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--News & Announcements--
Upcoming projects:
Continuation of the Mandola project

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Silent Kingdom

There lies about the land a poetry which defies words- transcends them- which bleeds the heard before a single word is spoken. And in that silence, whether together or alone in the world and sharing only the company of a wayward mind, the land spreads its reach and embraces the soul without repose. Therein endures the power of a forgotten kingdom whose presence cannot be understood until it is felt. Witnessed. Lived as a shadow beside so staggering an existence as presides over this land.

Tranquillity, pure and absolute, greets every turn of the foot and lure to the eye. It enters upon the mind so wholly that anything bound to imagination is shattered as a pale illusion to the true beauty of what rests in that perfect wilderness. For it holds a vastness of unfathomable proportions. Both in monoliths that tower over the valley, the things which grow between, and the thrill of excitement which cannot help but be set free for the knowing that no amount of time can exhaust its coming.

At times, and I would have lied were I to sat that it was not every moment, every view and breath and sound taken in, each spray of water thundering down impossible heights and bald faces of the mountains and sprawling meadows, at times I am called a gentle reminder that I have been too long away.

Unfamiliar sounds and scents awaken a primeval corner of the spirit which has known all along that this is a home that transcends walls and roads. For here the land is wild but not impassable. Brought to silence, but is not unquiet. Veiled in a pure and resounding blackness, but it is not dark. Embraced by the cold, but not uninviting.

It is impossible through pictures and words alone to capture the beauty of such a place. Rather, it is one of those experiences- no, awakenings- which might come once in a lifetime, but if by grace comes twice is no less diminished by its first libation. 

Colour returned to the landscape, shades I had all but forgotten to the arid south. Vibrant shades of green, deep and lush, as the trees and grasses and mosses grew out of every habitable slope and shelf. Places where life has no business growing  but finds its way all the same. It was the return of these colours in shades and hues which have by months escaped me: dreams of changing seasons.

As night falls and long shadows become resolute, a thousand thousand worlds unveil the twilight sky. Each one so far and old and different from our own, yet each filled with that same sense of kindred mystery and longing for what lies ever a stride beyond our reach. And so I sat and watched on the edge of the world as the sun slid below the crest of a distant ridgeline to reveal a crepuscular explosion of mingled twilight.

Yet even so, life's subtle curiosities return with the sun's arrival. Things small and unassuming, easy to overlook in a land where bald granite domes jut thousands of feet into the sky like so many broken giants' teeth. The birds and the flowers, lichens and mosses, acorns and needles and insects of a thousand kind. Each of which has somewhere in the vastness of the world found its place, and for so many of them that place was one.

Frustrations of civilisation and its burdens slowly melt away as the land becomes untame, worries as the land grows wild. It is a transformation that becomes a transformation, a change instilled by change; it is, in a word, one which feeds the other, and the other back again until nothing remains but the deepest calm and wonder.

Nature's hand sculpts the rock with precise care, tends its greeneries with unfailing devotion. By wind and water and ice and the gradual passing of time, imperfections simply cease to be. What seemed a fault crumbles away to reveal a gleaming face. What once was burned returns to ash and breathes new life where life fought only to survive. What looked to be the scars of man upon those hills in time consumed them, returning to a gentle peace undisturbed.

Inservile thought fades from the heart and that little which remains does so without the fiery temperament which in its former life struck vehemence at even the fairer city winds. A nomadic life has become of me- not by habit or by choice but by circumstance alone- and has left nowhere a home but for places I have never lived or those long since moved away in whom only the fond memories remain. Yet here at the heart of it all something wakens. Something that beckons the spirit and uplifts the soul. That same spirit which dances about with a musical lyricy unbound by the constraints of an industrialised civilisation.

Out in the wilds there is nothing but to find new and fantastic meaning for things with which you have lived your entire life a nebulous idea yet without ever truly understanding.

I'll see you where the roads meet.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Engraved Wire Inlay

Chasing, engraving, and inlay, as techniques applied to metalwork, for a long while have given me great hesitation to begin learning due to their demand for precise tools and the diminutive scale of the work. Earlier this year, a good friend of mine showed me how he approaches fine wire inlay and, as with a surprising number of things, once you understand it many of the mysteries and reservations disappear.

As with anything, the tools come first. For my approach to inlay, I needed to make a few simple chisels, gravers, and planishers. All out of ,25" square O1 tool steel, ordinarily I would have forged them but in absence of a shop they were all ground to shape.

