Archive | courses

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.

 

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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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’.

jules aze

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

 

Summer Plans

 

 

This Spring I decided to have a quieter summer, a chance to spend more time with my Family, so no bookings were taken for any of my usual Summer shows, and it felt good to know I wouldn’t be spending the next few months on the road.  Then an email from the States arrived inviting me to Maine to teach a course and put on an axe making demonstration at Lie Nielsen Toolworks. I went over with my daughter Jenn for the first two weeks in July. I would have put a blog post up about this but when we got home we promptly lost the memory card with all our photos on. We realised that a lot of  what I had done had been duplicated, I forged an axe with Roy Underhill and images of that popped up all over the internet, but there were a lot of images that I thought would never been seen again so I was so pleased when the card finally turned up a few days ago.

Two Georges

I spent most of my time working in this shop when I was at Lie Nielsen- these two guys, referred to by everyone as the Georges were great, George Stevens on the right and Old  (!) George on the left. This was the prototyping workshop, not production and was filled with wonderful old machines, lots of cast iron, hand cranks and exposed pulleys and gears. They were extremely welcoming and helpful, I was concerned as to how they would respond to me turning up and making lots of noise and mess in their workshop. Old George helped me with some cutting and welding and at first was a bit bemused by my seeming inability to measure anything – ‘ I need 10, or 12 at about…. this long ( wave of my hands)’ but after a week took in in his stride.

 

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Another slightly stilted photo of me, this time with Peter Galbert, behind us is the smoking detritus of a Lobster bake, lobsters and clams steamed in seaweed over charcoal. A fabulous evening at the open house put on by Tom Lie Nielsen, more about that in another post. It was so informative meeting Peter, we talked tools and bevel angles and immediately clicked; it was great to speak to someone with the same mindset as to how tools work. When I finally got back into my workshop I applied some of the theory that he had described in the use of his Travisher to a Drawknifelike design I have been toying with for the last two years, I had to re-vist my A- Level physics and draw out forces diagrams but all was clear and a couple of bends with the Oxy Propane torch and the tool was transformed. And yet it flies directly in the face of what we discussed about Drawknife theory in Maine! I got a copy of his book Chairmaker’s Notebook and I highly recommend it, doubt I will ever make a chair, but now want to.

 

A couple of weeks after we returned I had another email from Deneb at  Lie Nielsen. They needed, at pretty short notice, tooling for courses that Peter Follansbee and Jogge Sundqvist were teaching. These orders will take a lot of time, but it seemed churlish to refuse, I have met Jogge a few times and know that he uses my tools, and Peter has been very vocal in his praise for my work and was keen to have my gouges, twca cams and adzes for his bowl carving course, all these tools are handled. I make all my handles from green wood and it has been nice to spend some time in my workshop with clean hands.

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I have a good stock pile of straight green ash and although it would be quicker to buy in copy lathe turned handles that is not the way I want to work. It also gives me a chance to use my tools in a production setting which tells me a lot about edge holding and handle design and comfort. By chance I had lent most of my tools to a friend and the only axe I had was the one pictured, it was kept really for historical reasons as my designs have moved on from this early example, but I was really pleased to get re acquainted with it.  I would normally let them dry naturally before a final fit and finish, but time is extremely short and currently the micro wave is working at hard as I type this; every two minutes the machine pings and my youngest shouts out ‘Dad! Dinners ready!’ in a few weeks she might tire of this joke, but currently it is still fresh.

 

Dinners Ready

 

In light of this and other commitments I have- A course at Barns, a run of three shows in September and a Family holiday squeezed in I have taken the decision to shut my online shop for a while, it is no secret that I have difficulty keeping up with stock at the best of times but having a completely empty shop or turning up to shows with no stock to sell makes no sense at all.  I have, I suppose technically left it open so you can view what is on it but have reduced the stock levels to zero, I did also put all the prices to zero to make it obvious that no purchase could be made but the site then said ‘ This item is free!’ so I reset everything to £999 as a further deterrent to people trying to make a purchase.  On a positive note not having the shop open has brought home to us just how much time is spent packing and answering emails. Hopefully I plan on using this time to put up some more blog posts:  My trip to the States, some thoughts on my current working practices and ethics, and plans for the future, including axes and adzes.

