Henry Taylor Decorating Elf

Monday 9 July 2018

Mark Baker puts this excellent new tool from Henry Taylor through its paces

People are always looking at ways to add extra impact and value to their work. On hearing about and seeing this new Decorating Elf from Henry Taylor – designed by William Hudson (USA), known to his friends as the “Turning Elf” – I thought this tool was something that people could have a lot of fun with.

What it is

Essentially the tool comprises a handle into which is fitted a brass shaft – this in turn is hollow at one end. Bearings are housed into this part and one of three cutters can then be fitted into this. There is a ball-end HSS cutter, which is supplied as standard, and two optional extras: a cylinder and a bud cutter, which is shaped like a flame. Each cutter has a bushing on it to keep the cutting head clear of the bearings.

The basic kit contains a hog's hair burnishing brush – used to clean up the cut surface – and a free DVD. Also, there are four YouTube clips showing various techniques which explain how you can get the most from the tools (see sidebar at end of article).

In addition to those mentioned, there are also two optional negative-rake tools: a point tool and cove cutter.

In use

The Decorating Elf is well balanced and the cutters are easy to insert and remove – I definitely had fun using them.

I tried the various tools on close-grained hardwoods, on both end and side grain. When the cutters are presented to the work the cutter revolves – very smoothly – and depending on the pressure applied, one can create different depths of pattern.

It was interesting to note that the cutters cut cleanly; they are not indent tools, but rather precise cutting tools. Depending on the cutter used and the angle at which it is presented to the wood, the pattern changes accordingly.

I had great fun using them and found the cutters to have a lot more uses than I originally thought. I initially thought about using them on boxes, but they can also be used on pens, bowls, rim details on the necks of hollow forms as a decorative band to disguise joins, and so on. The more you play with them the more you learn what they can do.

Only a few basic pattern options are shown in this article, but I have included one photo where I cut a pattern on stained wood and you can see the colour contrast of the fresh-cut pattern against the colour. Of course, you can leave the main bulk of the wood natural and then just spot colour the textured sections. So by introducing spot, contrasting or blanket colouring techniques you can add even more visual impact. Also note that these can be used on wood, acrylics, soft metals and resins. The list is endless.


I found these tools to perform superbly. They are well made and allow you to create an effect quickly, whilst allowing you to experiment to vary the patterns created. They represent excellent value for money and are a lot of fun to use.

Ball-end cutter

The standard ball-end cutter is easy to manipulate along the work. The cutter is best presented in a positive-cutting angle or horizontally to the work rather than in trailing mode.

You can also work with the front or side of the ball to alter the pattern created. I found that all the cutters, should they become clogged, can be cleaned by holding a rubber block against them while they are revolving against the work. They are simple, quick, and you run no risk of blunting the cutting edges.

Cylinder cutter

This cutter is capable of creating pinpoint indents through to spiralling arcs on the work. The cutter can be used on the side, the outer edge of the top face, and also by angling the top face against the work. I also found that you do not have to hold the cutter in one position – you can run or arc the cutter across the work to create a radiating pattern – which either arcs into the centre or out to the outer

rim of the piece you are working on.

Bud cutter

This cutter, with its flame-like section, allows you to present it in many more positions than with the ball-end cutter. I found this and the cylinder cutters to give the most decorating options when working on side grain work. The shape allows you to create smaller and wider decorative bands than when using the ball-end cutter.

Negative-rake point tool

This HSS point tool has an elongated tip and each face

of the tip is concaved. It is designed to create a fine incised line. It shears/peels off the wood beautifully and the cuts are crisp. It is also capable of making shearing cuts across the wood rather than just be pushed into it. I used it to create boundaries at the outer limits of the decorated work. This effectively contains the decoration and creates a focal point. The tool was a dream to use. At £13.21 it also represents very good value for money.

Negative-rake coving tool

This is effectively a HSS negative-rake scraper with a fingernail-profile on the end. The top face is concave and it can cut be used as a push-in profiling tool, or for a more efficient cut. It can also be used to cut with the grain to cream hollows, coves, depressions and so on.

Into these shapes one can feed the cutters to create the pattern required. For sharpening, with each of the tools I found it easiest to create a disc of MDF the same radius as the arc on the cutting edges and then I mounted this on a faceplate. Simply apply sharpening paste to the outer edge and hone the blades with the disc running away from the cutting edge. This tool is again priced at £13.21 and is also great value.