When Louis Braille began to create braille, he used an awl to punch bumps down into paper or other products. Over time, the awl’s shape was modified into a stylus tipped with metal and usually equipped with a pear-shaped handle for ease of grasping. The slate evolved as a way to bring consistency to the position and depth of dots.
Today’s slates come in varying sizes – one short line of braille to one to cover an entire 6 by 4 note card. Two strips of metal are hinged at one side. The uppermost strip has rows of rectangular shapes stamped into it. Tiny scallops form the edges of these rectangles. The lower strip is covered with six dot rectangles pressed into the metal and pointing toward the table.
The user places a sheet of paper over the lower strip and closes the upper strip and pressed it into place. Small hooks catch the paper and keep it from skidding during brailling.
Since braille is read from left to right and must be used with the dots raised, the process of using a slate and stylus requires that the user punch the braille dots into the paper from right to left, pressing the tip of the stylus down through the rectangular openings. The scallops along the edges of the stylus help the user align the tip with the dot beneath.