Introduction: Hook Tools for Pole Lathe

Hi, in this instructable I will show you how I have made two tools for a spring pole lathe.

If you don't know what's a pole lathe, I highly recommend to search on youtube, it's an old version of a lathe powered by foot. I've make mine with this instructable:

The "hook tools" are pole lathe tools used to make bowls, plates, cups.

! Disclaimer ! : I'm a total beginner in pole lathe, I've just made my first bowl few weeks ago. I'm particularly a beginner in blacksmithing, I've only made a knife. Finally, english is not my mother tongue so I hope you'll understand me. I surely have made a lot of mistakes so if you notice some that might help people you can tell us in the comment section.


You can make these tools with different things, look at each step and do with what you have.

  • Steel bar (01 steel tool or spring steel seems the best choice) for my it was some steel bar I found and I've no idea of it's composition. Each one is 60 cm long, 1 cm width but it was a bit too long so it's ok with shorter one.
  • Blacksmithing:
    • Forge / fire (charcoal, propane, other)
    • Anvil or something close to. I didn't have one so don't be afraid if you are like me.
    • Something that send air (compressor, hair dryer, ...)
    • Hammer (I didn't have blacksmithing hammer)
    • Oil for quenching (any cooking oil it's ok, it was old olive oil and a bit of colza for me)
    • A magnet for Curie point
    • Pliers
  • Protections (glove, glass, mask,... )
  • Anything that can remove material : files, grinder, angle grinder, belt grinder, ... If you only have files it's good enough, it will only be a bit longer.
  • Wood for handle
  • Sandpaper (80 and 180 was good enough for me)
  • Little files or high sandpaper for sharpening
  • Drill and a drill bit for the hole for the handle

Step 1: Search, Plan and Think

To begin, I recommend watching some Youtube video or search on google to have a better understanding of the utility of the hook tools and the differences between them. Professional bowl turners usually have a lots of them with slight differences.

I found that these two videos by Zed Outdoors are very useful to understand how a bowl is made with hook tools:

  • How To Turn A Wooden Bowl On A Pole Lathe - Sharif Adams

  • How To Turn A Wooden Bowl On A Pole Lathe - Yoav Elkayam

There are also videos on Youtube about making these kind of hook tools. You can watch these two videos:

  • Making Hook Tools for a Pole Lathe (By David Canterbury)

  • Blacksmithing Pole Lathe Bowl Turning Tools (by Harry Rogers)

In this Instructable I have decided to make two of them. One “tip up” and one “tip down” with both inside bevel. With the combination of them you are able to make a good wood bowl.

In an internal bevel, the bevel is … well in the inside of the hook, quite make sense. If I have understood well, an internal bevel will make a more aggressive but cleaner cut.

Tip up and tip down are terms used to speak about where the end of the hook is oriented when you cut.

A tip up will have the end of the hook "facing the sky" when cutting (not literally of course but you see want I mean), so (if you are right handed) your cutting edge will be on the left side of your hook (when facing up).

A tip down on the other side will cut wood when facing down. So, when the end of your hook is facing up, the bevel is on the right side.

I’ve heard people doing double bevel tool, but I prefer having to separate tool.

I also highly recommend learning about forging. There are a lot of videos on Youtube on making knifes and even with few tools. The process of making knife and hook tools are very similar.

Step 2: Flatten Your Steel Bar

Once you’ve gathered all the materials you can begin. If it’s your first time in the blacksmithing world don’t be afraid it’s not that hard.

Of course, don’t forget your safety equipment.

First you have to find a forge, a fire or something else hot enough to make the end of your steel bar red (tips: you can see it clearer in the dark or at night).

You can blow air with a hairdryer or a compressor (I used that, and it was very effective) in the fire to raise the temperature. I did not have a forge, but I had a tiny old barbecue, so I bought coal (I’ve read that coal is better than charcoal).

Then you can take the bar out of the fire with pliers and put it on your anvil (or something close to an anvil). I didn’t have one, but my stepfather found an old heavy pulley and it work good enough. If you don’t have and anvil or something close, search on Youtube or internet about cheap anvil or homemade anvil, I even saw a guy using a big rock and a tree trunk so be imaginative.

Now make it flat with your hammer, hit the bar only when red. If the steel is getting dark put it back in the fire and wait until red again. Repeat the process until you have a more or less even surface and rectangular shape. Mine was flat on 7-8 cm (it was maybe a bit too long but it was very useful later) and was 3-4 mm thick.

