Knife Shoppe

Hi ya’all. I haven’t been very active here lately because I had some work to do. Including that after months and months of heavy procrastination, I have finally purchased web hosting and a domain and started a small webpage for my knives.

Constructive criticism is welcome.

The webshop interface does not allow me to display prices in other currencies than Czech Crowns (yet), but I do hope that anyone can convert it to USD or € or whatever should they need to. I will gladly sell anywhere in the world as long as it is financially feasible for both me and the customer, but selling outside of the Czech Republic must be done through individual arrangements and cannot be done simply via the webshop interface (not yet). The reasons are simple – additional currencies and shipping outside CZ are both available for an extra charge and I am not ready to dish out more money than is strictly necessary. Not yet, anyway.

I am thinking about adding a knife-making blog there, but I am somewhat discouraged by the amount of work that it would entail.

I will leave this post pinned to the top of the page for some time.

Still Not a Masterpiece

Strictly speaking, I can never make a masterpiece, because I do not know about any knifemaker’s guild or similar organization around here that could grant me one. And even if I knew, I could not be bothered with going through the hassle accompanied by obtaining one. There was a knifemaking vocational school in CZ, but a quick Google search failed to confirm whether it is still functional. When I found out about its existence, I already had my Master’s degree in Biology and Chemistry and it was not feasible to go back to vocational school at that stage of my life.

Nevermind. I just finished two knives and I do think I did a good job, although they both took an absolutely unholy amount of time to finish. The blades were first seen in the first Overabladeance post. Both blades are highly polished, which makes them a PITA to photograph. I am not entirely convinced my choice of background for these photos was correct but I am reluctant to go through all the hours of photographing it again with another color.

Lotsa of pictures under the fold. [Read more…]

Creativity AIn’t the issue

I tried to use generative AI in my last designs, both for the auroch and for the wild boar. First I tried the AI that is supplied with the latest version of Photoshop. Since I am paying for that, I might as well use it. Then I tried to use Stable Diffusion because it is free. And after that, there is no way in hell I will pay for Midjourney, even if I could afford it.

I won’t post the pictures I got here, the internet does not need more AI-generated crap to pollute it. Suffice it to say, that whilst some results looked at least somewhat interesting, most were total crap and none were useable for my purposes. Right from the outset, I found out that the AI does not actually contribute anything to my work at all.

I am one of those people who has some trouble visualizing things in their mind. Especially human faces. I would be completely incapable of drawing the face of even the most beloved person in my life. That might sound odd for someone who doodled all the time and who used to be sufficiently good at drawing to get into art school where part of the entrance examination was drawing a Goethe bust, but that is the way it is. I generally need some kind of template to get started. However, as I found out with the AI, my inability to form a clear visual picture in my mind does not mean that I start without a clue as to how the result shall look. And that is where I clashed with the AI and lost.

I got plenty of two-headed or six-legged animals, plenty of zebu or bison-like animals instead of aurochs, and a lot of domesticated pig lookalikes instead of wild boars. The pose of the animal was never right, no matter what prompts I used. Even after I wrote “auroch running from left to right” I got a picture of what looked like a pair of six-legged water buffaloes running from right to left. At one time the Photoshop AI even deleted one of three generated pictures because the prompt “auroch bull charging” somehow triggered its anti-porn filter or something.

After a few days of faffing around, I found out that my old process – which I described in my previous post – is actually the better way to go. Because despite my poor visualization skills, I still have a pretty good idea about what I want to achieve and what the end result should look like. The AI did not help with that in any way. I only wanted it to generate the picture to get started, and I haven’t got even that. I had zero control over what came out of it. It was a game of chance and I never enjoyed those.

No doubt that with a lot of work and a supply of carefully selected images to train the AI myself, I might get some useable results, but I also got those with a simple Google photo search and making a biro sketch in a few minutes. And once I had the sketch, once I got started, I built on that.

I do not consider generative AI to be completely useless but if it is creative, to me it was a hindrance, not a plus. Sure, I used it to generate dozens of somewhat unique pictures, but despite me being the one giving the prompts, I was in no meaningful way the one who actually created the result.

