News and Announcements

--News & Announcements--

Over the next 6 months, I won't be getting much time in the shop, or anywhere else for that matter due to a change in work schedule. However, there are a number of posts I have already worked out. In the coming weeks, I will hopefully have enough time to get them out there.

Watch for--
Iron Age bellows build
Pliers Build
Metallurgical Science behind Heat Treating

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Wordsmith: Part I- Folios

Five years ago on a trip to Romania, a restaurant I dined at had a set of menus with a beautiful brass hinged, leather cover. For something as simple as it was, I could not help but appreciate the nature of the bound menu book. Since then, I have been entranced by the idea of bookbinding which has gone unsatisfied. Until now. Originally with the intent of binding a few cookbooks with family recipes, I quickly found myself carried away into something a bit more substantial. Adapting various techniques on the matter and bridging them with a few of my own, here is a look into the Wordsmith.


Seemingly every direction in bookbinding implies that, unless using screws or spiral bindings, the folios (smaller groups of pages within the larger binding) begin a pages folded a number of times then trimmed on three edges, so the spine remains folded paper. It can be one page folded in half, or larger sheets in quarters or eighths or into however many pages preferred. The reason for doing this is to make sewing the spine easier, but when printing through conventional methods this becomes significantly more difficult. Even printing four pages onto one standard size sheet requires a great deal of planning and progressive margin adjustment for thicker volumes. To counteract this, I decided not to fold anything at all and simply to cut a letter size page in half to form two 5,5x 8,5 sheets which will then be printed front and back.


Setting a guide on a guillotine style paper cutter allows quick and fairly precise work. Enough to be accurate within 1/32", which is more than sufficient for printing. Any unevenness in the binding will be more than this tolerance, and will be cleaned after the folios are bound into the final size volume.


After printing all the pages (or, as most hand bound books in this era are used for forward-produced content, blank pages), a stack of around 25 are taken together and clamped near the spine edge with as accurate an alignment as possible, leaving just over ,25" space between the edge of the paper and the boards. After experimenting with various positions, I found this best to achieve a tight binding while still allowing space to avoid the pages from becoming glued to the boards.


I used a standard PVA glue, and although there are various recipes out there for traditional flour glues and commercially available bookbinding-specific PVA glues, I found that Titebond III (wood glue) does the job. While clamped, I ran a thin bead of glue down the edge of the spine and pressed it between the pages with a finger, using the excess to cover the corner and spread it onto the face of the outer two pages as slightly visible in the above picture. This ensures that the outermost pages are held to the stack, a problem I had when I did not wipe the glue over the edges of the spine. While this is only a temporary means of binding the folios, better secure now than dealing with it later.


To make quick work of sewing, I made a steel guide for the drill  which will be clamped over the folios. Traditional awls are used to punch through the spine, which is folded, but since that does not work here, I will be going through each sheet from the top down instead of inside to out. Six sets of holes spaced between both ends (skewed towards the ends with one in the centre) are plenty for the 8,5" length. 


Aligned with one end on the bottom of the page, the edge along the spine, the guide creates very quick and consistent work of the 13 folios in this project. I used the smallest bit in the standard set of drillbits I had, which I believe is 1/16", to create holes slightly larger than the needle I will be using later.



In order to bind the folios, I used a waxed cotton thread and one needle for each set of holes. I thought about using just the one needle but realized that the tightness of the binding will be much greater if they are all done at the same time, and the folios will not be manhandled as much in the process.


To start, I tied a knot around each hole in the topmost folio (pages 0~50) and fed the excess through to the next knot to keep things tidy. This is something I changed after completely binding the folios to remove the ridge left behind. It should also be noted that the knots do not need to be overly tight, and depending on how close the holes are to the edge of the page, it may sever the paper.


This is where I start inventing things. Typically a strip of cloth is used to sew to the folios, but the orientation of holes is not suited for that. So I start looping the threads through two folios at a time, then pull tight before moving to the next.


Using this configuration of knots leaves a very strong binding that minimizes the chance of tearing through the holes.


In effect, two folios are bound together with the loops at a time, and the slack of the thread is carefully removed to hold the duofolios in alignment. Then the needles thread through the next pair until they are all bound together. 


With the stack bound, I considered stopping here, but then realized that the pairs of folios are connected with only the one length of thread. In the above photo you can see the slight misalignment of the thread where there are 'corners' to the stitching.


Bringing these together with an overhand knot allows for increased rigidity in the spine and security in the binding. Working up the seam, I tie a knot between each side of the adjoining loops, drawing those 'corners' together.


When I was about half way up each seam, I brought down the loose end from the very first knot and bound it into the the rest of the stitches. This gives a (in my opinion) cleaner finish to the binding and also pulls the topmost knot down into the spine rather than having it stand proud of the top folio.