Bladesmithing, courses in London.

I will be running tool making courses in London at Barn the Spoon’s workshop.

To quote Barnaby

“In November we had our first bladesmithing class in London, I’ve been making blades for several years now and happy with my products, but Nic is an Internationally renowned tool maker, and is also a fantastic teacher!

The course is designed to teach you all you need to know to be able to make your own blades at home, as well as being able to walk away with some razor sharp tools at the end of the workshop.”

http://barnthespoon.com/bladesmithing-new-course-dates/

Course Photos

Some great photos of a course in my workshop, axes on the first day, adzes on the second.

 

All photographs are Copyright Richard Anderson / lux images

Tyntesfield Tool Making 2 – The course.

The course went well. We had two forges, two anvils and six students, I decided that we would have Dave and Tom making axes using the coke forge, and Dick, Angus, Mark and Peter making adzes on the gas forge, it sounds unfair but as the gas forge holds the steel at a constant temperature it is possible to have more than one adze being heated at once, in the workshop I will typically run three blanks in the gas forge, this way as soon as I have finished forging one blank I can pull another one out and immediately start on that, there is no down time waiting for a piece to come up to heat, having many irons in the fire. At Tyntesfied we ran one axe in the coke fire against two adzes in the gas forge.

I broke the process down into stages and demonstrated with Rob striking for me. Next, everyone paired up and would forge to the same stage, then the director and striker would swap places. This way everyone got to experience every process, and if all went well I wouldn’t have to take over at any stage.

Although the starting stages of making an axe and adze are identical they obviously diverge at some point and generally Rob looked after Dave and Tom on the axes and I concentrated on the other two pairs on the adzes. I took some photos but they were totally eclipsed by this set that Peter took.

adze blanks

Scoring an adze blank so the slitting set would locate accurately in the centre.

Axe blank being slit with the new set

Axe blank being slit with the new set

adze split

Adze completely slit, the bolster allows the set to go all the way through without driving the sharp edge into the face of the anvil.

Rob looking after the axe boys.

Rob looking after the axe boys.

adze part forged

Adzes part forged, nice and even eyes which makes everything so much easier throughout the whole forging process

forging

Forging out the lugs on the eye of an adze between top and bottom fullers, the drift is inserted into the eye other wise it would be squashed flat. Tne handle is about to come out if the fuller, a more wedges needed obviously.

Spreading the blade out on an adze with a handled fuller.

Spreading the blade out on an adze with a handled fuller.

Adzes heating in the gas forge.

Adzes heating in the gas forge.

Quenching ( hardening) in oil.

Quenching ( hardening) in oil.

 

Adzes showing temper colours and ready for the final grind.

Adzes showing temper colours and ready for the final grind.

Finished

Finished

Although I did help out at a few stages some of the adzes were completely untouched by me, so brilliant efforts all round, it was quite an effort to transplant all the equipment needed to a Marquee 170 miles away but the results, as you can see were definitely worth it.

Tyntesfield Tool Making 1 – Preparations.

I spent the best part of a week getting ready for an axe and adze making workshop I was running ar Tyntesfield for the Sommerset Bodgers. Originally I was asked just to make axes,  however some pictures I posted recently of adzes made on a course at my workshop had over half the participants jumping ship and wanting to make adzes. In a way this is more difficult as I need to teach making two different tools rather than one, but then with Rob along to help out it won’t be so difficult to split the group. Adzes are quicker to forge, but take longer to do the final finishing which may help to spread the load, or, if I don’t get timings right make for a big crush to get to the grinder. One thing is certain though, as I already have one set of tools for making axes and one for making adzes I needed to make less extra tooling up for the course. There are going to be 6 participants so I will need multiple sets, luckily not six, as everyone will pair up taking it in turns to strike for their partner.

 

blacksmith tools

Firstly the starting point.

From the left:

1. A section of  EN9 Tool steel that I will make a fuller for, this will be for spreading the steel in one direction to shape it, the action is similar to that of a rolling pin on pastry.

2. A chisel that was hurriedly rolled up to make into a gouge at a show, this needs flattening and resharpening as it will be needed for marking the steel stock prior to slitting it.

3. A Large sledge hammer head that I want to reshape, in axe forging a find weight is really important, especially as I tend to use heavy drifts, a light hammer really struggles with these.

