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tutorial request

Garrett McCormack

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A couple of people have mentioned an interest in learning from some of the professionals here how to heat treat small tools used for carving. Since many of us may choose to make our own tools either for specific purposes, comfort, or just for economical reasons, I thought this thread would be helpful.

A tutorial in the tutorial section would be great if anyone has the urge, but just to get things started, here are a few of my own personal concerns:

I love finely made tools, but I dont have lots of cash so I'd like to make tools like small knives for netsuke, scrapers, etc for as little money as possible. Making a little wooden handle and drilling a hole in the end is easy enough; but some questions come to mind

Will the cheap dental picks I find at flea markets work or is the steel not hardenable, and what about old screwdrivers?

If I find a rod like piece of steel, how can I tell if it would make good tools?

Isn't there a "spark test" I can do to determine the carbon content, and how would knowing this help me?

For very small tipped tools does the quenching medium matter?

And do I need to draw any softness back into them, even if they are for carving and are very small?


I am sure I could go on...but I have probably tossed out plenty of beginner questions already, please excuse if any of them are silly! :rolleyes:

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Hi Garrett,


Some of my tools were made from the smooth ends of high speed drill bits. Some I annealed, shaped by grinder and whet stone and then heated to straw color, I believe, with a small bottlegas torch (forgot the common name for it). Other tools from the same sort of material were shaped by grinder but cooled with water (no red heat), then finished with whet stones.


I have used dental tools that have their original intent ground away into chisel, skew chisel, cutting, millimeter knive ends straight and skew, and rounded ends. Some look like the grinding got them hot, but they seem to keep their edge very well.


A third sort of metal tool in my selection are pin punches from Sears. The last time I purchased some, there were both a less expensive and a more expensive choice for pin punches. I have used these for over a decade, and the first one just gets sharpened by whet stone. Ultimately, I make another one when the older one is changed enough from original, and then I have more options. Somewhere I have posted those tools in a composit photo of favorites, on TCP, I believe. Ahhh, found it, I'll try to add it below.


The three sided tool from the pin punch and drill bit ends are designed after a tool I saw in Stephen Myhre's book, but through my own use the form has evolved a bit to more rounded cutting/scraping edges.


The oval tool from the pin punches down to sewing needles are very simple to make.


Done without heat, the metal remains hard, so I have avoided the need anneal and harden the tools. There are more complex shapes that I would like to learn to make. I would also like to learn about the different sorts of steel and temperatures for hardening, quenching water vs oil attributes, and so forth. You are not alone in the desire to learn.






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