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Upcoming projects:
Conclusion of bookbinding
Iron Age bellows build
Pliers Build
Metallurgical Science behind Heat Treating

Monday, July 6, 2015

Wordsmith: Part IV- Gilding

Gilding is one of those things that I always associate with things that are needlessly fancy and, on books, hold a special place in my heart beside the scent of old pages and leather bindings. In principle, it seems simple enough. Until you try it.

Everywhere I have been able to find shows a similar method, and unanimously describe the pain of working with silver and gold leaf. Never having handled the like before, I assumed it could not possibly be that bad. Wrong.

Attempting gilding was something just short of a mistake, and through three separate efforts to gild the front of the book (historically not uncommon to leave the top and bottom bare), the results were wildly disappointing. With practise, it may turn out better, but I am not sure if I will even bother trying...


First, I masked the headbands to keep from mangling them in the process. Originally, I intended to gild the top and bottom, but after the fiasco of the front decided not to. The headband is loose and exposed, so keeping it protected during clamping was worth the ten seconds effort to tape over it.


First, it is important to dust the page edges with talc to prevent them from sticking together in the gilding process. Not doing this can be catastrophic, and even still there is a fair amount of care needed to unstick the pages.

A brush would probably work better for this, but all I had was a wad of lint. Applied liberally to the first centimetre or so of the pages from the exposed edge is as far in as it need to go, but don't be skimpy!


Along with the bound pages, I added about a dozen sacrificial pages to either side. This helps with the leaf tearing on the edges when unpressed and hides similar marks where the leaf binds on both the wood boards and the paper.

Now, to prepare the surface for gilding, I took a bit of 400# sand paper and smoothed over everything. Although the plane left a very nice finish, having taken it out of the clamps and re clamping it left just enough unevenness to warrant the sanding. However, the sandpaper left a few black streaks (far more visible when the surface was wetted), but that didn't matter much in the end.

When done sanding, the pressed pages have a burnished sheen to them. Thoroughly dust when finished, as it will hinder the gilding process.


The first stage of the actual gilding is to seal the edges with a special gelatine glue called glare. And by special, I mean not special at all. Mix about 8 oz boiling water per teaspoon of powdered gelatine. Any food grade gelatine works fine. To keep mine from gelatinizing, I placed the cup I mixed it in back in the pot of remaining hot water, akin to a double boiler but off the direct heat.

With a paper towel, wipe the glare over the edges to be gilded.

For some types of leaf, it may be necessary to colour the edges of the pages before gilding in order to have a richer, fuller tone. With a white page, gold, brass and copper will appear much less toned than expected. For silver, however, I did not bother with a bole (partly because I don't have anything to make it out of)


With the base of glare on the pages dry and no longer tacky to the touch, burnish back to a sheen with a brush or soft cloth.

Finding silver leaf that is actually silver was more difficult than I thought. However, I located this small package of leaf from L.A. Gold Leaf, and am pleased with the contents (if not my results).


Now begins the disaster.

Obviously, the first effort to place the sheets of impossibly thin leaf went poorly. With the gelatine mixture, apply another wash to the pages, and while the surface is fresh, lower the leaf onto it. Capillary action helps a little adhering the leaf to the glare, but it is so fragile that any sort of positioning is extremely difficult. I had to keep the leaf on the packaging sheets to move it without it tearing, and had as much trouble lowering it into place.

Two sheets covered the length of the page with a fair amount excess on the sides. I used those extra bits to patch holes.

After the first sheet was down, I covered where the seam would be between the two with more glare, careful not to lift the edge.


To press the leaf into the paper, I used a piece of the packaging as a buffer for a drumstick as a burnisher. At this stage, it is not meant to actually burnish the leaf, as it is too wet to handle the manipulation. Instead, it is to get rid of the wrinkles and bubbles left behind by my poor handling of the leaf.

Now, set it aside to dry.

Once dry, actually burnish the leaf. Again, I used a drumstick with the packaging paper as a buffer.


The results were less than impressive. It is very obvious where the sliver took and where it did not, and it is so spotty that I was tempted to just sand it all away.


