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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
The white castles where based on stones with cup and ring marks, which are common across prehistoric Europe.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
My family have been asking me to make a boot rack for a while. My Father wanted something made with the bamboo from the garden for his birthday. Hence: bamboo boot rack.
The credit for the idea must fall with my brother, although his concept was more of a lashed bamboo construction.
We started by measuring how long a section of bamboo was needed to fit in a boot and then searched for eight reasonably straight sections of bamboo with similar widths with a node at one end. The idea being that the node would give a solid end to go at the top. Unfortunately, when cutting across the nodes, only half of them ended up being solid. We then set about sanding down the bamboo sticks. We initially tried using a flap wheel on the polisher, but it was fairly uneven so we ended up just doing it by hand, going through 80, 120 and 240 grits of sandpaper.
I found a rather weathered and warped old plank that was about the right size, and when I planed off a small section the wood inside seemed pretty good, so I set about planing it down to a clean flat board. I could have put a little more time into this as there were still some discoloured areas that show quite well once the finish was applied. After planing it, I rounded over the top edges with a router and sanded the board all over.
We decided to fit the bamboo posts into holes in the base. This is slightly tricky as all the bamboo posts are slightly different sizes do not have a circular cross section. We measured the diameters of each of the posts to work out what size drill bit to use for each, aiming slightly undersized so the holes can be expanded and the posts tapered to give a tight fit.
The posts also needed to be at an angle do the boots will sit correctly and the whole thing won’t tip over. unfortunately the holes need to be angled in a plane that my drill press will not do. We spent a fair while trying to set up an arrangement to drill all the holes at the same angle using the press but eventually gave up and used a hand drill using a wedge cut at the correct angle as a guide. We then worked filed out each hole with a round file and sanded a taper onto the end of each post with the belt sander until there was a good fit. The posts were then glued in with wood glue.
There were still some gaps around the base of the posts and holes at either end. We decided to use a mixture of wood filler and glue to fill the holes as plain wood filler was too dry and not sticky enough. This wasn’t a very good idea. Our concoction needed large amounts to completely plug the holes, especially the larger ones at the bottom and then took forever to dry.
Because of the deadline of our dad’s birthday we eventually gave up waiting for it to fully set and applied the finish, which was danish oil.
I built this dulcimer from a kit from Folkcraft Instuments. I would recommend it to people interested in such things, It required minimal tools and not too much woodworking (although you can bring what skill and equipment you might have to bear on making the head and sound holes fancier) and I ended up with a decent instrument. Once again, as I was working from a kit I won’t cover the details of the building process, so I will just leave you with the pictures.
An enclosed helmet is the predecessor to the well known great helm that was used in the late 12th and early 13th century, which has a flat top, complete coverage at the front with a face plate and partial coverage around the sides and back. There are relatively few artifacts or depictions showing this form of helmet (at least freely available on the internet, that is) so there was a fair bit of interpretation as to the exact form and construction on my part for this. This was informed from some of the depictions in illuminations and also from other modern reproductions.
Planning and Pattern
I began by sketching A plan for how I wanted the helmet to look and fit on a head. I planned a construction from four pieces: A face plate; a smaller back-of-head-plate; A long plate around the top of the head; and a circular top plate.
I then planned out the pattern for each piece. I started by taking measurements from my head with a fabric measuring tape. I made each piece over sized as it is very easy to cut them down later, but much harder to make them bigger.
I worked out the pattern for the upper plate using an online calculator for the net of a conic frustum, which gives it the larger diameter at the top than the bottom. I made a few versions of this pattern with different parameters and tried them on to determine the right proportions. I largely eye-balled the shape for the front and back plates patterns based on the upper plate pattern I selected and a few key measurements from my head. I didn’t make a pattern for the top plate as I would need to make that to fit one I had already shaped the rest of the helmet.
I marked up the parts onto steel sheet from the pattern and cut them out using hand shears. These can be somewhat tricky to use, mine definitely have a bit of a knack to them and I remember I used to struggle with cutting larger pieces out. I have found that it it much easier to cut out the pieces with lots to spare around the edges initially and then go back and cut closer to the line on a second pass. This means you aren’t trying to make accurate cuts and sharp turns while there is a large amount of material, which is harder as the shears work by bending the off cut away, which is harder when there is more material to bend.
I then de-burred the edges and cleaned off the surface rust with 60 and 80 grit flap disks on the angle grinder (I wouldn’t recommend flap disks for this as I have found they seem to leave a surface finish that makes things more difficult when it comes to polishing). Finally I remarked the areas where plates were going to overlap.
