Make a ring-and-dot cutter for bonework


    This article describes how to make a "ring-and-dot" cutter for use on bone from a masonry nail. This is a very useful item if you're going to do any Saxon bone work (and who wouldn't?).

    Materials Needed:

    • Heat source (torch, Hot Head, forge, etc)
    • Large masonry nail
    • jar of water
    • pliers
    • anvil-type object to pound on
    • needle file set or small triagular file
    • small dowel rod suitable for handle
    • means of drilling starter hole in handle
    • vice

    Hot Head Torch


    The hothead torch (pictured) is familiar to anyone that makes glass beads. It is available at most glass bead supply shops for around $25. It is an excellent low budget small torch head for metalworkers as it produces a nice big, hot flame a step up from the standard propane torch head. Use MAPP gas with this head to get optimal heat.

    Forge the blank


    Hold your masonry nail in the pliers and heat the first 3/4" up red hot and flatten out the head. You can continue to shape the end into about 1/4" by 1/16", either by continued forging or with a file.

    Masonry nails have a high carbon content which means they can be hardened enough to make a decent cutter, as well as chasing tools and gravers.

    Mark the center


    Square up the end (it dosn't look square in this pic but it is) and file a bright spot on one side and draw line down the center using an extra-fine Sharpie.

    Shape the cutter


    Shape the cutting edge in 2 stages. Using a needle file or triagular file, cut the profile of the central spur (somewhat exagerated in the first figure). This should be a 4 sided triangle with sharp corners, about 1/16" or 3/32" long. It should protrude well above the secondard cutters.

    With a square or round needle file, continuing cutting the grooves that make the secondary cutters. This example cuts 2 circles, however you can do one if you want. Use the width of the file to ensure the cutters are evenly spaced (it's not entirely necessary to get them perfect). I made flat topped cutters on this one, however you can make them triangular if you prefer.

    Finished cutting blade


    Finish up the cutter by beveling the right side of the cutter (not the spur) so that it meets the back edge, forming a blade. Rotate the cutter and do the same on the other side. This angle is not critical but about 45 degrees is good.

    I filed in some decorative coves on the side just to make it look nice.

    Now get your jar of water handy, grasp your cutter by the tang (back end) with pliers, and heat the head up until it glows red hot (about as hot as you can get it with a HotHead torch). Immediately dunk it into the water and swish it around. Your cutter will be plenty hard for bone cutting now. Polish the flat sides of the cutter with a fine stone or fine emory cloth.

    Affix handle


    For the handle, pre-drill a 1/8" hole in a section of dowel rod and gently tap the cutter into it. Use a slightly larger bit and create a "stepped" hole to accomodate the tapered tang. Round the back of the handle so it doesn't gouge your hand.

    Using the cutter


    Dip the blade into water (you don't want bone dust flying about) and start the ring by twisting back and fourth with the cutter. When the necessary depth of cut has been reached, finish it with a few lighter twists to clear any ragged edges.

    You can of course make these in all sizes. They add an excellent air of authenticity to your Saxon bone work. Enjoy!

    Other bits


    Here are a few more bits that create a dome/ring combination. These I use with a hand drill. One of them has spurs long enough to cut the bone disc out completely. This technique was also used medievally, as evidenced by waste sheet finds.