The results were pictorial ends to a game of Chinese whispers. Sometimes amusing, sometimes interesting, but always widely off the mark.

My Creative Process

Marcus’s recent posts about AI got me thinking and as a part of my thoughts on the issue, I want to start today by writing about my creative process, using my most recent art pieces. Those pieces being knives, because why not.

For me, the idea of how to create something usually pops into my mind without any conscious effort. I can be sleeping, eating my lunch, or driving my car, mulling over this and that and I get the starting of an idea about how to create something. And then it grows from there organically during the process itself.

Of course, all my knives are influenced by my experiences with using and making knives, as well as the designs I saw, whether conscious of that influence or not. But with these two knives, I can be a bit more specific. One of them started nearly thirty years ago and it is inspired by another knifemaker’s blade that I saw in one of my books. I changed both the outline and the grind profile, but the inspiration from someone else’s work was the starting point. For the other knife though, it started with my first failed attempt at a machete (-click-), thus the inspiration for this specific design was an accident.

When I started to make the two blades, I had no concrete plans for them and I had originally intended to make them with ordinary wooden scales. But as the works progressed, I started to think more and more that they would look splendid with engraved bone scales and I left them lying for a year with that idea at the back of my mind. During that year, I worked on other things, as the ideas for what to do with these two slowly matured in my mind. The bigger one got me on a line of thinking that ended up with the idea of engraving a picture of an auroch on the scale, but I still had no idea about the smaller one.

Then in the fall of last year, I successfully sold a knife with a picture of a roe deer on the sheath and when talking with my mother about what animal to use next, she suggested a wild boar. And whilst I have declined the idea for a sheath decoration (for now), I did think that it would look well on a bone scale, thus I finally got the idea for the second knife. Again, inspiration for one came out of some murky associations in my subconscious, the other one came from a nudge by another person’s ideas.

So with a rough idea in my head about what I wanted to accomplish, I started outfitting the knives. And as I wrote in my previous post, during the manufacture I decided to make the handle scales with hidden pins, which gave me an even bigger area to embellish. And when the knives were finally finished, I could start on the designs for the engravings.

With animal designs, I normally start by looking through my books and the interwebs for photos and drawings for inspiration. Not to copy – not the lest because to find a picture with the exact pose that I could use would be a stroke of luck indeed – but to use it as a guideline for a picture that is not egregiously anatomically incorrect. When I find a picture that is roughly what I want the end result to be, I start sketching. Most of that process can be seen in this picture:

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Nowadays I start with biro sketches on paper that I subsequently refine on PC. In the past, I would go with pencils on paper all the way to the finished product. I wanted to use a whole pig, but I had trouble fitting that on the scale due to its shape, so I decided to use just the head.

When I fine-tuned both designs on PC to my satisfaction, I decided to test whether the boar head would look acceptable, so I made a test piece on an offcut of bone.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

As you can see I made again changes from the previous sketches. Not only because I am not a copy machine, but also because each medium imposes its own limits on the creative process and thus each medium demands some changes in attitude to get a usable result. At this stage, I thought I was finished with designing and ready to set out to work, but my mind kept working. It kept nagging me that the scales looked too empty. There were no visible pins and thus there was ample space to fill. I added a rope pattern as framing around the head, but it still was not enough. I tried to fish my mother’s mind for ideas and she delivered – I should add some spruce twigs. I initially dismissed the idea because I did not know how to implement it, but when I tried to google “spruce twig pattern”, I got an idea for how to do it, I drew it and I was finally satisfied.

Nevertheless, I still only had decorative designs for the right side of each knife. I decided to leave the left side on the auroch blade blank, but I felt somehow that the boar needed to have something on the other side too. And without prompting, an idea came to me in the evening just before sleep – to continue the rope frame around the boar head to the other side and engrave a decorative knot there. As far as which knot to use, this time I did not look for inspiration to others, I simply took two pieces of paracord and arranged them into knots for about an hour until I got a result I liked.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

I have redrawn the design on the PC into a shape that fits the scale and thus my designs were finished. I printed them out on paper labels and set out to work.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

The actual realization is more about craft and technique than about the creative process. If you are interested in that, tomorrow there will be a short article on my Knife Blogge about it.

