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Making A Knife Block

Following a few birthdays a Christmases of giving my dad kitchen knives I have now created a demand for a knife block which I can fulfill as another birthday present. I was fortunate to be able to get a rather nice piece of oak from a generous man in the village, which served this project rather nicely.

This project is the first time I have properly used my table saw, so there was a bit of a learning curve to that.

Milling the Wood

The first step was to square up the block. I very quickly discovered two things: 1) oak is very hard (this really shouldn’t have been a surprise) and 2) the blade on my table saw was very blunt. So I ordered a new table saw blade and set about on the block with hand tools as I waited for that to arrive. I spent a long time and burnt quite a few calories with a plane trying to flatten out the sides and with a hand saw cutting the excess length away.

Cutting the Slots

To cut the slots for the knives I first cut along the length of the block with the table saw in the places I wanted the slots to be, splitting it into a number of planks. My table saw blade was not large enough to cut through the whole block so I had to do multiple cuts of increasing depth from both sides. This ended up giving a rather uneven stepped cut, which I then had to clean up by hand.

Once I had my planks I then cut the slots by making many shallow depth cuts with the table saw. The slots then needed some cleaning up with chisels and sandpaper.

Assembly

I then glued all the planks back together into a single block. I also applied glue to the insides of the slots to seal them. However, this meant that some of the slots became too tight for the knives to fit in so I sanded out the slots with some sandpaper attached to a steel rule with double sided tape.

I then cut down the excess on each side and planed and sanded so it was flush.

I then put a chamfer on the four upright edges with a router.

To make the block slightly more stable I added a wedge at the, which I made from the off cut from cutting the angle into the base. When gluing this piece on I had to weigh down the block otherwise the clamping force would drive it out.

Finishing

There were a number of small internal splits in the wood and gaps from the glue up that needed to be filled in. I had been collecting saw dust and shavings from throughout the make which I could use to fill these gaps. You might have also noticed a very large split in one side. I was not going to fill this in and was instead referring to it as “the feature”.

I ground up the saw dust into a good fine powder by rubbing it between two sanding blocks (rather like a flour mill) and then mixed this with wood glue to make a putty to fill the caps.

Branding

I had some iron bar in an appropriate size so decided to try making a branding iron to put a mark on it. I tried a few designs but decided to do a moth to match a set of rubber moth stamps I have made. I cut a length from the stock, marked the design on one end and went at it with files to cut down to that shape.

I had some difficulty actually using the iron. Getting it the the right heat that it would make a mark but not burn so much as to obscure the smaller detail was quite difficult. I think the design wasn’t ideal. It might have been more successful with narrower raised areas rather than the big flat area of the wings.

I’m not sure how well it actually reads as a moth…so far people have guessed ‘money bag’ and ‘dress’ so it seems not very. I think the loss of the tail detail does hurt readability quite a bit

Finally, I sanded over the whole surface and finished it with danish oil.

 

 

Neolithic Inspired Chess Pieces

Seeing some neolithic figurines I thought they would make good chess pieces. So I made them.

While I decided to have the pieces on each side be different shapes as well as colours I aimed to have them both built on the same principles, with influence from standard chess pieces, to try and keep it easy to see which piece was which. I don’t seem to have been successful as most people I showed them to haven’t correctly identified the pieces.

The pawns for each side where intended to be the basic design motif for each side, with the other pieces being variations on that idea. The pawns where also smaller, and simpler than the rest of the pieces. The bishops where then larger and more elaborate versions of the pawns shape and the king and queen going another step up each. The knights where supposed to be identifiable as having more animalistic features, recalling the horse of the standard chess set. Finally the castle was made to be inanimate.

I sculpted the chess pieces with Daz, which is an air drying clay, and painted them with acrylics. I started by painting each peice in multiple coats of very wet paint in their main colour. I then, after letting them dry, went over all the groves with wet paint in the second colour (getting quite a lot of paint outside of the grooves as well. Finally I dry brushed over the surface in the main colour, which covered up the paint that had escaped the grooves.

The White Pieces

Pawns

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By Juergen E. Walkowitz – Own work / Photo importée du Wiki allemand, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/
w/index.php?curid=647183

The white pawns were based on the standing stones (menhirs) with faces at Filitosa, dating to 1500 BC. The shape of these pieces has earned the white side the name of stone men or, less generously, potato men.

Castles

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The white castles where based on stones with cup and ring marks, which are common across prehistoric Europe.

Knights

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The white knights are based on neolithic ram figurines. I added a mouth and eyes, which end up giving them a rather wonderful Muppet like expression.