Instead, I just went for a second coat. This one was a little better than the first, and a third better still. However, at the end there were still a number of spots, tears and stains that I am not happy with. I may have to stoop to using a silver aerosol paint to cover it all...

Once you are theoretically pleased with the results, carefully unclamp the pages and begin the laborious process unsticking the pages. One at a time.

To make it a little easier, curl the book as though rolling a news paper. The sheer motion will do some of the work for you, but there are still many places that need to be freed. I used a thin knife slid between pages to separate them.

Next up it's onto attaching the pages to the cover.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Examinaton of a Medieval Axe

Last week I was afforded the opportunity to visit the Oakeshott museum in Minneapolis and handle a number of artefacts there. Although unable to see may of Oakeshott's typographic swords, there were several other interesting pieces on hand. One of which, which I will now detail, is a curious axe from the late medieval period.



This axe is peculiar in that it challenges everything I know about the evolution of the axe as a tool. A combination of its weight, dimensions, and proportions make for a tool that I cannot quite figure out. In the time of its creation, it was more common to split larger timbers with the aid of wooden wedges, which were easier to make, cheaper, and more readily available than the use of their handled metal counterparts. That is not to say that splitting axes did not exist, but this one in particular is strangely thick and heavy for its age. It was not until later development of iron making technology that the liberal use of material in common tools became more readily practised. However, I am by no means a historian, so I will refrain from making any more commentary on what I think on the matter.



Length of eye, underside
Width of eye, top, edge side
Width of eye, underside, edge side
Thickness of the poll, both langets, and width of the eye at the poll were consistent between both sides of the axe. On the edge side of the eye, the disparity of the width is likely due to corrosion that seems to have travelled about 7/8 of the way up from the bottom, leaving only the top undistorted. No visible weld seam suggests the eye was slit and drifted to the final shape along with the development of the langets. 

Width of eye at poll
Width of langet, top
Width of poll
At some point in the future, I may recreate this axe to better understand the need for such a thick poll and blunt geometry of the edge. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Sharpening: Chisels and Gouges IV

V Gouges

There are two main ways I have seen V gouges sharpened, and both of them begin the same. First, where each of the intersecting faces is treated as a skew chisel, and the point where they meet is naturally kept sharp by nature of careful holding of a constant angle while sharpening. Second, after the two edges are sharp, the point between them rounded very slightly as though an extremely small round gouge so there is less of an intense line left by the meeting of the two faces. I personally do the first, leaving the point as sharp as possible, but that is because I use it solely for defining crisp lines, whereas I have a small gouge for the latter.


In a previous post, I mentioned how I use files on my harder chisels to manipulate the burr. Here, I will demonstrate that method. Unlike with the round gouges, I cannot use the corner of the stone on a V gouge because the angle is less than 90 degrees.

First, however, I begin sharpening as I did with a straight/skew chisel. Here, it is more important to keep an even lateral pressure on the cutting edge so each pair of points is not swept out from the centre. 


One trick to getting these sharp (for me) is to sharpen both bevels evenly. That is, not creating an excessive burr on one edge while the other is just barely beginning to form. For one, it will make removing the burr easier, and for another it is more effective at carving when the two edges are in plane with one another. 


Due to the hardness of the chisel, these needle files do not do much to the edge, but are fantastic at rolling the burr back to the outside of the bevel. I use a triangular file for the V gouge, and a double half-round for the round gouges. Here, the angle of the file is just slightly smaller than the angle of the V, so I can reach all the way into the corner. A few light pulls away from the edge is all it takes, and feeling for the burr on the inside with a finger tells you if it is enough. Once it is back to the outside, take a single perpendicular stroke across the stone with the bevel flat against it. This shears off the burr. I tend to go in a motion that has the corner of the V on the leading edge so any flashing that may be left over is on the outside edges which I hardly ever use.


Once you are through all the stones, it's once again onto the strop. Here, pull instead of push, trying not to pull up on the handle through the stroke. Medium pressure and about 25~30 repetitions, periodically checking for a burr, and that's it.


As with the round gouges, for the inner surface, I use the corner. Because the inside of the leather is spongy, it conforms to the tight angle. 

After stropping, check for sharpness, returning as necessary to the highest grit stone that can reasonably handle honing the edge to its sharp state.