Strop

I sell suede to make strops with as it would get pretty expensive posting heavy strops around the world, but I thought I ought to show how to make them. I prefer a thick base as this gives clearance if you are stropping on a bench but also allows you to hold it safely from the back if you are holding the tool (such as an axe) still and moving the strop. Another popular option is a paddle strop, with a handle.

The backing needs to be hard and flat, softwood such as pine will compress over time. I have a strop made from pine that exhibits a wonderful wood grain pattern in the suede from repeated use. MDF is very good for this. Not something that I have in the workshop but I was able to get some from the unit next door, some chipboard was screwed and glued to the back to increase the thickness.

Make sure the backing is a few millimetres smaller than the Suede all the was around. In this case the suede I am using is distressingly white- it was very hard to keep it clean in my workshop for the duration of these admittedly poor photos. I use impact adhesive and you only get one go at fitting this. A glue like this which doesn’t dry hard is better, Epoxy or PVA will work but but can soak into and effect how the strop feels and holds the compound. It is important to get an even layer of glue for the join so you maintain a flat surface.

Then glue the suede down. Or to be more accurate I prefer to leave the suede on the bench and glue the backing down onto it, finding it easier to line up this way. Leave to dry then trim off the excess to get a neat edge.

Strop in use, touching up the knife. Suede is naturally abrasive so will dull edges quickly when you cut it, however this action also means it is ideally suited to use as a strop. It is however better to use a compound, it is so much quicker, even with a fine compound. You can often hear a hiss as it cuts. A thin layer rubbed into the grain cuts best. You can see how very quickly the compound turns black with metal particles, at this stage it is better to scrape it off with a blunt edge and re apply the compound rather than add more on top.

Midlands Woodworking and Power Tool Show – Newark

I will be packing the van today and heading off to Newark for this show, open on Friday and Saturday. I will have unprecedented stock of blades!  Have now finished the shaping and  Heat treat on these adzes and got edges on them late last night so hopefully can make and fit some handles over the course of the show, these are prototypes and will not be for sale, but if I get them up and running you are welcome to have a go.

 

 

Sharpening Video

After many abortive attempts I have finally got a video together explaining the geometry on my curved blades, the thinking behind it and how best to sharpen them. I would like to say a big thanks to Alex for filming and then editing this, if you watch to the very end you will see the blooper reel that chronicles the mountain he had to climb.

I realise that it is a long film, but there was actually a lot to say; Alex did cut it down to make a shorter version that captures all the essential sharpening information but the longer one is much better in my opinion. I have also put together a sharpening kit that includes everything that is used in the video.

 

 

 

 

 

Ordering Information- Update

The first trial of the back or pre-order system is underway- I have taken what I estimate to be a month worth of orders and will be starting on them first thing tomorrow.  If you had notification but got on to the site and found no stock then don’t worry- we will be using your place on the wait list to build a new linear one. Sign up to my blog to be kept informed of updates as we have them.

 

Ordering Information

As I have intimated for some time the wait list system on the site has not worked very well. As has been pointed out, it didn’t actually function a waiting list, but the plug-in in question labelled itself as such and it was not possible to change it to ’email notification system’ which might have helped matters.

As an experiment I am going to allow customers to pre ( back) -order blades, it will be possible to order blades that are not actually in stock. This should stop the phenomenon of customers making multiple purchases to get all the blades they want, which benefits nobody but the postal service. I will take what I perceive to be a months worth of orders then remove the back-order option. If this first trial runs successfully then the plan is to use the wait lists that people are on as a way to allow further limited series of pre orders to be taken. Please be aware that if you do order by this system there may be a significant wait before your receive your items.

Easy for me to type this, but from an IT point of view I am told it is not straight forward at all. Hence I want to run a test to see if it is worth ploughing resources into this. It is not clear what will happen when the out of stock purchase option is activated. Maybe everyone on the wait list will get an email saying that their tool is back in stock ( which isn’t really true) and the site will again be overloaded. Hopefully not, but if this is the case the wait lists are already archived and there is no need to rejoin.

I plan to have this up and running in the next couple of days but am not going to put a time up as most of the current frustrations seem to have been caused by too many customers after too few blades, all at the same time.

Kuksas and Sharpening.

Forging tools as fast and hopefully as well as I can, but still not managing to keep up does get rather wearing, and I have been getting increasingly jaded with the situation. Despite the fact that I am producing tools in larger numbers than ever before they are still hard for people to come by due to the spiralling demand. We are still trying to work on a way to queue orders on the website in a fair manner, it is not as simple as it seemed. If I have to do this manually it will take valuable time that could be spent addressing the real issue in hand which is making tools. I actually did a small run of axes a couple of months ago, I sold these individually rather than through the site.  It took an average of eight emails to complete each sale. If you look at the last batch of hooks I have forged you can see why I need to be able to sell them via the site in an automated manner.

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Last week though Alex and Nicky came over to run two days of his hugely popular Kuksa carving course. It was wonderful to see the workshop transformed into a classroom and have it filled with people, it is rare for me to have visitors to the forge, and it really lifted my spirits.

