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Upcoming projects:
Building a Frame Saw
Forging a Copper Kettle
Making a pair of leather work boots
Forging and Fletching a Bodkin
Flocking a drawer interior

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Across the Seas

16,000 endless leagues of open ocean pass beneath the keel, grey as slate and blue as glass, each one preserved in the same rhythmic imbalance of a crew without landfall in as many days as pass between two distant shores. Were it not for the changing of the moon each night might pass undistinguished from the last and as easily forgotten. Hours stretch into weeks, and in the blink of an eye it seems a month has come and gone before the sun meets noon. And yet, to the eye of western civilization, it is all dreamlike and distorted through a lens unappreciated through modern perspective.

Pago Pago Harbour, American Samoa
Nations take to the seas, their population more heavily laden on the decks of trawlers than the wharf from where they hail. To live for years at a time aboard a vessel no longer than a hundred yards, never mooring and never returning until the voyage is at an end, it would be to another mariner unfathomable. And yet that is a way of life. From the early hours of manhood until the seas harbor safety no more, there is a people who become strangers to land.

Port Villa, Vanuatu

Entrance to Port Villa, Vanuatu

Port Villa Harbour
For a day or three spanned by months upon months on either side, the Pacific's fishermen know only what touches the ports. Shirts on the backs of the deck hands once belonging to defeated sports champions and collapsed cultural icons, modern phones out of context from use, food for the bait of the catch and little else that cannot fit inside a footlocker is all that there is to sustain a life at sea. Perched on the tops of some, there stand greenhouses to grow fresh vegetables and herbs where otherwise there would be none. A pack of anxious dogs lie in a litter while their mother barks at foreign scent. Freezers to store the catch with fans and frost so blisteringly cold that a person would be frozen through in a quarter hour. Hands and feet calloused by working lines and scarred from the barbs and hooks that pass between them. There is a sovereignty in the life of the high seas no longer concerned or consumed by modern society.

Magnetic Island, Australia

Townsville, Australia
When the sun passes behind the horizon, an unbroken line of blue stretches across the sky 800 miles from the nearest rock. On those rare and hypnotizing nights where the moon has taken instead to the daylight, all manner of stars blaze across that midnight abyss. More lights appear as the eye drinks in the night than the busiest cities, each shimmering with their own hidden mysteries. Constellations that guided ancient mariners and storytellers return to the wanderer, cleft by the haze of the Milky Way. There it hangs in the sky and spans from one end of the horizon overhead and back down again to meet the earth. Even in the darkest places of the land it has never been so clear. Tendrils of its enormity fan out from the core, slight tints of colour painting the otherwise two tone heavens.

O'Ahu, Hawai'i
And again when daylight comes, lingering cloud cover broken in spectacular hues and crepuscular rays, only to reveal those rolling waves of blue and grey. When those rare days come between and land falls on the distant shore, it is with the awe of a world unchanged. So many thousands of islands and cultures and peoples lie on the edge of the modern world's chart that each one bears that same ancient wonder of exploration and mystery. And when the mountains and jungles and reefs drift into view, suddenly all that compels man to venture across the seas becomes understood.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Lost In Motion

It is from where we have come and to where we are going which defines us. Each step in the walk of life contributes unknown and unseen factors towards the accompaniment of who we are, together compiled into a singularity of who we are. 

In the strange and mystical places of the world there lie just about us so many lands and cultures that a lifetime might elapse and it is still one alone which we are trying to understand. To foreign shores and distant reign the wandering road of life seeks to bring us a glimpse into the worlds we have never known. In a sense, each day spent in wander is like the charting of a land whose boundaries have never been placed on the map. Indeed, the world is only as small as we permit, and the act of a solitary step is alone the first unto realising the unknown.

As the winds take me towards places I might have never known to live across the seas, I have struggled with a way of holding them all to the same perspective and hold in memory. Photographs and film are a window to capture those lands, but lie secluded and disentwined. To each they serve their own end, alone and worlds apart. And so, like those explorers so many generations before me, I have begun the charge of building the world not as it is, but as it is known. Cities and roadways and the drive for seeing strange and wonderful things are what build our understanding of the world; those places we live bearing the most distinction as a monument to our time there. Whether to a single country or a patchwork of all those yet to pass beneath my feet, it is the map of the world and its people that slowly builds colour and shape and perspective, and until those starcast nights and churning seas and howling winds and footpaths connected to the lands of civilization only by the leagues between, I will carry on to see the world as the wayfaerer lives: Lost in motion.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Forging a Double Bit Axe

In the lofty pursuit of forging all the tools I will eventually need to timber frame a workshop, I have worked my way into the variety of axes. Starting with the small ones, this time I made a double bit axe. More of a proof of concept and to experiment with dimensions, it won't be doing much of the heavy lifting but is designed for light trimming and the like.