Bishops

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The bishops are simply a larger version of the pawns with more details. For some reason people often interpret them as knights, thinking they look like an actual human knight.

King and Queen

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The king and queen take some inspiration from a set of bronze age figurines with wide dress like bases. The differences between the king and queen are quite minimal, with the king being slightly larger and having a bigger head with markings indicating a crown. However, despite this, people have had no difficulty distinguishing them.

The Red Pieces

From this view one of the problems with the red set is quite obvious – they look quite similar from head on, which makes them a bit harder to play against.

Pawns

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The red pawns are based on a set of figurines from the Vinča culture, which provided the initial inspiration for this project. Their hunched animalistic shape has earned them the nickname of mole men among my family.

Castles

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The red castles have no direct inspiration from any artifact. They are just my idea of an inanimate form that fits within the red pieces general aesthetic.

I am well aware that they look like traffic cones.

Knights

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The problem I encountered with the red knights was that all the red pieces already looked rather like chess knights.I tried to give them a sleeker shape and a large mane to evoke the horse idea but this seemingly did not work as people on first inspection generally think the bishops are the knights.

The ‘mane’ has also been misinterpreted leading them to be called the hedgehogs.

Bishops

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The red bishops are simply enlarged versions of the pawns with more decorations. I gave them a crest with a cut into the front to mirror the slit in the head of the bishop in the standard chess set.

King and Queen

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One again the king and queen are larger versions of the same form as the pawns,with the king being distinguished by a large transverse crest like crown.


Conclusion

I really like how these turned out. My favourite pieces are probably the red king and the white castles and knights. The unfortunate thing is that I neither like nor am good at chess.

Knitting Finger-less Gloves

This is my first knitting project so I was obviously following a tutorial so I will once again just redirect to that and give any alterations I made. 

http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-knit-close-fitting-fingerless-gloves/

My gloves did not end up looking a great deal like the ones in the tutorial, a lot of this is due to having to change the pattern to fit my hands. I started by casting on 46 stitches which is a fair few more than in the tutorial. I also put in a few extra rows for the thumbs to fit my (so I have been told) wide thumbs but this still ended up being a little tight. I cut down the length of ribbing over the fingers a fair bit partly because I thought that would look better and partly because I was concerned I would run out of wool (I ran out of wool anyway so so much for that). The final change is the switch in the stockinette around the wrist from knit on the outside to purl on the outside, this was entirely a mistake but I ended up liking it.

What I actually ended up having most trouble with was the stitching, which ended up a bit of a hodgepodged mess that i’m sure will fall apart eventually.

   One point of interest is that none of the pictures are of me wearing both the gloves owing to the difficulty of taking a picture of both your hands.

Renovating An Old Rebec (Part 1)

 

This instrument caught my eye in my granny’s house where the carved head was poking out from on top of a cupboard so I got it down and found something desperately in need of some attention. After consulting with her it was identified as a rebec, which is an old relative of a violin, with only 3 strings and half round body somewhat resembling that of a lute. This particular rebec had clearly taken a bit of a beating over the years and a number of parts where either missing or broken, so I thought I would take it upon myself to try and repair it and get it back to a playable state.

The keen eyed among you will have noticed that this is listed as part 1 and that is because at the time of writing I have only got so far with this project and will not be able to work any further on it for a while what with university and not having access to my woodworking tools. Therefore, this article will include a rundown of the state of the rebec and what things I need to do and how I am thinking I will do them and then also a more usual description of how I did what I have done so far.

  

 The state of things

The first part that is broken is the soundboard, which is heavily cracked to the point of probably not being sturdy enough to support the bridge anymore. This is the part that I have already made a replacement for so more details on that will follow later in the article.

There is currently only one of the three tuning pegs remaining, but the one that if left is in good condition. These are going to be one of the trickier things to make as they really have to be turned and as I continue to not have a lathe that is rather difficult. What you can use to make the tapered section of the pegs, which is the only part where the shape is actually important (for the rest it is purely aesthetic), is something that is essentially an oversized pencil sharpener. So, an option would be to get one of them to form the tapered part and then to try and hand carve the heads on the pegs but that seems like it will be unlikely that I will be able to make them much of a match to the original one. A last resort would be to just try and either buy two that match the original or a completely new set of three but that seems to go rather against the spirit of the thing.

Another part that is missing is a peg that goes into the end of the body onto which the tail piece attaches, which is the part the strings are attached to. This is another part that would be quite a small and easy part to make on a lathe but trying to make it without is much more challenging.

The last part that is entirely missing is the bridge. I think this should be relatively easy to make and I should be able to follow a fairly similar process to what I used to make the body and I am also hoping that I should be able to use the same piece of wood.  

