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:

bucklehurstleather_stamp_0fd2bd01-fcde-4de3-b992-c6787c49c8de_180x

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

Save

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.

dsc_0128-2

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

dsc_0121-4

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.

dsc_0122-6

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.

dsc_0123-3

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

dsc_0124-4

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.

dsc_0125-4

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

dsc_0120-5

Cluttered corner. Things are slowly finding their homes.

dsc_0118-14

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.

 

Save

Save

Detailed to the Last Dollar

desk4

Not a pretty little Victorian-style caravan here today but a sturdy, well-thought-out modern living accommodation for someone looking to escape the mortgage anchor most of us have felt.

Here is an extremely well-documented van conversion into a very frugal but comfortable micro house created in 38 days from 2014-2015.  Sean (the builder) has done a remarkable job of tracking nearly every aspect of this life-changing event from the decisions that made this happen, to getting rid of everything that didn’t work in his 60 square foot dream, to purchasing and building his version of the perfect live-in rolling home.  There’s even a downloadable spreadsheet of the expenses incurred and great details for those seeking some real “how-to” guidance.

Sean’s blog takes us from the emptying and selling of THIS:

house

To the purchase and planning of THIS:

And through the entire build and beyond:

first-night2

It’s a remarkable journey and I thank him for sharing this with the world.  If you don’t have time or want just a quick overview, watch the short video:

And the entire write-up can be found here at:

F*ck the Banks, I’ll Build My Own Damn House

 

 

Bookcase-Progress 1-Design

As usual, Greg Merritt at BY MY OWN HANDS has again shared a great project with his beautiful drawings to illustrate the work. Check out this nice little bookcase below.

HILLBILLY DAIKU

As we continue the never-ending unpacking of boxes and putting away of stuff, it has become apparent that the Hillbilly household is in immediate need of a bookcase.  This of course means that the nightstands have been bumped from the top of the list to the #2 position.  In either case, neither of these projects can be started until I have the new shop space up and running.  I’m getting close on that front and might even post about it as early as tomorrow.  Anyway, back to the bookcase.

We currently have a standard, tall bookcase that was purchased many years and holds quite a few books.  That piece now resides in my office and holds all of my woodworking and craft related tomes.  It’s full.  Additionally, there are a few built-in shelves in the new house and they hold several books.  They too are full.  We own a lot…

View original post 629 more words

Huaraches!

There are still Huaraches north of old Mexico.  As I prepare to resole my huaraches I thought it might be good to look back on them as a very viable hand-made shoe.

For a long time while searching for huarache construction techniques, I could only find the simplest tire sandals and many links to “barefoot” style running sandals.  However, a few years ago, I found Markus Kittner’s Huarache Blog and scoured it for inspiration and design secrets from real huaracheros in old Mexico.  He has done excellent work in documenting the process.

My first beautiful huaraches drying after being soaked to shape to my foot.  They were subsequently oiled and slicked down.  I owe much to the Huarache blog for so many great images and descriptions of traditional huaraches.

As a craftsman of sorts, I understand that making a “one-off” of something does not imply expertise.  Only replication builds a real understanding and mastery of the object being produced. However, this is not my first leather working or shoemaking project but a major improvement on a theme.  This style shoe is made on a last.  The shoe lasts I purchased on Ebay have finally been used to actually make a shoe.  I documented the process as it came together as best I could; my mistakes and changes included in the process.  This is not really a “how to” recipe for making a huarache but shows the process I used.

The lasts I found on Ebay.  The sole cut out, punched for strapping and nailed to the last.

The last shown here fits me well but are an Oxford dress shoe style, meaning they run a little long in the toe.  As I am making an open-toe design, I let the last hang over slightly in the front, squaring the sole to the shape of my actual foot.  New lasts are pricey (ca. 50 euros/$70 US), but I think it will pay in the long run to invest in a better design for myself and those people I might make shoes for.

Wetting out the first strap.

I didn’t show the strap cutting process as there is little to be learned about that.  It is a skill in itself, even if you have a strap cutter.  My Osbourne strap cutter can be seen in the upper right of this photo

Since this project was experimental, I used scrap leather, meaning I could only get about three foot (one meter) straps.  In future, I’ll probably use 6 foot or longer pieces (2+ meters).

Nailing the strap to the last.

I pre-punched holes in the mid-sole and away we go.  A little tallow on the straps helps cut the friction of the leather but ended up being not worth the trouble.  They were kept damp throughout the process.

Placing the twining thong.

This is a signature of the style I chose.  The vamp or tongue-like piece was later removed as I didn’t like the way it looked.  I’ll experiment more with that later.