The size of the stock is 5"x2"x,75" mild steel, nothing special. The other axes I have made were done using the fold/wrap method where the poll is forged out of the middle of the piece and the edge is made from the two ends. This time, I slit an eye in the middle and the ends will become two edges instead of one.

All the tooling I used for this I made in the shop over the last few months. From left to right, there's a hot cut hardie, centre punch, hot cut chisel, small drift, large drift, hot cut (without the handle) and a pair of double calipers. On top is the pair of hammer eye tongs. These are great for this, and having only recently finished them 8 months after forging the two halves, I am incredibly glad I did. 

First step is to mark the centre of the billet. 2,5" in from the ends, I marked both sides. This is because slitting from both sides separately and meeting in the middle is generally cleaner and prevents one side from getting too thin if the entry is off kilter.

With the hot cut handled, it's onto slitting the eye. Flipping the piece around (or the hot cut) helps keep it all centred. I took the entire first heat to setting the line properly in the centre of the billet and across the dot I marked earlier. The setup is the most important part, as doing it off angle or off centre will be difficult to correct as the eye opens. If it is at an angle, it will tend to stay at an angle until either you reach the other side or it comes out the face of the billet.

Here it is with both sides slit. Were I to make the hot cut again, I would round the edges a little and make it more oval rather than rectangle so there are no sharp corners on the inside of the eye. This width of steel is on the cusp of being too thin for this size of a hot cut, and as a result, a small tear formed in one of the corners. Nothing catastrophic, but it would have been prevented with rounded corners on the hot cut.

Next up is drifting it open to size. By hammering the drift down into the eye from either side, then forging on the cheeks, it spreads out and widens. Do not use the drift by simply forcing it down through the eye and stretching it to shape that way, it will rip the steel somewhere with it being this thin. 

After moving through both sizes of drifts (you can get away with one or none depending on how you make the hot cut/punch/whatever), the eye is mostly done. Here, it is still thick because I want to do a few things to the rest of the axe body without distorting it unduly.

Before slitting the ends to weld bits into, I tapered the ends a tad. Looking back, it would have turned out better had I left it the original dimension, because the extra mass would have made welding in the bits easier and the subsequent spreading to shape easier.

To open the ends, I used the hot cut again, holding it on edge in the leg vice. I would have gone considerably deeper with the slit had I a better way of holding it or a second set of hands, but the limitation left it about half as deep as the bit of rasp I was using as the edge steel.

Cut on both ends, it looked something like this.

For the edge, I used the aforementioned rasp. Cut a little long to give room for error in alignment, it will be trimmed neatly after welding. I cut this one on the hardie hiding out in the shadow in the top right of the above. Having a narrow bodied hot cut is extremely useful for cutting thick stock (not this, but it also works great for thin stuff) that a butcher won't do without heavy distortion.

And, a fair bit hangs out. I could and probably should have forged it down to about half that width and doubled the length so I only had to use one piece, but the teeth of the rasp helps hold it in place while setting the weld.

Setting the edge hot locks the bit and the body together because the cold rasp's teeth bite into the hot steel of the body, which keeps it from sliding all about. 

A few careful heats to set the weld, then another few to shape it, the first side is set. Some of the excess is trimmed off here, but more sill go to clean up the edges.

Now comes the second. The easiest way to judge if the piece is welded with steel this thin is to let it cool. If shadows form anywhere when everything else around it stays hot, there is probably a weld flaw underneath. Even cooling indicates good welds, but obviously there can still be problems.

Back to the trusty hot cut, the excess is removed and it starts to look like the thing I am trying to make.

Unfortunately at this point I had to close the shop and didn't have the chance to take any more pictures, but a little more work was done on the eye, the last bit of profile forging, and a quick trip to the old hand crank grinder to true things up. I may end up going back and forging it a little thinner all around, but it feels good as it is...