 

The rebec came with a bow that is currently missing its hair but is otherwise in good condition. I can’t quite tell how the hair was originally attached and it may end up being rather tricky to replace so I will probably just use a regular violin bow on it initially.

 

Making the sound board

For the sound board I bought a set of sheets intended for the soundboard of a small guitar, with one of the sheets being large enough for the rebec. I traced the shape of the original soundboard on to a piece of paper and then stuck this to the wood. I cut roughly around the outside with a small hacksaw, taking care to stay on the outside of the line and then sanded to the final shape.

The next step was the trickiest, which was cutting the holes in the sound board. These being the two large ‘F’ holes (which aren’t actually f shaped in this case) and the four smaller holes that make up the decorative design towards the top. To cut these holes I first drilled a hole inside the space to be cut out to insert a coping saw blade through. I then cut the rough shape using the coping saw, in the process of which I snapped a lot of blades, which I think is partly due to the blades I had to hand being slightly to thin. Once I had cut one of the F’s I then took a trace of its inside shape to make sure the second once matched, which was necessary as that feature did not show up well on the original tracing due to the sound board being cracked and giving way under the pressure of the pencil. I then refined the shape of all of the holes using needle files, which was slow work as the files are meant for metal and are not very efficient at cutting wood but they were the only thing I had that would fit in the small space.

I then used a plane and chisels to put a slight dome on the soundboard, with it being thickest at the bridge. I then carved the design around the four small holes using chisels and a craft knife. My carving ended up looking a fair bit chunkier and clumsier than the original but was ok considering I don’t really have any tools for that sort of work. Finally, I sanded over the whole surface to smooth it up and remove any marks left from the plane or chisels.

All that remains is to remove the original soundboard and glue this one in its place.

 

….and then do all the other things I talked about earlier, which will come in part two, eventually.

EDIT: part 2 is here!

Making A Leather Belt Bag

This is the first project I undertook after having the idea to make this website so it will also be the first one that can form a full tutorial with process pictures throughout. 

The Tools I used 

  1. Leather punch. Used for punching holes of various sizes.
  2. Diamond stitching punches. Used to create the holes for stitching with even spacing. Diamond refers to the shape of the cutting point and not the material.
  3. Leather rivets. 
  4. Rubber mallet. Used for cutting with the stitching punches and for the rivets.
  5. Sturdy rounded needles.  
  6. Stitching groover. Used to mark a line a consistent distance from the edge for where the stitching will go 
  7. Edge kote. Used to finish the exposed edges. Other processes can be used depending on your leather but I found this leather was too thin to burnish.
  8. Chalk. For marking up the leather. 
  9. Spatula. For spreading the edge kote.
  10. Pliers. Useful for pulling the needles through the leather and saving your hands.
  11. Glue.  For holing pieces together while putting in stitching or rivet holes. The type isn’t hugely important so long as it says its suitable for leather.
  12. Waxed linen thread.

How I Made It

I began by sketching some ideas of what I wanted the bag to look like, finding various references on the internet  and picking out ideas and shapes that I liked. Then I drew up the pattern based off of these sketches (its at this point in writing the article that I realize I have no pictures of my pattern so have already failed in what I claimed I would have not one paragraph in). To make the pattern first I drew out the shape I wanted the front of the bag to have (at this point you should check to see that things like your phone or camera that you might want to carry fit into this shape with space to spare). Then  I copied out this shape again for the lower half of the back. Here I needed to decide how much depth I wanted the bag to have (again basing this off of the size of things that need to fit in the bag).  I took this value and added around 1.5-2cm on to this and then drew two parallel lines up from the top corners of the pattern for the back piece, this will be the bit that goes over the top of the opening to the bag. Then I turned the original shape for the front upside down and, starting from the end of the parallel lines, I traced about half way up it and then drew a straight line across. This part is the bit that folds over the front. 

Then I measured the distance around the edge of the front shape, excluding the top edge and drew  out a rectangle of this length (I would recommend adding a bit to this length ans it was quite a bit of work to make this piece fit and it would have been easier if it had been oversize and I just cut off the excess) and with a width the same as the ‘bag depth plus 1.5-2cm’ distance I used before. This is the piece which joins the front and back parts of the bag. Finally I made pattern for the buckle fixings, which are very dependent on the buckle you will be using.   

    

The main dimensions that are important for the part that will hold the buckle are shown in the diagram. The width of the part, a, must be slightly narrower then the inside width of the buckle. There needs to be a  hole of width b that is slightly wider than the width of the prong of the buckle and of length d that is sufficient for the prong to rotate through a large enough angle to function. Finally it need to be long enough in c to loop round the buckle and have enough spare to be stitched and riveted to the front part. For the part that goes through the buckle it simply has to be of width a and also be of sufficient length. The shape for the ends of these parts is mostly an aesthetic choice. I chose to have them both be the same at the ends but they could be different.

