Category Archives: Stuff I make

Thinky thoughts

There is a saying; “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything”. That’s where I’ve been for quite some time, nothing good to say.  Perhaps I’ve reached something of a critical mass with thoughts and feelings. I’m not sure but I know one thing; I need to write. Let’s see how this goes, shall we?

POLE LATHE UPDATE!!!:  It’s complete and rather functional. I had it up and running at our Althing last September. That is what I committed to when I challenged into the White Wolf Fian. Thing is, I withdrew from the Fian before my “due date”. Too many things were happening out of public eye that really rubbed me the wrong way and I realized that it was not the right group for me to be involved with. So, I withdrew my challenge. The pole lathe was (and is) still very important to me and I didn’t want to be known as another person with a failed Fian challenge. I’ll post more about the lathe when I find my pictures of it.

Since I last wrote,  I have taken part of two Arts and Sciences events; our Queen’s Prize Tournament and Spring A&S Faire. For QPT, I decided to enter a demonstration of how to carve a wooden spoon; basically I was going to carve a spoon at the event and the process, combined with the techniques and the result would be my entry. To say this was unusual for and A&S event would be an understatement. I’m not sure my judges really knew what to do with me! Performance pieces are surely not unheard of but when a musician plays or sings a piece, it is not so they can be judged on how well they teach it. That’s sort of what I was asking my judges to do. The reason for this was twofold: #1, I wanted to give a demonstration at an upcoming event and I needed to know if I had any business doing so and #2, I wanted something to keep my hands busy all day.

What I came away with was…I have no clue if I have any business demonstrating what I do. I was told that I am doing good work and that I should keep it up. Also, the notion was planted in my brain that the process of how things were made in period is just as relevant as reproducing the artifacts for us. It is through the period processes and techniques that we truly learn why items were made the way they were and gain better understanding of the intricacies of the materials and tools used. Now, Master Wilfrid of Sweflingham has been trying to drum this into my thick skull for a while but somehow, it stuck at QPT.

For our Spring A&S Faire, I made a 16th century candle lantern using Norse era tools and techniques. Why? Because doing it using 16th century tools would be too easy, I didn’t have the time or interest in creating one of those tools (and probably not the skill, if I’m being honest) and besides, my persona is Norse. This would be a challenge, which  believe an A&S entry should be.

I’ll write more about my actual entry at another time but suffice to say, I busted my ass and really stretched my tool skills on this thing. I even had a catastrophic failure on one component and managed an effective repair using period techniques. I was quite pleased with that bit, including my research into those techniques. My documentation will never be “scholarly” but I know I put more detail into this one than I ever have before. Loads of pictures and description of how and why I did things. I will post it here some time in the fall. This year at Pennsic, I will buy the horn I need to complete the lantern and I do not want to post until the piece is finished.

Neither of these events were good experiences for me. I cannot say what I have been able to take away from either of them that furthers my understanding of tools or techniques, suggests new areas to explore or ways to improve my research and documentation abilities. I feel like I came away with…nothing. I literally do not know what my next steps are in order to improve. Are there better ways to use my knives to do certain things? Is something missing in my knowledge of different woods? Maybe I am misinterpreting my sources or outright wrong about what I’m saying or doing? Why bother working so hard on documentation if there is no evidence to suggest it is looked at? Maybe I simply do not understand how A&S and its judging work?

One thing I am fairly certain of is that I am unlikely to enter another A&S-centred event any time soon. It just doesn’t seem worth the stress. This stuff is supposed to be fun and for me at least, the fun has been sucked out of this aspect of the game.

But what do I know? I just make shit.

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It feels like progress

It may not look like much, but I have made some progress on my White Wolf Fian challenge. Observe, the pole lathe bed in its natural habitat…

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Alright, for now it looks like a tree trunk with a groove knocked out of it. I am not ashamed to admit that it took a lot for me to cut into the log. Here I had a seemingly perfect ash log that split so beautifully; I really didn’t want to screw it up! So, I did what any resourceful Norseman would do when faced with unease and anxiety. I went to the internet.

