Cutting smooth holes in foam

I chanced upon this method of making almost perfect holes in rigid foam after I was asked about the best way to do the same in cake .. making holes to take tube supports between storeys of a wedding cake! For this I very roughly carved ‘teeth’ in the end of a plastic plumbing pipe, which as it turned out could be twisted into the cake without a problem. So I wondered whether something similar would work for other materials. I was fairly certain it stood a chance of working if I could cut the teeth finely enough, and for this a slightly harder form of PVC pipe is needed .. MuPVC ..which stands for ‘modified unplasticised polyvinyl chloride’.

I’ll need to cover this briefly first. The various plastic waste/drainage pipes you’ll see in any building supplier or DIY store (whether white, black, grey or brown) are likely to be two or more different plastic types. They will either be polypropylene (PP), ABS (a form of styrene), uPVC or MuPVC. MuPVC is harder than the others, but actually easier to cut or file cleanly because it is slightly more brittle. The only sure way of identifying it is finding the letters ‘MuPVC’ as part of the printed info along the side of the pipe, but also if the pipe is referred to by the store as ‘Solvent Weld’ it’s very likely to be MuPVC.

hole-cutting tools for rigid foam

Obviously there are only a few available diameters when it comes to these pipes and it depends on the store which ones they actually have. Standard outside diameters start at 22mm and normally end at around 44mm .. before they become something else, i.e. drainage or guttering pipes which are either brown or black. At the moment in the UK Wickes has the best selection of MuPVC .. 22mm, 36mm, 40mm and 50mm .. but don’t search for ‘mupvc’ in their online catalogue because that will only bring up one of them. Instead find the sub-section ‘Plastic pipe’ in ‘Heating & Plumbing’ which should show all the others, just described as ‘solvent weld’.

Wherever and whatever you find, the supplier normally should list the pipe according to its outside diameter, not its internal one. For more technical details see ..

http://www.hendersons.co.uk/pipework2/page2.html

squaring end of Pvc pipe

After trialling a few ways of making the ‘cutting’ edge, I found this to be the best method. Firstly, the end needs to be cut and filed/sanded straight i.e. at 90 degrees to the pipe length, as above. Then, using either sandpaper wrapped around a dowel or a round file, the thickness of the cut edge needs to be reduced to almost a point, as below. This should be a gradual slope (over 5-10mm) and on the inside .. the outside diameter remains constant.

chamfering end of Pvc pipe

The next job is to file the ‘teeth’ and I would recommend using a small-size power drill and a diamond-coated bit .. if you have those things. If not you have to do it by hand using a round needle file, but again, I’ve found the diamond-coated needle files more effective on hard plastics. The box of diamond-coated bits below is from Rolson, found in Maplin, costing around £5.00 as I remember.

fine filing tools

For each of the ‘teeth’ shown below I held the drill bit or file at a slant outwards from the centre of the ring and also slanting forwards around the ring, as saw teeth normally are. This may look painstaking, but it wasn’t really .. it look a while, but the plastic sanded comfortably. I made the teeth on the inside of the pipe so that the hole cut might be smoother.

finished 'teeth' on pipe

These tools worked well on the three types of rigid foam I work with .. blue styrofoam (extruded polystyrene); Kapa-line foamboard (polyurethane foam), and ‘Recticel’ another polyurethane insulation foam sold in thick sheets i.e. from Wickes.  Below, the pipe is first positioned on the foam and then turned very carefully until it has some purchase. After that it needs only moderate pressure while turning, making sure to keep the path of the tube straight .. the angled teeth will draw the tube in. Recticel is very soft and fibrous, but the tool still managed to make quite a smooth-sided hole.

turning foam 'hole cutter'

cutting holes in Recticel PU foam

I made use of the technique for the sculptural pieces I’m working on at the moment .. i.e. this prototype base shape for casting, which is meant to take a number of peg forms.

base unit shaped from styrofoam

 

Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’ BBC December 2015

How long does one have to wait for stunningly good design work to get the acknowledgement it deserves .. a few weeks, half a year, a couple of generations, until the next century? Although it’s only been a matter of days I feel I’ve waited long enough for any direct mention of how bold yet subtle, how grim yet beautiful, how risky yet fitting the visual work on And Then There Were None was!