Lacing and twining.

Unlike normal, I completely finished the first shoe and removed it from the last to check size and shape to determine any major changes that would need to be made.

A heel piece was added and laced up the back. I think this step shows the evolution of the strap sandal to the modern huarache.

The straps running under the mid-sole look like a problem here but are ultimately skived down, dampened, and hammered flat.

Straps ends as added in. Longer straps would lessen the ends here.

I used simple wire nails (as is traditional) to attach the soles but sewing would work too.

Ends to be trimmed and skived, and a finished sole.

Pulled from the last, they actually matched.  I don’t know why I was surprised but that made me really happy.

Preparing to nail the sole.

The method I chose to attach the rubber is fast and efficient, and I suspect rather tough.  The nails are pressed through the leather and rubber into a thick leather scrap below.  Otherwise, you would need to pry it up from the work board.  One surprise I learned over time was that the nails actually wore off on the underside before the rubber.

Nailing the sole.

Bending the nails in preparation for clinching.

The nails are bent over (inward) to prepare to “clinch” them.  There are no photos of this part of the process but this was done by setting the shoe back upright on a small anvil and hammering the nails down tight with a punch.  The pre-bending causes the nail to curl inward and back up into the sole.  Voila!  The Huaraches below have about five miles of hiking on them now and they’re beginning to have some character.

Huaraches you say?  Do tough guys wear such things?  In an era of cheap, slave-made garments, its easy to forget how self-reliant our ancestors were for such things as raiment. I include this photo of Capitan Alcantar I found on the Huarache Blog as a great historical image of a man of action wearing his huaraches and ready for war.

Click the image for more historic photos like this.

I hope this prompts someone out there in the world to take on the project of making their own shoes, whether for survival, uniqueness, or just as a challenge.  Making for yourself is a small act of revolution against a bad system.

Leather Shop Apron

I finally got around to replacing my very old shop apron.  It was the standard issue split-leather welder style and over many hard years had amassed large quantities of wood glue, grease, metal grime, blood and membrane (from brain tanning), and other unidentifiable smudges over most of it’s surface.  It went into the trash a while back when an unexpected leak in my barn allowed it to saturate and subsequently get some very ugly mold patches in a funky tie-dye pattern.  I expect it was fairly nutrient-rich and I wasn’t interested in trying to salvage it after all these years.

ApronI had some fine oiled leather from a recent project (aprons take a lot of footage) so was able to cobble together a decent shop apron without too much difficulty.  I expect this to last another 20 years or more; maybe the rest of my life.

The image is not great.  Just a poorly lighted mirror shot “selfie.”  Par for the internet I guess.  And no, I’m not glaring.  That’s just how I look.  I guess I didn’t learn to smile well as a kid or it’s just not in the genes.

Saw Bench Update

I worked on the bench a little more last weekend and have already put it to work over the last few evenings for some small projects.  I have found it’s usefulness and it is a tool I know I won’t regret owning.

bench1

Front side.

A second till shelf has been added to store saws, bench hook, etc. and a few holdfast holes have been bored through.

bench2

The off-side.

I realize now I didn’t get any low angle shots.  I’ll take those when I get it oiled up a pretty.

bench3

View of the bottom till.

Sturdy and low-cost, this project allowed me an opportunity to employ some free-form joinery, use some rough-looking scraps and enjoy a bit of wabi-sabi* design.  It’s not perfect, but neither am I.

*Wabi-Sabi: an aesthetic based partly on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic of wabi-sabi can be described as a beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.”

Blast Off with this Homemade Atomic Age Rocket Camper

Home-built camper fans will probably really appreciate this remarkable future-retro monstrosity. Conceived, designed, and built by Bill Guernsey while recovering from a broken back, it took two years to complete. Follow the link below to the short write-up on the Makezine Blog or click here to straight to the Instructable: http://www.instructables.com/id/Rocket-Camper-Revealed/

Butcher block counter top.

Wise and thoughtful words for Makers.  It’s the thoughtfulness that a hand-craftsman puts into his project, not the speed or even cost that makes something worth making in the first place.

Woodworker Network

“If you remain insensitive to the individual characteristics of the material you are working with and cut regardless to a predetermined, exact measurement, then the finished piece will lack a certain wholeness and be little better than something you could have bought from a factory.” – Graham Blackburn

1508176_10205386881171912_423654881548567290_n

View original post

Campaign Desk

CampaignDesk

Here’s an interesting piece of “gone native” campaign furniture.  There was much bad about empire building (and still is) but the bringing together of foreign cultures often created new and interesting art and craft styles.

