Tutorial: Making miniature sculpting tools

You simply cannot buy tools small enough to do decent fine miniature sculpture.  Fortunately, the tools do not have to be super sprung steel to work- you can actually make some from paperclips, needles and a bit of dowel.
Here are my tools...

Pokey things wot to poketh da putty wiv.
As you can see from the last picture, the difference between the store bought wax 5 dental tool and the home made custom tool is staggering.  I was clunking along trying to sculpt with a wax 5 and a needle, when I had the fortune of meeting Victoria Lamb.  She showed me some tools she picked up from Gencon and I rushed home to make my own!

So here's what you need...

Ingredients:  Heat shrink, dowel, paperclips
Tools:  Saw, file, pin vice, superglue and sandpaper

First cut the dowel into a comfortable size.  Nick out a wedge where your thumb rests- this will help orient the tool in your hand- so you can 'feel' if your holding it in the right direction.  I hold my pencils weird- crossing my index finger over the top- have done since a child.  Weird, but comfortable for me.  That means everyone will find my set of tools a bit strange to hold.  Serves them right for nicking them in the first place.

Its also a good idea to whittle down the tips into a taper- the thickness of the dowel allows your hand to relax whilst holding the tool- but the thick end blocks viability somewhat.

Next drill a hold in each end to hold the paperclip.  As I use paperclips to pin minis, I had the exact size of bit (#69).  My tools are double tipped- saving digging around on the desk for the tool I want- if your prone to poking yourself in the eye, maybe go down the other route.

The paperclips are straightened, and I run a diamond file over the surface to be stuck to give the superglue a bit of purchase.  Once fixed in the hole, I set to work on the tips.

You can hammer out the ends if you want a wide tool- but I prefer to use jumbo paper clips, as they are much sturdier.  The galeforce 9 diamond files are excellent, and will make short work of the metal.  Finally, polish up the surface with extremely fine wet and dry paper.  Its important to get a totally smooth finish- any roughness at this stage will cause your tool to rip your putty.

The last step is to make the grips.  This is done with heat shrink- available from electrician supplies.  You need some a few mm wider than your dowel.  Simply slip the heat shrink over the dowel and wave over a heat source, such as a gas stove to make the sleeve fit.  A couple of layers will make a nice grip.  I grabbed a mixed pack with six colors- and color coded all my tools.

Now the paperclip metal is quite strong and will last a while.  You will have to keep sanding your tools to take off dried putty- so all tools will eventually wear out.  No problems- ten minutes and a fresh paperclip and your back in action.

When leaving your tools for a while, wrap the tips in an oil rag to prevent rusting.

The next step is to find some clear rubber hosepipe from an aquarium supply that fits the ends.  Cut this up to make protective sleeves for your tips- now your mobile baby!

I really love my new tools, and wish I had thought of doing this earlier.  Thanks Vic!