Monday, June 22, 2009

Making Sculpting Tool Tips: TOOLS

Part: 2

Today I will discuss the tools that you will need to forge the sculpting tool tips.
You don’t have to be a metallurgist to do this, but some tools are definitely needed and other are at least very useful.

What you definitely need is hammer and anvil. Most of the time I use two different hammers, a 100g and a 200g hammer (pic. 1). On the 200g hammer I rounded the edges of the hammer head, because I read that advice in a book about forging knife blades. This is something you surely don’t have to do necessarily. Just in the case your hammer has a little bit sharp edges, grind it down a little bit to avoid leaving marks on the steel wire when forging it. For some work, especially for forging 3mm Steel wire, you might also find a heavier hammer like 400g or even heavier useful. When you do the forging of 3mm steele wire without heating it up (more about that later) you will surely need such a heavy Hammer. But to tell it right here: I personally didn’t use 3mm steel wire very often. The reason is that with that diameter, you will make quite large sculpting tool tips and I still have enough of such larger tools like dentist tools. So personally I concentrate more on the smaller sculpting tips made with diameters of up to 2mm. For that the two lighter hammers (100g and 200g) are ok, if you heat the steel wire up before forging it.

You also need an anvil because you have to place the wire on a strong surface that can stand the blows from the hammer. Your desk isn’t ideal for that (believe me).

Of course you don’t need necessarily a typical anvil like on pic. 1). You can also use an anvil plate that often can be found on a bench vice (see pic.2) but be sure, that it is strong enough.

I use the two anvils that you see on pic. 1). On the small one I only use the cone like end to give the small tool tips a curved shape if needed.

What you also need is a gas torch to heat up the steel wire.
In the beginning I used a little gas torch, that my wife uses to make crème brullée (pic. 3)

But its flame was a little too small and my wife wasn't amused to see me using her kitchen stuff that way. So I went to the hardware store and bought the simple gas torch, you can see on pic. 4).

As I mentioned before, it’s possible to forge the steel wire without heating it up.
At least the V2A, V4A steel could be cold-formed that way, just by beating it with the hammer. With spring steel this would not work, because it’s too hard. I recommend heating up every kind of steel, you want to forge, because then it’s easier to get it into shape. If you don’t heat it up, you’ll need much more power (and a stronger anvil) and that might result in some lack of preciseness because it’s difficult to hit hard and precise at the same time. But to be fair at this point I have to tell you, that I know someone who is a well known sculptor and who uses 3mm steel wire for all his tools and never uses heat to forge them. So maybe you should also try this way when you've got a little experience.

What you also need is abrasive paper (sand paper). You will need that to grind the pre forged tool tips down and to give them a good surface before polishing them. There are grinding papers with different grind sizes. Be sure to take the one for metal (and not the one only for wood).
And you should get a selection of papers from rougher to finer grain sizes (pic. 5).

A very good aid and addition to abrasive paper are abrasive (grinding) pads and blocks (pic 6).
These are made of some kind of foam rubber, covered with a kind of grinding sand. Because these pads and blocks are flexible, it's much easier to achieve a rounded surface on a sculpting tool tip. So if you can find them, you should get some of this. The finest of those pads make a surface of nearly polished quality. For the pads, take the thinner ones that are only sand-covered on one side because they are harder. The two-sided pads are too soft. The blocks are hard anyway. If I tell you in the later tutorials to use abrasive paper I also mean the use of these grinding pads.

What makes the work much easier is a rotary tool like from Dremel or Proxxon (pic. 7).
For that you should get some grinding stones and cutting wheels (pic. 8a). With such a tool, it’s easier to grind down your pre forged tool tip into shape. Also you will do the polishing work with it (pic. 8b).

That’s no joke and you should take this point serious. You have to get a pair of safety glasses and wear it while forging and while working with machines, especially a rotary tool. A cut in the hand might cure easily, a cut in the eye will not.

There are some other tools that might be useful if you already have them or if you can get them cheap. Especially machines to grind down stuff are useful. On pic. 10a-c) you can see some of these tools.

Pic. 10a) and pic 10b) are belt grinding machines, pic 10c) is an electrical grinding stone

But even, they are useful, zhey are not essential.

Also an electrical drilling machine (power drill) will be useful, if used with a grinding stone instead of a drill. But always be sure to respect the safety aspects. Be sure, the machine is fixed safely when using it (pic. 11).

That's all about tools so far.
So next time we'll start forging the first tool tips.


  1. Is that gas torch hot enough? I recall from a metal-working course that steel needed to be "cherry red" for it to anneal.

  2. Yes, this gas torch is hot enough.
    At least I did all my forging with it.
    I guess, because of the small diameter of the used steel wire, there's no problem with getting it hot enough.


  3. Hallo

    Giebts das Buch auch in Deutsch?

  4. Hallo, sorry, leider gibts das zur Zeit nur in Englisch. Ich habe noch nicht die Zeit gefunden, eine Übersetzung zu machen