While on the topic, if campaign furniture is of an interest, or if you want to even know what it is, head over to Lost Arts Press and check out Chris Schwartz’s new book on the topic.

Here are just a few designs from the genre known as Campaign Furniture taken from Schwartz’s webpage.  Click the link below to go right to his book store.

cfbook

Early Home Built Camper

earlyhomebuiltFrom the Road to Glamperland Facebook page.   A very interesting all or mostly wooden home built camper trailer.  It has two simple slide-outs, a nice little kitchen set-up and I suspect the benches fold out to be the bed.  I really like the water tank on the roof.  I have been looking for a vintage looking tank to use for quite a while now but so far, no luck.

Leather Dopp Kit

DSC_0040A small toiletries bag made from a wax-impregnated leather.  The design is essentially that of a very small 18th century portmanteau.  Included here are some of the basic tools-of-the-trade for scale and perspective.  I think leather work is appealing to me, in part, due to the honest simplicity and lack of power tools.  Most projects can be accomplished with a sharp knife, straight-edge, awl and some stitching needles.

DSC_0039This certainly is not anything fancy but it will do the trick.

Leather Laptop Case

DSC_0044I needed a new laptop case and had some nice shoulder leather left over from other projects.  It’s a fairly minimalist design but serves to protect the little Mac.  A small brass button closure is the only hardware.

DSC_0042After giving this some thought, I realize that a leather case like this should last at least 50 years, possibly more.  The lifespan of a computer is about five years so this might end it’s service life as a document holder of some sort.  It will make a great music case or something to hold a sketchbook somewhere down the road.

Henry Miller, a fine young man

Definitely watch this if you believe in a real handcrafted lifestyle.  He has obviously been given the right encouragement and access to knowledge.  Many parents would scoff at these things or actively discourage some of these activities.  I’m glad to know there are other parents out there with an open mind and encouraging this thirst for knowledge.  It’s a fire waiting to be fanned.

Banjo redo

Last winter I had an important epiphany about myself as a musician.  I am under nor delusion that I will ever be more than a closet or campfire player.  For me, for now, that’s going to have to be good enough.  Although I love the fiddle more than any other instrument, I went back to my roots and picked up a Deering Good Time five string banjo a couple years back to see if I couldn’t revive my banjo playing.  I hadn’t really played much in over a decade but discovered that not only did the brain still remember some old tunes, but my big, beat-up fingers were actually still suited to it.  Ham-hands I’ve heard them called!

c-gt_100-150_large

Deering “Good Time” open backed 5-string banjo.

After playing the “Good Time” for a couple years, I felt I outgrew it as a player.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great instrument for the price (ca. $650), American-made, and travels well but I just wanted a little more substance and a thumpier traditional sound.  Not being able to afford anything fancy, and my playing not really being up to any professional par, spending a load of money I don’t have was out of the question.  It became apparent to me that it was time to make something better myself.  This isn’t quite as outlandish as it may seem as in my woodworking days in my early twenties, I made a couple banjos, a handful of mountain dulcimers, and some mandolin parts that were fair to partly decent instruments.  Anybody who knows me knows I hoard parts and hardware so fortunately I had a set of tuners, some fret wire, a tension ring, and a bracket set for a banjo (obviously the universe conspired for this to happen). For the rest, a quick trip through the Stewart-MacDonald catalog located the missing elements (e.g., a White Lady Vega-style tone ring, brass arm rest, bridge, and tailpiece, as well as a maple neck blank and rosewood fingerboard, and a calf-skin for the head).

Banjo3Unfortunately, time and energy were against me when I made the initial build last summer.  I was traveling and teaching for the university while working on this so I didn’t document the process.  So, I essentially built this one twice.  Once, to have something to play while traveling over the summer, then a rebuild in the fall to tweak the set-up and put a better finish on it (tung oil).  The photos don’t really do it justice here but hopefully, it gets the idea across.  Making an instrument is a doable thing.

Banjo1

Banjo back to show construction. Steamed hoop comprised of three core layers of shagbark hickory with an inner and outer laminate of american black walnut. Neck made from a “flamed” piece of curly maple.

I won’t even attempt to describe the process and there are many better instrument makers who have done this before me (see the Foxfire books, Irving Sloane, Earl Scruggs and plenty of others).

Sloane

This book, and others, made instrument making an approachable thing for me 25-30 years ago.

To make a banjo, you essentially need a few, more-or-less mechanical parts, then find a way to attach them together in a fairly precise and meaningful way; that is to say a neck, complete with a fretted fingerboard and tuners, and a drum-headed hoop of some type.  Having some experience with steam bending, this part was not as intimidating as it might seem the first time around.  My choice for the body was a hickory core with walnut laminates for the outside.