At this point I didn’t think about already making the bevel with an hammer instead of making it with files and grinder. So it could be a good idea of starting the bevel, but don’t make something too thin at this point. Be aware of where you put you bevel (right or left, when "tip up") depending on what you want.

Let it cool.

I decided to make the bending and Quenching later because I think it’s easier to grind a straight bar than a hook. I also think that with this process and with my blacksmithing skills it’s safer to let it cool and file it until I have something more precise than with a hammer. If you think you can make it with only your hammer, you’re free to try.

Step 3: Grind/file and Sand

If you did not do it in the last step, like me, you can make the bevel by grinding or filing depending on what tool you have to “remove material”. If you already made your bevel with a hammer, you probably want it to be straighter and cleaner.

Make a bevel longer than the part that will be bent to make the hook, it might be useful in case of mistakes.

You can also "clean" you piece of metal and remove the black part.

I started to grind the angle with my grinder and I finish with files for a cleaner results.

Finally you can sand it. Use first something aggressive like 60-80 grit and then move to 120-180 grit. I decided to stop at this point because I didn’t need a super bright finish, but you can go as high as you want. But keep in mind that you will have to sand it again after quenching (step 6) so don’t make it to shinny at this point.

Step 4: Bend

Now that the bevel is made, we can heat it again in your forge/fire and bend the bar to make a hook.
To do so, put your bar at the edge of your anvil and begin to bend it with light hit of your hammer, then rotate your bar 180° and make a hook shape.

Step 5: Normalization

This step make the structure of your steel more uniform. To do so you basically heat your steel (until red) and you let it cool in the air until black, you do date 2-3 time.

I had issues with this step. The edge of one of the hook started to crack at some place. I don’t know why (maybe too hot or not enough, steel too thin,…). Remember when I told you I was beginner in blacksmithing?

But fortunately my “blade” was long enough so I cut the damaged part of the steel with what I think is a “stone chisel”. To cut the steel I heat it until red and hit the stone chisel with an hammer. Luckily I was able to make something acceptable.

Step 6: Quenching

This step will make your steel very hard. But you will have to temperate it because the steel is too hard. At this point if it falls on the ground it can break.

To quench you will have to heat your fire as high as you can and put your recently made hook in it. To see if it’s hot enough, your steel should lose its magnetism (it’s call the Curie point) and heat it a bit after this point. When you think it’s ok, plunge your bar in a can of oil (colza, olive oil or any cooking oil) I used a mix of olive oil and colza and it worked great.

Let it cool. To see if it works you can try to file it. If it bounces and don’t scratch the metal it mean it's a success.

If it didn’t work I think you can save your work by starting with the normalize step again, but I’m not sure. There are plenty of videos about heat treatment so be sure watching one of them if it don’t work.

Once again I had issues in this step, the edge of one of the hook brake at some places. It wasn’t to deep so I’ve managed to get it back after the tempering (step7).

Step 7: Temperate

To make you blade a bit less hard – so it doesn’t break easily and can be sharpen – you’ll have to heat it on a regular kitchen oven during 1 hour at 200° Celsius (390° F).

Let it cool again.

Step 8: Sanding Again

Now you can sand your tool as high as you want. As for the first sanding process I started at 60-80 and finish at 180.

Step 9: Sharpening

I’m not an expert in sharpening and I’m still learning a lot. I’ll recommend watching this video to have a better understanding:

  • How To Sharpen Bowl Turning Hook Tools - Sharif Adams (By Zed Outdoors)

To summarise you’ll have to follow the bevel with a diamond file or high sandpaper until you get something sharp.

Step 10: Make the Handle

You are free to choose among a large variety of option to make the handle, unlike other tools the hook tool doesn’t necessarily need a smooth or strong handle. You can pick a branch of tree big enough and make a hole in it (that’s what I choose for the second tool because I was too impatient to try it) or you can make a nice turned handle with your pole lathe.

First, you’ll have to make a hole long enough to maintain your steel, try to be straighter as you can, It don’t have to be super accurate. The diameter of the hole should be the same size or a bit larger than you steel bar. Then put the tool in the hole and hit the opposite side of the handle (the one without the hole) on your bench or on the floor until you heard a different sound, It will mean the bar has reach the end of the hole.

Step 11: Have Fun

Have fun discovering this new tool and the ability it offers. This is my first bowl, on seasoned and glued wood so not really the best conditions but still possible.

Step 12: Think About Your Next Project

Because in each project there’s always a next project (mine is “roman workbenches” have you ever heard about it?).

Thanks for the reading, I’ll hope I have help some of you or at least you discover a new (but old) way of turning wood.