Author Archive | Nic Westermann

Axe Forging- Demo and Workshop

This weekend I will be at the Bodgers Ball, its only a bit over an hour down the road, I am pleased not to be spending too long in the van. will set up the forge and make an axe and an Adze, Harry who used to strike for me at the Greenwood Guild will be wielding the sledge again.

May is looking to be my busiest month ever so I will not be setting up a stand at the show, and am really looking forward to a relaxing weekend catching up with friends and family.

The weekend after I will be in London teaching knife making on the Sat and Sun, and on the Mon/ Tues will be doing Axes- and there are still a couple of places left. These usually sell out very quickly so this is rare chance to grab a place while you can. Tom made a great video of the last course we ran.

These courses are really special and being over two days the atmosphere is great, the sense of achievement people get from forming and marrying raw blanks of steel and wood into their own special axe is infectious.

You can book your place Here.

Detail knife handle

After reading a request by a customer for information on how to fit these blades I remembered that I haven’t ever shown how to fit small straight blades so put this together today. As it was spur of the moment thing whilst waiting for some Twca Cams to anneal I didn’t have my camera with me or a finished detail blade but used my phone and found a blank that had been used for hardness testing after heat treat- hence the small impressions on one face.

I used some birch for this handle, it wasn’t fully dry but had been in the workshop for a few weeks in a 1″x 2″ section which is turned out well, dry enough so that it will take a good finish but still enough moisture that it didn’t crack and will tighten onto the tang as it dries later. Ash is also good as is elm, harder woods such as yew seem to be prone to splitting.

I took the pictures for this sequence as I did it, it was all by eye, not marked out on a table. This really can a very quick process. If when you get the handle on it doesn’t line up well split it off and have another go,  you may only be 10 minutes in.

As I general rule I make a handle one finger width wider than my palm. So I cut the birch to length and shaped one end, leaving the other end largely untouched. Then lined up where I wanted the blade to be.

I then marked where I wanted to drill the hole for the tang.

 

Rather than drill immediately I then used a bradawl to start the hole to be certain the drill wouldn’t wander. I chose a drill bit to give a hole slightly undersize.

 

The hole was drilled in a press but you could do it freehand, main thing is to be certain that the orientation is good left to right, up and down there is more leeway for error in this blank.  Make sure you drill the slightly deeper that the length of the tang. I then put the drill bit in the hole and used this as a guide to see how well it all lined up. As I have done it this many times is was fine, but if it wasn’t the idea is that you have left enough excess wood in the butt end of the handle to bring everything back into line.

 

If you are using a cordless drill after drilling you can put it in a vice, put the handle back onto the drill bit and spin the handle slowly whilst holding a marker to the other end, it should scribe a circle with the middle being your centre. This trick works well for lots of instances where you need to drill dead central. As it was all I needed to do was mark the centre on the butt and draw on the rough outline of the handle.

 

I shaped the handle, including cutting the face that the tang was going into, I left the butt unfinished. The blade was then put in the vice protected by a wrap of cardboard and then it was tapped gently into place.

 

When I was happy with that is had gone in OK I cleaned up the Butt, no point getting it perfect then marring it by  hammering on it.

 

Finally I gave the handle a coat of oil and as I wanted to use it for something ground the point to a pyramid to make a bradawl.

 

 

Froes

When I made my hazel gate a few weeks back I was reminded that I didn’t have a small froe anymore. As often happens I must have sold it when running low on stock. I find it quite amusing that when  I offer to sell a customer one of my personal tools their eyes light up thinking that these are in some way special.

In a way they are. If I forge a tool and some fault become apparent  that means it won’t be fit for purpose then it will be scrapped, I won’t spend time finishing such a tool. However sometimes when I make a batch of tools something may come to light that means it won’t be sold on this site, sometimes it is just a matter of sizing. I make a bath of 80mm blades and one measures up at 75. These will be sold at shows, that way a customer can be sure of what they are buying.

