Samples, samples, samples

Two days of tooling up and sample-making:

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As I mentioned earlier, Henni and I recently had the pleasure of driving to florida and back. In addition to installing a fantastic fox sculpture at my grandparent’s house, we got to see some amazing wildlife. These photos are from Florida, in the cypress swamps and various state parks that are around the Ft. Meyers area.

There were lizards everywhere! Being a New Englander myself, I am really used to seeing squirrels running around in yards. Here in Florida, there were more lizards than anything else! They would bob their heads and then puff out their neck skin. So adorable!

We saw a bunch of woodpeckers. I didn’t hear any tapping though. Maybe they have it easy because the palms are really soft. (Palm trees are sooo weird.)

And finally, does anyone know what type of spider this is? It’s really freaky!

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Fox Sculpture

Last month, after installing the big chandelier, Henni and I drove down to Florida to deliver a long overdue sculpture to my grandparents. They requested some sort of fantastical animal, so I created these foxes for them. This project got me through setting up the workshop last February and March, and it got me through a particularly difficult point last summer as well. I definitely learned a lot of lessons on this one.

Here it is, one side:

And the other:

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Chandelier installed

For my 25th birthday, I built my own forge. For my 26th birthday, I got to install my first chandelier! A hearty thanks to my awesome clients and my amazing partner, without whom this amazing collaboration wouldn’t be possible. I will get more polished photos soon, but here’s some teasers of the install. I’ll be finishing the write-up of building this thing and the install presently.

Posing for the camera. This is day 2. So many pieces!

Henni installing the 16 ceiling plates with a total of 64 screws all over her head. She is so tough!

By the end of day 2, we had one side up. There’s still another whole side that you don’t get to see yet, so stay tuned! It is so hard to photograph, because it’s such an installation-based piece. I need to get someone with professional lenses and such to make it work in photos also.

More on this project can be found in the Bone & Sinew section.

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Evolution of a Foot

A little adventure in design:

One of our little projects in Berlin has been figuring out how to forge a foot. One of Henni’s friends is making a chest for the final project in his woodworking apprenticeship. He’s been inspired by The Luggage from Terry Pratchet’s Discworld series, so he asked her to help make a few feet for his box.

A foot, right? How hard can that be? It’s just got toes and a heel and an ankle. We made some quick sketches and then went to the forge. We were hoping to whip out something simple and nifty, out of one piece of metal to show off our real blacksmithery panache… I wish I had a picture of the bizarre thing that came out of our first session, because it bore some distant relation to a foot — one could surmise that it was an evolutionary precursor to the foot, but became quickly obsolete due to a distinct lack of footliness. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t good either.

So, back to the drawing board. Looking at our first sketches, we asked what went wrong?

Did you know your foot is actually a really complicated shape? I mean, it’s not just a club at the end of your leg. There’s toes and a ball, an arch, the heel has mass and the leg is, well, leggy. It has a definite and different shape from almost every angle, from tapers to balls, to gatherings of mass at the joints, and a few odd angles.

More sketches. We started to pull away from the nifty flowing ironwork, which was clearly difficult to pull off. Instead, we explored the shapes that define the foot. There are triangles and circles and broad planes. Put them together using a few simple pieces…

Finally we had an idea. Approximately one solid evening at the smithy to hammer out the prototype. Soaked in vinegar and then waxed:

A nice abstraction of a foot.

Quite handsome from the back as well!

Now we just need to make five more!

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Working Montage

With the healthily established pattern of feverishly posting for a few days and then falling off the face of the planet for months at a time, I think we’re about due for another round.

Remember the chandelier project? When last we met I just sketched out the hubs for the walls. Now here we go and build them. This post is just focusing on the left side for now.

The above is sketching out the framework of the left side. It’s pretty simple, here. There are inner tubes cut, bent, and welded to form the approximate boundary to be later defined by plates.

Here we are, beginning to layer the plates. It took a fair amount of shaping and tweaking in the end to get it to seat properly. Each of these is a custom plate, so there is no perfect.

This is the fancy bending jig I made up to custom bend each of these plates. I did it hot, which might not have been the best answer, but it was certainly the easiest under the tools I had. Final tweaks took place cold, and then when the whole thing was assembled, there was a bit more heating and shaping and bending bolts and maybe some profanity.

Assembled, this thing looks pretty amazing. Here I have started making the collars for the arms. Adding just these little puckered pieces certainly adds a lot of depth, which is what we’re going for. The collars are formed from plates with a 1″ hole cut in them and then a 2″ drift passed through them, to create the funnel-like appearance. In the end, these got a piece of pipe inserted in them and the arm inserted in that, for quite a handsome look.