Finally I drew up two small rectangles to go on the back which the belt will go through. These just need to be long enough to fit the width of a belt plus have room on either side to be attached by. 

When I had drawn and cut out all the patterns on card I then arranged them on my sheets of leather trying to make the most efficient use of the material. I then used chalk to trace around the patterns and mark onto the leather. Then I cut out the pieces using a pair of textile scissors. This is probably are not the most ideal way to cut leather but it seemed to work well enough.

Now seems an appropriate time for a short side note about the leather I am using. As I did not buy the leather myself and It came as a collection of cut offs I am not entirely sure as to exactly what kind of leather it is. The important thing about it for this project is that it is fairly thin and flexible. Trying to make the bag with stiffer leather would be quite tricky.


I started by attaching the buckle to its piece of leather. I slotted the prong through the hole then wrapped the piece around the buckle. I then punched a hole through both layers and attached them together with a rivet. The rivets come in two parts one with a smooth face and the other a hole in its surface and a rod that fits into the first part. To fit them together place the first part in the hole then put the other part in from the other side. Then hit it with the mallet from the backside to fix the rivet in place. 

I then use a stitching punch to put a line of holes just beneath the buckle and stitched along this line. Leather stitching is done with two needles at other end of the thread in a way called ‘saddle stitch’. The first thing do do is thread the needles, which includes an extra step to secure the tread as otherwise it has a tendency to get pulled out as you pass it through a hole. First pass the thread through the eye of the needle then twist part way along the thread that has come through the eye to open up a hole through which you put the end of the needle. Then pull it tight. Ideally you would leave more tread than I did in the pictures as this was just an example I didn’t use too much thread for it.   

Once the needles are threaded start by putting one needle through the first hole and drawing it through until there is half the thread on each side of the hole. Then pass one of the needles through the next hole from one side and then the other needle through the same hole from the other side. The diagram shows what the stitching should be like. Repeat this along  the whole length and, when you reach the end go back a few stitches and then take one thread one stitch further and tie them off. It isn’t strictly necessary to tie off but I like to be doubly safe. 

I then ran around the edge where I wanted yo put the stitching with the stitching groover. It was easier to do this before attaching it to the other piece even through there were a few more steps before I came to the stitching. I also painted the exposed edge with a few layers of edge kote as it would be imposible to do this once it was attached without also getting it on the front piece. To apply the edge kote I used a metal spatula though I would guess that a paint brush would actually be more effective. I applied a layer and then let it dry before sanding it flat and applying another layer. I repeated this until A layer looked good enough left shiny.

I then glued the buckle piece into place on the front part of the bag and punched two holes and riveted through them. Punching these holes is a bit tricky as it is necessary to bunch up some of the leather to get it far enough into the jaws of the punch.  I then punched the stitching holes and stitched it.

 I then repeated pretty much the same process to attach the other part of the the buckle arrangement to the back piece (I can not seem to find what the part that goes through the buckle is called) and then again with the two belt loops. 

I then began stitching the side piece on to the front piece. I couldn’t get it all lined up in one go so I lined up one part and then punched the holes and stitched them before moving on to punch the holes for the next section. I had to go very slow around the bends using the 2 pronged punch and only going a few stitches at a time. When I got to the end I found I really had to stretch the leather to make it reach all the way round but hopefully anyone following along will not have this trouble as they should have added on some extra length. I then repeated this process to attach the back.

I then applied edge kote around the remaining edges and finished it off by punching the holes for the buckle prong to go through. To work out the position for this I just did a test fit and marked where the prong wanted to go though and then punched a hole there. 


 

If you have followed this you ought to now have yourself a nice leather belt bag. My intention when making it was for the too loops on the back to go on either side of a belt loop on your trousers so as too hold it in place. Alternatively to save having to undo your trouser belt whenever you want to put it on or off you could make or buy a dedicated belt to put it on. If anyone our there does make one I would love to see a picture of your results (though I am not expecting anything any time soon the amount of traffic I have at the moment). 

Making A Bamboo Notched Flute

This style of flute is among the oldest and most straightforward to make instruments. Flutes of this style are quite widespread with examples being the Quena from the Andes and the shakuhachi from Japan. While it is fairly easy to make I found it rather difficult to play even compared to regular flutes which are already fairly tricky. The flute works by sealing the hole with the area bellow your bottom lip and then blowing down over the notch to create the vibrations in the instrument. Covering the finger holes  then changes the note as with an ordinary flute or a recorder.