You see, the internet is full of wonderful and helpful people. People that have built spring pole lathes before. I decided to take advantage of their wisdom and experience. It is from these wonderful folks that I learned that 3″ is a pretty good width to make the groove in my lathe bed wannabe. The groove is for the poppets to sit in (the poppets will hold the work piece, allowing it to be, well, worked). The poppets need to be able to move along the bed to accommodate different sized work. 3″ is a good width because it will allow the poppets to be plenty thick and strong. It will also leave me with a substantial surface for the bearing surface of the poppets to register solidly.

“But Einar, how did you actually create the groove?”, ask the fans, hanging on my every word.

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I used a chalk line to “draw” parallel lines, 3″ apart done the length of the bed. The brace bit you see in the above picture allowed me to drill holes through the bed that would establish the end points of the groove on either end of the bed. Next, I cut along the grooves outline with a tool that the Norse probably wished they had (chainsaw). I know that sounds easy enough but a chainsaw is a tricky thing to use to cut to an exact line. Basically, I started at the drilled out hole at one end and finished at the other end. Repeat on the other side of the groove if you are following the home version.

wpid-20141112_141758.jpgHere you can see the two holes at one end of the groove and the cuts I made down the length. With those steps done, I was left to knocking out the wood that remained between the holes (and cuts) on either end. This task fell to tools that the Norse were very familiar with, a mallet and chisel. I had to work from both sides of the log because it is still close to 7″ thick (including the bark). In this picture, I am working the underside.

The process is fairly simple: Drive the chisel straight down along the line marking the end of the groove. Cut and lever away the wood by then coming at that chiseled line from the waste side (what will be the groove). Continue these steps until you break (on) through to the other side (any Doors fans among my readership?). Repeat at the other end.

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A close up of the completed work. Its not the neatest bit of woodwork ever completed but it will serve. The important thing for me was to begin the process and get the groove cut before the cold weather hits. I really don’t want to be working on this in sub zero temperatures and with snow up to my knees. I am hoping that by getting the groove cut and the waste wood removed, the log will be under less tension as it seasons and dries a bit over the winter. This should help minimize any cracking that normally accompanies drying wood. To further help with that, I coated the ends of the log and the ends of the groove with a commercial end sealer. This product (called Anchorseal) helps slow down the loss of moisture from the end grain, which eases the tension the wood will experience. I also blocked up the ends of the log to protect them from the wind over winter. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I don’t have a bunch of firewood by the time spring comes around.

The next step with be rough cutting the poppets from the other half of the log I split. There is not a tremendous rush on that as much of the work will be done inside the toasty confines of the shop. I also need to get moving on building my forge because I need that in order to make the tools to use with the lathe. Again, work that can happen indoors. As near as I can figure, I am still very much on track to present the finished lathe and some bowls produced on it this coming summer at the War of the Trillium.

Got questions or suggestions? Leave a comment and hit me with ’em.

Thanks for stopping by.

White Wolf Fian progress report. Aka, At Least I Don’t Have to Trash My Project

Shortly after I posted about my White Wolf Fian challenge I ran into some good fortune. An arborist friend of mine called me to ask if I wanted any white ash as he was clearing a building lot for a client. “Cool!”, I thought. “I’ll be able to get some timber from which to make my spring pole lathe!” When I got to the job site, there were over a dozen ash trees in various stages of being felled, all between 8″ and 14″ in diameter. Perfect. I picked out a couple that would be suitable and my friend said he would put them aside for me. I was to pick them up the next day and because he was looking at least an extra day on the site, this was no problem…except local firewood-urchins visited the site during the night and stripped the site bare. They only left some branch wood.

Crap.

By now, 3 months has passed since my challenge at Pennsic. 9 months still to go including an Ealdormerian winter when it is not pleasant to work outside. Thrown in something of a minor mental breakdown (ok, two of them) and what have I accomplished? Zip… Zilch… Nadda…

Crap.

