Friday, November 2, 2018

A New Nose Cone

Which is the more enticing title, Repairing the Needle Awl or A New Nose Cone?!  Fixing one's favorite tackmaking tools can be demanded at any time -- usually when you least expect it! -- no matter how many times you've tried to make them strong in the past.  Fortunately, this fix was relatively easy; and I'm feeling pretty good about its longevity.

I was happily tightening braided buttons when this happened:
If there was a crack, I hadn't noticed.  There was only a bit of wobbliness in the shaft.  This Needle Awl is my absolute favorite of my three homemade tools for model tack.  (The other two are the Stitchmarker and the Needle Chisel.)  The Needle Awl is my fid -- the awl essential for braidwork.  In theory, any ice pick could do the job.  In practice, I made this tool with a wooden dowel and a big needle after years of using just a handheld needle to be my fid.  A search of my years of tack pix turned up a tantalizing glimpse of a bare dowel with one button back in 2006:
Of course this shot was not intended to be documenting the Needle Awl!!  It shows a practice braidwork medallion for a saddle (TSII #445).  But it does show one of many uses for the Awl:  enlarging slits for applique braiding.
Without actually digging through my N.A. Notebooks (tack notes), but going only through pictures, I discovered this piece of dowel existed by November of 2005 and was covered in braid by February of 2008.  I had forgotten it had existed so long bare.  Somewhat unlike me, the tool is not dated, only signed.  :(

It has a history of not being quite strong enough to withstand the stresses and strains of the job, as do my other tools.  When the nose cone came off, it was clear the wood had been deeply fractured for a long time:
Now what??!!  I was in the middle of a braidwork job and hated to stop, but tool repair kind of outweighs everything else.  I got to a stopping place and concentrated on fixing the Awl.  Could I slide the buttons off?   The black front button came off, but only one other was loose enough to turn - and it wasn't the end button.  I was getting curious as to what was in there.  This could be my chance to fix and strengthen the Awl once and for all.

I peeled off the linings under the black front button.  This braided-leather button is no different in its formula from the big central one, despite being a tapered cone shape.  It was done over a tapered core (very likely this dowel) and hand-shaped to its present form.
Got down to bedrock, to quote Enid Bagnold (of National Velvet).  It was clear what I had done in the past.  I'd soldered a needle into a brass tube, then into another larger tube, and stuck it in the dowel.  It was also clear what came next:  Smoothing the join and making a new nose cone.
I found a matching dowel that had already been rounded, and hacked off a tip.
 Next, I made a hole, using various drill bits.  Then I enlarged the hole with files and knives.
This is the ugly stage, where you just have to put in the time.  Sawdust everywhere, patience in evidence.  Test-fitting over and over.   It was difficult to get a 'step' inside the hole when most of my tools were straight, but an X-Acto helped.  I got closer and closer; sheer force was used some, as at this scale plain squeezing can help shape wood.
Time to glue.  I separated the gluing from the shaping, thus spanning two days, giving my spirits time to recover and (even better) giving everything time to dry.
Elmer's to the rescue, (my wood glue having died some years ago).  On the second day, I returned to find a very small gap and a solid join. 
 Next came filing.  A LOT of filing.  Here's where having a heavy-duty, non-model-horse-scale wood file comes in handy.  Even my fingernail file got put to work.
Sawdust everywhere!   Again, this is the ugly stage.
An unusual thing happened.  The needle was not centered, but leaned a little (I had known this).  The nose cone was filed down by feel, not (necessarily) by eye; thus, more wood was left on the side the needle tilted towards, making up weight and mass.  This was to balance the asymmetry.  'Twas all going to be hidden by the black button anyway!  I didn't bother to varnish the wood, only smoothing it off with a fine file.

Strapping tape, or nylon-fibres tape, is an old friend when it comes to tool handles; it doesn't get sticky with age and doesn't shift or compress, staying relatively inert if protected.  Really embarrassing to admit I didn't have a roll of strapping tape in the house -- !  I reused the old pieces and found another strip nearby (the recycling spirit of a Front Range Coloradan has to be seen to be believed).  The black Gorilla tape I had used previously (see pictures 5, 6 & 7) I didn't want to reuse, as its feel was too spongy.
 Things were looking up.  Now if only the black button wasn't too loose!  But it went beautifully snugly, having to be forced slowly back into place.  A tight fit: perfect.

My beloved Needle Awl is ready for many more years of service.


  1. What is an fid? (Paragraph under the second photo.) And the Needle Awl itself is beautiful and even another example of your artistry in leather.

  2. Thank you Lynn! I'm going to go deep here 'cause I'm curious myself: A fid is the rawhide braider's word for an awl or pick.
    I just discovered fids are used in marine rope splicing (no surprise), and in stained glass assembly (much surprise). The word is of unknown origin but possibly from Latin findere meaning to divide or split. I learned it from Bruce Grant, author of Leather Braiding, the classic book on the subject (1950).