Banjo4

Plain headstock. Rosewood head plate, fingerboard, and heel.

These pictures already show the six months of use and she already needs a good cleaning.  As can be seen though, there’s little ornamentation on the instrument; no inlay or bindings, just an octave marker on the side of the fingerboard.  I did steal the peghead design from Earl Scruggs’ book where he stole and printed the Mastertone design himself.  It was just too classic.

Banjo5

Rim detail to show laminae. Core (3) are hickory, outer and inner are walnut.

I had intended to veneer over the back but after completion, I liked the raw look that shows the construction.  Maybe I’ll change my mind about this later but for now, this is it. The calfskin head can be a finicky when traveling as it is affected by humidity.  Some players remedy this with a thin layer of spray-on silicone.  I may try this in the future just to see how it works.

Banjo6

This photo doesn’t do the maple justice. The Flame is very nice in the sunlight and has some real depth.

I rarely see a reason to hide a beautiful wood grain.

Banjo7

Rosewood heel cap made from a scrap. No necessary, but gives it a finished look.

DSC_0062

Detail of “the pot” as the body of a banjo is called. The walnut is s little bleached out in this image.

The components that make up the pot of the banjo are illustrated above.  From right to left: brass tension hoop, edge of the rawhide over wire, nickel-plated tone ring, tension brackets, and wood hoop.  the armrest is just visible in the lower right.

Banjo2

It’s remarkable how fast the weight adds up.  24 brackets, brass screws, tone ring, tension ring, tuners, and armrest make for some significant weight.  I think it’s a good idea for any artisan to sign their work, even if it’s never intended to sell.  This separates the hand-crafted from the mass-produced and show the care and the soul that goes into a hand-made work.

Now, time to practice.

Makers to the Rescue

Makers, Dreamers, Builders, and Inventors, Unite:

reflections on saving our world

“Perpetual devotion to what a man calls his business, is only to be sustained by perpetual neglect of many other things. And it is by no means certain that a man’s business is the most important thing that he has to do”  Robert Louis Stevenson.

Coup_de_poing_acheléen

Humans are, by nature, makers of things.  That’s how we deal with the world…  or did, until the Industrial Revolution tore us away from our connection with the earth.  Somebody is still making all the stuff, of course, its just outsourced and corporatized,  repackaged, and branded.  Strangely, the stuff that should last, like clothes, housing, or tools are generally poorly made and often unfixable while the junk that should be disposable is made from plastics that will endure for a geologic age or poison our descendents.  But maybe, with a little effort, it doesn’t have to be this way.

TheCordwainer

Today, instead of procuring our needs directly or through someone we know, we trudge off into an abstract man-made environment to be treated as children and told to perform an obtuse task or two or twenty.  And in exchange for giving up our time, we get slips of paper (or more likely, digits only readable to a computer on a plastic card) that confirm that we have performed our work and are now in a position to gather food, shelter, clothing, heat, etc. from a middle-man where profits are almost never seen by the makers.

FullApron

Hand Crafted Apron from THOSE WHO MAKE.

Creating things like fire, rope, or cutting tools, not to mention shoes or housing will baffle most modern people.  Weaving a blanket, sewing a shirt, or butchering an animal are simply out of the question for most of us in the western world.  Many of these activities will get you strange looks at best or a call to the authorities at worst.  This mindset means that most of us can’t feed or cloth ourselves any longer even if we really want to.

tailorMakers are the hope.  We’re out there.  Doing things and making stuff.  Fending for ourselves in an hostile but lethargic world of expected and nearly enforced consumerism. Once you realize the machine doesn’t work, you can realize it doesn’t really exist.

Most of my adult life, I’ve noticed an interesting paradox.  Typical wage-slaves who proudly give 50 hours per week to a faceless and unappreciative mechanism are convinced that the dreamers and the creators are just a bunch idlers and flâneurs when it’s, in fact the lifestyle that they really envy.  If it isn’t recognized as drudgery, somehow it’s not real work.  But how much do we really need to be happy?

hammock

As a side note, many modern philosophers trace this thinking directly to the Protestant Reformation when, as they claim, much of the fun was beaten out of life and holidays were things to be frowned upon.  But here I digress.

The internet actually gives me hope, especially seeing the wonderful documentaries of real craftsmen and makers around the world that are emerging from obscurity.  Maybe to many, Makers are just a novelty.  Something to be ogled at.  But knowing there are others out there looking for a deeper purpose and a better existence makes me feel a little better about humanity.

BicycleRepair

Repairing something is a first step toward making something.