Next time I would like to write about how this all connects to generative AI. I do not know when, but hopefully next weekend.

Hidden Pins on Bone Scales

I wrote about how I make handles with hidden pins before (-click-, -click-) so I won’t repeat myself in this post too much. However, I tried that technique with something new this time – bone scales.

I am currently making two big outdoor knives with highly polished blades. Those blades alone were a lot of work so I have decided to go all the way and make the knives really posh. So I have decided to make the handles with bone scales. However, when making handle scales from bone this big, they were a bit too thin. Thus I have decided to bulk them a little bit with 2 mm micarta (dark brown for contrast). And using micarta gave me the idea to use my hidden-pin technique for bone scales too.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

I did not originally plan to make the pins hidden so the holes were placed just as if they were visible (I originally planned a different bolster shape too). So there are six 3 mm metal pins and 4 6 mm bamboo dowels holding the handles together now. The super big holes filled with wood were drilled so big to remove needless mass from the tang and the wooden plugs are there to increase glued surface.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

I drilled all the way through the micarta and about 1 mm into the bone. I would not use this technique for bone alone because it is very rigid, stiff, and brittle. But micarta is somewhat pliable, elastic, and strong both in tension and pressure so I think it is an ideal material for the transition between the metal tang and the bone scale.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

This gives me a nice, big surface on which to draw something pretty. I already have designs for both handles and one is half-finished.

Mechanically, I think this handle construction should withstand everything that a classic one with pins going all the way through would. As far as aging goes, the epoxy glue did not fail on any knife I have made yet, but should it fail at some point in the distant future, it should also be relatively easy to fix with new glue.

When Gun Regulations Fail

I have long held that our weapon laws are sensible and functional – not too strict, not too loose, and I still think they are more on the reasonable side than not. But they do sometimes fail, as they did just now.

Czechia had yesterday the worst mass shooting in our history. Mass shootings do occur here, unfortunately, every once in a while. This one was perpetrated by a person who held multiple firearms, legally, because he had no criminal history or mental health diagnosis. His motives are so far unknown, he did not appear to be targeting any specific demographic – his goal was apparently just to cause as much pain as he could.

This does not happen here even remotely as often as in the USA, but even once would be too many. And I am afraid that this incident will be used to argue for further loosening of our already loose gun laws by idiots who think adding more guns to the situation would somehow prevent it, instead of multiplying it.

Improvipairing mah Belt Grinder Again – New Platen

The steel platen behind the belt has been a bit problematic since the start. As you can see in older pictures, it was a piece of angle iron that was on the left side attached to the belt-grinder arm with two screws. The problem was that when I exerted pressure on the right side, it bent ever so slightly and the belt started to wander off and the whole thing behaved a bit unpredictably. I learned to work around the problem, but it was a problem and it needed solving. So this week I finally solved it.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

I bought two hinges and screwed them on a piece of 3×40 mm mild steel at a distance slightly bigger than the thickness of the belt grinder arm. Then I drilled two holes through the arm and put in them two carriage bolts with winged nuts. Then I cut slots into the hinges that I could slide under the screw heads and the nuts. Because the hinges are slightly more apart than the thickness of the arm, when I tighten the screws they work as flat springs with a slight bend and it all holds together very nicely.

To serve as the platen I have screwed a piece of 10×50 mm mild steel on. It works perfectly. It is stable regardless of which edge of the platen I work on and I can exert as much pressure as I want, although admittedly, I have only ground bone on it and not steel. I might either harden the platen by carbonitriding it or I can weld a hardened steel plate on the face, but mild steel works just fine too and with my rate of making blades it will hold for a long time as it is.

There is one last problem that I need to solve, and unfortunately, I do not know how. It is also difficult to describe, doubly so in a foreign language, so if you do not understand what I say, the problem is probably not at your end.

