Tips and Tools: Umbrella Into Tools

Have an old, misshapen umbrella lying around that you have been meaning to fix? How about turning it into custom-made tools for carving instead?

When the rainy season is over, you may have surplus umbrellas to keep for next year and possibly one that tore apart due to a strong wind. Instead of trashing it, save the broken umbrella to upcycle its frame into useful tools.

The structure of some umbrellas, especially the cheapest ones, usually consists of thin and light flat aluminum rods or sheet metal used for the stretchers (1). To increase the rigidity and strength, those rods are bent lengthwise to form a C shape or are curved further until the ends meet to make a tube (see 2, 3).

1 The interior structure of an umbrella is made of a variety of metal components. The pieces and rods possess a variety of strengths: some are thin and malleable, others are sturdy and comparatively thick.

2 Flatten the ends of the metal umbrella pieces with a hammer and draw the desired tool shape in marker. Gather narrow lengths of bamboo or old liner brushes to make handles for shorter metal parts.

Depending on the umbrella, the stretcher rods vary in strength: some are thin, others are sturdy and comparatively thick. Both types can form useful clay carving tools. A few of these stretchers cut to the optimal length can be transformed into custom carving tools for working with minute, detailed motifs.

Materials

  • A discarded umbrella with supports made of thin aluminum
  • Metal cutting shears, tin snips, or pliers with a cutting edge
  • The handle of worn out bamboo liner brushes (for use with shorter aluminum rods)
  • Electrical tape
  • A small anvil or flat stone and a hammer
  • A sharpener (grinder, sharpening stone)

3 Assemble the tools as shown in the diagram, inserting shorter, shaped metal rods into the bamboo handles. Secure with adhesive or electrical tape.

Creating Carving Tools

Cut the aluminum umbrella supports to the best length for the size of your hand, discarding the pieces that are too short or too hard to be cut. Discard folded pieces that cannot be opened up and flattened at one end. Depending on the length of each rod or tube, you should decide to make primarily short carving tools for use with a brush handle, or longer lengths that can be used without attaching them to a handle.

On the anvil, open and flatten one inch of the end of the rod with the hammer. Decide on the shape of the carving tool for each rod, mark the shape with a permanent marker, and cut off the excess metal with the metal shears or tin snips. Next, refine and sharpen the profile until you are satisfied with the cutting edge that will carve into the clay.

4 Here are a number of carving tools made from recycled umbrella stretchers that have been shaped and put to use.

For longer lengths of the aluminum rod shaped into tools, use electrical tape to cover the handle end of the metal, wrapping it around in a spiral fashion. Build two or three layers of tape or until you find that it does not hurt your hands to hold the tool and it can be used with ease. If you are reusing old bamboo liner brushes, insert the end of the shaped aluminum tip into one end of the handle until it is firmly fixed. If it is loose, you can add E-6000 adhesive to secure it in place.

Moisture and humidity may split the bamboo handle. If that happens, firmly wrap the split area with electrical tape. Tip: If you find that liner brushes or other tools are too thin when handling them, use the tape to make the grip area thick enough for you to feel comfortable.

the author Celina Clavijo Kashu studied ceramics at the Kyoto, Kutani, and Shigaraki Ceramic Research Institutes in Japan, as well as in Jingdezhen, China. She has published two books on ceramics.

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