Making your own Tools

At one time or another you may come across a problem which could easily be solved if only you had the correct tools. It is often the case however, that the tool you require is not on the market. Therefore, it is extremely rewarding to make and use the most appropriate tool for the job more cheaply than you could buy it. The tools shown throughout this section will be required in the various projects.


You will need:

  • Two pieces of timber measuring 170 x 30 x 12mm (6 3/4 x 1 1/4 x 1/2in)
  • Two nuts and bolts, preferably brass, measuring approximately 20mm (3/4in) long with a bolt diameter of 6mm (1/4 in).
  • One nut and bolt, preferably brass, measuring approximately 12mm (1/2in) long with a bolt diameter of 3mm (1/8in)
  • Two brass carpet nails measuring 30mm (1 1/4in) in length.
  • An old secretaire stay from a bureau or 2mm (1/16 in) brass sheet to form the arc, as seen pictured below. 

One of the most frequently used tools for carving is a pair of dividers. Whether for marking out purposes or for gauging distances, the dividers are often a treasured part of the woodcarver’s tool kit. The following instructions provide you with a unique and relatively simple pair to make. 

All the components were found scattered around my workshop. The dividers pictured here are made from rosewood, although the choice of wood is entirely your own.

A pair of home-made dividers.

1. Select the timber and prepare it to a thickness of 12mm (1/2in). Photocopy or redraw Fig. 11 to scale and transfer the outline from the paper to the timber using carbon paper. Ensure the grain runs lengthways on both legs

2. Cut the legs out using a coping or band saw and form the joint, as illustrated in Fig. 11. The legs can then be assembled. Drill a hole through the centre of the joint which will enable the brass bolt to be fitted and secured.

3. Using the drawing as reference, mark out and fit the brass arc, securing it through one leg with a small nut and bolt. To provide the locking device, set a nut into the opposite leg ensuring it is an extremely snug fit. This should be secured with a strong adhesive.

4. Fitting the points may be somewhat awkward as it is difficult to align them at the same angle with both ends meeting point to point. To make this process a little easier mark the correct angle on the wood. If you do not have a drill as small as the points, then it is possible to use the points themselves as the drill bit (see below).

If the points do not meet after fitting, gently bend them into place, being sure to support the surrounding timber to prevent splitting.

5. When you have fitted the brass and it is holding the components together, you can begin to to shape the wood. The only carving tools required are those in the carving by numbers set. Use chisel Nos. 2 and 3 to form the scrolls. Shape the legs with chisel Nos 1 and 4. Form the fan design with chisel No 1. Finish off with a final sanding and a few coats of polish followed by wax.


You will need:

  • Small pieces of dense timber, the slipstones illustrated below were made from 80 x 45 x 10mm (3 1/8 x 1 3/4 x 3/8in) beech.
  • Fine wet and dry paper

1. Select a a small piece of hardwood and shape it to fit inside the profile of the chisel to be sharpened. Both edges of the wood may be used for different profiles.

2. Wrap wet and dry or fine Emery paper around the wooden profile which can be used to remove the burr formed by honing. Although the paper may frequently tear, if held tightly around the wood, it will most definitely serve its purpose.


You will need:`

  • Various lengths of shaped metal bar. Old brace bits and nails are ideal

Shaped Punches

There are times when you are unable to remove splinters of wood from tiny crevices with a chisel. A simple way of overcoming this problem is to make a punch which fits into the space. When struck with a hammer, the splinters of timber will be compressed to form a clean area. Simply gather a collection of nails or metal bar and file the required shapes into the ends.

Texturing Punches

When observing relief panel carvings you may notice that some have been given a textured background formed by many hundreds of tiny indentations. This textured surface can look effective for two main reasons. Firstly, it gives the carving greater definition and can be made to contrast further if it is stained or polished with coloured wax. The indentations retain the finish more than the carving itself, giving the background a darker colour. Secondly, when carving away the background to bring the panel into relief, it is difficult to clear the waste from some of the smaller recesses and even more difficult to achieve a completely flat background. The texturing, therefore, hides a multitude of sins.

The indentations are formed by metal punches like those shown in the photograph below. These can be made in a variety of different shapes and sizes to fit into any number of awkward places. Old brace bits or large nails can easily be converted into useful punches.

You can see that the ends have been filed into grids of small pyramid shapes. This can be done using a triangular saw file. When struck by a hammer into the timber, the punch forms the desired texturing. Here they have been stamped into a piece of scrap wood which has then been stained to enhance the pattern.


Although the pallet knife is more commonly found in the kitchen cutlery drawer than in a woodcarver’s tool kit, it is an extrernely useful implement for lifting carvings that have been fixed to the work surface using wax and glue (see Holding your Work section)

The broad thin blade of the knife makes it ideal for sliding gently underneath the carving to separate the glue joint. Never be tempted to use other thin metal objects for this purpose as they may more brittle. A hacksaw blade for example could shatter and cause you an injury.


