Carvers' Companion
WOM Home
Back Issues


Make Your Own Woodworking Tools
By Mike Burton
Reviewed by Matt Kelley

If you have been a carver for any length of time, there occasionally comes a moment when you say to yourself, “Self,  there ought to be a tool for that.”   “That”  for example,  could be a tool to get to a spot on a carving into which you can’t possibly get any standard production tool.   The solution might be a small backbent gouge at the end of shaft that doubles back on itself so the gouge works as you pull it towards yourself.   

Sound improbable?   Some carvers have taken that next step, bravely ventured forth and made their own tools.  Marv Kaisersatt,  for example,  has several home-made tools in his collection,  some made to reach exactly those “impossible-to-get-to-with-a-straight-tool” spots on his very complex one-piece carvings.

Well,  if  you every decide to take a crack at making your own carving tools,  then Make Your Own Woodworking Tools by Mike Burton might be just the place to start.   Burton,  a professional woodworker for over forty years, made his first carving tool at age twelve.   He notes that his “greatest qualification is the fact that in the 50-some years I have been making my own tools, I have made a lot of mistakes.”  

That comment pretty much sets the tone for Burton’s book – it is not a fancy, high-level book of theory – it is rather a down-to-earth volume written by a working guy that has make lots of mistakes and gone back and tried again until he got things right.

Contents of Make Your Own Woodworking Tools include:

Chapter One – Steel and Other Raw Materials
Chapter Two – Equipment and Tools
Chapter Three – Safety
Chapter Four – Tools Without Blacksmithing
Chapter Five – Simple Blacksmithing Techniques
Chapter Six – Heat Treating
Chapter Seven – Dressing and Sharpening Shop-Made Tools
Chapter Eight – Handles and Mallets
Chapter Nine – Special Purpose Tools

One of the great aspects of this book is that Burton approaches tool making from the point that most of us would – making our first tools with a minimal investment, using found metal and tools on hand where possible.  For example,  he suggests using a sledgehammer head for an anvil,  instead of investing in a real anvil for your first projects. 

Swages and fullers are curved pieces of steel used to form a piece of hot steel into a curve – put a piece of hot metal on the swage – lay the fuller on top and bang away until your metal piece takes on the same curve.   Burton writes that in a pinch any old piece of heavy curved steel would do as a swage,  and any other curved piece of steel that fits inside that curve can act as a fuller.  For example,  the curve on the side of a large ballpeen hammer can serve as a swage and a smaller ballpeen hammer that fits that curve can be used as a fuller.  (Hard to visualize?   Not to worry – Burton’s book is filled with lots of useful photos and drawings.

If you do decide to graduate to more complex projects,  Burton shows you ways to do so without breaking the bank, which any of us would appreciate.

The other topic that Burton spends a lot of time on, which I am pleased to see,  is SAFETY!   Making tools involves sharp edges, cutting & grinding tools, sources of heat, lots of sparks and overly bright light sources. As woodcarvers we know Injury is always looking over your shoulder, waiting to strike at any moment of inattention.  Have that same inattention while forging hot steel and you could burn yourself, and burn down your shed or garage.  

Bottom line -  if you are at all interested in making your own tools – Make Your Own Woodworking Tools is the one volume that should be in your shop library.


Copyright 2007, All rights reserved. May not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.