Making a Hook Tool
by Darrell Feltmate
Hook tools have been around a long time in turning and have often been made by the people who used them. Most of the making is straight forward and some like myself would say all is straightforward.
Turn a handle about eighteen inches long and comfortable to your hand. Drill about 4" to 6" for ½” rod. Cut a piece of ½” diameter steel rod to about 18". The cutting bits fit into the end of the steel rod. Drill a hole 5/8" deep and about 3/16" diameter into the end of the rod. I used a hand drill with the rod in a vise but a drill press is easier. If you have not drilled into steel before, begin with a small diameter bit to establish the hole and gradually widen with successive drilling.
Now on the side of the steel shaft and at right angles to the first hole, drill into the hole and tap for a set screw to hold the bit in place. You can opt to omit this step and use CA to glue the bits in place, but they are then a pain to replace and awkward to sharpen. Super glue the shaft into the handle.
I use a 2 ½” concrete or masonry nail to make the cutter. You can buy a box of a hundred or so for a couple of dollars at the hardware store. Masonry nails are a higher carbon steel than regular bright nails and worth the buying for tool making. When I need a specialty carving tool I grab a masonry nail and make one. Decision time is upon you. To forge or not to forge.
It sure saves time in grinding. Cut or grind off the head. Hold about ½” of the head end of the nail in a pair of pliers and heat the rest red hot in the flame of a propane or similar torch. When it is good and red, flatten it by pounding with a hammer on an anvil. I have a small shop anvil of about 20 pounds. If you do not have such a thing, use the back part of a machinists vise, the anvil. You will have a flat area about 1" long and 1/8" thick. Do not bother to be precise. Heat the flat to red hot and bend into a hook with a pair of needle nose pliers. The curve is to the left and the opening is to the right. It will bend like plastic when hot.
I like a hook from 1/8" to 1/4" diameter. At this stage the steel is fairly soft. The proper term is annealed. It has been heated to red hot and allowed to cool fairly slowly. This is the time to grind the cutting edge. Grind to an angle of 45 to 60 degrees. Cut the shaft of the cutter to 5/8" long and make sure it fits in the tool shaft by grinding to fit.
It is too soft yet to hold an edge and must be hardened. Heat the hook in your torch to red hot and plunge it into a gallon of water to cool. Use lots of water. It will heat fast and a small container is poor economy. Polish the hook with sand paper and very slowly reheat it. Place it in the torch flame and pull it out. Place it in and pull it out. Place it in and pull it out. Keep this up until you see heat oxides in the side of the metal racing for the cutting edge. When straw colour hits the edge, immediately plunge it into the water. The edge is now hard.
If you miss the colour, go back and heat to red hot, polish with sand paper and start the heat dance over.
Now the tool is hard enough to sharpen and hold and edge. I find it great for cutting end grain as in clearing boxes and vases. Little shavings come out instead of powder. Even in a piece of spalted pine that I was turning, I got chips from broken shavings instead of powder. Incidentally, I cleared the inside of a spalted pine vase 7 ½” deep and going from a base of 3" to a top of 2" in about 45 minutes. I have no idea if this is fast or slow but it is fun.
None of this is hard. It takes longer to read about it than it does to make the tool. I know it would be handier with line drawings and such, but pictures take forever to download. My first hook tool only cost about five dollars including the box of nails, so what have you got to lose?