Friday, September 5, 2014

Following Seas

For months now, I have been trying to think about how to word this post, and each time I was left unsatisfied and decided to return at a later date. Now, time has worn on and, however apoeticaly, I have decided it has been long enough.

The process of creating stems deeper than the simple transformation of materials into other objects; the heart and soul of the maker is poured into it. Limited time and space led to my limited ability to work, but those things I was able to work on held their own special meaning.

In the interest of preservation and reclamation of materials, I set forward to forge a pair of knives that would go to two of my good friends at their wedding. For as long as anyone can remember, they had been together, and since I met them, acted as though they were already married. Such relations are rare to come by, and when they happen across you, you can but stand aside and watch.

I have been to a number of weddings, but I can say with all truth to it that this was the most beautiful weekend I have ever seen. Without trying to exaggerate the days we had leading up to, including, and following the ceremony, everything was virtually perfect. There ran a deeper sense of friendship and commitment not only between the husband and bride, but also between them and the group of friends they developed. In my ignorant youth I failed to understand that it is the people in life that make the most significant difference. How wrong I have never been. 

Come next week, I will be moving down south where my own path has led me, and from there to wherever the winds blow. 

To my friends, Fair Winds and Following Seas, and may we meet again soon.

For those who care, I will also write a little about the knives I made to accompany them through the ides of life. The first of the pair began as a laminated chopping knife where the other layers were given to me in the form of an old architectural spike from another friend of ours. As the blade took shape, an interesting emerged from the old steel, akin to wrought iron.

The second of the two was intended to be an opposing twist pattern welded steak knife. Long into its creation, the steel refused to behave and instead of holding to its design, the layers smoothed into a straight laminate. Labouring in the hour hours of the summer, I drew on the foundation of my limited experience and pushed the boundaries of my skill as a craftsman. The technical level of the knives, although much better than the other blades I have made, are not without their faults. On each, I used a piece of mokume gane from years past, the bolster of the chopper and the handle of the other. The remainder of the handle of the chopper is purple heart, burnished in places to darken it while the remainder will turn with age.

With each new knife, there come with it a number of new techniques practised. One of the products of finishing a tenth the knifes I forge is that the finishing is the hardest part. The chopper is the first hidden tang knife I ever handled, as well as the first I have ever bolstered. The plunge cut, although a bit off, is also the first I have done, and turned out better than I thought. Similarly, the laminate and the pattern weld are the first I have successfully finished, all others being mon-steel construction. As my journeys through life take me elsewhere, I will hold to my roots and carry on in this path of craftsmanship, and in it the hopes of bringing the process to others.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Where the Waters Fall

Such an incredibly diverse and rich world exists in the Adirondacks, from the barren rocky peaks of the tallest summits to the verdant forests and lush rivers that flow between them, the brilliant autumn colours and the stark frozen winter landscapes, on scales as large as the mountains themselves and as small as the microscopic plants, above ground and below, living or hewn from stone. Whether blessed by views from the summit or in the lowlands, along the trail or in the feeling of seeing the first peaks cresting the horizon, an unfathomable beauty lies here like nowhere else I have seen. In the rain or the sun, the snow or the wind, alone or in good company, that will never change.

Fitting of its name, Tabletop Mountain rises to a long plateau of a summit yet below the treeline. Across its ridge, the trail wound for half a mile or more before coming to the peak, an otherwise unassuming outcropping with a halfhearted view of Marcy and Algonquin. The guidebooks always claim that this is one of the poorer views afforded by the 46, but I did not mind. To me, there are no mountains unworthy of their ascent.

Before making our way to Phelps, we returned from Tabletop to Indian Falls, a waterfall that holds a welcoming view of Marcy silhouetted between the encroaching walls of the forest. When I first came to Indian Falls a few years ago, the water was nowhere near as strong as this trip, given new life by a particularly wet summer.

The path take a turn through the shallows of Marcy Brook whose crystalline waters paint the rock in spectacular shades of blue before plunging over the edge. Small rocks pebble the stream, throwing up the water in a cascade of light and silklike motion.

Over jagged stone the stream thunders like the hooves of horses suspended just barely above the ground in a world so easily overlooked.

Before taking their final turn down into the valleys and lakes beyond, the unassuming brook spills through the falls where it shatters on the rock below.

Time has such a mesmerizing effect on where these waters fall, lending them either the softness of the clouds above or brittle, jagged edges like splintered glass. Raw power rides on those innocent droplets, the power to sculpt the earth and tear through rock over the course of millennia. The water that gives life to so much along its way, the water that began so high up in the mountains, gathers together in a final showing of its true face.

After the nice reprieve, we were on our way once again. Back through the trails that led us to the falls, we wound our way towards the junction of Phelps.

