Prepping Bow Staves

After you have carefully selected the tree, cut it down, and (hopefully) had time to age the wood it is time to prep the bow staves. 

Prepping bow staves is a fair amount of work but made easier with the right tools and a little experience.  The examples below aged for nearly seven years in a dark, dry barn.  These are nearly all hickory and therefore, are generally easy to split if the grain is respected.  I use an old froe, mallet, and hammer for most of my splitting and only resort to steel wedges or power tools in rare, generally green cases.  As most of the staves that I cut personally are 6’6″ – 7′ long, this is the time when they are sawed to a rough length; generally 65 – 70″.  They are left long initially to account for any splitting of the ends that occurs during the drying process that will interfere with the finished bow.

Splitting hickory.

These staves were massive and can generally be made into two or three bows in the end;  two from the outer portion and one from the inner.  This isn’t always true for some older hickories as the heartwood “sets” and becomes dark and brittle.  Taken in a deep valley, this tree was large enough and fast growing so doesn’t seem to be a problem.  It is difficult to tell from the photo above but this is an extremely large piece of wood.  It was weighed a few days after felling at 79.5 lbs.  It was weighed again, just prior to splitting, almost seven years later at 48 lbs.  That is nearly 30 lbs (5 gallons) of water that evaporated.

A clean break with the froe.

The above photo shows the froe in use, prying the two halves apart without much effort.  Once started with a mallet in the end, it is just a matter of prying and moving down the staff.

I was doing these rather quickly and didn’t even move to my work shed for the process as they would be loaded up almost immediately.

The staves can now be safely de-barked and are generally ready to be roughed out, a relatively easy task on hickory, but not so with Osage orange (photo below).  Osage needs to be shaved down to a single layer within the wood.  In this case about a half inch inside the bark to find a suitable growth ring.

Osage orange, showing the contrast between the new and old growth.

One of the troubles with Osage orange wood is the transitional new growth on the outer (back) of the stave, visible as the white rings.  This wood is not useful for bow making and needs to be cleanly removed down to a single growth ring.  In the case above, several old growth rings will be removed as well as they are inconsistent and pinch out on the right side of this stave.  It is generally wise to choose one of the thicker rings to serve as the back as it is under a lot of tension during the draw.

New bow blanks stand next to a full-size stave as they are roughed out.

This is about half the useful bow staves made in a single run with a “whole” stave on the right to show how they begin.  This one weighed about 80 lbs green but only about 50 lbs dry.

On to layout and the next steps.

Making a Stitching Pony; Video Tutorial

Stitching Pony, Leather Worker’s Clamp, or Saddler’s Clam…

Whatever you call it, it is a handy device to own if you sew any leather.  These are simple devices that just about anyone can make with little time or money invested.  Although there are many varieties and models, the one shown in this tutorial by Harry Rogers of Bucklehurst Leather is the one I have most commonly seen.  Is there no end to this man’s skill and diversity of talents?

 

The only comments I really have are:

YES, the jaws should be lined with thick, smooth leather and that the gap is necessary to keep the jaws as flat as possible against the work.  It is also nice, but not necessary, to have a compression spring over the bolt to push the jaws apart when loosened.   And finally (terrible way to open a sentence in writing I know), a recent comment from a friend suggested that the tightening nut could be replaced and a better system be devised from a bicycle quick release axle.  Maybe on the next one.

Check out his leather work here:

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More Wallets

Maybe this is a little mundane but I’ve been using the cold and snowy weather as an excuse to do some cutting and sewing of leather.  I completed a passport wallet and finished up another minimalist wallet design.  I got the pattern for the larger travel wallet from Tony, the owner/designer at DieselpunkRo.  He sells finished goods, patterns, and gives a lot of good advice for makers working from his patterns on his Facebook group page.

My three newest creations.

If you follow his Facebook group, he will occasionally share free, downloadable patterns.  I have two patterns from him so far and they are both great.

 

The large wallet is a handy, four pocket affair that snugly holds a standard passport, cards, and cash.

 

This is another good starter project that easily yields a great product.

