Last Saturday, I took a four-hour toolmaking workshop at Bison Bookbinding & Letterpress (http://bisonbookbinding.com/) in Bellingham, WA, with Jim Croft, who teaches the old ways of bookbinding and papermaking in Idaho. See his website here: http://www.traditionalhand.com

So we all met in Bison’s workshop, and Jim showed us several boxes of deer and elk bones from which we could choose our subjects for the class. He also showed us several files and sandpapers that we would be working with, as well as a right-handed hewing axe, and a hand drill. He also had a left-handed hewing axe. This type of axe is flat on one side, and is use to gently shape the bones prior to filing and sanding. I tried it, and it worked just fine. He even had a stump handy next to a backboard, so the chips wouldn’t fly too far.

Three bone tools on handmade paper dyed with blackberries

Three bone tools on handmade paper dyed with blackberries


I chose a medium-small deer bone to start with, hewed it, and then used three files and four sandpapers on it to make a bone folder. The inside was indented, as a bone is sometimes, and Jim showed me a few tools made of broken knife or saw blades. They were about three to four inches long, and had one (or both) end sharpened for scraping out the bone. I tried that, and it seemed to work okay, and then… more sandpapering, but with the scrap rolled up.

Then I made another, smaller, bone folder from another deer bone. It is a tan “wooden” color because it was buried in the dirt for a while to clean it. The first one was boiled, which kept it white. I finished the second one about a half hour before the workshop was over. I kept sanding it, since you can sand them until they are smooth as gems, which is even smoother than a baby’s bottom. I did that for ten minutes, thinking about getting another bone before I finally made up my mind and did.

A short thin bone, this time. I was thinking of an awl. So I hewed that one pointed on one end, and got to work. I still have some sanding to do on all of the tools I made, but I ended up with three perfectly useful handmade bone tools. My friend Nancy was also there, and was able to leave the workshop with her own bookbinding tools. Each one is different from the other. That is only one of the beauties of making things by hand.

Two bone folders and the beginning of an awl

Two bone folders and the beginning of an awl

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