How I Made It 

To start the project I selected an appropriate length of bamboo. Bamboo is ideal for this sort of instrument as it is already hollow most of the way down, with solid parts only at the divisions between the sections, called nodes. Luckily we have some fairly large bamboo in our garden, which made sourcing a piece very straight forward. Although this bamboo has somewhat thinker walls than would be ideal. When I found a part with fairly large diameter and two sections spanning roughly 30cm I sawed through it just inside of each of the nodes leaving a tube that was open at each end and had a solid node in the middle. The next stage was to open up the node in the middle, which proved to be a reasonable amount of work. The only thing I has that was both thin and long enough was a length of threaded rod, which I used to ram down the bamboo it try and knock out the middle of the node. Once a hole had opened up I used double sided tape to attach sandpaper to the rod and used that to widen the hole and clean up the inside.

The next stage is working out where to place place the finger holes, to do this I used the flutomat calculator. I entered dimensions and then tried different scales until I had a set of holes that would fit nicely on the flute. Where the calculator says embouchure it is referring to the hole that you would blow across on an ordinary flute, for this design this is effectively the end of the flute. Now the flute needs to be cut down so that its overall length is the length given for the embouchure.

I then drilled the holes. Bamboo has a sort of groove running down each segment, with each one being on the opposite side to on adjacent segments, when drilling the holes I oriented the bamboo such that the two grooves were on the right and left sides rather than top and bottom. It is important to realize that the holes do not need to be all in a straight line down the middle of the flute. Moving them slightly over to either side will make it much more natural to hold so, once you have marked up where each hole needs to be try holding the flute and see where your fingers naturally want to go  (obviously only moving them side to side and not further up or down the flute). This is where you should place the holes. I first ran over where I was going to place each hole with a half round file so as to give a better surface to drill into. I then drilled a small pilot hole before expanding it to the full width. I then files over it again to give a slight dip around the hole for your fingers to fit in.

Then comes making the mouth piece. I shaped this using a round file. It needs to have a ‘U’ shape with a sharp edge at the bottom. There is quite a lot of variation of the exact shape with some being much shallower and others being deeper like the one I made. I would recommend searching about for different pictures and also experimenting a bit with how it sounds with different shapes. Although you will not be able to add material back once you have taken it off so if you have a shape that sounds good probably don’t take it any further.  

After this all that remains is to give it a nice surface finish, which I did by going over it with sandpaper, working up the grits until it has a shiny surface, which is relatively easy to achieve with bamboo. If you wan’t to go on to paint it you will probably have some difficulty as bamboo does not seem to take well to any paints that I tried, the surface being much too shiny and not absorbent at all. 

Now that you have your flute all that follows is trying to learn to play it, which may prove to be a bit of a struggle. 

Making An Instrument From A Cow Horn

Ok, instrument is a bit of a stretch, I mean like a hunting horn or a war horn sort of thing. You would be hard pressed to get any music out of it. To be honest you are pretty hard pressed to get a single good note out of it. That is because the mouthpiece I made is not particularly good, which is ok because the point of this horn was experimentation. I got myself 3 horns: one really big one and two smaller ones, one that looked really nice and the other that had some defects and a rather rough surface. I started working on this one first to try and work out a good way to make them and if it didn’t work it wasn’t a huge loss as I still has the two nicer ones. 

How I Made It 

The horns I bought were pre-cleaned out, if they weren’t there would be a lot of preamble cleaning out the stuff that is on the inside of the horn. this is rather outside the scope of the article as I have no experience with this, if your horns are like this do a bit of searching and you will quite easily find instructions on how to do this. 

There is really very little that has to be done to a cow horn to make it into an instrument, most of it is already pretty much in the required shape. All that needs to be done is to put a hole through the pointy end and make that into a mouthpiece. Horns use a mouthpiece like that of a brass instrument, which are much simpler than what you find on other instruments such as woodwind. You can actually just make do with a plain old pipe with no embellishment at all (this is actually a training exercise sometimes used for people learning brass instruments) but this is a lot harder to play and doesn’t sound so good. The basic shape of a brass mouthpiece is a narrow tube that widens into a bowl like shape, which is where the lips are placed. 

My first method of making a mouthpiece was to cheat and not make one at all and just steal one from a brass instrument and stick it in the horn. To do this I cut a small piece of the point off the end to give a flat face and then drilled a hole through the solid end of the horn into the hollow bit. Then I put the mouthpiece into the hole and it worked pretty well. 

