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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, 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)

Monday, March 9, 2015

Quick and Dirty Fullering Jig

I recently started a project that, amongst other things, will challenge everything I have learned over the years regarding smithing. The first piece of the production requires a broad, shallow fuller (Type X blade profile) and the stock I had at hand was just too short to get the length and width together. With the intent of grinding in the fuller, I instead had to turn to forging one in. To assist with the task, I constructed the following quick and dirty fullering tool. In effect, it is a spring swage.

Disclaimer: I am not a welder by trade!!

Right then, onto the jig.

First off I forged the two dies out of a piece of rebar. It doesn't matter much what the steel is, as it will not need to be hardened. This was the most time intensive part, as the piece I had was far too large for the project, but the only thing large enough to use.

Here it is again, cleaned up on the sander and cut in half. To keep the curve consistent, I worked the profile while it was still one piece.

For the bottom die, I cut a channel into the rebar to accept the spring part of the swage. This allows the entire die to sit flat on the face of the anvil.

Poorly welded on all four edges of contact to a length of flat stock. In the future, I will use something a little thicker than this, as it deformed a little too easily. For the job, however, it worked fine. Just a bit of mild steel, about an inch wide and 3/8" thick.

After a quick measure on the anvil face to see where I want it to sit, I clamped a pipe to the bench and bent the spring around. Note that the 'spring' is not heat treated either, as it only has about a quarter of an inch to travel at the most.

Top die welded in place (upside down in this picture). I used the spring tension to hold it in place after aligning it.

Next I cut a piece of 1" square tubing that will serve as the shank for the hardie hole. My hardie is a little oversized, so to compensate, I ground a wedge from the flat stock and welded it to the top end of the tube.

Here it is before welding (shank already in place).

And here is the finished swage. Nothing fancy (actually quite hideous), but indispensably useful. I kept a bit of a handle on the top so I can lift it to get the blade in.

Happy forging!