Tools laid out

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Calm before the storm

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A very different atmosphere in the forge over the weekend

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Some great nests made by a first time swan neck user

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Alex at work

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Two highly successful courses, I managed to squeeze in making a  hazel gate over the weekend, again a pleasant change for me, all my carving in the workshop is in  bone dry ash. It is a joy to carve something green.

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We spent an evening winding down after the courses gilding treen- I had been searching for some batteries in the workshop and unearthed a book and a half of 23.75 carat gold leaf. A week ago- I used to gild some of my decorative forged work but had never tried it on wood before, as you can see the results were stunning. We also had some time testing a pair of prototype axes I made over Christmas, more on those another time as it got rather involved but it is invaluable for me to spend time bouncing ideas of someone as experienced as Alex.

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It was intriguing to watch how different students got on with my tools. Some amazing shavings were made by students that had never used one before. I learnt a long time ago to take note of the shavings that a carver makes. In the end anyone can finish a piece by taking tiny little shavings. What impresses me ( as a toolmaker )  is the bigger chips from the roughing out process. Most informative was how the less experienced students were more likely to struggle with tools that had lost a degree of sharpness. This subtle degradation of the edge wasn’t always that obvious and Alex could carve a lot longer than anyone else with a tool that needed touching up. There were also a few students that brought ‘foreign’ tools in for me to sharpen. It really brought it home to me how important it is for my customers to be able to keep their blades as sharp as when they left my workshop.

I have been unsure about explaining my sharpening  processes to a wider audience for quite some time now. For one there is the horror of having to face the camera. The other issue though has been how much I want to say about my tools. When I started forging blades 6 years ago there was never any need to have a makers mark, my blades were instantly recognisable and virtually nobody was selling forged woodcarving blades. They have of course been refined over the years and certain aspects of my designs became signature features, such as the tramlines on my spoon blades. There have been a few attempts at replicating them over the years but some recent copies are pretty close. I can see the differences, some aesthetic some not, but felt I could say nothing. If I pointed out the differences then the next versions would be closer.

However putting this rather frustrating aspect of business aside it seems like it is time to explain how to sharpen my blades, and to do that it is necessary to explain the edge geometry that I use. So Alex, being a highly accomplished film-maker shot a video- This was his second attempt and actually in total my fourth go at being filmed. We just about got there in the end but I really don’t envy his job in editing it to come out with something coherent, It looks like there will be a full version with edge theory and a shorter one just focussed on the sharpening.

In the meantime Alex made this teaser video, he actually put it all together on the spot picking up my daughter’s much abused guitar – it had got rather damp as it had spent the ‘summer’ outside under our shelter. We felt bad about this so had left it dry by the wood stove.

 

National Botanical Garden of Wales

I will be at the Woodcraft Weekend   –  it is not a big show but one of the first that I did when I made the transition to toolmaking, and have found it to be very friendly and welcoming, has good memories for me. That first time I went we were put in a marquee and in the middle of January it didn’t look too promising, but I was next to a group of stickmakers and they tried and then bought many of my blades. In the process we left lots of shavings on the carpet which the cleaners had a tough time removing. So next year we were delighted to be moved to the main glass house which is a fabulous place to spend the weekend, warm and bright even when it snows- which it has a few times.  Will be there again this weekend, making some handles for some axes that I made as prototypes in the run up to Christmas. I have a good amount of stock and will be selling all that is unsold on my site at 9pm on the 16th. I realise that as demand for my blades has far exceeded my ability to supply this method of selling is not really working for many customers, so changes are going to be made. More about that in my next post after I have this show finished; as ever I set a high target for the stock I wanted for this show and the last couple of weeks have involved long hours at the forge, but all the blades are finished, the van is packed and ready to go.

Harrogate

The site has been quieter than usual this month as I have earmarked all stock for Harrogate show , to the untrained eye my site must look quiet all the time, I often get emails asking if I have ceased trading as everything is out of stock. The situation is that all stock I put on sells out within a matter of hours, the wait list is, as ever the key to catching these brief windows of opportunity. All stock left unsold after the show, and I expect there to be a lot will go up on my site on Monday  21st at 1pm. I did a similar thing after Westonbirt show earlier in the year and the site crashed under amount of traffic as I was halfway through uploading the different items of stock; this time I will close the site, upload all the stock and then re-open it hopefully on the dot of 1pm. I will be restocking again before Christmas but will be off to London for a marathon 4 days of courses at the Greenwood Guild in early December so this might be the last chance for the Festive season for my customers across the Atlantic.

Bizarrely I had a film company phone up this week asking me to forge some ice tongs and carving tools, but the deadlines were impossible as I was committed to attending this show. I did fleeting wonder what bevel angles and temper would be appropriate for ice though.