We were acting like shut-ins today because of a surprise snow storm so I’ve been able to jump to another leather-related project.  I’ll share some photos soon.

Bread Recipe

Someone asked for the recipe I used to make the artisan-style Dutch oven bread I posted a few days ago.  This loaf is a crusty, chewy, large air-hole artisan-style bread that is great with soups or for hearty sandwiches.

There are many recipes out there and I’m not sure I’m the qualified baker to speak with any authority.  However, ask and you shall receive as someone once said so here it is:

  • 3 cups flour (I use about 3/4 c. whole wheat and 2 1/4 bread or all-purpose flour)
  • 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
  1. In a large non-reactive bowl mix the dry ingredients thoroughly and add the water.  Mix by hand until just combined.  The dough should be a little on the wet and sticky side, so add a few drops extra water as needed.  Cover and let stand about 18 hours (a little less is okay).
  2. Turn out the dough onto a clean, tightly woven cotton towel that has been dusted with flour or cornmeal and form into a rough, wide, circular shape.  Pull the right side across to the left then the left to the right; turn 90 degrees and do this again as if you were wrapping the dough up on itself.
  3. Dust the top of the loaf with flour or cornmeal and flip over so the seam side is down and pull the towel over the loaf.  Let stand 15 minutes to one half hour.
  4. Preheat the oven to 500 F (260 C) with the Dutch oven inside (I put the lid on the top shelf to let air circulate inside while preheating).  Let the oven heat a little beyond when it claims to be hot enough to insure the cast iron is ready.
  5. Place the dough seam side up in the center of the Dutch oven, cover, and close the oven door.  The seam allows the loaf to expand and serves in much the same way a slit on top of the bread would in a traditional loaf.
  6. Cook for 30 minutes then uncover.  If the loaf is not a rich golden brown, continue to cook with the lid off for 5 -10 minutes (ovens vary).
  7. Turn out the loaf onto a rack or a bread board (if you don’t use a rack let it cool upside down for the first 15 minutes or more).  Cool thoroughly then eat.

This recipe has worked well for me in many variations over the years and can be modified in many ways.  I have a multi-grain seed bread I make more often than this that is a bit more complicated and maybe I’ll share it when I get time.

I found this video which may help visualize the process.  It’s nearly the same as I relayed above with a slightly different size loaf.

 

Making a Minimalist Wallet

I try to live by the creed of learning and making something good every day.

The Minimalist Wallet

As we have been pondering the holiday season it seemed a good time to get a jump on some leatherworking projects I’ve had in mind the past few months.  This morning, before getting to work on other chores, I decided to take a little time and work out a slightly modified Minimalist Wallet.  If you have followed this blog for long, you may have seen a couple earlier wallet projects we shared HERE and HERE.  This isn’t a complicated project and might be a good one to start with if you trying your hand at leatherworking for the first time.

The All-Encompassing Symbol of the Age

Making the Pattern –

It would be pretty optimistic to just dive in and start cutting out a wallet without knowing what needs to fit.  I used a debit card for scale as there will inevitably be a couple of these in just about any modern traveler’s pocket.  I didn’t put a lot of time into the pattern as I have made a similar style before and knew the basics of what I wanted; essentially two pockets and very little sewing.

A Bit of Sloppy Origami to Test the Dimensions

To create two pockets, there needs to be three layers; two on the outside and one to divide.  To make the cards more accessible, the outer pocket will be a “reveal” and I chose to do this the simplest way possible, by a diagonal straight line.

Test Fitting and Trimming the Draft Pattern

I ended up tightening the width and lengthening the entirety just a bit from my original estimates for a better fit.  The difficult part is over.

The Draft is Transferred to Stiff Bristol Board for Multiple Uses

After the pattern is transferred to the card stock, it can be used many times without fuss.  It is a good idea to label your patterns before storage as they begin to look alike when you amass a large folder of them (was this a pocket, part of a shoe, some sort of handle cover?).

