So I’ve been abnormally busy lately learning to do something a bit new for me. I hope to talk more about it soon.. But the NC state fair wasn’t so long ago!
Several NCABANA members and I were all there demonstrating blacksmithing for record numbers of people. It was an awful lot of fun. I made some neat things, even tried some new projects I hadn’t practiced before and let a crowd watch as I scratched my head and struggled with learning a new item or two. We answered many questions and maybe even inspired a few people young and old to take a more active interest in the craft.. But mostly I made and sold leaves and bottle openers oh, and my favorite change of pace.. leaf bottle openers..
Check out the art inspired by the experience in the Pirate Blacksmith webcomic
I had a fun time this weekend attending an event at Yates Mill in Raleigh with Solvarr! There was good food, lots of corn talk and music. If you’ve never been there, the lake is beautiful and the mill is a marvel.
The highlight of my day was getting to help out around the forge. I demonstrated how I make one piece steel roses.
I wish I had a photo of me working, but sadly I forgot to ask. If Ashley was there’ she’d have taken twice as many photographs. Alas I love to swing a hammer not take pictures. She’s been busy lately and has even started he own blog!
Some hippie stuff from a long-haired country boy and scraggly pirate:
Before I get into the pictorial I’d like to talk about the blacksmith and the environment. I’m not an environmentalist per-say, I try to be environmentally aware though. Nature and I get along; and I’d very much so like to think of her being able to take care of my great-grandchildren. Every day most everyone on the planet is burning something in some direct or indirect way. Us metal working folks probably gobble up a bit more than our fair share of the pie. Unless you can acquire an induction heating method and sustainable green energy source to power it then you’re probably destroying our ozone. Bad blacksmith, bad! Manbearpig is hiding under your bed right now waiting for you. In all seriousness though it’s something to consider. I’ve been using a lot of coal recently because of its price. Coal releases an awful lot of co2, from the massive amounts of fuel used to mine and transport it all the way to the end-user. Industrial coal use is regulated with emission standards, but I regularly send pillars of soot aloft. It isn’t a renewable resource so I’m of the opinion it should be used sparingly and in the most efficient way possible. Natural gas is more expensive but much easier to use and far better for the environment than coal, but it’s infrastructure still promotes the burning of fossil fuels and it’s expensive. Neither source of BTUs directly prevents co2 sequestering like harvesting trees solely for charcoal.
Bamboo is a very quickly maturing plant, that grows densely. I can harvest it by hand locally making it very co2 efficient for me. In the grand scheme of things it’s a drop in the bucket. But the overwhelming size of a problem shouldn’t be discouraging. It should be encouraging. At the risk of making an unfair parallel… I’d like to know how the same mentality would be applied to first aid… I’d hate to show up at the hospital with a huge open gash only to see the doctors focus on patients with small scratches because my problem was too severe.
Bamboo is a great plant to have around. I’ve made cane fishing poles, tomato plant supports, trellises and our pear tree even gets a helping hand with the weight of its yield. When I was a child bows, arrows and tents were what bamboo was made for! It’s speedy growth can be a blessing or a curse, our little bamboo forest has easily more than quadrupled in size over the past ten years and it’s encroaching on the foundation of my studio. We keep it cut back, but it’s kinda like throwing water on an oil fire. This year we cut a deep pocket into the bamboo for a garden in the rich soil cultivated from years of compost.
We gave some bamboo away and used a few pieces. But most of the downed canes were left to dry in the air and sun. Kept off the ground by their limbs it didn’t take long for them to turn from green to a tan/brownish color.
A safety note. Please read: bamboo has many hollow pockets that allow pressure to build up and cause small explosions. I haven’t found these to be dangerous personally but I do like to at least give problem pieces a thwack with a machete length wise to reduce these pops. Once during the burn a large pop was enough to rattle the barrel a bit and under the wrong circumstances I can imagine danger occurring. It should go without saying, but fire is inherently a dangerous tool and should be used with the utmost respect. There are better ways to do this but this is how I’ve managed so far.
A cordial ‘gent and I got together not so long ago. He’s retired but still works as a hot dog vendor. When he dropped in with a real nice custom cart in tow. It was a simple enough task and a while later I’d finished. He asked for one thing done but mentioned some other things he’d like done. I told him I’d make him something simple and affordable to get the job done, and something with a little more visual appeal.
I went ahead and made something to keep the condiment cooler open to the appropriate height since the fella mentioned it.
I really like making functional stuff. It’s satisfying to make a tool to specifications and attempt to make it visually appealing. But it’s difficult for me to put a price tag on the stuff I make. It’s this odd double standard in my mind on value. I got into this kind of work because of a sort of independence. I’ve always liked making things and it never made sense to me buying something or paying someone to do something I could do myself. If someone needs something I don’t ever want to send them home empty-handed; I’m not the type to take advantage of someone who needs help. But I’m a man who wants to build a business out of a hobby so I have to think about money. With as much of myself that’s intertwined into everything I do it’s almost enough to make me feel a bit like, pardon me, a whore. How do you put a price tag on a piece of yourself? Especially if you’re the sort of person that prefers to make things instead of buy ’em. I understand a majority of the factors to consider but I’m no true business minded man. The next day I gave the ‘gent a price for any two of the three pieces, and another price for all three. The fellow kindly took all three and seemed satisfied.
