Sunday, June 28, 2009

Making 1mm Sculpting Tool Tips - Part 1

While I talked about materials and tools in the last blog entries, it’s now time to explain how to make the different tool tips. I will start with tool tips made of 1mm steel wire.

As you can imagine, there are thousand of possible tool tip shapes that could be made and I don’t want to bore you with all that, so I will just explain the few tool tip shapes that I did for myself and that I found useful. I start with simple ones and getting then to the more complicated ones.

All the tool tips I made have a length of about 4 cm. I found this length fits best to my needs, but you might found out, that a shorter or longer version would be better for you. If you are not sure about the right length, do it like me with 4 cm or leave it a little longer. It’s always possible to shorten the tool tip later, but not to lengthen it.

The typical thing of all tool tips is that they have the forged tip only on one side, while the other side fits into the tool handle. You can imagine that forging a 4 cm steel rod with hammer and anvil didn’t leave a lot of space between the hand that holds the steel and the hammer. So I found out, that it’s much easier to take a steel rod with a length of about 8 cm and forge a tooltip on each side before cutting the rod in the middle like you see on pic. 1). The example shown on pi. 1) is made of 2mm steel.

Another thing that belongs to all tool tips, regardless if made of 1mm, 1,5mm, 2mm, or 3mm is how to treat the back-side of the tool tips, I mean the side that fits into the handle. I recommend, to
1. Clean the cut and
2. Give this end of the tool tip a round or cone like shape.

You can do this best and easiest by using the rotary tool with a cutting wheel.
Instead of cutting, you use the wheel as a grinding disc, by pressing the tool tip very lightly on this disc, while rotating the rod between your fingers into the opposite direction to the rotating direction of the rotary tool (see pic. 2).

Please be careful and don’t press too much on the rotating disc, because they are quite delicate and break easily. And be sure to always wear safety glasses.

I recommend that because it makes sure, that you won’t have any sharp edges left and it helps to change the tool tips in the handle because it’s easier to fit the tool tip into the handle.

Ok, now it’s enough with pre-talk. So let’s start with the most simple tool tip, the straight needle tool tip.

This is very simple to do and in fact you don’t even have to use hammer and anvil.
As I said before, you have to use spring steel wire for the 1mm tool tips. All you have to do is to give your spring steel rod a needle like tip. You can do this with the rotary tool and the cutting wheel like I've explained before in regards to the backside of the tool tip (see pic. 2). Even easier and more precise is to use instead of your hand that rotates the steel rod a second rotary tool, if you got one. If you just got only one rotary tool, you can also place the steel rod into the rotary tool and use some king of grinding stone or even a band grinder to give your steel rod a needle like shape (pic. 3).

After your basic shape of the needle tip is ok, you have to give it a smooth surface by using the abrasive paper. Work from coarse grain to finer grain until the surface is free of all scratches. It’s easy to achieve this by dragging the rotating steel rod (in the rotary tool) in an angle over the abrasive paper (or the abrasive pads, if you got them).

If you use the steel taken from a safety pin (See the blog entry about: Material) you are lucky, because all you have to do is to take the pointed part of the safety pin and cut off the rounded end at the right length. Just clean the cut (see above) and you are done.
In most cases you don’t even need to polish the needle tip taken from a safety pin, because usually it already is.

Otherwise, you have to polish your tool tip at last. Because this applies to all tool tips, I tell you later, how to do this.

That’s it: Your first tool tip is done. So let’s go on to a very useful variant of the straight needle tool tip: the curved needle tool tip.
The next tool tip is just a modification of the needle tool tip, I’ve explained above.
So first you need a needle tip like I explained before. Then you have to heat the pointed tip up by holding it over the flame of your gas torch. When it glows red take your lightest hammer and forge the tip carefully to one side by using the cone like end of the small jewellers-anvil. Be careful and make sure, that you just bend the steel but not flatten it.
You can also try this without heating the steel. Sometimes this works.
As an alternative to hammer and anvil, you can also try to bend the pointed tip with special pliers that are used to bent wire into round shapes. You can also try this without heating, but bending it with pliers is a little tricky, so you will have to practice a little bit (see pic. 5). Bending the steel taken from a safety pin would be easier than bending the conventional spring steel.

You could end here and just use this tip as it is, but I recommend the following:

This tool tip is even more useful, when you "sharpen" the outside of the rounded tip like a reversed "V". Its s little bit hard to explain, but you should drag the outer side of the rounded tip over fine abrasive paper on both sides as if you would like to sharpen a knife blade. BUT don’t give it a real sharp edge. The outer edge should still be rounded, but just a little thinner as before. In the following pic. 6) I try to show that a little bit clearer.

After that you just have to refine the surface of the tip and to polish it.

To tell the truth, the idea for that kind of tool tip is not mine. I saw that first on an illustration that Tom Meier did to explain on a forum the tools he uses.

For me, this tool tip is great for very fine and delicate work, like faces for example. It’s like a needle, but because of the slightly sharpened edge also like a spatula. With it you can push the putty to the right place and you can also blend to layers of putty together even in very small areas. So just try this tool tip out. If you get to use it, it’s a really great tool.

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