'And Then There Were None' BBC 2015 soldier figurines

It’s not by chance that I’ve put an image of the figurines here first .. they are the initial reason why I was compelled to write this. I kept asking myself  ‘Am I really the only one who found these figurines so captivating?’ Although with hindsight I realise now ..yet again .. how biased my viewpoint is, I was half expecting a nationwide reaction, a flood of questions online .. where did they come from, who created them? After all, they played a central role in the piece, as much as any of the actors did, and they obviously meant a great deal to the programme makers .. they are the subject of the title sequence, and the camera lingered on and revisited them more than was necessary for the storytelling.

'And Then There Were None' BBC 2015 title sequence

'And Then There Were None' dinner scene

'And Then There Were None' BBC 2015

But I’m also surprised that the figures haven’t excited more comment yet due to their unusualness, at the very least .. their departure from convention. Maybe it’s because they seemed to be quite at home there .. odd yes, but fitting, in keeping .. because although nothing much like them existed at that time, they could have been conceived in extremis from the period ingredients. As if, a young Reg Butler had been locked in a room of American deco under the influence of Futurist narcotics!

'And Then There Were None' BBC 2015

'And Then There Were None' BBC 2015

So I just want to both thank and congratulate the, as yet for this, almost completely unsung stars who conceived and created these .. along with every other finely crafted, well-considered, delicate or brutal visual moment.

'And Then There Were None' devil's cauldron

And that’s basically all I wanted to say! .. except that, if you’re one of the 5 million or so who didn’t watch it between Christmas and the New Year .. you should .. and you’ve got another three weeks to watch all episodes on BBC iPlayer for free. If you’re at all interested in design it’s a must, and you should watch it first without pausing, for pure enjoyment, as it was intended .. and then a second time to study how powerful design, camerawork and music can be when they’re properly working together; how little is actually needed to achieve this, but how delicate the balance can be.

In Hamburg in the 1990’s

..

I’ve just put more of my past work up in the Gallery, partly because I’ve needed to re-think, to revisit the ‘bone’ collection .. but also because the images are in some ways rather seasonal! Here are some excerpts. Whether you celebrate Christmas and New Year, or whether you’re just looking forward to a break and a new start ..

.. I wish you all a heart-warming one!

..

David Neat 'sweetbox' 1996 cast and painted plaster

Sweetbox 1996

..

Detail of 'Pralinenkasten' from the series, 1995

Detail from the Pralinenkasten series, 1995

..

The theme of confectionary seems to have stuck with me in various guises throughout the years ( see also Faim de siècle ). My interest in the sweetbox form of presentation may just have been following up a childhood fascination with the look of sweets or the fact that I was used to arranging small beach-combed objects in old chocolate boxes. For the original Pralinenkasten concept I made wooden carry- cases loaded with all manner of form and colour variations (cast in plaster and wax) and people could ‘pic-n-mix’ from the stock to put together their own ensemble.

..

David Neat 'Natural Selection' 1995

Natural Selection 1995

..

At the time I had been working on cast plaster and wax forms which suggested both sweets and natural forms, and Natural Selection 1995 was a development of this idea intended to emphasize the physical and tactile.

..

David Neat 'Business' from the 'Qualities' edition, 2003 detail

Business Box from the Qualities edition, 2003

..

