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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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!