Another Bucksaw on the Loose

I am stunned to hear from several recent misguided enthusiasts to the gentle art of wilderness skills that their new hobby costs them so much money… I guess even our low-tech approach to life can be marketed and sold to the right customer with our ingrained need for newer, quicker, and “approved” gear. Let’s hope this ailment isn’t catching.

Making something for one’s self is, in itself, an act of rebellion in these troubled times so I thought I would share what I’ve been up to in the idle hours these past few days.

After someone sweet-talked me out of my last (and personal) bucksaw I was in need of a replacement. I lucked upon some beautiful walnut last year and set some aside to make a few saws. Straight-grained, strong, and beautiful, this 5/4 sawn chunk was ripe for carving into something nice. I spent far too much time in finish and detail on this one but a beautiful tool is much nicer to use than an ugly one and curves appeal more than straight lines to this gentleman.

There isn’t much need for a lengthy instructable for this design but notice that the straight grain was respected in all dimensions and runs the length of each arm. As for hardware, it was my intention to inset square nuts into the handles and connect the blade with round-head machine screws. However, looking through my hardware on hand, that would have required a trip to a store, so for now, we use carriage bolts and wing nuts.

The devil is truly in the details and it is a joy to carve such fine wood with sharp tools. The entirety is polished with Lundmark carnauba wax as it brings out the color and grain while providing excellent protection against water.

The Hardest Part of Learning to Sharpen

Wise words. Learning to really properly sharpen an edge tool by hand is an epiphany and makes wood and leatherworking a real joy.

The Literary Workshop Blog

The other day, I was teaching a friend to sharpen his plane iron, and it got me thinking about sharpening.  Of all the skills I have learned while working wood, sharpening has been the most life-changing. It started with chisels and plane irons, but then I began sharpening my kitchen knives and pocketknives.  I had no idea that steel could get so sharp!  It used to be that dull tools were merely inconvenient, but now I find a dull knife a heartbreaking disappointment.

I say this because I want to share a recent article on sharpening by Chris Schwarz, former editor at Popular Woodworking Magazine and current head of Lost Art Press.  In it, Schwarz reflects (well, more like pontificates) on how few woodworkers actually know how to sharpen an edge tool.  Even the some of the professionals who write for the big-name magazines often lack basic sharpening skills.  He…

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“The Travelling Tinker” by John Burr

The Travelling Tinker

The Travelling Tinker

A painting by the Scottish artist John Burr (1831-1893).  Tinkers were originally tinsmiths or “tinners”.  One of many itinerant jobs pursued by a class of casual laborers.  These were mostly skilled and specialized crafts like basket making, shoe repair, leather work, and metal work but many poorer workers were migrant farm labor picking hops and tending the market gardens during the peak harvest.  The fellow in the image above appears to be a fairly well-off repairman mending a seam in a pot.  This from a time when new items were a rare purchase.

I love deciphering images like this for the details of domestic life.  Unlike most photos, there is real intention in what the artist chose to include or not in the painting.  The house is clearly a poor one but a freshly killed chicken hangs from a nail on the wall by some dry roots.  A handmade broom leans against the wall next to a basket that has the tradesman’s coat lying across it.  The oldest daughter tends the infant while the mother stands by the laundry basin with a toddler behind.  All the children look on while the novel worker plies his trade in a waistcoat and hobnail walking shoes.

Wandering Minstral

A Wandering Minstral

A Wandering Minstrel

Here is a painting by the Scottish artist John Burr (1831-1893) of an itinerant fiddler playing for a family in a Scottish lane probably trying to make enough money to eat or maybe even receive some food for his entertainment.  I can’t help but think the father looking out has a skeptical look; possibly wondering what this will cost in the end.

Music and storytelling were a very different commodity in an age of widespread illiteracy and 24 hour media.  It’s hard to even imagine a time when all music was handmade and intimate and not an item to be mass marketed.

The World is Your Workshop

In Britain and Ireland, the Romany Gypsys and the Traveller community are often associated with low-skilled work such as scrap dealers, horse traders, musical entertainers, or more nefarious activities outside the societal norms.  However, there were plenty of skilled craftsmen and craftswomen providing goods and services to people around the country.

Below is an image of a couple, working together making footstools outside their vardo while another couple looks on from the comfort of their wagon.

Gypsy carpenters making small and large stools for market. From an early 20th century postcard.  Source: Romany and Traveller Family History Society.