A few years later I returned to both the sweetbox form and the idea of the bespoke
with the Qualities range (literally ‘quality’ chocolates in that they were inscribed with the
names of qualities desirable for given occasions or purposes). The range included
limited editions for Valentine’s Day, celebration of marriage, graduation and business.
One of the most satisfying parts of the work was formulating a number of ‘chocolate’ paints for the resin-cast forms .. not only the colour of dark, milk or ‘white’ chocolate has to be right but more importantly, the surface quality. Because I’m proficient in eating chocolate I had a fool-proof test .. I knew I’d got it right when I really started to ‘taste’ it in my mind!

..

'Fruitrack' detail 2

Fruitrack 1993

..

Fruitrack was one of the first serious pieces of sculpture I ever attempted, after a number of years painting and drawing. What I sought from sculpture was the chance to progress more systematically, to develop and make systems or kits of components which could comfortably offset the occasional blunder! Of course it was also about creating things which would have more ‘real presence’, at least as I saw it. What I sacrificed though was the chance of quick success .. to this day my sculptural work takes a mind-numbing amount of time! Apart from these general motivations, I really didn’t know what I wanted to ‘sculpt’ .. or rather, I couldn’t choose from the infinite choices of three-dimensional form. Luckily I made the right decision, to start with the simplest things that were inside me .. versions of favourite shapes (some of them more like gestures) which had always been trying to materialise in my two-dimensional work.

..

David Neat 'Sleep' 1995

Sleep 1995

..

Sleep 1995 was one of my ‘interactive sculptures’ and it represented the ‘sand pit’ idea .. the forms were half-buried in a pile of dyed cork granules on the floor and gallery visitors were encouraged to unearth them. The tactile experience was an important part, and the forms were designed to sit comfortably in the hand. I regret being so haphazard in terms of documenting my work at the time .. I only have this detail photo, not a complete view. As for the inspiration for the work .. I was thinking of the rich, dark red chrysalis forms I used to unearth in the garden when I was a child. I thought these were butterflies but I now know they were moths.

..

David Neat 'faim de siecle' collection

Part of the Faim de siècle series, 1999

..

Amongst the artists ‘trademarked’ above are Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, Richard Long, Robert Indiana, Yves Klein and Richard Serra.

The Faim de siècle series was planned around the millennium and featured 100 notable artists of the 20th century in the form of fake confectionery. The system was conceived as a ‘Pic-n-mix’ selection from which the ‘customer’ could choose their favourites and receive them packaged in specially crafted presentation boxes. The regular format was nine to a square box, but there were other options ranging from a small box of three to a ‘Connoisseur’ box of twenty-five.

I had to make my own choice of which ‘100’ to include in the list .. in some respects easy, and in others very difficult. My aim with the whole enterprise was to comment on a number of things .. the commerce of art; its public consumption; the way even the artists themselves fall prey to their ‘trademarks’! The easy part was choosing the 50 or so artists who, whether by critical or public opinion, just have to have their place in the lifeboat. So there’s Picasso, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Pollock, Beuys, Warhol .. for example. But of course I couldn’t help being influenced by a number of artists who may have been teetering on the edge of the ‘100’ but whose work was ripe for caricature in this form!

..

David Neat 'Dreambags' 2000

Dreambags 2000

..

Dreambags was an idea which never really got past the prototype stage, but these occupy a special place in my ‘collection’ partly because I very rarely use blue except when dealing with sky. It’s also one of the ideas I really must take up again! I’m sure others have this too .. there are ideas that just refuse to go away, that patiently stick with us however forgotten, ignored or mistreated they might be. I can think of a few that I’ve had ever since childhood .. one is a response to the phrase ‘living daylights’ for which I imagined brightly coloured, crystalline forms emerging in a summer sky; another was making my own ‘Mr Potato Head’ kit but with insectile features and attachments; and another was this one .. bags for containing dreams, which could be fitted with spirit dispensers to dose them out when needed.

