Tools of the Trade with Andrew Armstrong

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Every maker has an indispensable tool that makes their making possible. In artist Andrew Armstrong’s case, he’s got a whole shop full of them. But we asked him to pick a few of his favorites—tools to inspire you to create something with your hands.

overhead shot of various tools on a wood block
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Clockwise from top:

  • Glue scraper: “Used for scraping excess glue that seeps out during the clamping process.”
  • Adjustable square: “Used for making sure things are 90 degrees. It has a level and can move it back and forth. And it has a ruled edge that allows you to measure as well.” Planer: “Used to shave down wood. It scrapes the surface to flatten and smooth.”
  • Mechanical pencil: “We use this a lot in the shop because it keeps a really sharp point all the time, unlike a regular pencil that will go dull and have an inaccurate marking.”
  • Tape measure: “Used for making measurements. We all know what that is.”
  • Combination square: “This stainless steel square has a 45 degree and a 90 degree, and can sit on the edge of the material. Used for marking and for making sure things are the right angle.”
  • Marking gauge: “I can move the shoulder up and down, and lock in the relationship between the shoulder and the bladed rolling marker. So if I need to make a measurement that is two inches, I lockdown at two inches and scribe it and see a scribed mark at 2 inches.”
  • Caliper: “Used to measure the thickness of materials. I can read the dimensions on the graduated piece.”
  • Files: Used for filing wood or metal, for the shaping and forming and final fitting of material.
  • Standard No. 2 Phillips bits: They go into a drill bit and are used for putting in screws.

“I always say I’m the dirtiest director on campus,” Andrew says with a laugh. As the Director of Technical Support Services, he oversees all of Otis College’s labs, from the printmaking and photo labs to the ceramic and sculpture studios. 

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"I’m happiest and calmest and feel most in the zone when I’m making stuff,” he says. “There’s also something about being self-sufficient that I think is important for the self.”

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Andrew was already a maker when he came to Otis College where he received a BFA and MFA in fine arts. His work has since been exhibited in many Southern California venues and he's also served as a consultant and fabricator for notable Los Angeles based artists, designers, and institutions. 

Inspired to get in the shop yourself? Andrew is teaching Machine Woodworking for the Extension Winter/Spring session, see all upcoming workshops and courses