The dimensions were a bit arbitrary and trial and error, the only really important part being the edge geometry. Overall, they are 4" long with a gradual taper on one end to 1/8" over 1,5" to the original thickness, then again tapering to a point in the other end over the remaining 2,5".

From left to right, there is a graver, which actually chisels out the material you are inlaying into, leaving a small groove cut into the surface. Then there is a chisel with a steeper angle which I use to undercut the groove, turning its geometry into a slight trapezoid rather than a rectangle. Next is a square faced chisel that I did not use much, but is helpful in smoothing out the bottom of the groove and scraping off the paper of the pattern. Finally, a polished round faced punch that drives the wire into the groove, spreading it into the channel and expanding it so it locks into place.

Next up, you need a pattern of something to engrave. Above is the sketch of the design, fitted to the shape of the sanding block whose face I am about to inlay. Tight turns and intersections at odd angles are a little more difficult, as well as small areas of relief, but with a careful hand it is certainly possible. This project is the first thing I have ever engraved and inlayed, so it will hopefully give you and idea of the learning curve (which, once you get the feel for it, is not that steep to produce a passable result).

Now, transfer the design to the thing to be inlayed. I first tried sketching directly on the metal's surface, but it did not work as I expected, so I re-sketched the pattern onto another piece of paper and adhered it to the steel. This  was more helpful than I expected, giving the graver a softer surface to bite into before beginning to cut the steel. I forgot to take a picture of the piece without any work on it, so here's what a piece of the un-engraved surface looked like.

Onto the actual engraving. I started each cut by holding the graver almost straight up and down, hammering lightly to establish a cut by which to begin the channel. Everything in this process is done with light hands. My chasing hammer is only 4oz, and there is never any real 'swinging' involved. More, it is the falling weight of the hammer with a slight flick of the wrist. Once the cut is established, I lower the angle of the chisel slightly and continue to tap with the hammer, forming a chip as the graver cuts the metal. I should note here that it is important to anneal whatever you are working on so you can actually cut through it. This block is mild steel, and although the tools are hardened to about 58 Rockwell C, the softer the surface the better.

As the channel is cut, maintain an angle on the graver that allows it to move forward without either driving deeper into the surface or coming up and breaking out the chip. It takes a little of practise to feel what is right, and being able to maintain a proper angle. As for the depth of the channel, I cut only about ,5mm deep or so, which is deep enough to easily catch with a fingernail but not so deep that the wire to later be inlayed (I am using 20ga sliver) disappears beneath the surface of the engraved face.

Finally, at the end of each line, cut straight down on the terminus to form a square corner instead of an upswept slope. Then, come back as though you are going to continue cutting the groove but at a steep angle so the end of the lines are all undercut.

Once all the lines are engraved, come back with the wider chisel with a steeper angle (or if you are really in a pinch, you can use the same graver as what cut the grooves, but I find the face to be too narrow) undercut the groove at a very slight angle. This cuts down into the corner of the channel and raises the edge up slightly to form a trapezoid shaped channel. Doing this is what allows the inlay to stay in place, and too shallow or steep of an angle will cause the wire to fall out.

With everything cut and undercut, it's time to bring in the wire. A fully annealed wire is important, as any firmness to it will make this process difficult and unpredictable. Originally, I experimented with bronze that I thought was fully annealed but turned out to be half hard and as a result was completely unsuccessful. After annealing, it was much easier to work with and overall successful.

To begin insetting the wire, take a squarely cut end and press it down into the channel, holding it there with the polished punch. A light tap forces it down into the groove, but too hard and the wire bends a into a corner which may cause the inset bit to come out when you begin setting the remainder of the length.

Once the end is firmly in place, work the punch across the length of the groove using overlapping blows. I tend to use several passes of light taps to set the wire down, and once it feels set into place, I return to the start and use heavier blows to force the wire as far into the groove as possible. Then, using overlapping blows again, work forward to lock everything into place. Using repeated passes of heavier blows causes the wire to expand forward more than you might think, and can cause it to unseat from the groove.

It should go without saying, but bend the wire to the shape of the line you are following.

When determining how long to cut the wire, I tend to work in sections a few inches long, leaving it connected until the last possible moment. This prevents cutting too long or too short for the line being inlayed, and prevents me from needing to worry about how much a particular length will expand. For smaller lengths like the marks on the forehead of the engraved face, I cut pieces just a hair short and inlayed them without the remainder of the wire attached.