4. a section of silver( tool) steel that I will make a slitting tool with, this isn’t really thick enough and will be upset under my power hammer to increase the section width around the eye.

5. An axe eye drift that has suffered over the summer show season, just needs reshaping and smoothing.

6. Adze eye drift that needs similar work.

7. A section of mild steel that I will use to make a couple of pairs of tongs up with.

8 and 9  A section of  EN9 Tool steel that I will use to make a fuller tool that will fit in the anvil that is available at Tyntsefield. The section next to it is a failled axe head in mild steel, this will be the section that fits in the hardy ( square ) hole of the anvil.

 

blacksmith tools

I started with the tool steels that needed forging first, I was in a real hurry and kept telling myself not to dwell on aesthetic beauty in these tools. as it was they turned out even and went quickly, but in forge work this often goes hand in hand. from the left:

1. The marking chisel

2. The silver steel slitting sett.

3. EN9 fuller top tool

4. En9 Fuller bottom ( anvil ) tool.

Blacksmith tools

Then on to the tongs- these were a joy to forge, mild steel is so much easier to forge than tool steels, especially by hand, and tongs do need a fair amount of hand forging, although a lot of the heavy work can be done under the power hammer. In woodworking terms you could compare the tongs to fresh birch, the tool steels to seasoned ash.

1. These will be used for gripping inside the eye of an axe or adze.

2. A pair that can be used to grip rectangular or square section steel. These work best over quite a narrow size range so I have lots of tongs in different sizes, these are going to be sized to hold the steel bar that the adzes will be forged from.

 

Blacksmith tools

And the finished set.

1.

2. Drifts were easily smoothed out.

3. Fuller  (bottom) tool fitted to my anvil, will be a loose fit in the Tyntesfield anvil  ( a few wraps of duct tape cures many problems and this will not be an exception)

4. Chisel – has been heat treated and sharpened now.

5. Hammer – With a very rough handle fitted, despite saying that weight was important I decided that this could afford to lose a pound or so as it was nearly 7 pounds, made sense not to forge the pein on in this instance as the goal was to lose weight not preserve it. Cut away with an angle grinder and shaped on the linisher.

6. Fuller tool- this has a very small radius and will shape the steel quickly, these are not swung but struck with a sledge hammer, so the handles can be even cruder than the hammer.

7. Slitting tool, similar useage so similar handle, I had been told that you should leave the heads loose on tools like this to reduce the chance of breaking the handles, but after spending the summer continuously correcting wobbling heads I decided to fit them more securely, not a great loss if the handles do break.

8. Tongs for holding an axe or adze securely from the poll, allows the blade to be inline with the tongs which makes it easier to keep things straight and balanced.

9. Tongs for holding adze stock these will either hold across the flats of the bar, but as I have forged the jaws into a right angle section they will hold much more securely if rotated 45 deg to hold across the corners.

And that is hopefully all the extra tooling I will need for the course, its not finished to the level of my usual work, but I am happy that they will do what I need them to.

 

Update

Spent some time today trying out the new tooling, also got the blanks for the course forged to size under the power hammer. From the left-
1. My new favourite hammer! Is a nice weight to use, 6lb with the handle. Cross pein prooved to be very useful.
2 Tidied up the last axe I forged this summer at the European Woodworking Show, guest striker was Joe, Anna Casserley’s partner, was complaining of being bored so Rob gallantly stepped aside.
3. Adze stock, still needs to be cut into sections.
4. Axe stock
5. Axe I forged,  trying out some of the new tools, and a new blank shape.
6.  New blank shape, was testing this size out, makes for a very wide eye so will make the handle fit very solid, but on balance it was too wide and thin, unnecessarily difficult to forge, not a section I will be using on the course this weekend.
7, 8, 9 Last year I made all my axes at shows from a large piece of tool steel. Next year I hope to be making them from Mild steel with a section of tool steel laminated in,  this is technically more difficult to do, but the forging will take less force as mild steel is much easier to work.  Expect these to take the same amount of time but should make for a more impressive demonstration.   Downside is that I expect the failure rate to be higher. If we get the chance over the weekend Rob and I will try one out to see how realistic it is to make these in the field.
course tooling 5

 

 

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