Some of you may remember my blog post on the ‘tape measure’ tools, I did a while back, well, these are another type of sgraffito tool easily made and cheaply made, from things right around your studio.
Last week, knowing I was going to head out to my clay supplier within a day or so, a woman in one of my studio classes showed me one of these tools, asking if I could pick some up for her while I was there. I hadn’t looked for these tools before, but figured Clayworks probably carried them, so I said, “Sure, no problem.” It turned out they had them in numerous styles, so I grabbed two, a smaller one for more detailed carving and one a bit larger. They were $4.20 each. Really?? They had to cost all of .70¢ to make. And so, I set out to make my own to compare.
- Some Wood Dowels (I found mine at the dollar store)
- Drill (I used a hand-drill but a power drill would be fine for those who can use them)
- Regular Staples
- Needle Nose Pliers
- Something to cut the dowels if they are too long (I used a serrated steak knife since I’m not great with a hand saw, but that is NOT recommended )
- Pencil Sharpener
- Gorilla Glue
To start, drill into the center of your dowel, with a very small drill bit. It only has to be large enough for the staple to fit into and only about 3/16″ deep. It does help if you have a vise for this job to hold the dowel steady (especially when the driller isn’t too steady herself). The finished dowel should look like the picture to the right. Make as many as you like – you can make dozens of these tools for the price it costs to buy one.
After the hole is drilled, I take the dowel and ‘sharpen’ the drilled end in an ordinary hand held pencil sharpener, taking care not to oversharpen and obliterate the hole you just drilled. This procedure isn’t entirely necessary, however, I like a tapered end on my sgraffito tools as it keeps the sharp edge of the dowel from digging into your clay depending on the angle you hold your tool. You may also choose to sharpen the other end of the dowel to use as a stylus tool for your clay – kind of two tools in one.
Now for the secret ingredient – a staple! The hardest part about this whole process is separating one staple from the bunch. A strategically placed fingernail between the one staple and the rest of the row seemed to work the best for me. You can make these any shape you want – the easiest being a slight bend in the middle of the staple, bringing the two ends together with your pliers. Different shapes can be made by ‘straightening’ the staple, then forming it over different shapes. I used a larger drill bit form for a circular shape and the tine of a fork for a rectangular shape.
Once you have the desired shape, simply grasp the top of the form between your fingers and use your pliers to twist the two open ends together. The finished form should look like this. Here are some other forms for ideas!
Now for the Gorilla Glue. I suppose there are other glues you can use, perhaps even try a hot glue gun, but the reason I like Gorilla Glue is that it’s like ‘The Blob’ of glues. It expands to like 500 times its size when it dries, creating a completely air tight and super strong attachment, making your sgraffito tool very durable to use.
Squeeze a small amount out on a piece of scrap paper. You don’t need very much at all. Take the end of one of your staples (just because that’s what’s lying around), dip it into the glue, then place that glue into the hole of your dowel. Then, dip the twisted end of your tool into the glue, then into the end of your dowel. That’s it! It will need to dry upright for 24 hours before it will be sturdy enough to use.
You can stand them up any way you’d like but I found it easy to grab a bit of clay and stand the tools up in that to dry. I think you’ll find these as sharp as the store bought tools and when you need a new tool, cut the wire end off the dowel and start all over again! Have fun and I hope you found this useful!