Finally, I added another layer of glue between the stitching as a last measure in holding it all together. Be careful not to cover the threads, however, as those will be used later as an anchor point for the cloth and mull which holds the pages to the cover.

To be continued...

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Ascent

A Wanderer's Verse

Hidden pools and darkened dens,
          Where songs of springtime never end;
Winter flees our weary lands
           And brings to sow with plough and hand
          To fields tilled loam aweigh.
Freckled ferns, damp with dew,
          Near heart of mountains where all things grew,
The Way oft come and leave behind
          A wake to the weary, wanderer's mind:
          Lost for those untrue,
Where road will lead and stars alight
          The grey beyond gives way tonight.
Sundown, moonrise, heavens sing
          Guided by our home's calling
          And the Road that lies beyond.
Yet those by twilight 'ere who comfort mourn,
          And long for the familiar sight
Never know the beauty that lies
          A journey beyond our sight.




Secluded by the southern shore from the great mountains in the north, the end of the last year and the latter half of the present has seen precious little to answer the call of the wilds. In the wake of an ankle injury that same prospect of a return has been growing unquietly for some time now.


As a prelude to climbing Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River, I ventured out towards the mountains of upper South Carolina. Although the true high peak lies some number of leagues to the west and north of Pinnacle Mountain, the summit of the evening was the highest fully contained within the state. Grey clouds rolled in as winter reluctantly gave way to spring, masking the browns and scorched orange of a leafless forest.


Come the following week, when I was more confident that my slow recovery would hold me through a more treacherous ascent, it was back to the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This time, the omens of darkness and fog rolled heavier upon the road, limiting visibility to less than twenty paces in every direction.


On the eve of the first night we hiked to the summit of Mount Mitchell where a small observation platform lies beside the tomb of Rev. Elisha Mitchell, after whom the mountain was named. Due to the long hour and the clouded view, we made our way down the eastern slopes of the ridgeline to make camp for the night. Come morning, we would return to the summit and traverse the northern ridge towards other distant peaks.


With the eager anticipation to see the stars as I did on the slopes of Mount Washington, the tripod captured the brief holes in the lingering fog. Despite the haze, the stars crept out of hiding and shone their primeval light upon a small clearing.


With the dawn came relief from the freezing mist that clung to us in our sleep, and upon reaching the summit once again, the spine of the world offered us a distant shores across a sea of rolling clouds.


For their name, the Blue Ridge Mountains are truly blue, even when the trees are all laced in the colours of decay. Whether by tint of the air or something more, the trailing mountain peaks stood in vibrant shades of blue reserved for glacial waters and the purity of the southern seas.


After the brief stay at the summit of the eastern half of the country, we returned to the trail towards three other peaks, Mount Craig (6648ft), Big Tom (6581ft), and Balsam Cone (6586ft). Hiking out and back caused us to summit the middle two peaks again, totalling 8 6000+ foot summits across the day and a half on the trail.


Although far different from the northern giants I have grown accustomed to, the southern mountains are not without their own sort of beauty. In the late spring and mid fall when the foliage has had a chance to dominate the valleys between, it may be a more enticing trip, yet even so the chance to return to the wilds is something that I will not long be without again.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Reclaimed: Railroad Spikes and Lawnmower Blades

or, The Satirical Seax


For some time now, there has been stewing in the dregs of the internet a subculture of smiths who thoroughly believe that using railroad spikes, lawnmower blades, and leaf springs make superior knives. Or at the very least, comparable to what is available in known specifications. Having never made a knife from any of that sort, I decided I had to try and see for myself.


For this project, I forged a sax-like knife from each a railroad spike and a piece of agricultural lawnmower blade. The result? For the spike, mediocre at best. At full hardness (untempered), the blade was still soft. One of the common misconceptions is that the 'HC' railroad spikes (High Carbon) are actually high carbon. No. They are not. They are higher carbon than their ordinary counterparts, but still fall laughably short at around .30% carbon, where optimally (for me) you want to be much closer to or a little higher than the eutectic ration at approximately .76% C.


The lawnmower blade performed much better, hardening to a hardness greater than I would want for a knife, necessitating tempering before use. Whether it is better than 1095 or 5160, I have my doubts. Not knowing what the alloy of steel is, even if you think you have a general idea from similar items, the chance it is exactly as you believe is slim. So, in the effort of making something to visually make up for the possible lack in performance, I decided to make a third.


Cutting another piece from the mower blade, I laminated it with two more railroad spikes. Midway through forging the first knife, I lost all power to the shop, so those first two were as forged, but before the end of the third power was restored so I cleaned it up on the belt sander and sharpened it. Overall, I was pleased with the result, a fully flat ground blade with a microbevel after etching, sharpened to a hair shaving edge.

Here are a few photos of the process, and a video I put together during the making. While I know I cannot end any debates on the time old subject, I now know where I stand on it. (and of course, you know where to find the mute button)