When approaching sharp corners, I use two separate pieces instead of trying to work the wire around the bend.

Notice how the wire expands over the edges of the engraved groove and makes the lines thicker. There are techniques for raised wire inlay which this is addressed, but for this method, the lines will all return to their original width. As a result, they will be sharper like on the left of the above picture which has not yet been inlayed.

Once the entire face is inlayed, here with sliver and a copper X in the centre, it is time to bring the surface down to a plane again. I could have done this in the pitch pot as well, but I did not want to foul the pitch with silver and copper filings.

Unsure of how firm the wire is set in the face, I did not want to use the belt sander to make the face flush again. Also, this is more controllable and does not risk grinding through the inlay entirely.

Light draw filing removes any unevenness from the insetting, revealing the character of what the final design will be. If that is the look you desire, you can stop there, but the wire is still proud of the face. So I continued to file down until even again.

The original surface was both hot and cold blued, making one of the blackest patinas I have ever done. I thought it would be a good contrast to the silver, so I went back with the cold bluing oil to darken the places in the steel touched by the file.

A quick coat of Renaissance wax to stay off rust, and it is done. For a first project and experimental approach to similar techniques, I am quite satisfied with the result. Since this sort of thing better lends itself to explanation through demonstration rather than pictures and words, I will update this to explain and answer whatever questions might arise.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Bookbinding Revisited

A few years back, I journeyed down the road towards binding books by hand, and although the result was I suppose successful the entire experience was not wholly satisfactory. Due to the thickness of the spine and general inexperience, there were a few pieces to the method that I wanted to change, and now I have come to a project which allowed me to explore these differences. In the interest of pursuing more traditional methods and materials, this time I used a few particulars which, although not necessary, will hopefully add a note of authenticity in appreciation for the approach.

For this round of binding, resulting in a sketchbook, I used the following materials:

-Linen paper
-Cotton thread
-Linen tape (ribbon)
-Hide glue

To being, I took the linen paper and oriented it so the texture all aligned to the same direction. This was for nothing more than consistency throughout the process. With a stack of somewhere around 200 sheets, I began to fold them in half and make stacks of 5 sheets, resulting in folios of 20 sides each.

Five of the original sheets seemed to be a good number for the thickness of the folios at the fold, allowing the edges on the opposite side to have the look and feel of depth to them without the farthest (innermost in the folio) protrude excessively far from the shortest (outermost in the folio).

Here is where I spent a great deal of time deliberating on what to do next. For a few weeks I thought over how to punch eight holes in each of the hundreds of sheets with exacting consistency. Doing them all by hand, separately, would take far too long and be far too inconsistent to make the stitching of the spine come out with any amount of respectability. In the end, this is what I came up with. In short, it is two boards connected by a hinge, the top of the two with eight nails driven through it. When the folio is inserted into the jig and the top board pressed down, the tips of the nails punch through the paper.

For an idea of how far the nails come out, see above. It is not much. Had I smaller nails, I might have used those, but after a lot of trial and error, this depth was the best for puncture consistency, hole size, and not having the nails sink into the opposing board too far. The advantages I have found using this jig are this. First, the hinge itself has several lines which can be used to align the centre (where it was folded) of each folio. More, it is also a hard stop for how far the folio is inserted into the jig. After getting a feel for it, I marked a few lines on the non hinge size of the bottom board to align the crease of the folio. In the beginning, I expected to have to punch the folios one sheet at a time, but after adjusting the depth of the nails, I was able to easily and cleanly (important) punch all five sheets at once. As a result, I punched a few thousand holes in just about a minute, all with perfect accuracy and repeatability. The spacing of the nails was measured such that the folios can be inserted in either direction and the hole spacing will remain the same, but this is also unique for this length of paper. Should I bind other sizes of folio, I will need to make another top board for the jig.

The bottom folio of the above stack of paper is a bit off kilter and was one of the ones used in testing out position, but after learning the tool, the nails fell centre in the fold every time. This will make stitching the folios together incredibly easy and predictable.

With the stack of folios punched for stitching, it's time to gather everything for the actual binding. Simply put, all you really need is thread. The linen tape helps keep the folios aligned and straight, but it is not strictly necessary.