That isn’t really in the spirit of things though (and it didn’t really look that good) so I set about thinking about how I could best make something myself. All the most proper ways to do it such as casting something and turning it on a lathe or turning it from wood were not really options for me. I attempted raising something from sheet metal but that quickly turned out to not be feasible. My next idea was to try to carve the bowl of the mouthpiece into the horn itself. To do this I had to make another cut further up the horn so as to get the larger diameter necessary. The trouble turned out to be that the horn did not take kindly to being carved and it proved impossible to bit a curve into it and I just ended up with a flat edge. This hadn’t really worked but the main trouble was that I had painted myself in to a bit of a corner as the end was now really wide and had a large hole in it, which rather limited my options for new ideas. 

The next plan was to make a piece out of wood that would sit in the gap the last failure had left and then to a carve the bowl of the mouthpiece into that. This also did not really work. Partly because of the wood that I had at the time, which did not take to carving very well, and also because of my tools forming the bowl proved to be rather tricky. Had I had a lathe I think this would have probably worked (though I am still not sure how good a wooden mouthpiece will ever sound) but working with a fairly large set of chisels in poor quality wood it wasn’t really going to work.

 

 

This then leads to my last attempt, which was easy enough to execute but doesn’t work very well. I cut out a ring of wood and curved one side to give it a better surface to blow on and then glued this to the end of the horn. It doesn’t look particularly good and could have been made to look a bit prettier but once I had seen that it wasn’t going to work I didn’t think it was worth it.

Finally I polished up the horn, which was just done by working through steadily finer grades of sandpaper. Because the surface was fairly rough and had some cracks in it it wouldn’t be possible to get it to a really high quality finish. For this stage its important to wear a dust mask as, with any process that produces a lot of dust, it really isn’t something you want to be getting in your lungs.


I was going to record a clip of me playing the horn to demonstrate the sound it makes but I forgot to do it before I left and as I am the only one of my family that plays a brass instrument (and this one is a notably difficult one to play) I can’t ask and of them to record it for me. If I remember to do it when I return home that may be added to this article at some point.


 

During the course of writing this article I came up with an idea for how I might be able to make a mouthpiece. That is to buy a metal tube and then hammer that into to shape. This would probably be quite a complex thing to do but I think would be much more achievable than working from flat sheet. Unfortunately this horn is a bit too far gone for this to work so it will have to be saved to try out on the next one, whenever I end up having the time to make that.  

        

Making A Tiny Silver Bowl

A while ago I got a large amount of my grandfathers old silversmithing tools that had been sitting in storage for ages. With the tools was a reasonable amount of silver as well so I figured I would try my hand at making some jewelry. That never really worked because I couldn’t get the soldering to work properly so instead I decided to basically reuse skills I already had and do a bit more dishing (see article on making a helmet) and the best way I could think to do that was to make a uselessly small bowl. making the bowl, doesn’t actually only require dishing, I also used raising, which involves increasing the curvature by hammering the piece over a ball stake (raising doesn’t always have to be on a ball stake, it can be on many different shapes but in this case it was a ball). I have to admit that my memory is not very good for this project so I do not know how I did specific bits such as small convex curve at the bottom or the rim. 

How I Made It

For the dishing I used A tool called a doming block and a small ball peen hammer. This was simply hammering into the appropriately sized form until roughly the right depth was achieved. At that point I moved onto raising. The advantage of raising over dishing is that it can be used to give more varied curvature than dishing, as you can hopefully see the in the edge of the bowl. The process for raising is fairly like dishing but in reverse. The piece is placed on the stake with the convex side facing up and then, using a flat narrow headed hammer, you strike slightly away from the point of contact between the piece and the stake, which move that bit of the metal down into the space. Then move the piece round and repeat around the surface until the desired shape is reached. 

The rim is flared out and also curved under itself to give a clean rounded edge. I am now not sure in which order I did these operations. I am thinking that it is more likely that I flared out a double width rim and then folded half of it back under. To do this I would have to hammered it around a sharp edge of some sort but I do not remember exactly what I used. Once it was done I hammered around the rim with the edge of a square hammer against a flat surface to put in the decorative lines. 

For the dent in the bottom I think the most likely way I did it is, once the rest was finished, I placed it upside down and then just hit the bottom with a ball peen hammer. 

Then to finish it up I polished it up with some emery polishing paper and then a small polishing wheel on a Dremel.

  

That concludes the making of a tiny and useless bowl. It is mainly good as an exercise for practicing techniques on a smaller scale.  

Making A Gandalf The Grey Style Wizards Hat

For this project I worked mostly from a tutorial so It seems rather unnecessary to recover the information. Instead I will just link to that tutorial and add some points that I encountered while making it. 