 

Coating styrofoam with polyurethane resin

These are the latest forms I’ve been making for my .. not-quite-working-title .. Ridiculously Organic Construction Toy. For this I’ve been creating simulations of eroded rock and driftwood cast in resin, twisted Pvc branches covered in fake moss and lichen, corals, leaf clusters and strands of seaweed made from latex etc. But I also wanted to include some play elements which are more obviously scaled down, such as these brickwork ruin pieces. The best way of picturing the whole idea is to think of aquarium or reptile tank accessories and then imagine getting a large collection of these instead of a box of Lego. I’m still working on the question of how exactly the ‘construction’ is achieved .. i.e. how such components will be fixed together when playing .. but as part of the system I’m working on an artificial ‘mud’ which I’m hoping will solve part of it.

ruin fragments in resin-coated styrofoam

The forms above were cut/carved in regular blue styrofoam, textured using a heavy-duty wire brush and then coated in polyurethane resin. There’s a bit more to the ‘painting’ process .. something new I haven’t tried before .. but I’ll come to that. If properly done the method of resin coating makes the forms unbelievably strong! .. perhaps not enough to survive little children, but certainly any adult wear-and-tear.

Making a brickwork arch in styrofoam

These two photos illustrate other forms intended for the collection and the process of making them. I’ve described this method of form-making in more detail in Shaping styrofoam. The arch piece above started with a Pvc template, which I used to help sand a block shape. I found I had to make a separate drawing template (the one at the bottom) just in order to inscribe the brick pattern onto the styrofoam shape. Then I used the special diamond needle files pictured to scratch out the brickwork divisions at the right thickness. I wanted these pieces to be 1:12, i.e. usual dollshouse scale, but I’ll eventually use a mixture of scales.

Making a brickwork niche in styrofoam

To make the ruined ‘niche’ shapes above I also used the method I described in Shaping styrofoam of using a curved sander to create the concaves. I roughed out very deep channels for the mortar lines, because these will become partially filled with coloured resin .. and this is what gives the pieces unusual strength. I found it was better to make all the channels before attacking with the wire brush, because I made the pitted texture mainly by hitting or pressing with the brush. This peppers the foam with deep holes and it may fragment a bit too much if the channels are made afterwards.

diamond needle files

Here is a close-up of the type of file I’ve found to work best for detailing foam. These have a ‘diamond coated’ surface which has more of an effect on relatively soft materials than the other, cheaper, form of needle file which is just ‘toothed’, grooved metal.

wire brushes useful for texturing rigid foam

I usually use the smaller brushes pictured above when working with the more delicate polyurethane foam in Kapa-line foamboard, but styrofoam has a tougher surface .. the heavier wire brush has more effect. Importantly, the action in this case is not a brushing or sweeping one, it’s more hitting downwards and rocking around .. I call it ‘scumbling’.

styrofoam 'ruin' fragments

Now to get to the main point of this article! Of the polyurethane resins I most often use (Sika’s Biresin G26 and Tomps’ Fast Cast) I know that both can be used in the following way, but Tomps Fast Cast is best because it’s a little thinner, powder pigment mixes better into it, and according to Tomps it is designed to cure properly in very small amounts or in very thin layers. This is not the case with all polyurethane resins. I’m basically making a very quick-setting paint with it, and because it’s quick-setting it has to be done a little at a time. To dose both resin parts I use disposable plastic pipettes (which are available from a few places online) and usually work with not more than 2ml of each part at a time. I can normally manage to use up to 4ml before it thickens too much. Because there’s usually no time spare to clean the palette surface before it sets I use a ceramic tile which can be scraped clean afterwards. There’s always just enough time to clean the brush though, and this can be quickly done with acetone.

Coating styrofoam with polyurethane resin and pigment

Here I’ve dosed 1ml of each resin part together on the tile, added a small amount of powder pigment, mixed the whole together with a synthetic-hair paintbrush and used the same brush to paint the foam. Synthetic is best because the hairs will be rigid enough to push the pigmented resin into deep pattern, but full and fine enough to hold a lot of the paint. Powder pigment is the best form of colour to use .. strong colour, inexpensive, available .. and I usually find that it mixes better into resin than it does with water!