*sigh*

And then yesterday, a ray of hope. I chanced upon one of the many local tree companies who are always busy at this time of year and struck up a conversation with them. As it turns out, they were finishing up for the day but would return the next day to drop the last tree they had been contracted to do…a tall, straight ash tree, 16″ across at the butt and clear of any branches for the first 40 feet of the trunk.wpid-20141104_100749.jpgPerfect.

I arranged to meet them the next morning at the site and because the tree was still standing, I had no fear of anyone taking the timber for firewood.

Here is the log, measuring 13″ across and 7 feet long.wpid-20141104_111220.jpg

The tree folks warned me that this thing was heavy. Really. Heavy. I knew it would be but I had a plan to make it more manageable. You see, I need half of this log in order to make the bed of the lathe. I could see no reason to attempt muscling it around in any form bigger than one half. So, just as would have been done 1000 years ago, I split it in half down its length using a series of wedges and a liberal application of brute force (a sledge hammer).

In the past I have used wedges to split some very large diameter logs into more manageable pieces with good success. However, I had never attempted to split one that was near 7 feet long. I had also never been overly concerned about how straight my work was because I was just going to chainsaw up the pieces to become bowl blanks. For this lathe bed, I wanted to get it pretty straight so I would have less work making the top surface flat and so I didn’t waste any of the wood (This stuff doesn’t grow on trees you know. Wait…). 5 minutes later…..

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Ummm, I cannot see how this could have possibly worked out any better. The split followed the centre of the log perfectly. Both halves  are straight and the split surfaces are dead flat. To say I was pleased would be a great understatement.

The two halves are no safely stored under cover at my Shrub’s place. I’ll head back there this weekend to get some work done. As I said, one half will form the lathe bed with a chunk left over for one of the poppets. The other will supply the other poppet and, if I split it well, the 4 legs. My goal for the weekend will be to accurately size the bed and cut the groove for the poppets (details of what this all means will follow, for those that do not speak pole lathe).

The other nice thing to happen in the past week was the arrival of  Carole A. Morris’s book, “Wood and woodworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and medieval York”. I received this book as part of a trade with Lord Evan Quicktongue. It is one of the most significant texts dealing with Viking-Age woodworking, especially woodturning. I consider it a essential source for research of my Fian challenge.wpid-20141028_165625.jpg

Until next time, thanks for stopping by

White Wolf Fian

There is an Arts and Sciences group in Ealdormere called the White Wolf Fian. It is a challenge-based order where membership and successful completion of a project conveys no rank or award beyond being able to say, “I did it!!!”. The goal of the Fian is to push artisans to a higher level of skill and knowledge in a particular field or topic. Challenges are to be of an intermediate level (with the Kingdom A&S rules as a guideline) and require between 6 months and 1year to complete. During Royal Court at Pennsic XLIII, I challenged for admission to the Fian.

My challenge is  straightforward…build a pole lathe, the tools needed to work on it and produce some functional bowls. Sounds simple enough but I think this poses a few significant challenges for me.

1. The tools used for making bowls and cups are called hook tools. The only way to acquire them in the 21st century is from a few select blacksmiths, most of whom live in the UK and Europe. These smiths charge a fair rate for their work but it is out of my price range. So, I need to make my own. Lots of greenwood turners do this but my only attempt thus far was a dismal failure, which makes me a little nervous.

2.  The lathe itself, while not requiring a high level of precision, is nonetheless a very large project for me. I mean, I’m a woodturner. I make wooden bowls, cups and urns. A lathe is a large piece of furniture! Heck, it’s  industrial equipment! Oh, did I mention that I am inept at measuring anything accurately? Yeah, furniture sort of depends on measurements for its creation so this will be a challenge for me…a very big challenge.

3.  As I said, I am a professional woodturner and I am pretty good at what I do. I know my way around my lathe and arsenal of gouges and chisels. Woodturning on a pole lathe requires very different tools and techniques to what I used to. Imagine putting a 9ft spear in the hands of the best fencer in the Kingdom. They still understand distance and timing but can’t make it work with a log in their hands. When it comes to hook tools for making bowls, I am that fencer. I understand wood and how steel can be used to cut it but this will demand a whole new set of biomechanics (never mind that I’ll be standing on one leg while the other pumps up and down on the treadle!).

