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

 

Perfection

“Gentlemen, we will chase perfection, and we will chase it relentlessly, knowing all the while we can never attain it. But along the way, we shall catch excellence.”

Vince Lombardi Jr.

I heard this quote from a very talented local carver. This crystallized my ponderings on perfection and why I had disliked it so viscerally when applied to craft. If you believe the last thing you made is perfect, then that’s it. Your work is done and there is nowhere further to go. The flip side though is that it can be hard not to see fault in everything you do and get overwhelmed by it; often in the past I have driven home thoroughly disheartened by a tiny aspect of a tool that to my eye ruined it completely. And the next morning struggled to find this terrible flaw.

I like this quote, find it reassuring, thank you Grant.

Last post showed the axe I forged on a course, I was really pleased with it; however when I came to try it out I felt that the handle was too long, using it at full length made it feel a bit floaty and imprecise, as I suggested at the time it is a bit light for its size and a longer handle didn’t really cure this. So I used it to  carve another, by the time I had finished the new handle I largely come to grips with the old one, but this one feels right immediately, not after 10 minutes use so it is a step forward.

I have also included a picture of my hammer handle one week in; I took it to Barns where I was running an axe making course, really impressive set of axes came out this time, hopefully I will get some images of them to share soon. I had a fair go with it then and then and did a short run of  axes back at my workshop; managed to drop a red-hot head on the handle and burn a notch in right at the weakest point, the handle isn’t really right on this either; it feels great when I hold it at full length and I get the impression that vibrations are not transmitted up a thinner handle. However at times I really like to choke up on a hammer and when I do this I am gripping the a section that is too narrow for my hand and this can cause real problems. I’ll probably keep the handle for another hammer and make a new one. You can see why I love ash though, it starts off looking very bland but very quickly the porus grain fills and it takes on a whole new character, there is a difficult teenage period when the ash grain is neither clean or fully filled and just looks dirty but with hands like mine it doesn’t take that long.

 

Axe and hammer a week later

 

And the new heads, a few subtle tweaks and variations in the designs, a more boldly incised pattern and new, hopefully superior steel, it forges nicely and as far all the readings tell  me the heat treat has worked well, but I won’t know for certain until I put a handle on one and see how the edge holds up in use. But which one? always in the past when I make a batch there is one that to my eye stands above the others, this batch I am still undecided, really I want to try them all.

 

First three

Axes and Adzes, Again.

I had a great day last week with Richard and Jules Heath, they came to forge axes. It has been a while since I have taught axe making in my workshop, concentrating on larger groups at the Green wood guild in London, and a new adze course at Westonbirt, see my courses page for details. This time they were aiming to make a head each in a day, this seemed easy enough so I decided to forge an axe alongside them. On a course I will typically start off a head to give everyone an idea of what we are doing but rarely finish them off; and if I do try they often end up going wrong as I am actually concentrating on my students 6 axes rather than my own.

This time though I decided to make a much more extreme version of my carving axes. The blank was around 2 oz heavier but the techniques for forming the eye, lug and throat of the axe were identical. My blank was on the right.

blanks

Next we marked out where the eye will be slit; this is done cold. I have been in two minds about this for a long time, it is much more accurate to mark out cold but I do think that it is shame that the first forceful blows on the steel of the day are not done under heat. However accuracy is so important at this stage that it overides my aesthetic concerns.

marking out

Finally into the forge.

first heat

And slitting the eye, Jules was concerned that his tennis elbow would preclude his ability to make an axe, but as you can see from the picture both of his hands are taken up, I am striking with the sledge but Jules is definately in control of the preceedings.

eye slitting

When it came to forging out the my axe I tended to use the powerhammer to speed things along. I am drawing out the lugs on the eye.

cheating on the powerhammer

Back to the sledge and drawing out the blade on Richard’s axe.

flareing the blade

At this stage we run out of pictures and jump to their finished axes, I carried on completed forging on mine whilst they were doing the heat treat and some of the grinding.

Here we have Richards head.

Richards axe

And Jules’.

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I great day that I throughly enjoyed, Jules and Richard are well known green wood workers and I always find that these skills transfer well to forge work. It was really liberating making an axe alongside them, I decided to have a play and see how far I could draw out the edge. The past year has been focused soley on production and I enjoyed making this so much that the next day I went on to make a couple of rounding hammers, I had used tools like this to finely control the flow of the steel to get the maximum edge length from a relatively small piece of steel; it ended up a fraction over 7.5″ and  1 1/2 lb ( 675g)

When I came to make the handle I fitted one of my temporay handles using a long wedge and carved the handle for the axe head with the axe head, wordplays like that in action please me immensely. On a more practical level whilst it would have been quicker roughing out with a drawknife (or bandsaw and linisher if I was really willing to sell my soul.)  it was really useful to try out the axe and see what I liked about it and what needed changing, the handle I had put on turned out to be too curved so I altered my design to account for this, also the head felt a bit light considering how much potential edge could be used to hew with so I put a longer handle to allow it to feel more powerful if need be. I only made the head as an exercise to see how much edge I could tease out of the blank but ended up really liking it however I still feel that anything over 5 1/2″ inches on a carving axe is overkill.

