Tinsmiths, a short film and a longer one…

A short film about a great craftsman.  I like this one because the project documented here is so unusual.  The almost forgotten art of the tinsmith.

 

And a longer one that is really worth watching.  It’s a treat to see someone who knows his business so well.  A dying breed of traditional artisan.

“This is a video of County Mayo native Ted Maughan demonstrating his immense skills as a Tinsmith. Ted is a member of the travelling community and has kept this great craft alive for many years. His work is a credit to him and this is only a small example of the quality work that Ted is able to carry out.”

We just don’t value the artisan or craftsman the way we one did.  The Industrial Revolutions have wrecked havoc in our culture.

Instead of this:

the-tinsmith-1385932752_bWe opt for outsourcing, mechanizing, and abstracting our purchase.  These days, for now, are lost in the Industrial world.

250px-Stände_Amman_Der_Kandelgiesser

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Project: Mayhem Shoes

“The first rule of Project Mayhem is that you do not ask questions…”

this may be my new teaching mantra

I am considering calling my custom footwear “Mayhem Shoes” (at least until Chuck Palahniuk’s space monkey lawyers make me stop).

A few of you know that I teach a couple classes of low-tech shoemaking a couple times per year.  The designs I focus on are styles that can be made by one person in one day; a popular theme in early historic examples.  Some require a lot of cutting, some require sewing.  There is an off-grid, dystopian attitude about making your own shoes.  In fact, I think I will register the name Distopian Leather Works as my new business.  I’m considering a small business venture to go into custom production of the shoes I teach people to make as well as expanding the custom leather work I currently produce.

DSC_0111The kinds of people that take these classes are from all walks of life, not just survivalists, historical nerds, or experimental archaeologists, but folks who want to make things for themselves for whatever reason.  I’m finding that there are others who might just want the handmade product without the labor of making them. DSC_0156In a day, an attentive student can produce a wearable (and good looking) pair of serviceable shoes like the carbatana (ghillies) above.

DSC_0100For those looking for a more modern look a fine pair of sandals can be made with just a few hours, cutting and sewing.  These are easily re-solable and should last the better part of a lifetime.  Look familiar?  Chaco and Teva didn’t exactly re-invent the wheel; just updated the materials and outsourced the work overseas.  Even in the wilds of Canada, tradtional ghillies can be a useful part of the wardrobe.  Mike made these two years ago and they still protect his sturdy peasant feet.

DSC_0082There is something very satisfying about taking a piece of nondescript, vegetable tanned leather and creating a lasting and useful object with your own hands.

DSC_0081The beauty is truly in the details.  Serious students often bevel and burnish edges to give their shoes a “finished” look, suitable for public wear.

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In progress photo with tools of the trade. The authors well worn sandals are on the left of the photo.

Above, a student trial fits the uppers before attaching the outsole.  In my classes, the outermost sole on any of these shoes may be a durable Vibram material, a softer but grippy Soleflex, or natural leather.  The latter option is popular with those who are interested in treading lightly on the earth or those who are concerned with earthing or grounding.

DSC_0089Learning as community.  It is always a very social event to teach these courses.  No matter the variety of backgrounds, we are sharing an ancient craft in common.

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As in all leatherwork, neatness counts.  A good hand with a knife is a great asset for shoemaking.

DSC_0086Test fitting the straps for buckle placement and strap length.

DSC_0084This style sandal may be tied or buckled but I have found that a 3/4″ center bar buckle is about the easiest to work with and adjust.

DSC_0104Bowing to modern convenience.  For the classes, we use contact cement to adhere the insole, mid-sole, and outsole.  This insures a good connection and will hold up even if the stitching doesn’t last forever.

DSC_0119The author demonstrates the wrong way to rough out a pattern.  Cutting out oversize pieces for the sake of time-savings.

DSC_0118Tough rubber soles will make these sandals last years and are easily replaced.

DSC_0137Trial fitting a ghillie after soaking in water.  They feel ridiculously thick and stiff for the first hour or two but tend to suddenly relax an become a part of the foot after a soak in the neatsfoot oil.

DSC_0136Ready for staling the game or dancing at a cèilidh

DSC_0134Sometimes it helps to take a hammer to the leather when it is stiff and wet.

DSC_0130It is important to leave the channels free of glue so that the straps may be adjusted in future.  You never know when you might need to wear some black socks with those sandals.

DSC_0131 DSC_0133Helping a student skive out some particularly stiff areas.

DSC_0154Mom tries on her new shoes before going home to make some for the whole family.  DSC_0139Even an old shoemaker is interested in this ancient design.

DSC_0180  DSC_0178 Happy and diligent students show off their newest creations.

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Above are few photos from previous classes.  Thanks to all who come and make!

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Interesting Homebuilt

I know nothing about this but like it a lot.

Image found on Truque

Image found on Truque

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Further Evolution of the Little Vardo

We just put another couple thousand miles on the Little Green Vardo.  It’s always an adventure when you are pulling something like this around the country and it makes for some interesting conversations.

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Campground in Cortez, Colorado.