At the top, all that remained of the marker was small hole drilled into the rock. As sad as it is, it is all too common for the brass markers to have been torn away by looters to sell it as scrap. Even here where time stand still, people find a way to destroy it.

All around the summit lay a collection of small rocks, either on the side of the trail of tossed into the bushes. To help preserve the way for those not yet finished, I gathered them and began to build a cairn at the peak.

Much unlike Tabletop, Phelps gives way to a great wooded basin stretching as far to the right as the eye can see, following down a valley towards the west. Marcy and Iroquios stand proud, while half a dozen other giants linger on the edge of the horizon.

This marks 15 of the 46 High peaks, and with it, one of the final opportunities I will have to journey here for too may years to come.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Anulum Argentum

For years, I have been hunting for a silver quarter from which to make a ring. Between 1932 and 1964, the US minted quarters that were 9o% silver (the remaining 1o% being copper), and as a result of age and value, are rarely seen in circulation. A few months ago, I happened to receive one in change from a rest stop during a cross country drive. The sound they make is very distinct, nothing like the modern cupronickel; they are light and crystalline like chimes instead of the dense, heavy sound. Another telltale sign is the edge. On cupronickel quarters (and modern dimes, to which there is the variant dubbed Mercury Dimes minted from 1916-1945 and contain equivalent amounts of silver and copper), the knurled edge is a single colour- silver. Otherwise, there is a very evident banding visible that shows the copper and nickel plating of the coin.

Hammering a ring out of a disk is a very different method from casting it out of grain. Constant annealing is required to avoid cracking, despite the ductility of silver. In short, the disk (quarter) is rolled on edge across a hard surface (anvil, sledge hammer head, etc.) while lightly but rapidly hammered.

Progress is slow, but the edge soon begins to mushroom. Because the force of the hammer blows is light, the centre does not deform, allowing the form of a rounded ring to emerge out of the disk. It is important to roll both directions, occasionally turning the quarter around so the faces are reversed. That helps ensure that the ring is centred on the disk (to ward against wobbles and asymmetry later).

Deciding when to stop is a relatively arbitrary decision. Try and find a balance between thickness of the ring and the diameter. If I were to stop at the point in the second picture, it would in theory work, but it would then be a very thin, narrow band. Instead, I hammered until it was around 2~2.5x the original thickness on the edge. Be wary, however, of trying to make the band very wide now will result in catastrophe later when you try to expand it to the proper size (the height of the band grows as the wall thins)

After you achieve the desired thickness, the middle needs to be removed. It can be drilled out, but I preferred to use the rotary tool to carefully cut the edges, saving the scrap for melting later (little though it is). The rotary bits I use are linked on the 'Links' page.

This is perhaps the only part that may require a semi-specialized tool (besides a ring mandrel). Another method of removing the web could be to drill as large a sized hole in the centre, but holding down the coin may be difficult or dangerous.

Next, the spine needs to be filed out. Needle files are great for this, or if you prefer to use small drum sanders, aluminium oxide bits, or other rotary bits they work just as well, but remove material faster so more care is needed. The only file you truly need is a half round file, but a full round and a flat file are nice to have too.

When the last bit of the web/spine is filed away, it is time to begin sizing the ring. Without expanding the ring any, it is as sized above. It may be larger or smaller depending on how much you hammered the quarter. Whether or not it is meant to be used this way, I used the mandrel as an internal mandrel, hammering on the top of the ring and spinning the mandrel around, in a very similar fashion to the initial forming of the ring shape. This gently expands it around the mandrel and, because of the tapered shape, it does not fall off as it grows (assuming you are hammering on the smaller side [left side in the above picture]).

If you do not know your ring size, this is a way to learn. I have never worn rings before, and through this project, learned my fingers are not designed well for rings. The last knuckle is considerably wider than the part the ring sits on, so it wears very strangely. Anyway, I kept expanding the band, annealing it every whole size or so by heating it to a dull red and allowing it to cool either in still air or water (non-ferrous metals do not matter because there is no iron to change molecular structure as a function of time). When it was close to slipping over the last knuckle, I would gradually increase size and keep trying it until it fit.

Notice that the band has become much wider than when it started, and the walls are quite a bit thinner. If you bring the initial quarter toroid to a smaller diameter, the band will be thicker but have thinner walls. If you leave it larger, it will be thinner but have wider walls.

A final point is finishing. Files and sand paper can bring the inside and out from hammered texture to a mirror polish or anywhere between. Half way through sanding the band, I realized I hated it. The hammered texture felt much more natural and authentic, so I went back to the mandrel and re-textured it. In the end, the result was about what I expected for doing this the first time.