Other times though an issue will come to light that makes me question a tools strength. It may be forged too thin, I do like my tools to not carry excess bulk but there are limits. I often handle these tools myself and try them out, to see if I can find these limits. I actually have yet to break one, which is pleasing. Other issues include de-laminations in a forge welded tool. I prefer not to sell these, if I do it will only be face to face so I can point out any issues. Regardless everything is guaranteed.

So, back to the Froes. For me there is no doubt that the most efficient way to make a froe is to weld a laser cut blank to a piece of tapered tube. But, this is not a way I prefer to work and wanted to forge myself one in a traditional style, mainly to see if I could. One issue that can effect all froes is the eye join. In machine welded ones they can break, in forge welded ones they can split where the eye is wrapped and the two sides meet, wrought iron resists this splitting a lot better but not completely  and is not a material I work in so the weld was potentially more vulnerable.

I have wanted to forge a blade with a socketed eye for quite some time, but I wanted to avoid the likelihood of the eye opening so tried a new (to me anyway) weld, it was tricky partly due to the shape, but also because when I did decorative work I used to forge weld everyday, now it is very uncommon for me. But I did fairly well I think. Made a pair, then had another go and did another couple.

I will as ever keep the one with the dodgiest weld and sell the others. They won’t be on the site as it is not worth listing something I am unlikely to make again- I can’t see me being able to forge these at a rate that would make them viable. I could arc weld and grind some up that would look very similar and function the same much quicker. Still it was fun to try something new.

 

First two forged in the end they went a lot easier than I expected.

 

 

Final forms for them; I was talking to Alex Yerks about these and sagely proclaimed that a froe should be sharp enough to bite into a log but not cut you.

 

I decided to put handles on, and in the process cut myself deeper than I have in a long time!  I used  hazel in the round and stained it; this is a favourite for me, lots of variables but if you get it right the results are really good. They ended up looking very much like the tool I envisaged, rough forged and handled but with a bit of delicacy.

 

Years back I used to help out at a forest school, children learning cleaving used to work in pairs, one holding the froe the other the maul, even with gloves it was dicey at times.  I tend now to either forge the eye slightly offset, or if I am still not happy fit a curved handle to give a little bit more clearance on very short froes.

Back Orders and the Wait List

We have opened a new back order section in the shop and will be taking orders over the next day or two. Before you all race over to the shop and attempt to order, I wanted to give an update on the changes we made and how the process now works, but first we need to briefly cover what’s happening with product wait lists as it’s a big part of the new process.

As previously mentioned, the old wait lists and ordering system had problems.  The new process is relying on a single unified wait list for back order-able items. There were nearly 1600 email addresses on the old product wait lists, which had to be merged, cleaned of duplicates and invalid email addresses. The new list is now down to 650 prioritized emails based on the order in which folks joined the wait lists.  (650 sounds like a lot, but before you lose hope – we suspect a large percentage of these will not result in sales.  We’ll know better in a few days.) This unified wait list is used in the new process outlined below.

Here’s the quick summary of  the new process:

  • The back orders section of the shop is behind a password
  • Emails have gone out to the first block of people on the wait list
    • Instructions on how to order are in the email
    • The password is in the email
    • Passwords expire 24 hours after being sent
  • Those who received emails will have that 24 hours to submit orders, then we will be letting the next block through with a new password.
  • This will continue until I have taken a month’s worth of orders.
  • Back ordered blades should be shipped within a month.

Please note that the sharpening section is not back ordered nor  password protected, so these are normally shipped the next day. If however you order sharpening kit alongside back ordered blades then the whole order will be shipped when the blades are completed.

I am also getting daily, sometimes hourly requests for axes and adzes or to be put on wait list for these.  Currently the wait list only covers back order-able blades, but once we have this system working well I may start to include these in a separate list. Any new information will be put up on here.

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.

 

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