There’s a bunch of pictures that didn’t make it on the computer yet, and they’re currently locked on an SD card that is on the other side of the Atlantic (I’m in Germany for a few weeks)… I’ll get them up when I can. More later.

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A few answers to Mokume Gane question

On my Mokume Gane tutorial I have received a few comments and questions in the last few weeks. I am finally getting around to addressing them — sorry folks for the delay! I’ve been a bit overwhelmed with other work.

First off, Athanasios Koumantos blogging at Gaijinto, also has some tutorial information about what he is doing. He mentions using an industrial technique of building a box filled with charcoal particles and then sealing the whole thing using refractory cement to create as oxygen-free an atmosphere as possible. The oxygen sticks to the carbon in the charcoal, or somesuch chemistry like that, and no more can get in past the used up carbon because it is sealed. This seems very clever. Remember that oxidation of any sort is the enemy here.

I have to say that this is a very clever way to go about it. It’s definitely time consuming and uses a lot of resources to do correctly, but I do think it has some merit. If we can’t directly control the atmosphere of the furnace that we use, we can at the very least reduce the amount of oxygen that will get through. Any techniques that are effective are, well… effective. I am interested to see how it comes out.

I used flux in copper-brass and silver-copper bonds without much problem, but the advice I received (either from Reactive Metal Studios or James Binnion, but I can’t remember) was don’t. It can form bubbles or pockets if any gets trapped inside.

To Scott from Slow Rain Creations — you probably want a maximum temperature that is significantly higher than your working temperature so that it can easily modulate itself. If you are bonding at ~1450F for the silver-copper, you probably want something that can go up to 2200 or a bit more.

As for a controller, more precision is better. Especially if you ever decided to try something like the silver-brass, with the eutectic within some small number of the bonding temperature. Try to go for something that can get you +/-5 or 10 degrees. If you’re bouncing up and down around 100 degrees, you’ll probably have a problem at some point. That said, I have successfully done brass-copper in a coal forge with no oxygen reduction — we lost some of the brass out the back because it melted, but the remaining billet was nice and strong. I don’t recommend this adventure with anything more precious than that though.

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Time management and writing

I know I should write more! I’m sorry I don’t. I just made some huge progress on the chandelier in the past week. I sat down at the computer this morning to take care of some proposals and order material… Five hours later I am ready to go eat lunch and get over to the workshop!

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Getting Real

So the client said yes to the giant chandelier that I proposed! That’s so cool, but the question is… what next? How do you even begin to tackle a project like this?

During the design phase, I worked out a lot of theoretical details involved in making the piece. There was a sample of the elbow joint that I forged and gave to the client.

I also came up with a solution for installing it while hiding most of the support structure. It’s a combination of small steel cables and . For the hubs, I sort of left them as a big question mark, not really committing to anything. This is because of their scale and complexity. The way I drew them, they are going to be large overlapping pieces of plate. It’s really difficult to draw these figures on paper — for me, I just have to get into making them.

However, to make them I need some type of plan. So the first two days I spent drawing out the following:

The Left Hub concept sketch had to be worked out first (again), because that whole side of the design was a big question mark in my head. If you go back and look at the original design, you will see that it’s rather undefined, whereas the right side is quite thought out.

From this, I made full scale drawings of both the skin and the structure underneath. You can see now that I think I have a fair understanding of what I am going to do…

Up there in the right corner is a diagram of how this whole assembly is going to attach to the wall. The tube will be affixed to the studs and then the hub will be bolted through the tube, hopefully hiding most of the unforged hardware, so everything even the not-so-casual observer sees is custom.

Here’s an image of the right side, and the hypothetical method of attaching the arms, using a series of tubing and decorative collars.

Now that I have all the pieces sketched out, hypothetically building this is easy. Right?

Well… we’ll see.

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From design to… design.

Last time, I talked about the concept stage of a large chandelier project. The next step was to meet with the client and actually see the space. They are remodeling their dining room, and they are hoping for this chandelier to be a central component to it. We agreed upon some parameters for the design and I set to work. Notably, I had to adjust my design to fit two adjacent corners rather than opposite corners.

Because of the complexity of the space, I had difficulty at first drawing a design. From some more detailed concept sketches, I already had a good idea of what the arms of this chandelier would look like, but the interweaving component was a bit much. I decided to make a scale model from small round stock I had in the shop. It was really helpful in getting to understand the physical space and the constraints I was likely to run into.

The room you see here is open in the back, leading to a living room. There are stairs directly under the left-side chandelier. For reference, the left hub is attached to an overhang measuring 10″. In this model, it is about ~25mm, because I did the whole thing in metric for ease of converting on a 1:10 scale. Further details of the left and right sides are below.

