Friday, June 26, 2015


How to make a Jimbo Hook II

So what we have here is a re-enactment of a set of posts I put together several years ago, as a tutorial for those who would like to try their hand at whittling a crochet hook from a stick.  I'm re-writing the post to and see if maybe I can add a little more here and there and make things a bit more clear. 
Ok here we go....

For any who wonder..."How does Jimbo make a hook?" I decided to show you. Hopefully all will go well and at the end you'll see a finished crochet hook you'll be proud to pass on to future generations.

The first step I didn't show, but would have been one of me sawing a hunk of bush maple from one of the many bushes we have up on the crick. The selection process is grilling... it involves going to the crick, enjoying the scenery, visiting the chipmunks, listing to the wind singing in the trees above, and wandering around (some might say aimlessly) to find a volunteer stick.   Sorry I couldn't show you all that but it woulda taken up too much space.
It'll have to suffice to tell you about how to select a stick.  Lets start with types of wood.  Hardwood is best for hooks, but not all hardwood wants to become a crochet hook.  Certain open grain woods like Oak, Ash, Mahogany aren't so good just because the pores in the wood are large and hard to fill.   It's best to pick a hardwood branch that belonged to, oh, maybe a fruit tree (old growth preferably).  Maple is a wonderful hook wood.
Notice I said branch.  Tree branches are amazing things.  They're made of the same wood as the trunk but the annular rings are far more closely spaced (making them stronger).  Always pick a branch.  Besides trunks are not so easy to saw.
Speaking of saws, I like to use a folding pruning saw.  They're not expensive and I can carry one around in my back pocket.  That way I have both hands free to fend off  the ground when it comes charging up (the ground seems enjoy tripping me much more as I grow older).
If you're going for a stick rather than a store bought wood blank, pick one that is dead and dry and not cracked and that doesn't have a soft pith (the center core of the stick).  I emphasize the dead and dry part.  If you whittle a green stick, it's almost a sure thing that the result will be a bent and or cracked.  Dead and dry.  
If this is your first whittling experience, it's also best not to pick a stick with lots of knots.  Knots are extra hard to whittle.
It's a good idea to pick a stick that is, oh, maybe four to five times the diameter (size) of the hook you want to make.  For example, lets say you want to make an H (5mm); pick a stick that is about 16 - 20mm in diameter.  You'll whittle away all of the hook shank that's not 5mm, and leave the rest to become the handle of your dreams.  Oh, and make it longer than what you anticipate as the finished hook length... that way you have more to hold onto while your whittling.  I like about 9 - 11 inches.  You can always saw off what you don't need.  I long ago figured out that no matter how many times I cut a stick,  if it's too short, it'll still be too short.  Take my word for it.
Picking a hook stick is an adventure.  If you can, pick a stick that has some meaning.  How about a stick from the tree where you and your sweetie smooched?  Or from a tree (like my old apple tree on the ranch) where you used to play as a tike.  Hooks that have meaning like this are more than hooks.  They're reminders of places or people dear to you.
There's probably lots of stuff I've left out up to this point, but I think we're in pretty  good shape for you to move on to the next step so we'll pick up on the old tutorial here with slight modifications here and there...

You've selected a stick and are ready to move on to the next step, roughing out the blank.  I did this, as you see, with my trusty Buck pocket knife, all the while watching for the best grain to show and trying to leave a bit of bark to keep the character of the donor.. bark can be pretty too you know.
But we'll see if it stays. I never know just what the look will be till its all done. Form follows function; so its a bit of a compromise through the course of making the hook to see how much bark can can be left, all the while making a functional hook.
A bit more here about knives.  I'm using a pocket knife in these pictures.  That's ok as long as it's razor sharp.  If you don't know how to sharpen a knife to an ultra sharp edge, there's lots of sites on the internet for that sort of thing.   Better to use a fixed blade carving knife, but absolutely NOT one of those removable blade hobby knives that look kinda like a scalpel.  If you can afford to, buy a detail knife like a Flexcut .  I love these knives and will tell you so even if they're not paying for the plug.

I'll show one more whittling step next before going to sand paper, then to the saw, then whittling again, then sandpaper again, then finishing.


You might have noticed that this hook is really REALLY big. I'm doing that so the steps that I do can be more easily seen. Still, if you're doing a hook for the first time, I think its a good idea not to try for anything under, say, an N. Tiny hooks are a bit more difficult when you're starting and besides if your N doesn't look just right you can always take it down a size or two smaller to remove a little boo-boo. Be careful not to remove too much material.. your hook will look funny if you have to glue shavings back on.