The polyurethane resin has no effect on styrofoam (unlike polyester resin), it will cure hard and ‘fused’ to the surface, and it’s done .. that is, it’s touch-hard and ready for further work .. in about 15 minutes! Whereas regular paint such as acrylic will infiltrate more and contract as it dries, polyurethane resin does less of both so there will be a little ‘smoothing over’ of fine surface detail. It will also be a gloss finish! .. which I don’t like, would never choose, and at the moment I’m experimenting with the different  ways of dealing with this. There is no matting additive for polyurethane resin, and regardless of which pigment or filler is mixed with it, the top surface exposed to the air will always be glossy. Obviously painting over with another matte paint, such as a good acrylic, is an option .. but polyurethane needs a lot of preparation if the paint coat is to resist a lot of handling and this is made difficult by such a patterned/textured surface.

One possible solution is to use my own version of cold powder coating. If you google ‘powder coating’ you will find that this refers to an industrial painting process in which fine thermoplastic powder is melted onto metal to create a durable surface. It’s very like the enamelling that you might have done at school, with coloured glass powder on a copper plate, melted in a small oven. My version does not require heat, and it’s perhaps more related to the model-making practice of scattering granules into glue to create a surface .. but it does share some of the surprising durability of these other methods!

crushed brick

Below is a close-up of the styrofoam ‘ruin’ forms after coating. I first gave the bare styrofoam an undercoating of resin mixed with black pigment, and then a second coat without any pigment, covering a small area at a time. While each portion was still wet I sprinkled a mix of finely crushed brick and sand onto the resin. I’m fortunate in that, living close to the Thames beach, I can pick up fragments of any colour of brick, illustrated above. Since these have already been broken down by the elements they are much easier to crush to a powder using mortar and pestle.

detail of brickwork surface done with 'powder coating' method

While working I could see that the particles were readily sinking into the thin coating of resin, and when the excess is shaken off after a few minutes the powdery top layer still adheres strongly. Polyurethane resin is a strong adhesive, especially if the dust or particles are porous and jagged. Having tested the strength of the surface once the resin cured I have little doubt that it is permanent. I still have to do some paint finishing on these pieces, emphasizing contrasts and colours and giving more ‘speckle’, but I have no worries about regular acrylic paint attaching itself on top. The greatest bonus in this particular case is that these pieces have a lot of the look and feel of real brick .. because that’s what it is!

 

The coalescence of putti in a summer sky

 

coalescence_basis1-5_1200

 

coalescence_basis1-4_1200

 

coalescence_basis1-3_1200

 

putti11-15_2_1200

 

putti11-15_1_1200

 

putti11-15_3_1200

 

Background

In preparation for an exhibition of my sculptural work next year I am planning to show a lot of my working sketches. In fact, I’m hoping that the exhibition will feature process just as much as final outcome, not only sketches but maquettes, colour/texture samples and even the raw materials, but at the moment I’m not sure how far I can take this. I’ve recently been trying out a new method of preparation and idea development, which first involves creating maquettes, photographing them and then using these photos to explore/develop form and colour digitally. Because digital material is infinitely adaptable and reusable it opens up all sorts of rehearsal/improvisation opportunities. It can also lay the basis for promoting sketchworks to finalised outcomes in their own right.

My new work on one of my favourite subjects of ‘putti’ is a case in point. The interest developed many years ago during a visit to the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich. Amongst many other truly emotive and tactile examples of Baroque sculpture, the museum had one of the best collections of nativity dioramas in the world. In a darkened, maze-like room thick with atmosphere I saw huge installations filled to bursting with carved figures. In many the richly blue skies were just as crowded, with colourful airborne beings .. many of them adult-looking angels, but just as many infants, and as I remember it, some were just fragments or, as if, in the process of forming .. like heads with wings, or clumps of flesh-coloured buds with golden petals, sprouts with layers peeling. This made a deep and lasting impression .. though a mainly formal and associative one. I don’t subscribe to religion, but I can be moved by the beauty such devotion generates.

