I imagine pretty much every woodturner who's been doing it for any period of time has made a tool to serve a specific purpose. Lots of these makeshift tools may only be used a handful of times, but occasionally there's the one that's handy enough to see regular use. Here are five of my own shop made tools that found their way into my permanent collection. They aren’t pretty, but they work and that’s all I need them to do. I'm sure many of you use at least one of these or have made your own version of something similar. Leave a comment and tell me your favorite shop made tool...
1. Bowl Depth Gauge - If you haven't made of of these yet, it's time to do it. No more paper thin bowl bottoms or blindly hoping that last cut won't be one cut too far... It's as simple as putting a thin dowel through a small, straight strip of wood. You put the end of the dowel at the bottom center of your bowl, slide the wood strip down until it's even with the rim and that's your bowl's depth. Put the straight edge on the bowl's rim with the dowel outside your bowl to quickly eyeball where the inside bottom is relative to the outside bottom. For my depth gauge, I used a strip of plywood as the straight edge with a 3/16" brass tube. You want to drill your hole perpendicular to the straight edge then slide the rod/tube through. If it slides too easily, just remove the rod and put a drop of water in the hole to swell the wood fibers. After using mine for years, I recently added a 1/8" dowel inside the tube (make it about an inch longer than the tube), with a small piece of tape. I can simply extend the dowel whenever I need to measure a deeper vase or hollow form.
2. Mini Saw (left side of photo) - I have made DOZENS of different types of miniature saws for different carving tasks. I've tried adding handles to mini hacksaw blades, coping saw blades, jigsaw blades, and any other small cutting device I could find. Some worked, many didn't, but even the ones that worked were often too flimsy to last. I searched for thin, pointy saws everywhere, compared kerfs and TPI, blade lengths/depths and could not find one that met all my criteria - thin, stiff, high TPI, sharp, and cheap. Then I ran across some inexpensive flush cut saws and had an idea... if it worked it would definitely be worth the $10. I removed the handle from the saw, then used a rotary tool with a cut off disc to score the blade in a straight line starting about 3/8" from the points of the teeth at one end to about 3/4" from the points of the teeth at the other end. Just snap the blade along this line, then add a handle and you've got a very handy little saw that can get into tight places. Mine cuts on the pull stroke, but if you wanted one that cuts on the push stroke, then all you have to do is attach your handle to the other end. The saw in the picture is used on almost all of my carved pieces that require cutting out a section of wood.
3. Round Nose Spear Tool - Next to my 3/8" bowl gouge, this might be my favorite and most versatile turning tool. It is simply a 1/2" x 1/2" square piece of HSS stock, about 8" long, set into a handle and ground with a round nose. However, in addition to the round nose, it is ground with a longer bevel. This tool is twice as thick as a typical round nose scraper and, therefore, much sturdier. When you lower the handle and kick up the front of the tool on the wood, you can match the angle of that long bevel, resulting in a wedge-like point that can remove large amounts of wood very quickly. It can even be used for roughing work. Raise the handle so the tip presents to the wood perpendicularly and you can use it to make a smooth finishing cut.
4. Flat Nose Scraper - Using the same 1/2" square HSS stock as the round nose spear tool, I ground this one straight across, with just a slight bevel. This tool is great for making a tenon. The jaws of my chuck are 1/2" deep, so when I use this tool to make the tenon, I just make it as deep as the tool is wide and it fits perfectly in the jaws (as long as the bottom of the tenon is flat). It also works great for making a longer tenon on a spindle or for taking a spindle down to a consistent diameter. It can be a little “catchy” at times though, so I’ll probably keep messing with the grind and see if it works any better.
5. Extra Thin Parting Tool (right side of photo) - This is just a reciprocating saw blade with the teeth ground down and the point ground in a "V" shape. It is great for parting something off when you don't have much extra material to work with or when you need to get into a really tight crevice or do some tiny detail work. However, because it is so thin, it can twist if you're not careful and potentially damage your work or cause injury. It can also be used to create a slot for a saw blade if you don't want to completely part the piece off with it. Mine is in pretty rough shape and getting a bit short, so it's probably time to make a new one. I use this tool more than any of my other parting tools.
So, these are my primary shop made tools. I have a lot of other little accessories, gadgets, and tools that I've made over the years, but these see more use than most. In a future post, I'll share some of the other various things I've made to fill particular needs. Let me know, in the comments below, what your favorite shop made tool is! Thanks for reading!