With the linen in place, it is a bit easier to see the reason behind how I spaced the holes. There are two on the ends that tie the folios together, then three pairs of two which are spaced at the width of the linen.

The end of the thread receives a barrel knot, an overhand knot, or really any simple stopper knot to keep it temporarily from pulling through the first set of holes. This knot will later hold another knot on the second folio and affix the two together, which will be explained later.

To begin the stitching, first start on the outside of the spine and push the needle into the first hole at either end. I happened to start on the left side but there is no difference. Then, simply follow the hole pattern going in and out to either side, trapping the linen tape when you reach those sets of holes as shown above. It is important for a tight binding to pull the thread tight through each of the holes. When doing this, pull only in a line parallel to the folds, or the thread will very quickly cut through the pages.

This is what the inside of the first stitched folio looks like. To hold the folios in place, I use a metal straight edge or anything flat with a little bit of weight to it. Open the folio and set it on the stack such that the inside of the folds are accessible.

Now we come to the second folio. Because of the number of holes, the thread will be coming out of the first folio at the spine as shown above. Just like with the initial threading, pass the needle into the second folio from the outside towards the inside of the fold.

This next bit may be a little confusing at first but is actually quite simple. When the thread comes out of the second hole, the an overhand knot that captures the thread of the first folio that holds the linen tape in place. The reason for this is to keep the folios tight together at the middle of the pages as well as the ends, which are naturally held together by the thread direction. If you do not do this, the binding will still work, but the linen tape will be the thing keeping it together rather than the thread. With the subsequent hide glue over the spine, it is possible to do without the binding knots, but I would advise using it as the glue is strictly a chemical binding rather than a physical one, and can fail after repeated opening and closing of the book.

Once the knot is tied, continue the threading as normal, repeating this knot every time the needle comes out of the spine (one for each of the linen tapes).

At the far end of the second folio, tie another overhand knot, this time capturing the stopper knot at the original end of the thread. This pulls the two spines of the folios tight together.

Onto the third folio, now everything becomes repeated through to the last folio. The only difference between this one and the second folio is that the end knot simply passes between the two folios beneath it, again cinching the folios tight together.

Finally, the stitching is complete. Notice how the stitches across the linen forms a Z pattern. This is because the thread comes out of the spine on alternating sides of the linen and thus which side receives the knot. Hopefully that makes sense.

Thread complete, it's time for the mull. This is in essence a very loose weave fabric that adds some structure to the spine. it helps act as a surface which the glue adheres to, allowing for a stronger binding between the cover and the pages.

I decided to use hide glue, although any white PVA glue will also work. Since this is the first time I have ever used hide glue, I cannot comment on the durability of it, but the PVA glues I have used in the past are excellent. Hide glue burns under direct heat, so it must be heated either in an electric glue pot or in a simple double boiler. I went for the latter.

Cut the mull so it extends past the linen tape and covers the majority of the spine. I left a it a tad short of the edges for aesthetic reasons, as I did not want the chance that it would later be visible once the cover is on.

Apply glue to the spine only at this point. Glue over the mull and press it down so that it becomes entrapped in the glue layer. Try to avoid excess glue from dripping or spilling over to the front and back of the pages.

Next, take some waterproof layer such as tin foil or wax paper and place it between the pages and the mull/linen tape.

Between the foil and mull/linen, place a half sheet of paper or whatever size page you are binding with. Align the loose sheet with the bound pages as closely as possible, as this will serve as the interior cover of the book.

Place the pages on whatever you are using as a cover, in my case ~2oz leather. Brush on a layer of glue on both the leather and the loose sheet of paper, leaving a clear space where the spine of the bound pages will sit. This is one of the lessons I learned from my previous experiences with binding. Having the cover attached to the spine makes it difficult to bind the cover to the front and back while having it still be able to open fully.

With everything aligned, fold the cover onto the pages and apply even pressure while it dries. I used a granite block with another weight on top. Having a flat surface pressing down while it dries is important to keep the pages from drying strangely, and the foil barrier keeps the moisture of the glue from the pages beneath.

Once the first side is done, flip it over and do the same thing on the second side. Pull the cover material tight before gluing or there will be excess leather over the spine.

When the glue is dry, which takes a bit longer because of the leather and foil preventing moisture from evaporating, remove the weight and trim  away the excess cover material. Later, I will be adding some embellishment and a touchmark to the the sketchbook, but for all practical purposes, the book is now bound.