Note to that the first photo shows the tip already shaped. I got a little ahead of myself here. I should have shown a photo of the blank after I whittled the shank to a rough diameter slightly larger than the size desired. You do that first, then shape the tip. That way the tip curvature will be closer to a tangent (remember geometry when the little acorn grew up and noticed "Gee, ah'm a tree"?) (sigh)
Anyways, once a fair length of the shank is shaped as close to circular as you can get can shape the tip. Take it easy. Hold the stick in one hand by its handle, with the point facing away from you. Now use the thumb of that hand to push against the thumb of the hand holding the knife (the knife holding thumb is placed against the back of the blade). Take a chip off the end, turn the blank, take another chip, turn the blank, take another chip... get the picture?
Here's a picture that's repeated later on when I'm discussing throat forming.  The grip and finger/thumb positions are the same for whittling the shank, forming the point, and tapering the throat.  It's a safe, powerful grip for whittling whether it's for crochet hooks or, oh,  a marshmallow stick (something your hook WON'T become, right?). 

Ok, moving on.... Make the shape akin to what you want the pokey end of your hook to look like. "Pokey" I like that.
Next up.. Sanding... or how to loose 10 lbs while making yourself a crochet hook. Get yourself some sandpaper. I like a progression of paper (Norton is good stuff) starting at about a hunnert grit. Later on you'll going through the grits up to 320.
Oh and the sawing part is coming up too. I'm telling you this in case you need to get a saw. Chainsaws are really cool, but for hooks, I like to use a tiny Gyros backsaw that I got at Woodcraft for teeny weenie hooks. I also use a little Japanese "Dozuki" type saw for the larger hook sizes. Both have a reinforcing rib along the back to keep the blade rigid, and both take a very thin "kerf" or cut thickness. Such thin really sharp blades reduce the amount of tear-out (splinters) you'll get at the ends of the cut. Borrow one if you can cause they're expensive. At least $20.
Oh and if you're shopping (or borrowing), consider picking up a small can of polymerized wipe-on oil finish. I use "Minwax Wipe on Poly" and I hear that Woodcraft's General finishes makes an excellent wipe on polymerized oil too. One can ($10-$14)will do a gazillion hooks if you play your cards right. Plus you can use it to re-finish your hook later. Oh, and start looking for some clean white cotton scraps for the finishing steps.


Ok.. so you want to sand off all those purty little knife marks. No better way I know to do it than by hand and sandpaper. I don't like to use really coarse paper so I start with 120 grit, and then move to 220 after I get rid of the whittling evidence. Wisht I could do away with sanding because its tedious and makes me sweat buckets.. but I'm not aware of a better method. I've tried power sanding but you just cant get the smooth curves you need.
Ok so you sand and sand and sand and you end up with what you see above for the first couple inches. I don't bother with the rest of the hook handle right now cause if I screw up the hook there's no point in having a finished handle, eh?.
You didn't loose 10 lbs sanding? Me either. So I exaggerated.

Next up, the exciting part! Sawing the notch!

And now we get down to the nittus grittus, the defining moment. If you do this one wrong, you'll be an embarassment to your whole family and they'll be wearing sacks on their heads to hide their shame.

Ok with such a upbeat peptalk... lets cut the notch. Use that brand new saw you just bought... the one with teeeny teeth... the teeneyer the better.

Check the shape of the stick to see where you want the notch in relation to the rest of the handle. Picture where the grip needs to go. Hold the stick as you will when its a hook. Rotate it in your hand till you find where your hand feels the most comfortable, then spot where the notch HAS to be. In sum..its good to use the natural curvature of the stick rather than try to hack out an un-natural shape after you've cut the notch and cast the die.

Cut the notch at an angle that appeals to you. Don't make it too shallow or it might break. Don't make it too steep or it won't hook yarn. Make it just right. Or for those who insist on being anal, use a protractor and make the notch 42.5 degrees +- .00037 minutes up from a horizontal plane.

And the depth of the cut counts too. Too deep and the hook head's in danger of being easily broken off, too shallow and it won't grab yarn. So I suggest going roughly halfway through the thickness of the hook. Once again for you precision freaks.. measure the hook diameter, divide by half, and stick a piece of tape on your saw exactly that distance from the teeth. When you've completed the cut, remove the tape, wash and wax your saw, wrap it in a lightly oiled cloth and put it back in your saw holder, then go iron your underwear.