The first point I have is about the material. The hat will look and feel much better, be much more durable if you spend a bit more money and get actual wool felt rather than the cheaper acrylic. 

The next point is about the shape of the brim. I ended up with too much fabric around the outside of the brim resulting in a wavey edge rather than coming down in a clean ‘cone like’ shape. When you are cutting the section out of the ring that forms the brim I would suggest maybe cutting one of the sides at a slight angle so as to try and counter act this. 

Another factor causing floppiness in the brim was that I could not find any substantial interfacing (what the video calls fusing). I ended up using rather lightweight stuff and layering it up but that didn’t really cut it so I would definitely suggest looking for something that’s going to be a bit stiffer.

If you line the inside with a second layer of felt (which also means you don’t have to buy another load of material) that seems to be sufficient and renders stuffing the hat unnecessary. 

I also skipped adding the extra line of stitching around the brim as I didn’t like how it looked and just ran around the edge with an iron to press it together, which seems to have done the trick. I also used an iron to press into the seam between the brim and the cone to give it a bit more of a sharp division. 


That is pretty much it for this one. A final thing I will suggest to those that don’t have a sewing machine is that a Gandalf hat in miniature is a fun hand stitching project that is quite a lot easier than the full sized thing, which is what I did when I was at university and didn’t have access to the equipment or space for the larger things.

 

And yes, Tolkein fans, I know I got the colour wrong and it really ought to be blue.

Making A Spangenhelm

Armour is probably one of my favourite things and  what really got me into making things. I had always liked craft but digging into information about making armour on the internet (large amounts of it wildly inaccurate) was what got me properly interested in taking on some more substantial projects, the first of which was this helmet which I made ~5 years ago. The helmet in question is a type of nasal helmet (referring to the bar sticking down covering the nose)  called a spangenhelm, which is a word of German origin referring to the strips that form the frame of the dome of the helmet. Its is a design from the early middle ages which is fairly straightforward to construct and was later superseded by  helmets of the same basic shape but with the skull constructed from a single piece of metal which, while being sturdier are a reasonable amount more tricky to make. The main difference as far as I am concerned  being that heat would be required whereas with the spangenhelm, while it would be easier with heat, it is possible to make do without  (this is only the case for modern people with access to pre-rolled sheet steel, historical smiths would not have this this luxury).

As this project is so old I will not be able to do a complete tutorial and some of the steps may be slightly vague. If you want to make a similar project then I would suggest doing a bit  further research.

What I Made

My helmet has a number of issues, the foremost being that is doesn’t really fit me. This is partly due to it being completely circular  around the brow, rather than something a bit closer to the actual shape of a head. It is also partly just down to being a bit too small, which is most noticeable when you are trying to put it on as the cheek plates will have a bit of a fight with your face as you try to do so. There are also a few issues with the shape relative to historical examples. Typically nasal helmets seem to be fairly conical in shape rather than the more spherical dome I ended up with. Thinking about this now I would say that this is because the shape I used actually presents a relatively flat surface on the top, meaning any blows from above (which is really where a large number of blows would come from) would not glance and would transfer most of their energy through to the wearers head. On the other hand a conical design would provide a better glancing surface and thus better protection.

The other thing that I notice looking at more examples is that the nasal is usually flat and even when it does have an angle put into it it is much less pronounced than the one I put on mine. This is a bit harder for my to work out as it seems like my design would be stronger and less likely to give way if it were struck. My guess is that the angles on my design may run the risk of redirecting thrusts into the wearers eyes, though I think that in any situation where this were to happen the result would be pretty similar if the the nasal were flat.

One important element that is missing entirely is the leather suspension that would run around the inside of the helmet and cause it to float above the wearers head rather than the steel sitting directly on top of your head (equivalent to what you would see on the inside of a builders hard hat) . Without this the helmets effectiveness is greatly reduced as, even with padding, and impacts are largely transferred directly though the helmet into the wearer’s head.

The final issues with the helmet are simply issues of execution: It is overall slightly lopsided and the overall finish is not as good as I would like it to be if I were to remake this project now.

How I Made It

The main process used for making the helm is ‘dishing’, which is in principle fairly straightforward. Dishing involves hammering a piece of sheet metal into a concave recess in order to curve the metal in multiple directions. It requires two tools: a dishing stump and a hammer.