I need a reliable and stable way to adjust the belt’s traction. The spanning arm was a bit wibbly-wobbly, and when I fixed that, I got new problems. When I optimized it for a forward-running belt and tried to run it in reverse, it wandered off to the right and fell off. And when I optimized it for a reverse-running belt, it wandered to the left and bit into the arm. After a lot of faffing around I managed to get the belt stable in both directions – but then it was off-center and the sideways position of the spanning wheel had no influence on it whatsoever. The spanning wheel is crowned and that should make the belt tend towards its apex and thus I should be able to move the belt sideways, but it did not have any influence – the same thing happened whether it was near the arm or as far from it as it could go. Only the tilt of the wheel had an influence, but when I fixed the wobbliness, I lost the ability to tilt it.

I have managed to get the thing running by bending the screw on which the spanning wheel is fixed. When I turn the screw now, the wheel tilts, and I can adjust the belt. The problem is that it is too responsive and not very stable, just like it was before. I am wracking my brain for solutions, but so far I have not come up with any that are doable with my equipment.

Belt Grinder Re-Wheeeeeeled

The belt grinder has now all the wheels newly surfaced with micarta and all 30 mm diameter wheels were increased to 60 mm.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Subjectively it runs quieter and smoother now, unfortunately, I did not make a noise measurement before to have an objective comparison. I still have the previous tracking and spanning wheels, but not the motor wheel, so I cannot get it to the previous state now – shame that I did not think of that but whatever. Maybe I will try it with the smaller wheels, maybe not, because when I was at it, I ground even the previous wheels to better roundness than they were, so even they should now run smoother. I will keep the 30 and 40 mm wheels to grind fullers and finger grooves.

The belt grinder has done a lot of work over the years and it shows, but it needs more improvements. The spanning wheel still does not work as well as it should and the belt is not entirely sideways stable.  I do not know how to do that yet, unfortunately. But I do know how to improve the platen behind the belt to make it more stable. That should be done next week when I get some 50×10 mm mild steel that I ordered. I had to order it, because I had nothing suitable in my scrap pile to use, which sucks since money is short.

Improvipairing mah Belt Grinder Again – New Tracking Wheels

My tracking wheels made from alu-tubing had a diameter just 30 mm, so the ball bearings were running really rough when at full speed. and they chattered and were generally noisy too. I have been thinking for a long time about how to make bigger and better wheels. I tried to glue soft PVC on the surface. That stopped the chattering and added ca. 1 cm in diameter, but when it ran at full speed, the PVC was ripped off. I tried to glue on leather, and the same happened. And now I hope I have finally found a solution – to make them from micarta.

I have used a technique that I learned from my older brother as a child when making paper car models. To get nice and sturdy wheels for those models I wound a glue-covered strip of paper around a wooden skewer until I reached the desired diameter. One could get nice, sturdy, and round-ish wheels that way. Later in university, I used the same technique to build a complete chess set (I still have it). So for the wheels for my belt grinder, I soaked strips of cloth in epoxy resin and wound them around the (scoffed and thoroughly de-greased) alu-tube that is the core of the wheel until the diameter was approximately doubled (that should halve the rotational speed of the ball bearings and thus reduce noise and prolong their life).

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

After that, I put the whole thing in a plastic bag and I sucked out as much air as possible with my vacuum pump. I could not do a very good job of it and I also could not seal the bags very well, but I think it was good enough.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

After the epoxy was thoroughly hardened, I cut the excess on the sides and pressed the ball bearings in the tubes. I did not cut the sides very well on one wheel, but that should not be a problem. The wheels also were not exactly round at this stage. This was the snag that stopped me from doing this a long time ago. I knew they wouldn’t be very precise and I do not have a lathe that would allow me to make them really round. But last week I finally got an idea of how to make them round with my belt grinder.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

First I have made a fixture for the wheels from 5 mm mild steel and a piece of board. I could span the wheel on it and push it against the platen of the belt grinder, fix it with a clamp, and then with a slowly running 40 grit belt (and very carefully) I could grind it to a roughly circular shape concentric with its rotational axis. The result was a rough and round-ish wheel and I managed to not hurt myself too badly, only one fingernail is now thinner than it should be. I did not take pictures of that, because I forgot.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

To get a smoother surface I ran the wheel against a slow 100-grit belt a bit and then I changed the direction of the belt and used wood turning chisels and fine abrasive cloth to further improve the surface.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

And it worked reasonably well. The wheels are not perfect, but they chatter less than the previous ones and I expect that with wear the surface will get smoother. If not, I will try to coat them with epoxy mixed with a fine sawdust and polish them again. The advantage of micarta is that It glues well so I can re-surface the wheels at any time. It is also tension-strong so there is no risk of the wheels exploding or cracking mid-work.

