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Making one simple brass tool by hand



Having responded to my former student, Sharon Long, off-line, she has
encouraged me to post my message. So here it is, in what I hope will be an
understandable cyber-lesson in simple brass toolmaking.

Years ago, when we hosted PBI in the Deep South, Louise Genest came and
taught a toolmaking and onlay workshop...which is what got me started on
making the little line and dot/square tools. She was showing how to make the
"Ascona tool" in a slight variation. This is a small tool designed at the
bookbinding school in Ascona, Switzerland, hence the name. Theirs is a
one-ended tool with a wooden handle. Great for lines around onlays, though
the quality of line is not the same as doing "real" tooling, French style.
What follows is a condensed version of what Louise taught, with my variations.

Use stock brass brazing rods (about 1/4" thick) from plumbing supply houses
or hardware stores, a table clamp to hold the metal rods (put gray board or
something like suede or felt around the shank to hold it and keep it and your
clamping system from getting dinged), and a fine-bladed hacksaw to cut the
brass to the lengths I need. The "Ascona" tool is a double-ended one, two
different thicknesses. It's kind of like a little spatula or blade, with an
even thickness across the width of the shaped end, which is only 1-2
millimeters thick and the width of the brass rod.

I make my tool (this one) about 6" long. When finished, the center gets
wrapped with suede for holding. Remember that you heat the tool for blinding
in, so this is rather necessary!

Okay, now that you have the brass cut, you begin shaping the tool. For the
"Ascona" one, you bevel each side of the rod to make the ends thinner. This
is done on sandpaper, rather fine to start and shape the tool, then you
switch to silicone paper, finest quality emery paper, suede coated with
Brasso or another polishing compound, finer and finer to finish and polish
the tool. This is hard to explain! You're basically shaping little ovals on
the sides from the full thickness of the rod to the end. It looks like a
double-sided fingernail. Remember when we shaped our bone folders? Same
process, just on a small scale.

Each side is carefully shaped as you constantly check for scratches, the
angle of taper and the evenness of the width of the top. It should be even
across the top width to maintain a line of consistent thickness while
tooling. Do both ends. One slightly thicker than the other. I usually make
one end quite thin and blade-like, the other a bit thicker. When you're happy
with the result, give the ends a final polish with the finest abrasive paper
that you can find. There are silicone papers with the finest grit available,
microcrystalline ones. Check your neighborhood hardware stores, on-line
sources for finest grit polishing and sandpapers, jewellry suppliers and
such. Do your polishing with the emery paper on a flat surface and pull the
tool across it rather than working in mid-air.

Finally, wrap a strip of suede around the center. I use a PVA/paste mix to
make it stick.  This will protect your hand from the heat of the tool.

Hope this helps all you aspiring tool-makers! The next lesson, perhaps, can
be about shaping designed tools. But then again, maybe starting really simple
is better... with rounds, circles, diamonds and squares.

Paula Marie Gourley
Lilyhouse Studio
Eugene, Oregon

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