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The Craft

Making Your Own Sculpting Tools

by Daniel Joyce
aka Crusoe the Painter

So you're interested in converting and sculpting your own miniatures? But you don't know where to get tools, or you can't afford them? Sure, there are lots of people out there that will tell you you need a #5 wax carver, or a custom made sculpting tool set into a hand-lacquered handle. But tools are only half the equation, the other half is practice. And the sooner you can start the better. Good tools will not make a beginner into a pro.

Most of the industry greats do not use 'pro' tools, they make their own. Art is exactly that, an art. Use what works for you.

So, in that vein, here's how to make the tools I use.

I like to use bamboo. I made my first tools from toothpicks, but these had several shortcomings. Toothpick wood is very soft, they're very thin, and the shortness of wood fibers causes them to frizz a lot. Bamboo skewers are cheap, can be found at nearly any grocery store, and have many uses. Bamboo is stiff yet flexible, and it's fibers are long and strong. As you can see in the above photo, you can make a wide variety of tools from skewers. In this tutorial, I will show you how to make a double ended sculpting tool. I use this style of tool a lot, as it performs 80% of my sculpting needs. This tool will have a long thin blade at one end, and a 'burnisher' at the other. The burnisher is a great tool for smoothing putty into convex and concave surfaces, smoothing putty, and sculpting gentle curves.
You'll need a bamboo skewer, some thin super glue, a flat and round needle file, a good sharp pocketknife, a small saw, and a large fine file. If you have a Leatherman Wave, you're all set on the last 3.
Take a bamboo skewer, and saw off a four inch piece of it. If it has a pointy end, remove it.
Using a sharp pocketknife, carefully shave the sides down on the first inch of the blank. Use several cuts, and be careful and patient. Try to make both sides even, and about 3/64ths of a inch thick. We'll be sanding it thinner as we finish the blade.
Next, shave up the underside of the tool,leaving the blade about 3/32nds wide.
You'll need a wide fine file for these next steps. Here we'll be putting an edge and a tip on the knife
Take your pocketknife, and make a cut at a 45 degree angle to define the tip. It'll look jagged at first, but don't worry. Now use the large file to rough in the profile of the blade. We're going to smooth the curve of the tip. and define the shape of the blade. If the blade is too thick, hold it nearly flat against the fine file, and sand it thinner. Switch sides, and try to keep it symmetrical.

See! That looks better. Now take the small flat fine needle file, and sand a cutting edge on the blade. You can put a pretty fine edge on this thing.

As a final step, use the round and flat files to smooth where the blade blends into the body.

The other end of this tool is the burnisher. It's great for smoothing green stuff and polishing convex/concave surfaces. Shave down the other end of the tool till it's half as thick as it was.
Next, shave each side down till it's only half as wide at the tip. Unlike the first cut, these should only gradually change the thickness of the tool.
Now, start sanding all around and try to get a smooth symmetrical surface. The small flat and round needle files make this very easy. You'll want to keep the underside of the tool flat, but it should smoothly blend into the overall tool shape.
When done, it should look something like this.
As a final step, rub a small amount of thin super glue onto the surface of each tool. Once the glue dries, sand the edge real fine on the knife. The super glue seals the surface, hardens it, and helps keep greenstuff from sticking. If the blade ever gets dull, just apply some more super glue and gently sand it back into shape.
And we're done! So, if you manage to attend a con, and leave all your tools behind, you can make your own in any shape you need. Most grocery stores sell Skewers, super glue, and even cheap pocketknives. Never be without a tool again!
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