Getting Down to Business –

The next step is to cut out the pattern on appropriate leather.  I’m using Hermann Oak 1.5 mm tooling side that was leftover from an earlier project.  Neatness in cutting is very important as it will affect the look of the entire piece if the cuts are even a millimeter or two off or wavering in any way.  Since most people seem to prefer dark leathers for this sort of thing I chose to dye it Medium Brown with Fiebings Leather Dye.

Wet with Dye

After the dye sets you’re free to move on.  I started by marking and awling the stitching holes at about a 5 mm increment.  I will admit, this was not my straightest set of stitching lines ever.

Punching the Holes

I almost always use a double needle saddle stitch when sewing leather as it is the best and strongest choice in most cases.  I chose a contrasting thread to give it a fine finished look.

Finishing Up

And finally, the edges were dyed again and burnished to create a smooth, finished look.  Overall, I’m quite satisfied with the outcome.  This one will be the prototype to work from and I’ll be able to take a little more care now that I have learned from this one.  If I ever get around to making enough to sell, I’ll put them on my Etsy Store.

To view this project on Instructables, click the link here: Minimalist Wallet

I have a slightly more complex project laid out for later.  If I take the time to document it, I’ll post it up here.

The Chart of Hand Tools

I rarely (I mean almost never) go out of my way to endorse a product of any kind but while considering the upcoming holidays I came across this link I saved a while back.  I think it would be perfect for the workshop and is a work of art in its own right.

I can imagine it over my new workspace or even hanging on the wall in the den to be pondered while dreaming of building something worthwhile.  It’s called the Chart of Hand Tools from the Pop Chart Lab, “printed using 100 lb archival recycled stock certified by The Forest Stewardship Council, this poster is pressed on an offset lithographic press in Flatlands, Brooklyn.”  Sounds good so far and I love how they are actually grouped in logical sets by basic function.  That satisfies the analyst in me.

HandTools

Click the image for a larger version or the link to get yours today (or to send me one!).

Here’s some information from Pop Chart Lab’s website:

With over 300 meticulously illustrated tools this chart celebrates the tinkerers and the doers: those who build, repair, and create. Breaking down all manner of hand tools by their basic function, this sprawling print covers the most basic, such as the humble yet mighty hammer, to the most highly specialized, such as the 24 types of files depicted here. A hand-crafted compendium of ingenious and essential devices, this chart is a complete cut-list of the tools that empower makers and artisans. —And the chart is printed with brass and aluminum metallic inks to give it a shop-ready sheen.

Size 24″ x 36″

Each print is signed and numbered by the artists, and comes packaged in a Pop Chart Lab Test Tube. 

At $37 U.S. it seems like a great addition to any Maker’s house.  I hope my own Santa Claus or Krampus drops one off at the shop this winter.  I better start being good for the Yule-tide season.

Dép lốp or “Ho Chi Min” Sandals

I was looking up a link for someone and rediscovered the video today showing how to make tough and durable sandals from discarded tires.  This style is well-known in Southeast Asia, particularly in poorer areas.

https://photos.travelblog.org/Photos/20411/111103/f/749561-viet-cong-made-sandals-from-truck-tyres-1.jpg

If you are interested in sandal-making, you can hardly go wrong with this design if you have access to old tires.  I suggest watching the video if only for the remarkably sharp knife this maker is using.  Using tire material is a little heavy but will truly last a lifetime.  The straps fit purely by friction so they are continuously adjustable while the waterproofness of the material makes them perfect for the wetlands and jungle.

I understand this style was created in the 1940s when old tires became abundant and some creative shoemaker had a Eureka moment.  There is also a short write-up on this style on the always interesting Huarache Blog if you are seeking more information about this shoe.

Another step toward self-sufficiency and off-grid knowledge for the Mayhem Shoe Collective.

Banjo

This post was prompted by a few photos I recently took to document some of my projects.