However if you can get to Harrogate I would strongly advise it; I enjoy this show immensely and find the atmosphere great. It is indoors and electricity is everywhere and I am glad of that, at this time of year an outdoors show could be miserable, instead I will be warm and illuminated.  I have yet to meet a green woodworker that doesn’t use some sort of electrically powered tool for their sharpening and all the manufacturers will be there and you can see various machines running, many will let you have a go on them.  And of course there are other carvers and turners  demonstrating and lots of high quality hand tools old and new.

My stall will be well stocked, on the Friday at least. I will even have a few axes-  They are ground now and it is amazing the difference that is makes, the interplay between a forged finish and a crisp shiny bevel is fabulous.

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And lots of smaller blades.

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At the show I will also be doing some demos, handling an axe and also explaining how I sharpen my curved blades; Alex Yerks shot some footage of this at Westonbirt earlier in the year so a video is definitely on its way, I just need to finish off the audio.

 

Designing Courses

When I am designing a course I often end up reverse engineering techniques that I use in my workshop. My aim there is to make blades as quickly and as accurately as possible.

On a course I  expect no prior knowledge at all for my students so my classes are also crash courses in blacksmithing; I try and start with the simplest techniques first and build on this during the course. Tooling helps speed things along, but it is a fine balance. If the tooling is too simple or sparse it can be hard for students to achieve good result, I can with time make most of my tools with only a hammer and tongs, but it isn’t realistic to take this approach on a course.

 

If on the other hand I have over engineered the tooling we end up with a hand version of drop forging- Hot metal is inserted into the tool or die which is then struck, out come a finished article, little has been learnt  and this could not be replicated at home with simple equipment.

I have found that having a story board helps; I think it is useful for students to be able to pick up tool at various stages to really see what we are trying to achieve. Although I demonstrate the forging process the results are not immediately tactile.  I also think it is useful to see examples of what not to do.

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This box contains some of my axe making storyboard, some good some not. I have been teaching and thus refining my axe course for a few years now and I think that the Axe on the top tells an interesting story. It was made a few years ago in my workshop and at the time I was really proud of it, the best axe yet, I decided to quench in water as the steel was meant to be suitable…  The blade cracked at the quench line and I was not happy. Decided to use it as an example of the importance of using the right quenchant, and also to show how deep an axe should be held during quenching.

When I started out teaching it was also an example of a great axe that I had ruined, after a year or so it wasn’t that special, then I found myself pointing out flaws in it that could be improved upon. On my last course I had 6 students with no forging experience, 5 of their axes were notably better than this failed one and the sixth was at least an equal. Constant tweaking of the course has helped my production axe making although the processes are more mechanised. I still have a few more refinements to make to the tooling for the next course, but these are largely now aimed at making the course run smoother and easier, the finished product is I think pretty much set now.

I also teach a Bladesmithing course at the Greenwood Guild and this has had similar refinements, to forge a blade, heat treat, and grind it, then make a sheath and handle and do a final sharpen- All in one day, is a huge amount to do.

I have just had delivered some special wheels made up for my wetstone grinders, grinding has been a bit of a choke point on the course, despite there now being 5 grinders available for students to use. This grinder is a clone of the well known Tormek, the wheel was very poor and wore badly. You can see how much was lost after only two courses.

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To make matters worse it consistently wore to an oval shape as well, making grinding even harder. These new wheels cut much quicker and smoother and never need redressing, they will finish a grind in 1/3 of the time of the old wheel so we should all be in for an easier day on the course this weekend.

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Will be very interesting to see how long they actually last,  and I will be trialling different grit combinations over the next few months.

I have also decided to change the size of the steel stock that we start with for the knives, this will eliminate one stage of forging that some students found difficult. I have not been able to buy my preferred steel in either size so have always been forging it down to size under the power hammer, in one way this makes it quite easy to change  the size. I trialled the new stock size today and it is an improvement, some stages are marginally more difficult but another stage is eliminated entirely. Trouble is I had to forge a new story board to match the new processes, so 9 blanks were started and one left to cool at each stage. All done now but I am hoping I don’t decide to tinker with the process again for a while.

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Westonbirt

A quick post to let you know that I will be attending Treefest at Westonbirt this weekend and Bank holiday.  I really enjoy this show and it is such as shame that it is the last one. On a positive note between a couple of days teaching axe forging  I have been stockpiling blades and have good supplies of all my stock items from the site and even a few axes, but if you are hoping to get one of those then I wouldn’t leave it until the Monday. Any unsold stock will be listed on the site when I get back on Tuesday 30th.

I always demonstrate at Westonbirt and this year is no different, will be forging axes and adzes. The big news, just confirmed is that I will have a Celebrity Guest Striker- Alex Yerks from the US. Its very odd, we have been in contact for years through Facebook, and I nearly managed to visit when I was in the States last year, but it fell through. This year he came over to the UK for spoonfest but his schedule was too tight to come down to Wales. Then is turned out that he was going to be In Amsterdam whilst we where on holiday in the Netherlands so we met up. mryerks

Then it turns out he is back in the UK, so we finally get to forge an axe together. Its going to be a great weekend, come over and say hello!

Treefest at Westonbirt

 

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