Now I will make a new, thicker spanning wheel this way too. And I will add a few mm micarta on the motor wheel as well because it too is not exactly concentric and that too introduces vibrations and noise. This opens a lot of opportunities to make better concentric wheels of different diameters – I still need 3 and 4-cm wheels for grinding fullers and finger grooves and I might need other diameters in the future too.

It unfortunately also means I have to make a new platen. I have jerry-rigged the old one so I can do some light work on the grinder as it is now, but It is not as stable as it used to be because it was built with smaller wheels in mind. But I am working on that problem already and I do have ideas that I think will work. I am also planning on making a new jig for grinding fullers.

A Masterclass of Whataboutism

Another YouTuber that I have unsubscribed from is Second Thought. It was after his latest video We Need To Talk About “Authoritarianism”. I am not going to link to that video because it is a piece of shit and it does not deserve views. If you are interested in its contents, I recommend Vaush’s critique (see further after I have my say).

What Second Thought is doing in this video is nothing but an elaborate form of the nonsensical syllogism (The USA = BAD)=>(The USSR = GOOD). I hate this shit with a burning passion because I have actually either first-hand or at most second-hand experience with many of the things this world-class twit talks about. I mean, however bad the US police is, however bad the US surveillance state is, it really cannot hold a candle to what the USSR has done or what China is doing.

To anyone reading this who might not be a regular on this blog, I have a whole series of blog posts “Behind the Iron Curtain” where I write about my experience with the regime. I was 13 when it collapsed, and the regime was mellowing towards the end, so I did not personally witness the worst things. Yet there is still one visceral fear that people had that I do remember personally, a fear that I feel confident is not widely spread in the USA. The fear that when kids say something wrong in front of the wrong person, their parents can go to jail. My father was in the communist party and even I was told that I must not say some things in public because it could put someone in my family in jail. Children were taught to say one thing at home and a different thing in public. Even though the time of the 1968 invasion was long in the past and the worst of the totalitarian shit did not happen anymore, people still feared to criticize the regime. One day my father came home from a local party assembly and he told my mother “I might go to jail, we will see”. And why did he fear that? Did he steal something? Did he kill anybody? No, he did what he was, in principle, supposed to do at the assembly. He raised valid points of critique at the wealthy oligarchs in the party leadership and said that they should actually listen to what people really need and want and do something about it. Luckily for him, it was towards the end of the regime and as I said, it was starting to mellow a bit at that point. Still, that he even considered that he might be going to jail, despite being a lifelong communist, says a lot about the regime and the culture of fear it fomented.

And now this sheltered, privileged WEIRD WASP asshole is equivocating between the USA and the USSR as if they were both similarly totalitarian but somehow when the USA does a thing, it is bad, but when the USSR did it, it somehow, magically, becomes good and necessary! WTF? I must have been blind to not spot the signs in his previous videos, but this is what here, in the former USSR sphere of influence, gives leftists a bad name. It is already difficult to explain to even highly educated people that the things that were bad about the previous regime were not socialism, but authoritarian oppression. Assholes like this one make it really easy for opponents of socialism here, because he actually says, albeit covertly and obliquely, what those opponents preach – that socialism is inextricably linked with authoritarianism. (I wrote about this in the Behind the Iron Curtain series too -click-).

Further, this clueless clown is using his public platform to critique (mostly validly!) the regime in which he lives and at the same time sings praises of a regime that would have him at best imprisoned and at worst outright killed for criticizing it in even much, much milder form! And he totally fails to spot the irony when he accuses the USA, where he lives, of being worse.

