Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Peace, man

I dished this 14ga. brass circle several years ago and never decided what to do with it.  Last week, the idea hit me.

The front is etched with ferric chloride (a full hour this time) and patinated with some other kind of ferric compound, probably nitrate.

The back has a one-piece, fibula-style pin, secured with plenty of silver solder.  The back and front are finished with a polyurethane varnish to try and preserve the burnished finish for a while.

Since my casual jacket right now is an old surplus jacket (a Swedish M59, to be specific) I figured some peacenik regalia would balance it out a bit.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Small belt knife

This is my new personal knife - and, insofar as I "need" one (only for small tasks like opening and cutting up boxes), likely the only one I'll ever need outside the kitchen or art projects.

It's made to an 18th-century Scottish aesthetic to go with some of my other projects, scaled down to the size of what we would now call a patch knife*.  The blade geometry isn't correct for the 18th century, since it's a modern Lauri blade from Finland, but this was the best I could find in a bare blade without going custom.  (Judging from every photo I've ever seen, real 18th-century knives had a triangular "backed" cross section.)  Specifically, it's the 80mm Lauri stainless blade distributed in the U.S. by Ragnar Forge.  This is a heavy blade for its size at roughly 1/8 inch thick, designed for whittling and general work.

I modified the blade, grinding the tang upward on the edge side and the spine down a bit on the back, so the tang is off-center and the blade has a little shoulder.  Also, it transitions to slightly rounded at the very base so as not to leave any corners sticking out where it meets the ferrule.  Lastly, of course, the traditional jimping which is supposed to add grip when pinching the spine to work on delicate tasks.

The blade came with mirror polish but also a faint ribbed surface which I assume resulted from the initial factory grind.  I sanded and polished it to a near-satin finish that didn't quite manage to get rid of the ribbing, but obscured it somewhat.

The ferrule is a copper plumbing end cap.  These are made circular with slightly rounded ends, but annealing and a few minutes with a hammer give it a roughly oval cross section and flat top.  More challenging was the brass plating.  The old lye-zinc trick, used to give pennies a zinc plating which is then heated to fuse with the copper coin and produce a yellow brass coating, only produced any significant deposition on the spots where the ferrule was in direct contact with the zinc dust.  Worked great on a penny I, though.  I theorize this process doesn't really work except on thin, flat objects.  (Also I had a bit of a cough after the attempt; maybe the lye fumes hurt my throat?)

What worked better was electroplating, using two AAA batteries in a battery holder and a much more benign mixture of zinc, vinegar, sugar and epsom salt in a one-quart plastic yogurt carton.  The ferrule plated in seconds, polished up to a nice silver and produced a solid brass finish when heated.

The grip is American walnut with linseed oil.  I threaded the tang and ground down a brass hex nut to secure it, and assembled with epoxy for good measure.  Lastly, the sheath is good old vegetable-tanned leather, though a bit lumpy because I'm not very good at skiving, dyed brown and polished with shoe wax.  It fitted loose, but I shrank it with soaking and judicious warming over a heater (which I understand can ruin a sheath if done to excess - thankfully in this case it worked out.)

* A number of Scottish knives are preserved that resemble a mashup between a Highland dirk and a chef's knife, typically having a triangular blade and hafted with antler or carved wood, as on one thought to have been recovered from the field of Culloden.  These are sometimes identified today with the knife referred to in literature as a sgian achlais.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Flute carrying bag


For her birthday this year, Mom pointed to a flute bag in the Crazy Crow catalogue and asked for one to fit hers (a concert flute somewhat too long to fit into the one they offer) for carrying to Market Day and other local vaguely Colonial events.

I made this one from a split, chrome-tanned garment buckskin with a dark red, hard-faced cotton twill lining to keep the weight from stretching and bulging the leather, and prevent too many shed leather fibers from getting into the instrument's workings.  The fringe is some large straps of leftover German-tanned buckskin.  The bag is folded and sewn inside-out with the fringe facing inward and the lining on the outside; when it's turned rightside-out, the fringe now sticks out and can be cut into strips.

The drawstring and shoulder strap are more German buckskin, but the small bits connecting the strap to the bag are a much denser, tougher chrome-tanned cowhide.  I handmade two pairs of soldered brass D-rings to attach the shoulder strap to the bag at the correct angle.  The cowhide bands are secured with tin rivets and steel washers; I would've preferred copper, but the hardware store didn't have any that were short enough.

One improvement I'd still like to make would be to line the shoulder strap with a smooth leather so it won't shed fibers into one's clothing.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Presentation box for my letter opener

Yesterday I finished up my fine woodworking fundamentals course.  There were exactly two projects in this class (aside from doing a practice set of dovetail joints), a picture frame and a box.  I'm not publishing the picture frame because it's very plain and uninteresting.

I made the box to fit the letter opener I finished in September.  The finger joints reminded me of masonry, so it's obviously inspired by West Asian architecture, particularly the palaces of Persepolis.

It consists of American or black walnut and soft maple.  Unfortunately, the walnut's color varied a lot through the plank.  For finishes I had a choice of boiled linseed oil, tung oil-based varnish or water-based polyurethane, but being short on time, I was forced to go with the polyurethane, so its finish is still a bit rough (the professor noted that polyurethane, in her words, "bubbles" a lot when brushed on; it requires repeated sanding to look good).

It has two brass-plated steel hinges.  Sadly, copper to match the letter opener's furniture seems to be unavailable.  I might try to fabricate my own in the future.  The letter opener and scabbard are supported by two inserts carved from rigid pink insulating foam and covered with epoxied polyester suede cloth.  A considerable amount of epoxy seeped through the cloth; clearly I should've found something with a non-porous back.