I’m very found of making things from steel and sometimes I just have to ask.. how did they do that? Our rich human history of creation is an infinite pool of knowledge to wade through for inspiration. The wealth of research available is engrossing. I’ve found myself wondering about digital copies of books. Their scans seem dusty and to smell of musk like walking through a damp, gray tomb of knowledge.. Admittedly it could be my imagination. Or more likely the lack of a good shower wafting about. =)
I digress. I’m very thankful to live in an age where knowledge is abundant.
One of mans oldest tools is the file. A cutting tool like the saw. The two are nearly as ancient as the knife and it’s cousin with a little more leverage, the ax. Rocks, gems, bones and fish spines can be used to remove material for crafting. Modern files and rasp are easily recognized as the descendant’s of these ancient tools. Metal working files were known around the world in some form of another. 14th century Europe had a change in architecture and culture lead to more ironwork being refined cold with file work becoming abundant. By the 17th century file making would have been a full-time endeavor for some. A file cutter would take a shaped piece of annealed steel ground smooth with a stone or file. He’d strap it firmly to a work block or anvil with a softer metal between the file blank and anvil. Then teeth were cut into the file by hand on both sides. As many as 60 to 80 blows per minute could be delivered by an experience cutter. The angle of the chisel was dependent on the aggressiveness of the file desired but it could be between 40-65 degrees. Next the file was carefully hardened and tempered depending on the type of steel and file.
On a personal note. The studio has been organized, an office arranged and we’ve switched Internet service providers. A faster network has finally reached our neck of the woods here Clayton, NC.
Most recently a lot of my time has been spent organizing photos and a bit of modern file work. I do most of my reading, writing and photo work on a faithful ol’ laptop running Ubuntu; occasionally I migrate toward the desktop as I familiarize myself with google sketch-up so the two are not far from one another.
It’s been darn near a hundred in the shade lately. But I’ve been trying to stay hydrated by the forge. I’ve been practicing leaves. And well I have some more stuff for the ugly side of my next installment the good, bad and the ugly. But I liked these from the other day:
This past saturday was the 2nd quarterly meeting for NCabana at the Dixie Classic Fairgrounds in Winston-Salem, NC. It was a long drive be so very worth it! I love to see blacksmith shops, backyard, historic recreations, modern. They all have something to offer any person interested in any level of metal work. I took lots of photo’s and listened intently to the demonstrations. Hobbyist, professional metal workers and artist were all gathered together with a common goal of building a better and more informed community. The world of steel is better for each of these meeting and I was really happy to be a part of it!
The morning air wasn’t yet thick with humidity or heat when I first arrived and started exploring the grounds. There were many antique machines and aged building relocated to the area that caught my eye. But I took the most pictures of the shop itself.
A few of my favorite simple machines caught on camera:
A hand cranked drill simply stamped No 22, aptly made in Salem, Ohio by The Silver manufacturing company.
These bellows simply looked inspiring, I’d love to make something similar.
A treadle hammer I got a chance to try out!
The first demonstration was luckily enough on leaves and flowers. Something I’ve been working on trying to get develop a style before finishing my mothers fireplace tools. Gail Wall did a great job showing how she works sheet metal into beautiful organic forms.
Keith Roberts followed Gail demonstrating a barley twist, then he stuck around to help out Andy Phillips demonstration hardy tool creation. Giving pointers on working with a striking team. They made quick work of some rather large stock, working together like they’d done it a hundred times.
An example of a barley twist incorporated in a larger design:
Striking while the iron is hot… Very hard:
I learned a bit about annealing copper, spying an impromptu neat little folded form spiral being made over lunch, sorry no photos. My mind was beginning to wander toward the BBQ being served, but I couldn’t pry myself from where the action was!
Mr Roberts was back to wrap things up by giving a demonstration on demonstrating of all things! It was really a sight, his enthusiasm was contagious despite my heavy eyelids. He managed to inform and entertain in such a captivating way that was almost like stepping into the midway of a carnival produced by the History channel.
I stayed ’till well into the afternoon and when it was time for the long drive home. I really hope to post some more. I’ve got a lot of little projects to update and introduce. Writing, like blacksmithing, doesn’t come naturally to me. I admire good writers as much as I do craftsmen and women. Both require technique, style and attention to detail that these poor eyes don’t always have. With dedication and practice I hope to improve. Between poor eyesight, moderate dyslexia and a fumbling level of natural dexterity it sometimes feels like an uphill journey. But it’s on the long roads traveled that the destination when approached seems all the more gratifying!