Shaping the Front, Back and Upper Plates
The upper plane was simple to shape as it only curves in one plane. I bent it by hand over a ring mandrel held in a vice, which was standing in for the horn of an anvil. I continually moved it and put small amounts of bend in at each point to give a smooth curve. At each end it becomes difficult to bend by hand as the leverage gets smaller and I needed to use a leather mallet. This is where I really missed having an anvil as the long lever action of the ring mandrel in the vice meant I could only get a few hammer blows in before I had displaced the mandrel and had to reset it in the vice. Once the part was shaped I punched 3 holes on the overlaps and temporarily secured them with bolts.
I shaped the front plate with a combination of dishing into a stump and raising over a mushroom stake to make the curvature for the fave plate. I then added a crease towards the top over a blunted chisel. Finally, I plannished the surface to remove the hammer marks.
I then married up the face plate and the upper plate to work out where they should overlap and marked up where the eye holes should go. In marking up the eye holes I had to account for the fact that I would roll over the bottom of each, which would make the holes larger. I cut out the eye holes using a combination of hand shears, a slitting disk on a dremel, and hand files.
Shaping the back plate was somewhat more difficult that the first two as I wanted it to flare out meaning it was curving in opposing directions on each axis, which is going against how the metal wants to move.
Once these plates were shaped I punched holes around the overlaps and temporarily secured them with bolts.
By far the most challenging part of this was shaping the top, which took me three attempts. The difficulty is that to join the top to the upper plate there needs to be a bend of more than 90 degrees all the way around the rim, which is creates a lot of excess material. Due to general frustration throughout this process I forgot to take many pictures.
In my first attempt I started by using the shape from the already assembled parts to mark out the top plate. I thought that adding some curvature to the top would make adding the bend around the edge easier as it would no longer be need to be such a large angle. This was not the case as it meant the whole piece started to warp making lining it up with the upper plate more difficult. I had initially hoped to have a solid rim all the way around but this was quickly proved not to be feasible so I cut four slits around the rim to remove some of the bulk and make bending it easier.
After a while working on this I decided I wasn’t going to be able to make it fit and to start with a fresh piece.
My plan for the second attempt was for the top to fit inside the upper, rather than outside, which was the plan for the last version, and to leave the top flat while I made the bend around the edge, which was only going to be a small amount of material with tabs around the circumference.
The main flaw in this attempt was the idea for the top to fit inside the upper plate as it quickly became obvious that this was going to leave a significant air gap.
In the third attempt I decided to return to having the top fit on the outside and to have tabs all the way around. This proved to be much more successful and, once I had bent all the tabs mostly over I added a slight curvature to to top.
I then polished up each plate going through a successively finer grits of sandpaper followed by polishing compound on polishing wheel. To protect the inside from rusting I painted the inside of each plate with black paint.
Finally I riveted all the plates together. The rivets around the brow band also held the suspension system in, which I made simply from triangles of leather each with an edge riveted to the helmet and then the remaining corners of each all loosely tied together. This system means that the metal of the helmet is not resting on your head, which would mean any impact would just be directly transferred, very similar to the suspension you find in modern hard hats. I am not sure this system of leather riveted directly to the helmet is particularly historical, from what I have seen helmet liners would more usually be textile and would be sewn to the helmet or to a second strip of leather that is itself riveted to the helmet. These systems allow the liner to be more easily replaced without having to grind out and replace a lot of rivets. Knyght Errant has a good video on the helmet suspension systems for those who are interested.
A buckler is a small shield held in the hand (rather than strapped to the arm). This was largely a project for practicing dishing and trying to get greater depth and cleaner edges than I had managed previously. Later ( after I got bored with polishing) it also became an experiment in oil-blackening. This isn’t really based on any particular example and as such makes no particular claims of historical accuracy.
The start of this project was to carve out a dishing stump. I cleared out the bulk of the material with a handaxe ( Those wild cuts are from when the stump was previously used for chopping wood, i’m not THAT inaccurate) and then smoothed it out using a flap disk on an angle grinder.
I cut a circle out of sheet mild steel with hand shears, taking a rough guess at the size I wanted and adding extra diameter to account for reduction during the dishing. I overestimated how much reduction there would be so it ended up being larger than I intended. This was due to the fact that I was only dishing a section in the middle and leaving a wide rim around the edge, which would not get pulled in, meaning basically all the movement was from stretching and thinning the material rather than pulling it through.
