Monday, October 31, 2011

The Skulptools Tool-Tinker Reveals All(most)

What Goes Into Making a SkulpTools Sculpting Tool?
 A little bit 'o this and a little 'o that...

For me, the fun is in the challenge of the project to design and make the line of new tools that I sell. I began to make my own sculpting tools in 2004 when I got frustrated with the existing tools available. My odyssey began, to find ways to make useful tools that were quite different from those already available.

What’s wrong with the tools already being made?

Most of the other tools I had found were in sets of a maybe a dozen or so. That meant that I’d have to buy all of them to get the two or three that I might use. Not very cost effective.

 Then there were those awful handles. They were either slippery round wood or noodle thin metal, which are best suited to probe cavities with, rather than sculpting. They always have some sort of sharp-tip on the other end of the useable ones, which always  got in the way.
The tips on these other tools may have been great for some applications, but were too large, angled wrong, too sharp or just shaped too poorly and would not effectively create the detail in my sculptures. Then there were plastic and silicone tools, with their annoying pronounced seams (from the molding process) and/or sharp edges that produced more tool marks to deal with. 

I KNEW I could do better. I knew how a tool must be shaped to create the features I wanted and once I made the first one, other ideas just started flowing, over time. I currently make 20+ unique tool designs, with more ideas coming. I also make many classic style tools such as spatulas and gouges in small sizes.

There are many steps involved in the making of these little tools.

The handles I’ve chosen to use are a totally new concept for sculpting tools and are the key ingredient that makes these tools truly unique. They combine a cushioned rubber grip and an ergonomic shape to minimize fatigue and provide a very comfortable, controllable tool. Each handle can easily accommodate two tool tips, for better economy and convenience for the artist. 

I prep shortened handles for some of my smaller tools, which alone takes about 20 minutes per handle. This shortening step produces a more agile and comfortable grip for smaller tools. 

Then there’s cutting to length and rough grinding of the tips, which often involves using a torch to heat the metal so it can be shaped without breaking. 

Then comes the four to five stages of shaping, grinding and polishing of the metal tips. This is my favorite part of the process, because it actually involves sculpting; only the medium is a metal rod, rather than clay.

And all that has to happen before the tool meets up with the handle. I prep the handle to receive the tool tip, fasten in the tip in and apply the final epoxy coat to seal out clay and other debris and to double seal the tip to the handle. Often, at this point, I do a final polishing to get the nice glossy finish that sheds clay residue, and then I clean it all up for tagging.

I've been asked many times "How long does it take for you to make one of your tools?" Well, that's a difficult thing to quantify, since I create them in stage-batches, assembly line fashion. 

For all these steps, my nearest estimate per tool is between 2 and 6 hours each, depending on the tool. Gouges and large tools take the most time to grind to shape and polish, simpler or smaller tools take much less. They probably average at least four hours for each tool.

Perhaps one day, necessity will demand that I not make tools anymore. But as long as I am able to I’ll continue to keep making my high value tools, with top quality materials built in, and with the same care and attention to detail that I use when I create my sculptures.

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