The first will be building something I can use as a forge. I will not be using a coal forge because while that would be a more period method, I am not up for the mess and expense. The challenge is to create bowls using period techniques, not become a blacksmith (I’ll save that for another time). I’ll be using some firebricks and a propane torch for my heat, a hammer and anvil to shape the tools.and a combination of my modern grinder and slips tones to create the cutting edge.

Of course, I will document the entire process here. You have been warned.

Thanks for stopping by.

 

Hell and Heaven

We all know that artists are their own worst enemies and some of us are worse than most. For a lot of months now, I have lacked that excitement, that wow factor about something I had created. I’ve made a bunch of good stuff (some, very good) but nothing that has made me want to simply hold a finished piece. It almost didn’t happen tonight either.

I have been working on some drinking cups that will fit & function nicely in the SCA. Now that I think on it, my first SCA related project was a cup. A selection of folks were gathered around the Marchmount table & someone asked if I could make a wooden cup. I said, “I don’t know. Let’s find out” and proceeded out to the shop and a short while later returned with a goblet-like thing that now belongs to Lady Ailis.

Anyway, tonight I had a beautiful piece of freshly cut ash on the lathe. The grain was nicely figured and had great promise…until I started working it. The stuff Would. Not. Cut. Cleanly. I sharpened my gouges. No love there. I honed the cutting edge to a mirror polish & took the lightest cut I could. Figured ash doesn’t care. Figured ash does what it wants. I kept going, doing my best and resigning myself to a future filled with much sanding.

Working on the inside was even worse. I tried every hollowing tool in my arsenal to no avail. The torn out grain was so bad that in spots, I could see light coming through the walls. No happiness in Einar-Land could be found. Realising this cup was no longer going to work out the way I wanted, I grabbed a gouge & cut the top half of away.

Lo and behold, the wood cut cleanly. Like, so cleanly that surface shimmered in the light. At this point I could only assume that Loki was up to usual mischievous self, playing with my hands and mind.

Another pass with the gouge…brilliance.
I move to the bottom of the piece, searching for the perfect curve that had alluded me so often in the recent past. And to my utter amazement, there it was; a perfect, sensual, organic curve that pleases the eye and thrills to the hand. (looks over his shoulder, no sign of any of the Norse gods except Odin. I couldn’t tell if he was winking at me or dozing off). Well…damn.

I returned to the newly established upper portion of the piece, determined to continue that precious, delightful curve towards the top, gently travelling in towards the centre. Success.

Now I had to turn my attention back to the inside. It continued to scoff at my efforts to make it clean and fair. In desperation, I picked up my detail gouge to try and get a decent surface. It wasn’t perfect by any means but, it was easily sandable (I know, not a terribly period technique but back in the middle ages, turners didn’t use lathes with 2hp motors, electronic variable speed and 600lbs of Australian iron either).

After I sanded the entire piece, including wet sanding with tung oil on the outside, I stepped back. I was happy.

Parting this cup off the lathe I was left holding it. I checked every surface under different kinds of light, looking for flaws, touching it, checking the curves and proportions. It was…perfect.

I wonder whether a little cup like this will have commercial appeal. It ought to hold about 250ml so it’s hardly big enough for a cider or even a coffee. Scotch perhaps? (I doubt that because scotch aficionados are rather particular about their drinking vessels). For now, it is going to rest with me so I can enjoy it. Maybe I will use it as a mead cup at Pennsic. I don’t think I will sell it because to out a price tag on it would…demean it somehow. Perhaps, I’ll leave it lying around somewhere on Runestone Hill with a note attached to it. I’ll ask the finder to care for this simple cup; to use as his/her own as it certainly now is and just ask that they pass it on to someone special.

Yes, I think that will work nicely.

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