I fully disassembled , repaired some problems, refinished, and did a full set-up on my Banjo.  Not surprisingly, it was a bigger job than I hoped for but really paid off in the end.  When I built this one several years ago it was something of a rush job while working and traveling so some details were never attended to as they should have been.  The action now is great and the fretting couldn’t be better in my opinion and I already see some real improvements in playability.  I’ve been happily sneaking in a little practice after breakfast on most days and even a little at lunch if I’m motivated.  Finally, I’m coming back to becoming an actual player reviving skills from 30 years ago.  I’m a little sad that I ever let music fall out of my daily life but better late than never I suppose.

Plain and simple; a little like me.  I laminated the wooden ring from shagbark hickory with walnut inside and out.  The tone ring is a Vega Whyte-Laydie design.

I have never inlaid anything but I think I might give it a try sometime. For now, the peg head is an unadorned Mastertone style.

The fingerboard, heel cap, and peg head covering is rosewood over a maple neck. The flame in the wood is beautiful in this one.

I you want to read about the initial construction of this one, click HERE or on the image below.

A Guest Vardo

I always appreciate getting mail and comments on the blog; especially when someone is able to take information away and create something of their own.  I recently received some fine photos from Kevin with his own Vardo build.  I emailed back for more information but haven’t heard anything yet.

The wagon is a lovely and familiar design and it’s great to see it out in public alongside the more normal modern camp setting.Kevin also builds beautiful coolers that I hope to see more of in the near future.  One is visible next to the vardo in the image above. Here’s the email I received and I hope to hear (and see) more from Kevin soon:

George:
Hello.  I have been following your blog for a few years.  I’m writing to you directly as I want to share some photos of the Vardo that I built, using yours (and a few others) for much of the inspiration.  I wasn’t sure how to go about posting the photos to your blog, so I figured I would send them directly to you.
I live near Houston and own property in Buffalo Wyoming, home to a historical population of Basque sheepherders, and many currently rolling sheep wagons.  Living in two extremes, I have had some issues with changes in humidity affecting the performance of the wagon and would likely do a few things differently, if I were to do it all over again (but wouldn’t we all).
I haven’t seen any updates on your Vardo-make-over in quite a while.  Hopefully there’s more coming.  I know the work on mine is never done.  There are always items hanging around on the list of future improvements.
Let me know if you have any questions about the construction and performance of the wagon.  I’m happy to carry on a discussion if your interested, and willing to send more photos if you request. You’ll notice in the photos some glimpses of one of my hand made coolers.  They’re marine fiberglass coated wood on the inside, and out; built sort of like a cedar strip canoe. I built the chuck-box in the first photo as well.  It travels in the rear of the wagon to be set out for camp cooking. I figured these were both items that might interest you.
Kevin

It looks great Kevin.  I can’t wait to see more.

~GTC

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A Quick Update…

A beautiful, dark, wintery day spent in the Vardo, getting things in shape and spending some quality time reading led me to thinking about shooting a few photos. The place is a bit unkempt but I think it shows how the space is used in real life.

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The hearth corner with miscellaneous junk piled on the surfaces. This is the view from where my head lies on the bed.

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A lot of wood types were used throughout the build as some was recycled and some was purchased based on availability. We are out beyond the end of the realm so supplies are limited. The small photo over the door is my grandparents who played a major role in my upbringing.

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The samovar corner with sink in place. The wood for this built-in comes mostly from an old (pre-war) desk that had seen better days. They used excellent materials that I really didn’t want to discard so I’ve been hanging onto them for several years now. The mirror is more useful that I would have ever thought and fits the space perfectly. The Samovar is strapped in by a belt connected to the wall and Stacey provided a cute octopus hook for wash cloths and other things. I’m just finishing the windows so they have yet to be varnished.

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Copper sink made from a french mixing bowl (thanks to Mick for the idea).

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A view aft from seated on the bed. I won’t lie, cutting all the cedar was not pleasant to conform to the arc but it ultimately turned out fairly successful. Apparently, I was trained well back in my life as a carpenter.

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My view of the stained glass window from bed with a small candle lantern next to it.

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Cluttered corner. Things are slowly finding their homes.

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The dog, trying to figure out what I’m up to but staying close to the heater. She climbs underneath the master bed when it’s time to sleep for the night.

 

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