Monday, 25 February 2013

Nick's Knives

I mentioned in a previous post that I'd been helping my mate Nick make a knife. So I thought I would put a photo of his knives up here for you to see.

He's really getting into this now and I think that he's done a great job. I particularly like his latest one (the bottom one), which has a strong Sami influence. He's coming round in a bit to work on a sheath for  it and I'm pretty sure that he'll be planning his next knife soon.

I get the impression that in the Bushcraft scene most people tend to prefer fulltang knives, but I much prefer the style that you get with this type of stacked, stick tang knives, and I've never had one fail on me yet. After all, this is the kind of knife that has been used for centuries by the people that really depend on them.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

A timely reminder....?

Just a reminder, for anyone who might be interested, of my other blog (link at the top right hand of this page). It is the record of my project for this year to carve a spoon a week, while in the process improving my skills and ability, as well as my understanding of woods, tools and the variety and traditions of spoon carving.

Riving green oak.....

I'm hoping - time and materials permitting - that this will be the first of a number of posts that follow my progress in making a simple oak stool. I've never made a stool before and have wanted to for a little while so when I saw Sharif Adam's recent post, I felt inspired to finally try it.

One small snag, however....I don't have any wood at present. Or should I say didn't. Once again, my friend Dave from work has come through trumps and very generously given me a small, straight section of oak log - more than enough for a set of legs (thanks Dave).

So, to begin with, I must split the log. There are a couple of ways of achieving this - generally I would use wedges and hammer, but as this is a nice straight section, and I want equal uniform pieces, I get the rare opportunity to use my froe (I really should use it more often). A froe is a simple, ancient tool for just this purpose - somethimes called a splitting knife.

I'm not sure if what I have been doing is technically riving - I know that traditionally splitting wood for shingles (or roof tiles) using a froe was called riving, but I suspect you can actually apply the term to any log splitting using this method.

My short froe, with turned birch handle, and my favourite mallet or beadle.

Place the froe blade, handle up, across the diameter of the log and give it a sharp 'whack'
with the beadle and pull on the handle to lever into halves....

....and then into quarters....

...and eigths. This shot is such a photographic cliche, but it's so satisfying I couldn't resist.

Whilst for this job a single tap with the beadle was enough to drive the froe right through, for longer pieces of wood you can trap the timber into a simple arrangement of three lengths of fence spar that will hold your work piece while you lever the handle of the froe with increased leverage.

 It never ceases to surprise me, in a very primal sense, how easily the wood 'gives in' to the froe blade, the fibres separating with very little persuasion or effort. So much cleaner and more effective than a conventional axe.

As an aside, what a terrific aroma you get from green, freshly split oak - I guess it's the tannin, really lovely.

Next, to find a slab of green oak for the seat - anyone in the midlands got a bit I could scrounge?

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Spoons for sale.....

With it being half term holidays I would usually have hoped to get a little carving or making in (I have a few projects in mind that have been on the back-boiler, waiting for holidays). However, this past week I have been lucky enough to be at Euro-Disney with my wife and two of my kids (a fairly surreal journey into consumerism, that I don't think I would ever wish to repeat, but that I found oddly enjoyable - though mostly due to the examples of old-world arts and crafts that make it an 'authentic' experience) and so haven't managed any.

Really nice benches in arcades of Main Street USA Disney Paris

On our way home, we stayed over in Hastings for the wedding oF Ruth's cousin, and so had a short hour in Rye, a town I have never been to before, and also Old-Town Hastings - both of which I loved and can't wait to go back to for a proper look around. We stopped on a whim in Rye, simply because of the beauty of the old warehouse type harbour buildings which have been turned into antique shops, which I'm sad to say in the end we didn't have time to look around. We did walk along the high street, however, and found a shop that sells military collectables and painted metal soldiers called Soldiers Of Rye.

I stood my little boy on the window sill so that he could see into the window better, when I noticed the chap (proprieter Chris Viner) inside making his way out to us, I guessed in order to tell me to take Jude down. I was thrilled to be wrong, and the man invited us into his magical little shop where he made such a fuss of Jude, told him lots of stories about the characters he had painted, let him hold a cavalery sword, a 1914 Lee Enfiled rifle and told him that he had three eyes - two to see with and one for his imagination. Jude was rivetted at the way this kind man brought history to life. What a lovely, genuine man - if you're into collecting militaria or war gaming, you must go and see Chris. If you teach in a school near or around Rye, pay him to come into school as he will bring history to life for your students.