Other Gypsy families were blacksmiths, basket weavers, or similar occupations that could be taken on the road, required little stock or overhead, and could be performed independently or with a minimum of family help.

Gypsy Basket Weavers on Skyros. Source: http://from-hand-to-hand.org/.

There is more to wandering people than the romantic or demonized images we carry.  People are just people after all.

Gypsy Blacksmith. Source.

Gypsies France 1930s-1960s

Encampment on a pitch somewhere in France, early mid-20th century.

The Handy Neck Knife

In the spirit of the internet Bushcraft trend of pulling out our tools and comparing I decided to join in the fun.   This is the patch / neck knife I purchased back around 1986 when I first started getting primitive.

A poor photo of the walnut sheath.

I went with wood as I was wearing this almost constantly whle working a backwoods program for the Scouts. I decided it might just impale me through the sternum or neck if I took a bad fall so the wooden block sheath was the solution.

Human hand for scale.

This one was made by a bladesmith from an antique crosscut saw and has a beautiful tiger-striped maple handle. This is probably its third sheath but it’s the one I’ve stuck with since around 2001. It’s been camping and on thousands of miles of field projects, not always around my neck but almost always close-by in my pack. For some reason, our society thinks you’re a little weird if you wear a knife around your neck all the time.

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.

Motor Car Tool Kit ca. 1907

I keep a couple tool rolls for specialty fixes but I really like this setup from over a century ago.  I think I need to make and “essentials” kit like this for general travel to keep the tings I truly need in need place and handy.  It might be a little heavy for the rambler on foot but could be invaluable on the cycle or in the truck.

1907Tools-107

From The Army and Navy Co-operative Society Store, London 1907.

I think I would need to make an image of each tool in its place as I have found in my other bespoke tool kit that the loops and pockets all start to look alike when there are too many empty ones at once.  The only potential problem with tool rolls is that they can get thick and bulky in a hurry if you aren’t careful with what you put in them.

Fire Hose Tool Roll

Duluth Trading Company’s tool roll available for about $50 US.

I find that tool rolls aren’t that valuable when working from the home shop as they take up a lot of surface but are a very handy way to travel and stay organized on the road.  I use four tool rolls myself currently, one for holding large brace bits, one for wrenches (mainly for working on the scooter or truck), one for chisels, and one for carving tools.

With a little forethought, I think a traveler’s kit like this could be very useful.

Fishing Reel

I’ve been working on a new hand reel to keep in my pack with my travel fishing kit.  I didn’t have much of a plan when I started so I drilled out a couple of one-inch holes a little further apart than the width of my hand and started from there.  The wood came from the scrap pile and is a very solid chunk of walnut.  I’m a little concerned about the possibility of cracking but this piece is old, well-aged, and extremely solid so I suspect it will be okay in the end.  It will be heavily waxed to waterproof the wood and I’m working on making and trying a few silk leaders.  Anyone with experience with hand-made fishing gear have any thoughts on this?

The hand reel and the primary tools used.

These little projects are a nice way to spend the evening in a productive way.  After looking at so many artifacts over my career it becomes apparent that our ancestors often created works of art and beauty that truly come from within maker and their influences throughout their lives.

When you make for yourself, your tools and possessions become a reflection of who you are, not where you shop.

Too Many Knives

A few too many camp knives?

This is what happens as you travel, receive gifts, buy better stuff, always need a good knife, etc.

From the upper left: Camillus 5-1967 (a friend carried this through Vietnam), my small Arkansas stone for field touch-ups, Buck folder, two classic Victorinox Pioneer knives (I’ve carried this style every day since high school) and a small pen knife, a lock-blade Buck made in Idaho, a 19th century bone handle knife cut down from a larger eating knife, two Gerber multi-tools (the original is from 1990 and a more modern, but heavy version beneath), a hand-made patch knife by M.P. with walnut neck sheath I’ve had since 1986, a Solingen-made high carbon Bowie knife with ebony handle, two classic Case XX folders, two small folding Gerbers, a hand-made camp knife from a fine Colorado maker, and at the bottom my “go to” Buck field knife that has worked on archaeological projects, cut up animals, dog holes, and performed about every other imaginable task.

This photo came about as I decided to organize my camping gear.  While emptying packs and bags I realized there were knives in every one, usually in more than one pocket.  After throwing them out on the floor and arranging for a quick photo I began to think about the ones in various tool boxes, my wood carving knives, a couple collector knives I can’t seem to part with, and others stashed away around the house.  My search for minimalism is failing when it comes to good tools.