Saturday, August 13, 2011

Stylus or Nail File? Yes.

I'm giving a chip- and letter carving demonstration tomorrow so I've been preparing a number of boards with designs and letters.

To transfer the designs from paper to wood, I rub graphite pencil on the back of the paper and use a pen to trace the graphic.

This works okay, but often the pen's tip is too fat which results in a too thick pencil line on the workpiece.  That alters the look of the design and makes it more difficult to follow with a knife.

And sometimes the pen blots, which makes a mess.

Because I wanted to preserve the integrity of the graphics and letters in case I needed them in the future, I decided to use a stylus. I tried my plastic one, but the tip, like the pen, was too fat.

We woodworkers are pretty savvy at repurposing household items.  So I snapped the file off some nail clippers (does anyone actually use those files?) and with minimal effort turned it into a stylus that works splendidly.

I used soft wood for the handle and bore three tiny holes in the end grain. Then I excavated the mortise for the file with the file itself. Super easy. I tapped it in with a hammer, shaped the point with files, and got to work.

When carving, I frequently chip one of my fingernails with the sharp edge of a tool and, rather than stop what I'm doing to come into the house for an emory board, I grab a piece of sandpaper for an instant manicure.

With this stylus, I have a nail file at the ready. And the next time I chip a fingernail, it will finally be used for its original intended purpose.


Vic Hubbard said...

Good use of the useless!! You are such a can do type o' gal!! ;o)

Tico Vogt said...

Nice tip!

Bob Easton said...


I just fumbled with the same process earlier this week and failed in many ways ... but got the letters carved anyway.

THANKS for the great suggestion!

Stephen Shepherd said...

And when close up pictures of your hands are taken, your nails will be impeccible.

Anonymous said...


Have you considered or tried using a pounce wheel, then a pounce bag (cloth bag filled with chalk)?


Anonymous said...

Or perhaps using a ball end tool, which seems made for this purpose? Mine has a small end (maybe 1.5 mm dia) and fatter end (2.5 mm dia) and works great.

You find these in art or craft stores with the tools for working clay.


Eric said...

That's really using the ole noodle Kari!
I have to make one of those.
(and she'll never one from the drawer...) lol
Thanks for the tip.

will said...

Fingernail file? I guess you don't have a belt sander ...

Kari Hultman said...

Vic, sometimes the old gray cells still work. :o)

Tico, nice pun!

Bob, looks like you're doing really well with the lettercarving from your blog posts. :o)

Stephen, what's a woodworker without pretty nails?

Chris, thanks for the suggestion. I'm wondering if a pounce wheel might mar the surface, although lightly. It would mark the perimeter of the letter—the part that's carved very shallowly. So, I don't know if the marks would be carved away or not. I've never actually used one, so I'm only guessing.

Brian, that's exactly what I had in mind when I was hunting around the house. If I had had more time, I probably would have ordered one.

Eric, I wonder what else those files can be used for....let me know if you come up with something when you abscond with your wife's clippers. ; )

Bill, I have tried a dremel tool, but it left a burr on the end of my nails. heh.

Anonymous said...

I use my CNC to carve letters. I use the file on my nail clippers to file my finger nails while the job is running on the CNC. It's all good.

Anonymous said...

Kari, You use a pounce wheel on the template only (thin mylar works well) then overlay the template over your work and use the pounce bag (chalk bag) on top of the template leaving small chalk dots on your workpiece.

Philip R said...

I use a nail file for making purfling channels wider in the spots that are a little tight. It fits nicely into deep and narrow spaces, and are cheap so I don't worry about breaking them (such as with those ubiquitous Grobet files).

Torch02 said...

I guess I have to be the one who says that they use the tiny file on the nail clippers...

Kari Hultman said...

Anon, whatever works. ; )

Norm, thank you for the explanation. I get it now.

Philip, brilliant! Love it. Thanks for the idea.

Ah, Steven, there's always one. :o) said...

Nice tip I must say that it is great demonstration. Enjoyed it. Well done did great job. Keep it up writing. I use nail files for it.