Alas, it is apparent now that he is a tankie and a leftie American exceptionalist I have no track with either. Saying that if the USA does a thing it is bad but when the USSR does the very same thing it is good and necessary is not a moral stance. And to top it off, I have also learned that he actually condoned Hamas attack on Israeli civilians, again applying the same “logic” – when Israel does a bad thing, thing bad, when Hamas does the same thing, thing suddenly good. The reality which this fucking piece of amoral shitstain fails to grasp is that sometimes it really is possible that both sides in a conflict can be bad and differing only in a degree. His political principle is not to help the common people around the world, his main political principle is the USA bashing and the USSR glorifying. That is not coherent leftist policy, that is edgy leftist posing. He can do that without me watching his videos.

If you have spare time, you can listen to Vaush’s excellent rebuttal. It is rather long, I listened to it whilst cleaning my room today.

I do not like everything about Vaush, for example, he uses way too many ableist slurs and comes off as arrogant, but the essence of what he is saying here is IMO sound.

Preparing for Winter

Busy, busy, busy. I am tired and there’s still more work to be done than I can manage. Currently, the theme of the day is preparing the garden for winter.

You may remember that this year I have been experimenting with growing potatoes under grass clippings, without tilling the ground or preparing it in any other way. And given that I have planted only about 1 kg of pea-sized potatoes, it was a huge success, I harvested about 40 kg of reasonably large potatoes, although the blasted voles did again do some damage. Here is a picture of a small sample.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Because of this, I have decided to repeat the experiment on a larger scale, on our proper vegetable bed, about 40 square meters. It was several working day’s worth of work to gather all the old and recent grass clippings from piles around the garden and spread them all over.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

It would be better to dry the clippings first, but alas that was no longer possible for the last mowing of the grass since the weather is now cold and wet and the days are too short for the sun to do much even when it shines. So about half is covered in dry clippings and half in fresh ones. I do hope it won’t cause problems, it should have enough time over the winter to settle. I hope. In the spring I will probably add a few bags of woodchips and shredded reeds from the sewage cleaning facility.

All in all this year was a mixed bag, gardening-wise. We had very few tomatoes and patypans. The weather at the beginning of the summer was way too hot and the plants, although they are warmth-loving, had stunted growth despite being watered enough. And when the weather subsequently cooled in July, it was again way too cold for these. In short – most of the summer the temperatures were either above or below the tomatoes’ metabolic optimum.

The beans that grew this year on the big vegetable bed as well as behind the house were a moderate success. The voles destroyed some plants early on but the rest grew vigorously and I harvested nearly 6 kg of beans and about twice as much of green bean pods that my mother canned in vinegar for later use. It is less than we could have under better conditions, but enough for our needs.

My only apple tree fell victim to water voles and continues to slowly die. I expect that it won’t wake up next spring. But I got over 30 kg of strawberries, over 10 kg of pears, and several kg of raspberries. Most of those were dried for winter too, some were made into marmalade. The plums and figs harvest was small, only a few kg, but it was enough for me to sit one whole day and make all-natural, sugar-free plum butter and to dry a few jars of figs. Plum butter is the best filler for pies, IMO, and it too should be enough for a few years. And lastly, we got again enough walnuts to give them away. The cellar reserved for preserved food and vegetables is full.

And I also had to replace the bird feeder, since it was starting to slowly fall apart. I have made a completely new one, from a few wood offcuts sorted out of my firewood. I hope it will last at least as long as the previous one. To help it last longer, I have charred all surfaces with a propane torch and I soaked it with old boiled linseed oil. That should make it somewhat resistant to humidity and fungi.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Basically, it is the same design as the previous one, only the central column is not round and made from plastic tubing but square and made from wood. And the roof is a bit higher so the birds have slightly more space to sit and still have a good view of their surroundings. I did not include any perches so far, maybe I will do that later.

I have also made an additional feeder, a kind of gibbet for hanging walnuts, suet dumplings, and various other things.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

The weather is still warm and I did not see very many birds on the feeder yet. But the food keeps disappearing so they are definitively coming. I hope to get some pretty bird pictures again this winter. I did not use my camera for way too long this year.

The last step in winter preparations is to move indoors all plants and flowers that cannot stay in the greenhouses and put the bonsai below the benches to protect them against frosty winds. And to re-plant in the pollard all walnuts, hazels, and oaks that sprout all around the garden from nuts hidden by jays. And several other things. Busy, busy, busy…