A dishing stump is most commonly made from a  fairly large tree stump (hence the name) but really any bit of wood will do. Ideally it should be reasonably substantial so as to have enough mass as to not bounce around every time you hit into it. What I ended up using  was a rather lightweight tall thin-ish bit of wood that was left over from some building work that had been done on our house (looking back at the picture of the helmet you might notice that its sitting on a stump that looks pretty much like what I initially described and wondering why I didn’t use that and to be honest so am I). Once I had selected my stump I then cut a concave bowl shape out of it with a chisel and hammered inside it to compact the wood and harden the surface.  The exact shape is not hugely important as you are not hitting the metal into the inside surface of the form, just in to the space. All the form needs to have is an rim that will support the piece and a void into which you can push the metal. As for the hammer you need something with a reasonable amount of weight to it and a fairly rounded surface without any sharp edges. The hammer also needs to be of an appropriate size to fit your dishing form. 

The first thing to do before starting hammering away at metal is to work out the pattern. This is a stage that I didn’t execute particularly well, which Is why my helmet didn’t really fit properly. To work out the pattern start with a measurement around the circumference of your head and then add on a fair amount to allow for padding. Use this measurement to make a long thin rectangle (out of card at first),  which will be the brow band running around your head. Then you need to measure over the top of your head front to back and left to right  (again adding on some extra for padding) and make two more long thin rectangle to these measurements to from the bands that go over the top of your head. now put these pieces together and try out the card version of your helmet and see if it works. If it doesn’t go back and adjust your pattern. Once you are happy with the pattern you can then cut these pieces out of some sheet metal using shears. Then take a file to the edges of the pieces to clean them up and remove any sharp bit left from the cutting.

Now to curve the these pieces. This can be done using the dishing stump or, as they only need to be curved in one direction, just by hand. It is important to not give them perfectly circular curves and instead ones that are closer to the shape of your head. Once this is done the strips need to be attached together, which will be done by riveting. First holes need to be put in, this can be done with either a punch or a drill. Using a punch is easier when holes are near the edge but for some holes later in the build using a punch will not be possible so a drill will be necessary anyway. To rivet the pieces together I used nails. Placing them through the holes with the head on the inside then cutting them down leaving a small amount protruding and peening that down with a hammer against a hard surface. 

Once the frame is together I then used that to create the pattern for the plates that fill the gaps. To do that I the rolled the frame on a piece of card, tracing the line given by the inside of one of the gaps. Then I expanded that shape by ~2 cm in each direction to give the overlap that is needed to rivet the pieces together. I did this for each of the spaces to produce a specific pattern to fit each part of the frame. 

At this point is where we finally get to use the dishing form we made earlier. Once I cut out and prepared each part as I detailed previously I then started dishing each one. Dishing is a fairly slow process (especially if you are doing it without heat), requiring many passes to create a significant amount of depth. It is done by starting in the middle of the piece and working out to the edges in circles. I found it best to be striking with the hammer in the same place towards the edge of the form nearest to me and turning the piece around to move where I was hitting. Each hammer blow doesn’t need to be particularly hard, just slowly work around the piece and then start another pass. As metal is worked it becomes ‘work hardened’. The stress you are applying to it causes its internal structure to change and make it harder which means it will be more difficult to work with. If you are able to then it is best to anneal the piece when it starts to go too hard, which involves heating it up and then letting it cool to return it to its original hardness. I managed to get away without annealing anything so this should be achievable without but it would be easier if you are able to do so.  Once the piece is starting to get close to the final shape try and fit it into place between passes to see what bits need more work to get it to the correct shape. 

Once I had made all the plates it was time to rivet them into place, which I did by the same method described earlier. For the first plate all the holes can all be made through both the frame and the plate simultaneously using a punch. For some of the later plates it isn’t possible to reach with the punch so A drill has to be used instead. I found it was easier to punch the holes into the frame first before putting in the plate and then, once the plate has been fixed in place along the bottom, to drill through using the holes in the frame as a guide. 

For the final parts (the nose and cheek guards) much the same process is followed. The pattern can mostly just be designed arbitrarily as it isn’t particularly important how these parts fit together. The only real difference is for the nasal. If you wan’t to put a crease down the middle then use something like a blunted chisel or an old axe head and hammer the piece over that then use something hard with a a sharp right angled edge to increase the angle if you wish. 

The final stage is to give it a surface finish. I would recommend painting the inside as it will provide good long term rust protection. For the outside you could polish it, oil black it or paint, which was done historically more than we think partly due to over zealous 19th century museum curators polishing away historical paintwork.

 

End

That concludes the building of the helmet. If you make one be sure to clean it regularly so as to prevent it from rusting, which is what I didn’t do with mine and it is currently is quite bad condition. Armour is definitely something I would like to come back to and I am working on some ideas for a second helmet, though that isn’t likely to see any work until next summer unfortunately.