You will need:

  • An old screwdriver with a blade measuring approximately 25mm (1in) to cut the teeth into.

On projects that require long, perfectly straight grooves, it is difficult to achieve such accuracy using chisel No. 5 alone. Here is a simple-to-make tool which is extremely useful for tidying up ‘valleys’.

1. Bend an an old screwdriver in in the vice to resemble the shape in the picture. You should aim for the edge, where the teeth have been cut, to be parallel with the handle.

2. Hold the screwdriver in in the vice and with a triangular shaped saw file, cut a series of grooves on both sides of the screwdriver’s blade to form teeth that are similar to a saw. Make sure the grooves are in exactly the same position on both sides. The resulting teeth should be sharp and pointed, running in a perfectly straight line. They should range from fine near the tip of the blade to larger teeth towards the back. When using the tool as a mini saw, you will notice that by running it back and forth it will cut a valley relatively quickly. With all teeth cutting at the same time, the tool helps to keep the valley straight.

1. Texturing punches

2. Pallet knife

3. Valley tools

4. Slipstones

5. Shaped punches


You will need:

  • Thin cardboard, mounting board, or thick paper.

To carve a repetative design, it is often difficult and time consuming to mark out every single component by hand. Stencils are simple to make and only require your perseverance with one drawing. Holes can be made on the stencil to provide starting points for internal decoration and they can also be stored for future use.

Simply draw the design on to thin cardboard, and cut it out using scissors. As many of the stencils feature curves which correspond to the exact shapes of the chisel profiles, you can also use your chisels to maintain accuracy when cutting out the cardboard templates.


You will need:

  • Upholsterers spring coils – the larger the better

Occasionally you will need to glue two components together which, due to their awkward shape and size, render a G or sash cramp impracticable. A simple solution lies in an upholsterer’s coil spring, which can provide a surprisingly powerful cramp.

Cut the spring into lengths and sharpen both ends to a point using the grinding wheel. You can then reshape the various lengths into C-shaped curves. As you widen the arc of the C it will of course try to revert to its original size, thus applying pressure to the object held in between.


You will need:

  • A length of dowel, approximately 20mm (3/4in) in diameter and 300mm (12in) in length.
  • A dowel screw, which is double pointed screw with a left- and right handed thread that meets in the middle. The size of the screw will depend on the job you wish to cramp. However, in this case it has an 8mm (5/6in) diameter.
  • A hardwood block measuring approximately 70 x 70 x 50mm (2 3/4 x 2 3/4 x 2in).

Bench screws are available from most of the larger woodworking tool stockists. However, the following will produce a useful home-made alternative.

1. Drill a pilot hole’ into the end of the dowel and screw in the dowel screw halfway, leaving the opposite handed thread exposed.

2. Using a brace and bit, bore a hole through the centre of the block on its 70mm (2  3/4in) face. The diameter of the hole should be the exact size of the dowel.

3. Mark and cut the block in half with a tenon saw, dividing the hole down the middle. You should find that around 1-2mm (1/32-1/16in) of wood will be removed, depending on the set of the saw teeth.

When placing the two blocks on either side of the dowel, a small gap is left. This means that a G cramp can be tightened on to the blocks, locking the dowel in a fixed position, To use the home made bench screw, drill a hole through the work surface and insert the dowel from the underside. Then adjust the block so that only the screw is protruding above. After having made a pilot hole in the base of the carving blank, screw the work on top of the device until it tightens itself to the work surface. When drilling a hole into the bench, it is important to ensure that you do not bore too close to the edge as it may lead to the work piece overhanging.


You will need:

  • Sections of a soft timber or cork. 

The examples shown were cut from 90 x 30 x 70mm (3 1/12 x 1 1/4 x 2 3/4in) sections.

Sandpaper is often considered taboo as far as carving is concerned because of its tendancy, if used incorrectly, to round over the finer details. However, it does play an important role in removing very fine marks that might well end up being exaggerated when polished. If you use sandpaper wrapped around your fingertips, it is possible that any inconsistent lines or surface hollows may only be smoothed rather than completely removed and so the use of shaped sanding blocks is preferable. These can be made very simply from a soft timber or cork and used to give extra precision to the sanding process.


You will need:

  • A suitably sized round nail.

Occasionally, a series of tiny round holes are required as part of the carved decoration. I would advise that you avoid using a drill bit, which can often cause splintering on the surface of the timber around the hole. 

Remove the head of the nail and round the point over with a file to form a smooth dome. When used in a hand dril you will find the resulting hole far cleaner. As the hole is burnished rather than cut, it will have a domed bottom and a polished appearance.

Use a nail to drill a clean hole and avoid splintering.

1. Spring cramps

2. Bench screw

3. Sanding blocks

4. Stencil