handle underway

 

However there are certain features that I like about this axe that will subtley show themselves in future, less extreme runs that I produce. The handles on the hammers I made very thin, I wanted to see if this would help reduce the shock back up my arm when working harder grades of steel, will be interesting to see how they hold up; they certainly won’t look this white for long. I doubt I will ever put them into the mix of my teaching hammers as they would easly break with a misshit. Also I tend to purposely make teaching tooling with a bit less care than this; it is not that I want my students to use inferior tools (and most of the differences I am talking about are asethetic not functional) , just that I know that the tools are going to get a fair beating and I find it very hard to let go of a tool that I have lavished alot of attention over. It would not be fair for me to be wincing every time a student slightly mishits a tool and marks it so I make sets up that are a bit more robust and rustic than these.

axe finished

Courses

I do enjoy teaching, when I first started it was a very stressful experience but find it much easier now, I can even remember everyones names. When  first starting teaching larger classes at Barns I couldn’t even get the names of his apprentices right.

It amazes me how quickly students can progress over a couple of days. I remember being shown a clip of a course at Lie Nielsen toolworks last year, it was a shot of a certain sequence of strikes I use to release an axe or adze head from a drift. I asked Deneb why they had bothered to shoot me doing something this mundane- it is quite difficult to do but practice makes it look easy. He told me this was one of my students not me, still had to watch it another couple of times to be convinced. On another course one student’s axe at the end of the day looked more like one of mine than the one forged as a demo for him, which was I suppose gratifying.

There is a new tab to the menu at the top of my homepage with some more information on Courses, will endevour to update it over the year.

Next weekend I will be teaching at Barn’s Green Wood Guild in London and there are still a couple of places available on the sunday, 22nd May. I know of no other course that you can forge a blade, make and fit a handle and sheaf and walk away with a completely finished knife, all in one day. You can contact Barn for more information.

NicWestermann Bladesmithing Image

 

Axes, adzes and reamers

It feels like most days I receive emails asking when I will start making axes again, finally I have some news. Firstly though a quick update, two months ago I crushed my thumb in some machinary and it has been very slow to heal, I am still having to bind it up with duct tape at work and it has slowed me down considerably. It was quickly apparant that production work would be too taxing so have been concentrating on making, then testing new tooling and refining a few designs, some new, some old. I have also finished off an order for Lie-Nielsen, tools for another course that Peter Follansbee is teaching. This has meant that my website has run dry and wait lists are very long but I am back into production now and stock should filter through to the site in a couple of days.

Some of my tooling has been aimed at refining the way I forge axes, originally the idea was that I could make them quicker, but as soon as I tried them out it became apparent that I can now forge more accurately and cleaner than ever before, I could rush through and do them faster but I have decided not to take this route, the end result is that axes aren’t actually coming out any quicker but they are the best I have ever made, I am also testing better steels so the edge holding is going be enhanced. I decided to reinforce the point that these aren’t bashed out at speed by putting some subtle decoration on them. So far I have made a couple with handles and masks and another pair as heads only. The finished ones are quite extreme, rather closed eyes necessitated very curvy handles, I got a bit carried away on the paler one and ended up putting more of an adze shaped knob on, but it feels good in use. The wedges have been left long but I would expect to trim then down after a few weeks use.  The next pair of heads were more conventional and will be fine on straighter handles. It was great to be forging axes again, and a joy not to have my eye on the clock all the time which often happens with pure production runs.

pairoaxes

 

loadsaaxes

 

One thing I have found with axes is that they are pretty forgiving when it comes to handles, after a few minutes you can get used to quite different handle geometries. It should be said though that I go to a lot of trouble to make sure all my own axes swing the same, this way I can swap straight from one to another without any break-in period needed.

Adzes however are very different, get the handle to edge geometry just a few degrees out and they really won’t work well. This was brought home to me a while back when I steepened an edge that kept rolling, when I got back to the bowl I was working on it was immediately apparent that the edge now held, but the geometry was wrong.

Paul Hayden runs chair making courses at Westonbirt and over the years I have known him he has bemoaned the fact that it has become more dificult then impossible to get an adze out of the box that is suitable for hollowing chair seats. His brief was quite specific and I came up with a design that seems to tick all his boxes, except to my eye the aesthetic, but that should progress in later versions. These carve beautifully on a  fairly short, straight handle, used two handed. Very different to the bowl adzes I am used to, the inside bevel though is not ideal, as it is not so easy to sharpen. Next versions will explore if an external bevel can carve as smoothly.

Finally I have made the tooling for these reamers for Barn, they seem to work well but when I go down to London to for an Axe course this weekend we will spend some time testing and refining grinds.

adzesnreamers

Then, as I said a short run of spoon carving tools to go to the States, handle making underway.

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And the finised batch, with the two pattern handle tools in the foreground

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My next priority is to get fully back into production to stock this site; however as time presents itstelf I will be doing some limited runs of axes and later adzes, these will be done on my terms, so no special orders will be taken. This current batch is already spoken for and when I have decided how I will be sellling later batches and finalised specs I will update again here. So, progress of sorts!

 

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