So for the ‘putti’ sculpture I’m working on .. and have been nudging forward on-and-off for years .. I’m trying to recapture that thrill, trying to find a sculptural form which will suggest the physical simulation of something glorious .. but also ancient, and also strongly organic. For example the words ‘protean flesh’ spring to mind, and that’s the reason why I’ve preferred to keep to the title ‘putti’ rather than something more maturely angelic, because this makes me think of ‘putty’ and particularly the gorgeous, dark pink, rubbery ‘silly putty’ one could get when I was a child which seemed to have an innate life and will of its own and could become many things though only what it wanted to.

So I think it’s very fitting that I happen to be using digital material to find a way through this .. it’s very fluid, it can be breathtakingly spontaneous, all manner of variations can be fairly instantly and effortlessly previewed. Although in the beginning I fought against the intangibility, the fact that what I was doing did not really exist in any physical sense .. until it’s printed, and then it’s something else .. I think I’ve come to value that ethereal, ‘protean’ aspect. In a sense it has more allegiance to, or is in the same space as, what’s inside my head.

Technical

As I said though, I prefer to make something physical as a starting point, providing an anchor .. but something simple, no real pressure, it’s just raw material for transformation. These are the ‘putti’ forms I produced a while ago in response to the flying angels, and which I still want to use as a basis ..

putti originals

.. though over the years they’ve acquired a lot of experimental patination, because I haven’t been able to get the surfaces right yet.

older putti photes 2015

new putti photos Dec2015

To create the sketches I took these, or similar photos into PaintShop Pro where I could experiment with either softening or enhancing contrast. Eventually I found that the best basis for the effect I wanted was to enhance the contrast and deepen the shadows but change to an almost complete monochrome, to give more freedom when later ‘colouring in’. For this, the main ‘painting’ process, I exported the modified photos to Procreate on my iPad.

Procreate is a ‘painting’ application developed solely for the iPad. It has given me pretty much everything I’ve wanted so far from this kind of tool and I would strongly recommended it .. though I don’t know how it compares to others since I haven’t had to consider them. In either working colour gradually into the photo-basis or making alterations to the forms I found the brushes, blender and eraser nicely delicate. I did experience some frustration though, which I have not yet overcome .. feeling that I couldn’t fully judge what I was doing, compared for example with controlling the effect of real paint, pastel or pencil shades on paper. It also took me a while to realise that, for all the choices of brush or setting that digital painting offers, one has to choose a manageable handful of favourites and stick with them.

Nature taking back

I’ve always been far more drawn towards the weathered, broken-down and decayed .. it’s very common amongst theatre and screen designers, and it reaches back to the Romantics. I live close to the Thames waterside and I enjoy the way the river transforms man-made waste into objects of beauty. But I’d like to think of this as more than just responding to an aesthetic appeal, rather it’s a statement of allegiance to nature.

DSC00380-ch-spf

Back in 2006 I found a simple wooden dollshouse in a local charity shop. It was in fairly good condition though unoccupied, unfurnished and very basic .. mass-produced in cheap plywood, probably from the 1940s or 50s. I kept it with me for a while but when I moved house in 2008 there was little room for it inside, and the only place to put it was on the outside landing. So at first inadvertently but then by design it became an ‘experiment’ .. exposed to the elements and open to the local wildlife. I’ve photographed its transformation a few times over the past years, but I think these latest .. on the verge of falling apart .. show it at its best!

