get most of the file’s handle into the wood, the rest I just pushed in as the wood was soft enough to do that with. A little gorilla glue in the hole and around the top and it should be ready for use!

Closeup of the finished tool
The finished tool

I’m hoping this works well as a parting tool, but I’m also thinking that I may grind a curve onto it to use it more as a scraping tool. I’ve also had thoughts overdoing an inverse curve to use for beading, but that just feels wrong, at least for this particular piece.

If I do decide to go down the road of making custom tools for long-term use I’ll need to practice more with tempering my pieces. In the meantime I think this will be fine, although on the next sharpening I may quench in oil instead of water.

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