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Hands and Making Tools to Fit Them

hand calipers

Ever notice how many different kinds of hands there are? I have come to the conclusion that there is a hand type for every purpose. One of my favorite quotes is that an artist is not a special kind of person but every person is a special kind of artist.

My own hands are not suited for many purposes. With wide stubby fingers, I cannot type on a notebook computer or use a cell phone with ease as I hit three keys for every one intended. My wide hand will not fit inside a quart jar to clean it easily. My handwriting was never a thing of beauty earlier in my life and now I cannot even read it myself.

Yet the strength in my hands serve me quite well in working with wood. Using a chain saw, holding a carving knife or using a wood turning gouge all day gives me no problem.

Since each hand is different, it is nice to be able to make your own tool handles to fit your hands best. Once you know the basics of wood turning, making your own handles is quite simple. Blanks from most any hard wood will do quite well. I start by turning the diameter for the ferrule to fit over where the tool steel joins the wood. Once I have determined the inside diameter of my ferrule, usually just 3/4 inch long piece cut from a scrap of pipe and deburred on the grinder, I transfer this to the wood on the lathe using calipers.

Once I have the wood the that accepts the ferrule the proper size, I take the wood off the lathe and tap the ferrule over the turned end. I then remount the wood on the lathe and finish turning the handle, sand it and apply finish while it is still spinning on the lathe. Decorations can be added such as grooves to suit your individual taste.

In this day of mass produced tools, there is something very satisfying to pick up a tool handle of your own design. You can make it out of a very pretty wood. This will give you a sense of being uplifted every time you put it in your hand or your eye falls on it. A thing of beauty is a joy forever. Craftsmen of the past took great pride in the appearance of their own, hand-made tools, as they felt that their tools were a reflection of their own craftsmanship.

There is also a practical aspect to this. At my wood turning club meeting last week, one of the senior turners admitted that he had over one hundred turning tools. While I am not in that league, I must have thirty or forty and every time I see a new turning demonstration I find that there are several more tools that I need. Now, if all the tool handles are identical as supplied by one manufacturer, just try to pick out the special tool you need from that stack.

woodturner's hand

On the other hand, if some have ash handles, some cherry, some beech, some walnut, some maple and each is a different design and length with different numbers of grooves in the handle, it is much easier for the eye to fall on the one you need. When you add to this the fact that you made it just the right diameter and shape that fits your hand best, then you develop a real fondness for the tool.

If you strive to create beauty, then you should have beautiful things around you. What you see you become is an old proverb. When you are surrounded by beautiful things then it is easier to create beauty in the project you have selected.

Now it is not much of a jump to go from making your own handles to making the shape of the metal tools you use. Every professional turner on the teaching circuit has the tool catalogues cary his specialty “signature” tools. There is a different tool or grind on the tool for every purpose. As you use your tools you will find that there is a special need you have for which you can not find the proper tool. So the solution is to make it yourself. Scrap steel, masonry nails, old files, etc. can be ground on a bench grinder to make that special shape for that special job.

When you make a special project using a cutting edge you designed yourself mounted in a handle of your own design, you feel the meaning of the word creativity. Wasn’t that the reason you went into the wood shop? You wanted to express your own creativity, whether great or small. What you put your attention grows in the awareness and creativity in one line of thinking begets creativity in other lines of thinking. The next thing you know you are regularly thinking outside of the box.

I had a wonderful patient in Newport News, VA, when I practiced medicine. He was very bright, but coming along in the Depression, he could not afford to go to college. He became a watch maker instead. World War II came along and all the watch makers were grabbed by the defense department to make Norden bombsights for airplanes. So he ended up eventually working for NASA until he built his own successful machine shop and retired to manage his own business.

People would come in to see him with a complex request for some machine or apparatus. He would listen patiently as the prospective customer outlined what he wanted made. Usually it was something that had not been done before. At the end the customer would ask if it would be possible for something like that to be made by the machine shop. My friend would say: “Sure, we can do that for you.” However, he confided in me that at the time he had no more idea how to do that job than a jack rabbit. He said he would think about it. He would sleep on it. He would continue to turn it over in his mind. Before long he wold come up with a way to make the job work. He said he never turned down a job because he did not know how to do it.

I learned a valuable lesson from that man. Not only was he a great friend but he was a great teacher as well. I had another great teacher. He is my son. At the age of three or so, he told his Montessori teacher that his father could make anything. In fact, I could hardly make anything. Soon the school was asking me to make everything for them from missing map puzzle pieces to storage cabinets. I just said yes to every project and stayed on the steep end of my learning curve for many years.

So, life is like that. Even though you don’t know how, you can do anything you really want to do. Just say yes and then let nature show you how. Mother nature is hovering in the wings ready to show you anything you desire. She just needs to know what you want, and you must be alert to her help because it may not be what you were expecting. Of course it really helps to have someone have complete faith in you. How can you let a person like that down?

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