Most of the people we meet are great but the comments are sometimes a little difficult.  Of course, the number one question from most people is “what does it weigh?”  Not that the numbers mean much to them but it just sounds like something to ask.  Another favorite is “does it leak a lot?”  I guess this is a reasonable question for someone.  If my house leaked, I hope I would remedy it pretty quickly.

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What we look like going down the road.

It’s great to get all the smiles, nods, and waves from other travelers.  It must say something that out of the thousands of vehicles you might see on a trip, only a few evoke any real response.  It’s hard to get gas or take a break without having a real conversation about it with someone.  While getting coffee in a small Colorado town a watched a woman burst out of an office door across the road and sprint across a busy four-lane road just to have a peak.  It was flattering when she said “I know you from the Internet! I’m a huge fan of tiny homes and little campers!”

Another fun interaction happen in Monticello, Utah when an elderly man came running out from a house to talk about Sheep Wagons.  His wife grew up in one and wanted to have her own after they retired.  As this was a tall order, he built her this beautiful scale model sheep camp complete with tiny dutch oven, pans, tools, a broom, and even a tiny fried egg.

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Looks like I need a different hitch.

Maybe, not too long from now, I’ll be able to take to the road for a longer adventure.

IMG_0197Coming home to Purgatory, New Mexico with a list of improvements and a slew of minor changes to the Vardo.  I can’t wait for the cooler weather to make this happen.

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Another from Thoreau

Part of a beautiful essay by Henry David Thoreau

Nowadays almost all man’s improvements, so called, as the building of houses, and the cutting down of the forest and of all large trees, simply deform the landscape, and make it more and more tame and cheap. A people who would begin by burning the fences and let the forest stand! I saw the fences half consumed, their ends lost in the middle of the prairie, and some worldly miser with a surveyor looking after his bounds, while heaven had taken place around him, and he did not see the angels going to and fro, but was looking for an old post-hole in the midst of paradise. I looked again, and saw him standing in the middle of a boggy stygian fen, surrounded by devils, and he had found his bounds without a doubt, three little stones, where a stake had been driven, and looking nearer, I saw that the Prince of Darkness was his surveyor.

Read the rest of Walking here.

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Excerpt from “Walking”

Part of a beautiful essay by Henry David Thoreau

Living much out of doors, in the sun and wind, will no doubt produce a certain roughness of character—will cause a thicker cuticle to grow over some of the finer qualities of our nature, as on the face and hands, or as severe manual labor robs the hands of some of their delicacy of touch. So staying in the house, on the other hand, may produce a softness and smoothness, not to say thinness of skin, accompanied by an increased sensibility to certain impressions. Perhaps we should be more susceptible to some influences important to our intellectual and moral growth, if the sun had shone and the wind blown on us a little less; and no doubt it is a nice matter to proportion rightly the thick and thin skin. But methinks that is a scurf that will fall off fast enough—that the natural remedy is to be found in the proportion which the night bears to the day, the winter to the summer, thought to experience. There will be so much the more air and sunshine in our thoughts. The callous palms of the laborer are conversant with finer tissues of self-respect and heroism, whose touch thrills the heart, than the languid fingers of idleness. That is mere sentimentality that lies abed by day and thinks itself white, far from the tan and callus of experience.

Read the rest of Walking here.

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Topper Update

Here are a few images to clarify some questions about the wooden topper.  It is not a work of art.  It was to be used for a single field project last summer but now I really like it so it will be a permanent part of the rolling home.

topper1Here’s the overview sans roof rack.  It has received about five more coats of spar varnish after a good sanding.  It is built from recycled lumber so there is some small shrinkage checking and a little discoloration from some mold or fungus but it hardly visible.

topper2Tacomas really suck for attaching racks and toppers for a couple reasons.  The top rails of the bed are plastic over some fairly unsubstantial metal and there are no stake holes.  There is however, the nifty rail system inside the bed that is secure.  To attach this topper, I used some construction straps from the Big Box Store which are screwed in behind the rails.  This is the forward view, blemishes and all.  The rope is for hanging up wet stuff like towels, swimsuits, etc.

topper3Here is another strap at the aft end utilizing one of the bed bolts in a reenforced spot.

topper4And finally, here is an image of one of the knee braces that are screwed and glued to the frame to strengthen the door area.  I hope this helps if someone else wants to construct something like this.

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Vardo – Topper Makeover

Because there’s always room for improvement.  In my case, a lot of improvement. snail2
Rehung siding, new paint, fresh varnish, little fixes, and lots of cleaning.  We’re hooked up to get out of town for a bit.

snail1Dietz lanterns, Kelly kettle, fuel, and lamp oil packed away in the pan box.  The steel disk serves as a heat shield to minimize ground scarring under the fire.

snail8A view from the bed.  Still more to pack up but things are looking good and nearly ready to go.

snail7The new windows are great and really perk the place up.  Bright and airy makes for a pleasant space.

snail3Still, the little Snail is far from perfect; made on a shoestring budget during snatches of time between work and bad weather.  Although I don’t live in it full-time currently I have come to see this as my home.

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Cycling

Late 19th century style.

cycling

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A Vardo and Bender Camp

vardoandbender

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