Let’s be realistic; most modern folks wouldn’t opt to live as hunter gatherers as their ancestors did, but maybe we can reach a better balance with our lives than to adopt the imposed role as absolute consumers.  And hopefully conscience people can do some good things along the way.  Maybe by thinking outside the consumer mindset and choosing to build our homes, make our own socks and shirts, ride a bike, and hunt our meat we can make a difference by both our action and our inaction.

In the words of Samuel Johnson, “To do nothing is within everyone’s power.”

san

Remember: “An idle mind is a questioning, skeptical mind. Hence it is a mind not too bound up with ephemeral things, as the minds of workers are. The idler, then, is somebody who separates himself from his occupation: there are many people scarcely conscious of living except in the exercise of some conventional occupation”

Robert Louis Stevenson, idler extraordinaire.

stillWhy not go make something?  Your great grandparents did.

P.S. Pardon the Friday late night ramblings.  My disdain for the modern world is heightened at the end of a ridiculous week at work.

Bucksaw Again

For this project I moved my little operation into the living room of the house.  Creating sawdust and wood chips for the dogs to track around in their boredom is a real bonus.  But, on to the show…

Making a Bucksaw for carpentry, bushcraft, or just because they’re cool.

DSC_0901The little bucksaw I built last winter had never been “finished” even though I’ve been using it for a while now.  Having a few hours to spare I pulled out the knives, rasps, and scraper and decided to finish this once and for all before getting down to the next project.

DSC_0904

The curves are merely aesthetic and can be ignored completely for a serviceable saw (if you can live with it).

I hope to put this together soon as a sort of “Instructable” for making frame saws, buck saws, and turning saws but for now, this will have to do.  Although common enough for the last couple millennia, frame saws have lost their place in the tool kits of carpenters and craftsmen, having been replaced by sabre saws, band saws, and the like.  There is a lot of beauty in the old design and a serviceable saw can be built in a short time with very few tools.  In fact, the one pictured here cost about $4 for the partial band saw blade, maybe a dollar for the screws and a few bucks for the long-toothed firewood blade.  The lumber was created from a less-than-perfect bow stave; a well-seasoned shagbark hickory bodged down to about 7/8″ thick.  The genius of this design is that it allows for an extremely thin blade to be stretched very tight for ease of work and a very clean cut.

DSC_0905

A file for cutting (top), a store-bought 20″ bow saw blade (middle), and a band saw blade ready to be cut (bottom).

A new, high quality band saw blade can be purchased for under $14 from a decent hardware store.  The above is a Delta brand 1/2″ blade with 6 teeth-per-inch (TPI) and is only 2/100ths of an inch thick.  That makes for very little waste which can be especially valuable when working harder to acquire materials like antler or bone.

DSC_0906Band saw blades are made in a continuous loop and are great for what they do but the first thing we need is to break the loop.  The metal is extremely hard, and fairly brittle which works to our advantage.  The edge of a sharp bastard file, like that pictured above can be used to score cross the blade.  You don’t need to cut all the way through, but just make a solid scratch across the surface.  Then the blade can be snapped by hand, making sure to not put any unnecessary bends in the blade.  Drilling the holes in the ends is the tough part.  As I said, the metal is very hard so, either you can use a punch to make a starter spot and drill through as is (but this will severely dull most drill bits), or the ends can be gently annealed in a forge or with a torch and drilled soft.

DSC_0909Here are all the components of the new buck saw with the new linseed oiled surface glaring in the sun.  The tensioner can be made from any strong cord (in this case 550 paracord), but any strong line can be built up or bailing wire will work (but is a little low-class and ugly and difficult to remove quickly).  The spreader bar (the horizontal piece) is morticed into the legs but is not fastened by anything other than the tension on the whole system.  Thus, the whole saw can be taken down in a few seconds and stuck into a toolbox or backpack for easy travel.

DSC_0910Above is the assembled saw under tension and ready to cut.  A good question was already asked as to “why the spreader is curved in this case?”  Because this was made from real wood, split with and axe, following the grain.  I could have worked to straighten it for looks but I like the fair curve it created and, as it has no bearing on the function, left it as is.

Hope this helps anyone wanting to make a saw like this.  Maybe I can offer this as a short, one day class at Rabbitstick or Winter Count soon.

Up soon: a turning saw.

Robin Wood, Traditional Craftsman

Here’s another excellent video of Robin Wood, wood turner and traditional craftsman.  Visit his website to learn more about this remarkable man and his admirable career choice.  As he explains, his job is easy to describe while so many careers are just about impossible to explain what one does and we create fancy titles to describe what we do all day.

His website is: http://greenwood-carving.blogspot.com/