A note about metric versus imperial: I try to work in metric if I can. I prefer it for ease of calculation — there are no 12-3/4 that interact with 7-5/32. I don’t have to convert between decimal, fractional, and gauges. It’s all whole numbers divisible by 10. Unfortunately, constraints of materials in the States require me to switch back to the imperial system for purposes of buying stock and a few other calculations, because that’s what people use here. My recommendation to you is to work in metric as much as possible — it’s much easier to think it whole numbers like that. Tell your friends to use metric and soon enough, measuring things will actually make sense!

From these models, I was able to draw the full design with many of the visual details.

I think it came out pretty good. Those of you with actual drafting experience might be looking at this skeptically. I’ve taken one drawing class (figure drawing) in my life, so everything you see here is self taught. It’s definite progress from this time last year.

You can tell I’ve traveled a bit from the original concept drawing (see last post). I’ve definitely refined the concept and chosen a specific path — there were a bunch of options and different ways the concept could go, but I had to pick one that I could actually make with the tools I have access to and knowledge to use. The process is always an interesting one. There were a number of generations of sketches, especially for the hubs, before I managed to settle on something that I was happy drawing. I’m certainly going to keep the concept around to use it for something else in the future!

Next up, what happens when the client says, “Yes.”

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A large, conceptual chandelier

Yesterday¬†was my first day back in the shop from traveling to Germany and Italy for three weeks. I attended the Biennale Europa D’Arte Fabbrile in Stia, Italy. Henriette and I traveled there with a few other blacksmiths, and it was amazing. I will post photos soon (I promise).

Now that I’m back, I have a huge project to work on and a bunch of smaller projects as well. The big one is a conceptual chandelier for a private client. I’m going to try to share all the details possible — partly to show you want this is all about, and partly to help myself work through this, as it is easily the largest project I have ever attempted.

Where do we start? The client contacts me and tells me they are looking for a chandelier and they want it to be inspired by Tim Burton or Lovecraftian art, or to be spider-like. Another constraint is that it has to be close to the ceiling, because the ceiling is pretty low for a room with a large lighting fixture in it. They send me some photos of the space and pictures of art they like, and I begin sketching.

This is the concept stage. In my jargon, a concept and a design are separate stages — the concept is more concerned with the ideas behind the project. We’re looking for something that resonates with the customer and the space, and something that I am happy about building. A concept does not concern itself so much with methods of construction as it does with style and emotion. We’re trying to get to the center of what a chandelier means, what it does for the room; these are the Ur-chandeliers, from which all others are based.

Each project is different. For some projects, I know exactly what I’m going to do before I even put pencil to paper. Sometimes when I start drawing, nothing is quite right, and I have to sit with it for a while. I drink tea, I look at art, I procrastinate, and I doodle a lot. Finally, I come up with a few ideas that might merit more exploration.

Sometimes there is one idea that simply flows from the pencil. Whether it happens right at the beginning of the process or hours into it, I know that it or some variation thereof is what I want to make. From then on, it’s just a case of presenting it in the best light to the client — the Journeyman Restaurant Sign is one such example. Several days of back and forth pictures, and finally a doodle of a few curved lines and I knew I had it. For this chandelier, there is a lot of tea drinking and sitting in the sun. I buy a softer pencil and suddenly:

I know this one is it, but I have to present it to the client now. I send the images to my client, with a few words about each one, and ask them for a suggestion about which design to work on. In this case, I am most excited about the Sinew & Bone sketch. It’s different and conceptual: I was tired of drawing circles in the middle of the box, and I wanted something with a relationship, so I drew this chandelier reaching in from the corners to intertwine in the middle.

The client likes the Sinew & Bone sketch a lot, so we work out an agreement for design. The next phase of the project for me includes a design and a build proposal, complete with estimates and specifics about what sort of lighting will be used, how it will be attached to the ceiling, and all the other details. I ask for compensation because it is a lot of work. In this case, the design combined with the build proposal and estimate took me 20+ hours of work. You’ll see it next.

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Working working

Hey everyone, I’m still alive. I’m pushing forward on a bunch of projects, so I should have some really cool stuff coming up. I have this problem that when I sit down at a computer, the last thing I am able to do is use my brain, apparently. I’m going to make an effort to use this more often, even if it’s to say I was working till 1:30am this evening.

I worked until 1:30am. There was a break or two in there, also. It’s one of those little projects that is far more complicated than you thought it would be and you start looking for a deep puddle to lay in. But hey, I am having fun with it, and it’s wrapping up.

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