Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Ancient Artifact

I've been making things for as long as I can remember. I made a cardboard box space ship when I was six or seven. I made an electronic intercom system for my bedroom when I was about ten. I made a line of hand painted t-shirts and sneakers when I was about twelve- and on, and on. Most of those items have long since gone to the scrap heap, or disintegrated (I wore some of those t-shirts well into college). But one item from my youthful maker experiments still remains in my possession, and it is in as good of condition as when I made it, back in 1984- when I was twelve.

This is a picture of my first attempt to make a knife. Its shape was loosely inspired by the Klingon D'k tahg, or "warrior's dagger". It was made from a piece of 10 gauge mild steel flat bar that I found laying around in my dad's garage. One night, I just picked it up, clamped it in the work bench vise, and started going at it with a steel file. The corners were clipped with a hack saw. The center was opened up with a drill press, and the majority of the shaping and finishing was done, by hand, with a file. It took a long time. Many many nights were spent out in the garage filing away. Oh, and emery cloth for the polishing. I started working on a cross guard for it, about a year or two after I made the knife, but I soon abandoned that effort.

The blade is 1.75" wide and 9.75" long, and about an eighth of an inch thick. The overall length of the knife is 15.75 inches. Obviously, as a twelve year old, I knew nothing about metalurgy; had no idea about heat treating or tempering. I knew that if you heated a knife blade too much you would ruin the edge, but I didn't really understand why. And I had no idea that mild steel contained too little carbon to ever hold an edge. But hay, it was big and it was wicked looking, and it was all done by me.

The handle was cut from a fallen tree limb I found in the ally behind my parents' house. I have no idea what kind of tree it was, but knowing the region like I do now, it was very possibly silver maple. That neighborhood is littered with them. The tang goes back about a third of the way into the handle. It was affixed by just drilling out a slot in the end of the branch (after whittling off the bark and cutting it to length). Then the slot was jammed over the tang and the branch was hammered home. I always intended to carve a better shape into the handle, but I never did. As with all woodworking projects made at my house during that era, it was stained with used motor oil.

I didn't engrave the MRX initials into the ricasso until a couple years later. But this was also done by hand, using a metal chisel and a hammer.

This is probably the oldest surviving example of any of my projects. Sometimes I look back on some of the things I did as a little kid and I wonder- were my parents even paying attention? Those were different times.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Painted Pentagram Sketchbook

I recently visited a local craft store and found some nice 8x10 (ish) sketchbooks with cloth covered boards. They were surprisingly cheap, so I grabbed a couple for a future project. I have stacks and stacks of sketchbooks sitting around waiting to be made into custom books, but, I liked the cloth covers on these ones and, again, they were really cheap.

So, the other day, I was working at the store (my clerk was out for medical reasons), and I got bored. In my boredom, I had an idea for a quick paint job that I thought would look really nice on those new sketchbooks. This is essentially the same paint job that I have done on my kraft paper covered journals in the past, with a few minor differences.

I started by cutting out a paper stencil of the pentagram. I have a huge stack of pentagrams that I photo copied about fifteen years ago, and I have been pulling from that pile ever since. I cut it out with an x-acto knife and used mounting spray (a weak spray adhesive) on one side to fix it to the sketchbook cover. I originally intended to center it, but the stencil was a little too big for the cover, and as I was laying it out, I kind of liked how it looked off-center like this. The stencil wrapped around the spine, so I made sure to stick it down into the french groove with the bone folder.

The second step was to use a sea sponge and dab the cover randomly with dark red acrylic paint. To do this, I opened the covers so that I could paint the front and back at the same time. I let the pages dangle straight down, and used two large cardboard boxes to support the covers. This worked, but it made it difficult to get any paint into the french groove, so on future ones, I just left the book closed and did the front and back covers separately.

Next, I repeated the painting process with a brighter shade of red acrylic paint. I made sure to leave plenty of area where the dark red and even the black of the original cover, showed through.

The fourth step was to remove the paper stencil, revealing the black book cloth beneath. This was more difficult than I had thought it would be. Not that the spray glue grabbed too hard, but the paint soaked the edges of the paper stencil, and so the stencil tore at the edges, leaving behind a very visible white deckled edge along much of the pentagram's border. This I had to carefully scrape with a hobby knife to try to get the remnants of the stencil off, without damaging the paint or the book cover.

I managed to get the paper off, but there were several places that my scraping was very visible. It detracted significantly from the overall appearance of the book. I decided to try to mask the damaged areas with another layer of paint. I used a stiff bristled brush to dab on some copper acrylic paint over the most visible trouble areas. Then I used the sea sponge again with the copper paint to blend in those dab marks and hide them. I used the copper paint very sparingly. I did not want to obscure the pentagram design.

I could have just used the sea sponge with the copper paint, but there was a chance that the problem areas I was trying to hide would fall in a "dead spot" on the sponge and I would have to make several passes over the area with the sponge to get the coverage I needed. This would have made the copper too heavy handed. Using the paint brush first ensured that the worst spots were covered by the copper paint, and then the sponge would hide the deliberateness of those repaired spots. Not only did the copper highlights cover the trouble areas, it really brought the design to life. Now, I can't imaging the book without it.

The last step was to spray the entire cover with a spray sealer. It only took about an hour to paint this book, and I am very pleased with the way it turned out. It has been several years since I have made a modified journal like this. I think I need to get back to it.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Planchettes v1.5

My planchette project started out as a quick weekend thing, and it turned into a three month long saga. This project took for freaking ever to wrap up, and I still have some more woods that I would like to make some out of, but I need to walk away.

So, while waiting for the black marbles, my 40mm glass cabochons arrived. I had saved about half of the second batch to experiment with insetting the glass cabs into the open hole.

This second style (I guess we could call it v1.5) has a slightly bigger hole that was set a little farther back on the body of the planchette. I used a 1-5/8" forstner bit to cut about half way through the wooden body (it was as close to 40mm as I could get without a metric forstner bit set), and then I used a 1-3/8" forstner bit to drill the rest of the way through. This gave me a small rim to rest the edge of the cabochon in. This ledge is visible in the pictures above, and this is the underside of the planchette.

 This batch I finished a little differently than the first two. These were finished with three coats of tung oil, and then followed up with a coat of paste wax.

 I attached the marble feet first, using E6000 glue and drilling recess holes, like before.

The flat side of the cabochon faces down, and from the top side, the domed side of the cabochon pokes up a little through the slightly smaller hole.The glass cab was glued in place from the underside. The glass cab has a nice magnifying effect for objects seen through it. I think it will work well for reading the letters of the spirit board through the hole. A small bead of E6000 was run around the lip of the hole, and the cab was dropped in.

 I didn't like the black marbles I waited so long to find, so I ended up using 10-12 mm marbles I found at Michael's.

 Here are the third batch, all finished. Many of these will be going in my Etst store, and some will be sold in my shop.










 I'd still like to make some planchettes out of hickory and walnut, but I have to set this aside for now. I'm planchetted out.