I then marked out a circle for the size of the boss (bump in the middle) that I wanted and began a series of passes of dishing. This simply involves beating the metal down into the depression of the dishing stump, which I did using a 2 pound ball peen hammer. This was a newly purchased hammer, which I intended to add something with a bit more heft to my collection of hammers (most of the rest are really silversmithing hammers which aren’t big enough for larger jobs in steel) but after a long time away from bashing things with hammers this was initially rather heavy for me. A summer making armour does wonders for your right arm strength though.
As you can see in the pictures the dishing introduced some warping in the rim, which I had to work out. Once I had got the depth I wanted I planished it and went around the edge hitting it from the inside against the curved edge of my psudo-anvil (lump of iron I have gone at with an angle grinder to make different shapes) to make a clean edge to the boss.
I then rolled over the edge. I started by cleaning the surface o f the part that was going to be folded over to prevent rust being trapped in side. I then marked out about a centimeter in around the outer edge. I rolled the edge on this mark by beating it over a steak. I then made the base for the grip by bending a strip of steel. I cleaned the whole surface of both parts with successive grits of flap disks on the angle grinder and some hand sanding, which was a very non ideal process that lead me to get bored and decide to try oil blackening it instead.
I had done a tiny bit of oil blacking in engineering ( read: metalwork) GCSE a long time ago and some cheats blackening with stove black on the armouring course I went on but I needed to do a did a bit of research to work out what the proper process would be. This yielded two main facts: that you could really use any kind of oil; and that there were broadly 2 possible methods. You could either heat up the whole piece and then quench it in the oil or heat the piece and then wipe on the oil a section at a time. I would have to go for the second option as I had neither a method for heating the whole piece or enough oil to hand to fill a vat of sufficient size to dunk the whole shield in it. As to the choice of oil, I selected olive oil purely for its virtue of being quickly acquirable through a raid on the kitchen. To heat the buckler I used a propane torch.
After heating up the whole buckler and surrounding area I worked on a process of heating an area of the shield, applying the oil with a spray bottle and a rag, and then heating that area from the opposite side to bake on the oil until it reached the desired colour. The problem I encountered was that in some cases the oil would some how ‘burn off’ and patches would return to the silver colour of the metal. This seemed to be related to areas getting too hot as once this happened this area would remain stubbornly un-oiled no matter how much oil an heat was applied until the whole thing was allowed to cool completely and the process started again. Over three attempts the buckler moved through a yellow colour, to brown, and finally had an even shiny black finish.
I then fitted wood on either side of the metal for the handle, securing them with large rivets sold for attaching spade heads with. I painted the backside of the buckler with black paint. Once the paint was dry I drilled two holes on opposite sides of the rim and riveted the handle on to the buckler.
(Shout-out to my father’s hand for being in this picture)
Overall this was a relatively simple piece of metal work that served as a good project to get back into the swing (pun very much intended) of hitting things with hammers. Learning oil blacking is also pretty valuable as it was a commonly used finishing technique for armour historically and, crucially, is much less tiresome that polishing things.
Last year I went on a short course in armouring at west dean college. This was enormously enjoyable and also gave me a better grounding in the techniques to be able to take on some more challenging pieces of armouring over this past summer (some of which will have already been posted when this article is released).
Obviously as this was from a paid course I won’t provide any instruction but here are the progress pictures I took at the end of each day.
This is the first of a series of backlog posts covering things i have been doing but never got around to writing about. Last December I did a silversmithing course to learn how to use the tools I inherited, as my previous attempts had been broadly unsuccessful, particularly in the realm of soldering. On this course I learnt a number of techniques including sawing (after breaking a great many blades), soldering, granulation and stone setting. After practicing on a number of pieces in copper I made two pieces in silver: A ring and a necklace.
The necklace was based on an amber doughnut I had that was previously hung on some leather lace. The challenge for this was to make a setting that would allow the amber to spin freely. The solution is shown bellow in cross section. The key is in the granulation (silver melted into a ball) in the hole of the stone, which prevents it from falling out.
The ring is fairly plain with a black opal in a Cabochon setting with granulations on each side. The tricky part of this was soldering all the parts on without melting the previous solder off, since the balls on each side had to be done separately ( The ring had to be on its side so they didn’t slide off) and hard and medium solder (which melt at a higher temperature) had already been used to solder the ring shank and stone setting.