Now for the rest of us, and while those other folks are underwear ironing... Go get another box of Band Aids.... MORE WHITTLING COMING UP
See you later.... Right now I have to go get a new supply of head sacks for the family.


I'm showing this picture again cause I'm particular proud of it, and  to show you I'm all thumbs.  I'd have posed for this one sooner, but I had to go get my nails done first. (That was one of those burly logger jokes you know...really. Actually I do my own nails..... with a tar-ahrn n 50 grit sandpaper)

Ok nuff bragging. The steps I'm starting here are best done with your knife gripped as shown and with the thumb of your hook holding hand helping push the knife toward that slit you just cut with your shiny new saw.

Start close to the saw kerf (cut) just as you see me doing in the photo and whittle a teensy little chip. The chip should break off at the kerf and leave you a tiny little ramp. Move the blade back a smidge and take another itsy bitsy slice.. you now have a little bigger ramp and the edge of the hook part is starting to show. You might have to help the chips along by prying a bit. Just don't get carried away and whack the end of the hook off. Thats why i'm showing you this (shhhhhhhhh)totally exclusive ultra seceret Jimbo knife hold. You have MUCH more control of your knife when you use this whittling technique. "What?" you say, "every book on whittling ever written shows that knife hold". "Well just Oh yeah!?" I say back.

Ah but i digress.

Keep shaving and chipping away to enlarge your little angled ramp, making it as smooth as you can, till you finally make the ramp join the very bottom of the saw kerf. You should now have a V shaped notch made. Don't worry about how it looks... you're about to work magic with........ you guessed it....... MORE Sandpaper!!

Next up... melt off another 10 lbs and exfoliate your fingers at the same time!!


NOW! Here's one of the funnest parts, shaping the gullet (us lumberjack hook whittlers like to call it a gullet cause it looks like the gullet of a saw blade).
Take your sandpaper, oh about 120 - 150 grit and roll it up to the size of the gullet you want and start sanding across the V groove you just made. Now here's a little secret just for you. If your sandpaper wants to crack and balks at being formed into a nice smooth rounded surface, apply a strip of duct tape across the back. The tape will hold the paper against splitting. Nifty eh?

Now as you sand.. check both sides of the hook from time to time to make sure you're sanding both sides of the gullet evenly. Then move the paper to an angle so you form a smooth groove leading into the gullet. As you do this, the paper will also start shaping the hook overhang. Ooooooh aint it purty!

When you get the basic shape you want, switch to finer paper; rolled up the same way and keep sanding till its oh so smooth and the shape is just begging to gather some yarn. Also check the sharp edge of the overhang part and very lightly sand it so it isn't too sharp or it'll catch stuff you don't want it to. Make it the shape you want... its YOUR hook you know.

Now look at what you made. Holey cow but its a georgeous thing; a work of art! Isn't it amazing what a smooth and sensual shape you and your little stick just created!?

Congratulate yourself and go have a glass of wine to celebrate, cause the rest is really easy... you're almost done! Heck you could use the hook now if you wanted to.

Next up.... shaping a handle that cuddles with your hand.


This will be a quick post without pictures cause I don't have any to show you.. sorry.
Ok, lets do the crochet hook grip of your dreams. This can also be a really fun thing, and I imagine a REALLY fun thing since you have your own hand as a model. I have a disadvantage here since my custom hooks are made from photos of the customer's hand holding a hook. You have the real thing!

So what you do is hold the hook as you would while crocheting. Heck, you might as well do a bit of a chain or something just to make sure you're holding the hook as you'd like. But pay close attention first to the location of your thumb and whichever finger you use to grip the hook. It makes a big difference how you make the grip, depending on whether you're a toothbrush gripper or a pencil gripper. Smart folks call these overhand and underhand grips but I've found those terms can be confusing.

Now if you have a helper, you can trace your grip on the handle with a pencil or you can simply eyeball landmarks on the hook where you'd like to make a special shape.

The thumb and finger indentations should go first. And, mind you, you don't have to do both. You can do just the thumb, or just a forefinger indent or both. However you do it, take it easy and start by whittling a small dent in the wood, try the grip, whittle some more, etc. Then sand. Try the grip again and note where the rest of your hand touches the grip. If you've a big hook like the monster i'm using as a model here, you might like a little "dogleg" on the end for you to use in pulling thread or rag for rugs.

