Plow Planes

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Making and Using Tools - Saws and Saw Tools

  Create Character with Acid Etching by Andrew Lunn

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It gives me pause to think of the old masters.  I’m inspired by their works, and sometimes by their tools. Old carved handplanes have to be some of my favorites. Or tools made by anonymous craftsmen who bothered to decorate them and make them extra special. 

All things being equal, I prefer the tool that is unique.  So perhaps not surprisingly, when it comes to making my own tools, I have looked for ways to make them… well, unique.  And one technique I have found very useful is acid etching.


Andrew Lunn

In principle acid etching is simple—metal is covered with a substance that will resist acid, and the design you wish to impart to the metal is left unprotected, exposing it to the acid’s bite.  In practice, however, acid etching is an art a lot like any other art, where the best examples are produced by some deep alchemy of experience, understanding, and talent.

After all, the greatest practitioners of etching include the likes of Rembrandt and Goya.  But thankfully we don’t have to be Rembrandts or Goyas to do a good job etching our tools!  The fact that such notable artists found etching worth their while simply means that etching possesses sufficient range and subtlety to accommodate anything you or I might imagine.

All that is required to get started is an acid, a resist, and a stylus of some kind with which to draw in the resist.  And of course you need something to draw!  Coming up with a design is half the fun.  My own designs stem from my love of carving and from my fascination with firearms engraving and medieval armor. 

I do a fair amount of sketching to help sort out my thoughts, but then I stop short of drawing anything I think of as “the” final design—the final design gets drawn right onto the tool.  I like the sort of organized spontaneity that results that way—you aren’t doodling on your tool, but you aren’t trying to just copy something either.

The former would lead to obvious ruin, and the latter would likely result in a design that looked stilted and tenuous,… as if you were copying.  Of course if you wanted there are techniques you can use to transfer an entire design onto your tool without really having to draw it, a process similar to using carbon paper to transfer designs in carving. And then you could use the design over and over. 

But there is something I like about one-of-a-kind items, especially ones where you can see the lines and proportions directly rendered by someone’s hand.  There is something a little magical about lines that were drawn at some former time but that still have that flick and vitality that we so intuitively sense is the stuff of life itself.

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