 

DSC00624-ch-spf

 

DSC00414-ch-spf

 

DSC00505-ch-spf

 

DSC00513-ch-spf

 

DSC00579-ch-spf

 

DSC00537-ch-spf

 

DSC00523-ch-spf2

 

DSC00460-ch-spf

 

DSC00452-ch-spf

 

DSC00467-ch-spf

 

DSC00550-ch-spf

 

DSC00612-ch

 

DSC00481-ch-spf

 

DSC00627-ch-spf

 

 

Making a non-slip ‘gripping board’ and a bench hook

polyester grip fabric

I would imagine you’ve all seen this material or something similar .. textured rubber sheets for placing underneath rugs or mats to stop them sliding about. I’d bought this version from Poundland a few weeks ago for another idea which in the end didn’t work and so it was pure coincidence that I had it still lying around when I had to cut a lot of Pvc piping for another project. I’ve never bought myself a proper bench vise .. that probably says something about me, though I don’t know what .. and in the past I’ve made do with something like the setup below, the pipe slightly raised on a cutting mat with perhaps some kind of coarse cloth underneath for extra grip. It’s always worked, more or less, but it’s never been comfortable. Cutting mats grip the table well enough for normal knife cutting but rather lose it when the force acts across them .. such as when sawing.

trying to support Pvc pipe for cutting on table

So I tried a few cut pieces of this grip liner underneath and pressed down firmly in position as I would normally do, and I have to say that it worked incredibly well! Although there was a little give, it felt as if the pipe was in some kind of vise. By the way, as you’ve seen .. for once I prefer the American spelling as opposed to ‘vice’!

polyester grip fabric as support for cutting or sanding

I could have just left it like that and it would have been enough of an improvement, but I felt I was onto something and wanted to make a proper ‘gripping block’. I clad both sides of a piece of 8mm MDF with the material, using double-sided carpet tape to stick it down. The carpet tape needs to fill the surface, otherwise the grip material may ruck when the block is used. I thought initially of using rubber glue to attach the material but the carpet tape holds it well enough in place and it means that it can be easily replaced.

cutting block surfaced with polyester grip fabric

I call this a ‘gripping board’ rather than a ‘cutting board’ or mat because I hadn’t intended it to be cut ‘on’ so much, it’s more about helping to hold things steady while cutting slightly ‘off’ the edge of it, but there’s no reason why it couldn’t be used for both especially if a softer base such as chipboard is used. I found that the board gripped anything, round or flat .. plastic, wood or metal. It was just as beneficial when sanding ends or edges, as below.

sanding with gripping block underneath

I tried various thin strips or rods of metal which I’d hitherto only been able to cut using a small metal vise I have .. and it was, again, almost like having a vise! I find it bothersome to set up the vise every time I want to do this and it’s difficult to keep the surface of the metal undamaged.

using gripping block for cutting metal

I found it worked even better after I made a small ‘finger block’ surfaced with the grip fabric which meant that I could press down more firmly without crooking the fingers uncomfortably.

using gripping block with additional 'finger plate'

I’ve always thought I should make a bench hook so this was a good time to try my own augmented version! I just used a piece of laminated chipboard I had (this one 15cm wide, 20cm long) attaching end-pieces of timber (25mm x 15mm) firmly screwed. The screw-heads need to be countersunk!

simple bench hook build

The ‘bench hook’ is so-called because it hooks along the front edge of a work table to provide steadiness while sawing .. at least on the forward stroke! They have been around for centuries, and making one often used to be the first project in school woodworking classes. Here, below, are a couple of manufactured ones .. from http://www.badaxetoolworks.com

manufactured bench hooks

If I’d bothered to look at examples like these before I very hastily put mine together I would have made the timber end-pieces a little short on the right side (for right-handers) as shown above, so that the block could be sawn ‘on’ .. but I wasn’t using the right kind of wood for this anyway.

Nevertheless my idea of covering the working surfaces on both sides with the grip fabric turned out to be a significant improvement, because it gave even more steadiness on both forward and back strokes. Since it is only attached with double-sided tape the fabric can be easily replaced if it gets too damaged.

bench hook with grip cladding

using bench hook

I also found it very useful to have both the bench hook and the simple mat for supporting lengths of wood while cutting.

using mat as extra support