Rustic Homemade Hand Tools

Instead of paying for expensive garden and woodworking implements, use homemade hand tools

069 homemade hand tools - mattock

A home-wrought mattock—the second of our repurposed leaf spring tools—is as good as the store-bought version.


Content Tools

Nowadays, it seems that there's power equipment available for every imaginable task ... and for a few that are difficult to imagine. But it's still a real pleasure to stroll through the aisles of your local hardware store and catch sight of an honest-to-goodness manual tool. All too often, though, the price tags on the quality implements are enough to discourage many do-it-yourselfers.

Well, having found that their equipment needs and budget just don't seem to want to get together, MOTHER EARTH NEWS' shop folks hunkered down and came up with four basic hand tools that are not only simplicity itself to construct, but can be assembled for next to nothing. And the homemade hand tools will perform every bit as well as their dearer store-bought cousins.

Three of the utensils—the bark spud, the froe, and the drawknife—are designed to be used when working with wood. The fourth—a mattock—is a general-purpose tool for loosening soil, cutting roots, and digging. All were fashioned from common junk pile scrap, and—with the exception of the draw "shaver"—use either hand-hewn logs or "reborn" wooden shafts for handles.

Bark Spud

All it takes to make this timber skinner is a 1/4" piece of 4" X 8" steel plate, a 5" length of 1 1/4" Schedule 40 pipe, and an old shovel handle that's long enough to reach from the ground to your chin. First, carefully grind one end of the metal slab into a single-sided cutting edge with an angle of about 15° from level. Then weld your pipe collar to the rectangular blade so its forward end is about 4 1/2 inches behind the cleaving lip (be sure that the ground surface is toward the bottom), and the tubular shank itself meets the tool's head at an angle of about 5°. (Some folks may prefer to modify this union by increasing the angle to 20° and filling the space with triangular metal gussets, thus making it easier to use the spud to strip the uppermost surface—rather than the side—of the log.)

With this done, merely fit the handle securely into its receptacle (using a small wedge, if necessary), and have at your to-be-stripped timber in "shuffleboard" fashion. By scraping horizontally at the surface of the offending log, you can have it peeled in jig time. You'll find that your new "chisel" will make short work of stubborn knots, too!

The Froe

A froe is used to split logs into billets, or to cleave blocks into thin sections (as when making shingles). The heart of this device is an old automobile leaf spring, which provides not only the sturdy steel necessary to guarantee a durable tool but also the shank to which a handle can be fastened. Select a spring with a width of about 2 1/2" and torch it to a 16" overall length (Include the suspension unit's shackle mounting hole in your measurement). Now grind both sides of one long edge to form a double-faced cutting surface with a 15° angle (in relation to the blade's flat "loins") on each side.

Next, fashion a handle out of a 17" length of available hardwood (we used a dogwood limb, but oak, hickory, or ash would be fine too), making certain that its diameter fits snugly within the spring's shackle "eye." Insert the wood from the side opposite the ground edge and lock it in place with a hardwood wedge.

To use the tool, hold its handle vertically and place the cleaving edge against the end of your billet, then beat on the blade's uppermost (or striking) surface with a froe club (you can make one from a piece of hardwood). By levering the cutting bar back and forth after each blow, you can separate the wood sections while still maintaining some control over the direction of cut.

The Drawknife

This straightforward device operates like a plane except that its depth of cut is controlled by the user, who simply changes the blade's "angle of attack" to slice more or less wood away. To make the tool, we removed a straight 12" section from the same piece of spring stock used in the froe and ground an even, one-sided bevel at an angle of 33° along one edge of the steel. Then we took two pieces of 3/8" round bar, each about 7" long, bent them (over heat) to form equal-armed 45° angles, and welded one of the handles to each end of the blade so that the grips were behind the cutting surface and level with the bar. Finally, we put a sham edge on the knife with a whetstone, making sure to maintain a straight bevel.

Put the tool to work by holding it a arm's length in front of your chest—with the bevel facing downward—and pulling it toward you along the wood's surface.

The Mattock

Again, this digging implement is made from a section of car spring, preferably an arced piece about 26" long. Cut one end to form a point, with 30° angles on each side, and file 40° bevels on the opposite end to produce a two-faced blade. Then torch a 1" X 1 1/2" ellipse into the center of the arc, and weld a 3" piece of 1 1/4" pipe (after forming it into an oval shape in a vise) directly over this hole. Finally, from a suitable length of hardwood, make a handle that measures 1 1/2" X 2" X 36", fit it to the pipe collar, and lock it in place with a steel or hardwood wedge.

You'll probably find—as we did—that it's actually sort of fun to work with shop scrap and come up with something useful. But the real "return" on the time you invest will occur after you've actually put these low-tech tools to the test and discovered that "homemade" can be better than store-bought!