Because the box is so small and cut to fairly tight tolerances, it's feasible to have the upper insert rest on a pair of narrow shelves over the lower one so the box can be more compact.

This was a good class for learning the use of the major standing equipment and how to get the greatest precision in fit.  Most of the work is (if you do it correctly) done on the planer, table saw and routing table, machines with which I was totally unfamiliar before.  It also gave me a chance to get started on a handful of personal projects which I can finish up over the summer.

Monday, September 28, 2015

I'm calling it a letter opener

This blade from Atlanta Cutlery resembles a miniature Luristan bronze, or others used in West Asia in the late Bronze and early Iron ages, so I went for a vaguely ancient Near Eastern look in furnishing it.  It could also pass for a Conan-esque fantasy weapon if it weren't so tiny.

In reality, I have no idea what they were going for with this design.  It most closely resembles a Sürmene knife, but the slop of the shoulders, undifferentiated pommel area and rounded butt end go against that.  In any case, I preferred something older.

The scales are maple; I sorted through the 1/4-inch planks at Lowe's to find the curliest piece available, although the rounded shape rendered the grain less visible.  With a light stain and linseed oil finish, it bears some resemblance to curly walnut.  I filed a small inset section into the scales and tang to hold the twisted copper wire, which begins and ends inserted into small channels in the undersides of the scales.

The pins are all 1/8-inch copper wire.  In most photos of the bare blade I've seen, the two holes at the shoulders look much smaller than the ones running down the middle of the tang - I bought some 1/16-inch wire in anticipation of that - but in fact they're the same size.

I could find little or no information about ancient scabbard construction, so I used a wood core covered with leftover scraps of light brown suede and painted on a generic winged beast motif.  I don't much like this bulging cross stitch and probably won't use it again; a flat cross stitch is much nicer-looking even if it does put more strain on the leather (at least the way I do it).

When worn, the thongs are passed over and behind the belt, down and out, then tied again in front of the scabbard below the first knot.  Alternately, the thong may be done away with and the scabbard simply tucked behind the belt, but I find this method uncomfortable, and didn't include a throat to prevent it sliding out of the belt (a la the "Elamite dagger").

The conceit in including a second sheath is that the blade was refurnished in modern times.  It's your basic veg-tan finished with brown shoe polish and acrylic varnish.  A snap is stitched to the belt tab and covered on the outside with a homemade brass spot before the tab is riveted to the sheath's back face.  Because the faces are stitched outside the welt for a tight side closure, the sheath looks much wider than one might assume necessary.  A back-seamed sheath would produce a narrower profile, but side-seamed ones appear to be more popular in America.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Iron Age Irish dagger

Pray, tell me the story of young Cú Chulainn,
How his eyes were dark, his expression sullen,
And how he'd fight, and always won,
And how they cried when he was fallen...
- Thin Lizzy

This is another set of fittings for my Atlanta Cutlery Arkansas toothpick blade, a wide but thin and handy blade that would be equally suited for a plug bayonet, a Medieval quillon dagger, or even a transitional antennae or anthropomorphic dagger from the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures.

In fact, the Irish short swords on which my interpretation is based were usually longer and less tapered (sometimes even flared toward the point), comparable to gladii in size and shape, and were basically short variations on the late La Tène long sword.  What inspired me to go this route is that the shape and proportions of the toothpick blade make it look like a miniature of one made by Shane Allee some years ago.  As a set of fittings made to be removable, this one features threaded construction secured with a ground-down steel hex nut.  (I'd have preferred brass, but as the set of dies I bought was defective, with a pair of 1/4-28s and no 1/4-20, I had to settle for whatever 1/4-28 nut was available.)

The pommel is pine and the guard is probably poplar.  The scabbard is two boards of basswood - soft and requiring little effort to cut, but splintery and loose-grained; I really wouldn't recommend it for fine carving like this.  The carvings are based, with some simplification, on a metal scabbard from Lisnacrogher.  The grip, somewhat shortened, is actually a leftover from an MRL rondel dagger currently hilted as my sharp akinakes for Persian reenactment.  I have no idea what wood it's made of, only that it seems like a good, dense hardwood, and it smells horrible when cut.  Aside from it, all the wood parts are stained with Minwax mahogany and finished with boiled linseed oil.

The throat is 0.015-inch brass sheet, held down with arrow glue and brass-headed tacks stuck through finishing washers.  The tacks are cut short so they don't protrude into the scabbard and scratch the blade.  The belt loop is somewhat heavier-gauge brass strip, soldered to the throat and tacked through the throat into the wood.

The chape is actually a large cotter pin.  I have no idea what a cotter pin is actually made for.  It's wrapped with soldered-on brass strip and held in place with the same aforementioned assemblage of washers and tacks (though down here they're well clear of the blade, so they're stuck through both the front and back scabbard pieces).

Monday, June 15, 2015

An etched brass medallion

This is what my mom requested for her birthday this year.  It's a circle of 16-gauge brass.  I scaled down and printed this design, stuck it on with a gluestick, then incised the lines lightly through the paper into the metal with an art knife.  After washing the paper and glue off, I used the incisions as guides for a permanent marker mask, sealed off the edges and back with wax, and dropped it into a ferric chloride bath for about 45 minutes.


On the back, the loop (a simple 1/16-inch rod) is secured with what I thought were very small beads of silver solder but which turned out to be more than enough once it was well melted.


I intended to give it a dark patina and brush back the raised knotwork, but none of my experiments with household chemicals worked.  Liver of sulfur would've been ideal if I could get any.  As it was, Mom said she preferred it with a bright burnished finish.  Unfortunately, the texture of the spray lacquer reduced the glossiness; it would probably have been better-off with a painted lacquer instead.

The medallion is worn on a simple brass chain with a silver lobster claw closure.