I'm a bit of a tool fetishist, both with software and real-world stuff. As well as accumulating them, for various reasons I like making and using my own tools. The most valid reason is that it's usually fun, though some of the other reasons are rather spurious. It often seems the time spent learning to use someone else's piece of software effectively could be better spent writing something from scratch. In itself that usually turns out to be a mistake. Likewise, most of the time making a real-world tool turns out to be an inefficient approach, given the time and money that can go into it compared to simply buying a good quality mass produced version. Sometimes the extra value that comes from having a result that's more exactly fit for purpose than the alternatives is good justification for DIY tooling. A more common benefit comes simply from creating something that's more personalised than the off-the-shelf version and because of that more pleasing to use. Making things is satisfying, making things that you use to make other things doubly so. Within reason. I suspect I may be crossing the line with my latest little hobby project.
Very low down on my list of priorites, I need some new business cards. Ok, half an hour's design tops. But I've got some pieces of (European) boxwood I collected a few years ago, nicely seasoned now, and for a while I've been thinking about things to make with them. Boxwood is lovely stuff, very hard, tight grain, nice appearance. One of its traditional uses is block printing (it's what Bewick used for his animal prints).
Right, so I'll block print some business cards. That means carving the letters, and I haven't really tried lettering before. First big question, which font? The obvious answer is of course to design a new one, optimised for woodcarving. A big factor there is taking into account the shape of gouges, aiming ideally for a minimum number of tools and a minimum number of cuts. FontForge seems a pretty good piece of kit and you can use images as guides for the typefaces. This gives me an iterative process: print out a typeface I like, try carving it with a limited set of tools, note what works and what doesn't. Photograph the results, use them as a template for a revision on the computer.
Earlier today I started on this, and almost immediately hit a snag. While I can more or less get away with the larger gouges I've got for the design part of this, I don't really have the shapes among the smaller ones, the ones I'd need for business card proportions. This is despite having about 85 gouges/chisels/knifes at hand (I got them all out on the bench earlier, couldn't resist counting). This figure might sound evidence of serious obsession when, say, 5 decent gouges/chisels is plenty for most projects, but traditional woodcarvers would often have a lot more (Grinling Gibbons is reckoned to have had about 300). They all come in handy somewhere and just turn up over the years - junk shops, inherit, even occasionally buy new.
Coincidentally, the other day I was reading about using hook tools for woodturning (Robin Wood, author of the remarkable The Wooden Bowl uses them on a pole lathe) and it turns out you can make them yourself using a blowtorch, masonry nails and a big hammer. I'd always assumed you needed a forge or oxy-acetylene to work hard steel. Aha! Earlier today I tried the technique, made a little chisel (woodcarving chisel, slightly different than regular woodworking chisels). It's a bit wonky but perfectly usable. Took maybe an hour, including making the handle (boxwood). So while I play with the typeface design with the aid of existing larger chisels, I plan to make some smaller ones for business card purposes.
Oh yeah, and over the years here, whenever I've seen an oak apple I've taken it home, with the vague idea that one day maybe I'll have a go at making some ink. Then of course I'll need to make a press for the paper...these business cards may take a while.