Take your time, whittling and sanding till you have shaped a grip to die for. OOOOO we'er sooo close to being finished!  What an adventure eh?
Now when I first started making hooks, my thought was to not use any finish whatsoever. That way the hook would develop its own patina by way of the user's hands and the yarn being used. The finish would be a true mark of the owner. I still like the idea. It'd be a great thing to do for your decendents, because they'd be able to pick the hook up and know that your hands and your yarn made this hook the wonder that it is. Plus, since I smoothed the hooks to a velvety smoothness anyway, I figured they'd work just fine. And they did.
But practicality creeeps in. So I started waxing my hooks to protect against moisture and such. Treewax did fine, as did beeswax. Just apply coatings liberally and rub it in, hard. Of the two waxes, I'm finding that if you want to wax, I'd suggest beeswax, just because the stuff I have smells like honey. mmmmmm  With beeswax, you can make a hook that'll have you hankering for a little peanutbutter and honey sammich... but I digress again. So... wax (paste) can work .. just rub it in; let it set a spell, and rub it off. Might as well burn a couple hundred calories while you're at it eh (ie, rub hard, real hard)
A caveat here about wax.  Some waxes might leave a finish that squeeks against yarn.  Lots of crochetiers don't like to hear their yarn sound like a poorly tuned fiddle.  So if that's a concern, move on to a harder, oil based finish.
I much prefer to use poly-oil type finishes over wax. General Finishes makes a really good one in a can with a paint can style lid so you can dip the hook easily. Others like Minwax make theirs in a can with a screw or pop-top that will let you dip too, if the hook's not too big around. Anyways, the idea is to get a good generous amount of finish applied to the hook, either by dipping or applying the oil to a cotton rag (be sure NOT to wad it up and throw it away when you're done... this stuff can start a fire just from spontaneous combustion.  So leave the oil soaked rag open and well exposed to air when you're done).
Rub the oil in, hard.... very hard. Make the wood heat up from friction cause you're rubbing so hard. Get ALL the hook including the tip and gullet especially. Rub till the finish is barely tacky, then set it down to dry. It won't take long to dry... maybe oh an hour max. Now pick it up again and rub the beegeebers out of it again this time with a clean rag.. no more finish. You can consider the hook done, or if its a softer wood, or if you are one who irons your underwear, you might want to do more coats just like you did this one... just be sure the first coat is bone dry when you go to apply the second coat.  Then be sure the second coat is dry before you apply the third coat and so on.  Rub rub rub between  every coat. 
So you've just made yourself a beauty of a hook that is now an heirloom to be passed on from generation to generation.... or to be eaten by the dog, or whatever. No matter what happens YOU did it and you should be proud. Imagine the wonderous things your very personal hook will make.
Please send me pictures of your hook, and what marvelous things you've made with it.
Thanks for your patience.

Uh, It occurs to me that I've putting alot of time into this thing and that some unscrupulous copier might take advantage and copy it for their own unscrupulous reasons. So this is a notice to unscrupulous copiers... this stuff is subject to and I am exercising my Copyright to all materials in this blog that are subject to Copyright under any applicable law. Also, if someone would like to publish this... I can be bought.  Not to say you can't link this post.  I welcome that but please don't copy without permission.


ƸӜƷ Ƥėąċħē§§ ƸӜƷ said...

Hello Mr Jim, I just stumbled onto your blog...and oh boy it's wonderful!! I truly enjoyed the Whittlin Tutorial and looking over at all the different images of the beautiful hooks you have crafted. I'm not sure I would ever have the nerve to actually carve out my own hook but, then again...maybe.

Hope you are having a relaxing summer by the crik finding interesting branches to whittle. the area of NY I live, we call it crik too :)

Unknown said...

Mr Jimbo!
I have started making hooks and loving it! It all started while visiting my late husband at the cemetery and there is a bush area near it and I picked up a nice piece of broken branch and it became my first 15 mm hook and I used it to crochet one of the blankets I donated to Cystic Fibrosis the illness my husband had.
Now, I understand that it is not a good idea to pick up green branches, but today I was at the cemetery and after the heavy winds a while branch a big tree was down and I really wanted to have a piece of it because of its significance. I would like to know what should I do to keep it in the best posible way until it is ready to be used? It measures 1.5 cm diameter approximately.
Thank you so much for your handy tips! I love your work! My dad is a furniture maker and I am an avid crafter.
I bought a protector / preserver oil /wax which feels great on the hook!
Thank you for such an amazing job!
My hubby was called James and he liked being called Jimbo by my niece :) even though his second name wasn't James Robert!

Mariella Kennedy from
Would it be possible for you to email me back to get an answer?