In Hastings I was thrilled to find a number of lovely shops, in one of which I found spoons for sale, so I bought one. It's a nice, simple serving spoon, but I must say, it's left me feeling a little ambivolous. I'm always happy to see hand carved spoons for sale, but these were so cheap (this particular one, the most expensive, was £3) they can only have bee imported from an eastern European country, or perhaps India or China, where they have been mass produced for peanuts - not really any better than a Wilkinsons wooden spoon. On the other hand, it's given someone in one of those countries gainful employment - on the other hand again, has my buying the spoon added to their servitude?

This looks like the cafe I always dreamed of owning - walls lined with books.

Spoons for sale

Not sure where it was made or what it's made from?

Suffice it to say, I bought the spoon and overall I liked the shop. I guess with the whole 'horse meat instead of beef' fiasco I can't help thinking that we don't really have a clue where what we buy comes from any more, nore the conditions under which they are produced.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Carved Engraving

I mentioned in a previous post that i recently managed to get a copy of Swedish Carving Techniques by Wille Sundqvist. One of the things that he teaches in the book is a decorative technique which he calls Carved Engraving. It basically consists of incising a design by making two angled cuts that meet to create a V groove. i decided to have a go at carving my initials using this technique.

I decided to try a few different knives to see what worked. The first knife I tried was a chip carving knife.

The technique for using this is a little bit different to the knives shown in the book, but I'm quite used to using this knife so that's what I picked up first. You use your thumb to steady the knife on the work and also to help maintain the correct angle.

This worked quite well, especially for the chip cuts at the ends of each line. My knife is made by Kirschen and is available from Axminster for about £7.

The next knife I tried was a small pick knife by Ben Orford. This is a lovely little knife that is really well made like all of Ben's tools.

The back is nicely rounded, which makes it really comfortable to use. Unfortunately the blade was a bit thick for the fine design that I was trying. I think I'll have to experiment with this one a bit more.

I then had a go with a Frosts 106 carving knife. It was a bit scary at first holding the knife by the blade, but I actually found this to be the most effective method. Holding the blade like a pen gives a lot of control. 

The book shows Wille using a knife with a straight skewed blade, so I thought I would try a similar knife, also by Kirschen.

This is sold as a chip carving knife and is also known as a stab knife. I found this really easy to control, but the bevels are a bit convex and so it didn't seem to slice through the wood as well. I think that with a bit of work on the bevels this could be a really good and cheap option.

Finally i tried a modified craft knife. I snapped off the tip and sharpened it to create a sort of skewed edge.

This sliced through the wood really well and worked great for fine detail, but the thin blade was prone to following the grain.

For the moment I think I'll stick with the Frosts 106, but would like to have a go at making a knife similar to the one in the book. You can buy knives specially made for this type of carving from Svante Djarv and also from Del Stubbs.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

It started with a knife

Making a knife is probably what first got me into making stuff. It began with an interest in camping and bushcraft, which led me to make my own knife. I got the bug and made several different knives, mostly of the stick tang, scandinavian type. Then I needed something to do with these knives that went beyond  making feather sticks and tent pegs, so I got into carving. That opened me up to craft in general.

I haven't made a knife for a while now and even though this is my most recent one, it's actually about two years old, it's just that it's taken me that long to get around to making a sheath. It's a bit of a special one as it's the first time i actually made the blade myself. The blade started off as my lawnmower blade and when the mower packed in i decided to have a play about and do some recycling. All the other materials were sort of recycled too, and to be honest I kind of rushed it as it was more of an experiment.

I'm really pleased with the result though, especially the oak burr handle, which is absolutely beautiful (the photo doesn't do it justice, but it was the best I could do with so little light). I've recently helped a friend to make a knife and sheath so I've got the bug again and might make a few more soon.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

For all those who don't know their ash from their elbow...

Just a quick one, really, to admit how woefully poor I am at identifying trees. "So what?" you might well ask. Well,it's really difficult being into wood turning and carving when you haven't got a clue what wood it is you're turning or carving. And if not difficult, then embarrassing at least.

I am slightly in awe, if not entirely jealous of those who can look at a tree or turn over a piece of wood in their hands and know exactly what it is. I'm not entirely useless - I'd be a pretty poor Englishman if I couldn't spot a common English oak, and I even know it's called Quercus robur. I can generally identify oak limbs and logs too. I can identify Horse chestnut, Sycamore, good old weeping willow, birch and generally know when a tree's a fruit tree, though until the fruit's on it I couldn't tell you what sort. I know hawthorn and Rhododendron, but that's about it - and then only with leaves on. Once a tree has shed its leaves, well, I'm pretty much lost!

Not really worth the trees that were cut down to make the paper it's written on!?

I have a couple of books that I take out with me, but they don't really help that much - I guess there's a limit to what you can learn from a book. I think what I need is a friend in the know, someone who can go out with me and teach me the ropes, a la "...that one with the broad leaves is a....and the one over there with catkins is a....."

Any suggestions?