… kittens, by Currier and Ives
The end of last month saw the release of a new Pokémon game for the Switch. #1 had asked for that game for Easter and was damn happy when it was released. And, to be honest, it’s a really nice game. No hard storylines, fights, tournaments… You travel on a fixed course and take pics of Pokémon, like on a Legoland Safari.
Anyway, my neighbour, who’s just as massive a nerd as I am, asked me how the game was, and if I had taken nice pics and if it was worth the money. We chatted a while and I offered him to come over and try it out. Inside again I asked #1 if she’d talked with B about the game, since he knew that we had it.
“Mum, do you really think I’d voluntarily talk to other people???”
Seems like our neighbour knows us quite well by now….
… kittens, by British landscape artist William Collins
Collins was often praised for his ability to capture light, and this painting is full of subtle and nuanced light, but it’s that wee, timid kitten that makes it wonderful.
The Stray Kitten, 1835, William Collins. Image from Wikiart.
It is several months since the last update on this project, and there are reasons for that. Some have to do with the project itself, some do not. One of the reasons that are directly related to the project was that I had difficulty finishing the knife stands because in the cold weather the boat lacquer that I have decided to use for finish took an absolutely inordinate amount of time to harden properly. So prepare now for a really long post about how I made the wooden stands for these knives.
The original plan was to make all woodworks from jatoba and black locust, thus making the stands from massive hardwood. But since I have made the handles from the rather rare and precious applewood, I had a very limited supply. Especially when it came to the spalted wood. So I stood in front of a decision – should I try to make the stands match the handles or not. And I have decided to give it a try and make matching stands. Which means getting a lot out of a little.
First I started by cutting the cores of the future stands out of some scrap spruce wood, of which I have an overabundance. Where I needed a thicker piece, I have simply layered and trimmed the thinner ones until I got the size that I wanted, with a generous amount of wood on both sides of each blade, especially for the stands where two blades were meant to be next to each other.
This was the first time I have used expanding PU glue. PVA glue would have difficulty to set in my workshop, even with heating. This glue did harden within a few hours enough so I could safely take it indoors for the rest of the curing process.
After these cores were glued and cut to the final size, I have sanded all flat surfaces. Not very thoroughly, just enough that I do not get my hands full of splinters.
And since I had to do with what little of the precious wood I had, I have decided to use thin boards/veneers for finishing. I have cut approx 5 mm thick slices of the wood on my bandsaw and with a bit of luck, I did get enough of each of the three types of wood that I have used for the handles to cover the stands. Mostly. I could have cut even thinner veneers, like 2 mm, but 5 mm did save me a bit of work later on.
Most veneers were cut with the grain, but I have also cut several pieces across the grain. Those I have glued on the end of the softwood cores and only after that I have cut the slits for blades. For each blade a cut just as deep as the blade is wide, so each knife has a slot fitted exactly to it. I took two passes on the circular saw for each slit since I have cut them about 1-2 mm wider than the blades are, so the knives come in and out really easily without scraping the sides. That way at least I hope the probability of something getting stuck to the mirror-polished blade and scratching it later on in the stand should be reduced. I could not of course make the slits too wide, because then the point could get stuck in them.
Wherever veneers had to be put side-by-side, I had to carefully fit them together so the seams are as small as possible. In one case I also had to change the design of the stand since I did not have any veneers long enough and I did not want to link veneer strips lengthwise. Two strips beside each other do connect almost seamlessly and even when they are visible, they do not disturb. But a clear line across the grain or the pattern in the spalted wood would surely look at least odd.
To fit the veneers properly all around I had to first glue up two opposing sides, trim the excess, grind it to flat, and only then I could glue the other two sides. Trim and sand again and I got finished building blocks for the final products.
There were some minor problems – the spalted wood was soft and got chipped – so I had to fill in some places with resin mixed with sawdust and/or offcuts.
Then there was a lot of sanding. It made me glad to have a hand-held belt sander. I will probably have to buy an orbital sander too if I am going to make more of these.
Since the resulting pieces had very sharp edges which would not look very well in combination with the rather rounded handles, I have decided to round them significantly. I did not use a router, although I do own one. Instead, I have just sanded all future edges down with 60 grit sandpaper over a soft sponge until they looked right, and then I have polished them.
In one of the stands, the pieces were connected by big enough flat surfaces that I could reliably clamp it all together during curing, but int two of the pieces had to be connected by relatively small areas and at an odd angle, so I have used a piece of wood to drill holes for dowels to prevent the parts from shifting during the glue-up.
And here they are, fixed to small boards for stability and handling during the paint job. I have decided to use boat lacquer for the stands because infusing such big pieces with resin would be very, very expensive. I did not expect it to take as long as it did though.
After the first coat with highly diluted lacquer the grain and fungus patterns popped up on all pieces quite significantly. I have left it dry for two days and then gave it two more coats with diluted lacquer in two-days intervals to stabilize the soft and spongy wood as much as is possible. And after that, it was five-six more coats with undiluted lacquer, with a few days wait and thorough sanding between each coating. When the last coating was drying, I got tangled up for several weeks with other works, mainly in the garden, and only this last week did I get round to do the last hand sanding. I sanded the pieces in increasing grits up to 1000 and there I did stop because I wanted them to have the same satin finish as the handles.
I have modified my buffing compound for the stands, but it is still perhaps a bit too hard. It did buff the pieces nicely though, so I cannot complain. Too much. I did achieve my goal, which was to make the stands reasonably similar to the knife handles. There is a bit of difference in color because the handles are thoroughly infused with resin, but I do not think it is a problem and neither does anyone who has seen it so far (about 7 people).
And this week I finally got to the last step in this rather long project – making the stands to actually, well, stand. Out of the three, only one was big and heavy enough to be stable – the one from mostly healthy wood. For the other two, I did not have enough material to make them with a wide enough base, so I had to fit them with legs. I have considered several options and I have decided to go with a 6 mm stainless steel pipe. Aluminum would look cheap and brass would clash with the visible stainless steel tangs on the knives.
To drill the holes safely and at a proper angle, I have first made a little board that could be fixed to the stand at the angle I wanted it to be in one direction. In the depicted case, the board is at the angle the leg is supposed to be when viewed from above. Into that board I have drilled a hole at an angle it was supposed to go into the stand. Then I could fix this board to the stand by the simple method of copious amounts of paper masking tape and drill the hole safely and at the correct angle.
By the way, I did not do any measuring or sketching for this. The “correct” angle was established by eyeballing.
With that, I was still not done with this piece of wood. I have trimmed one end of it at the angle the leg will touch the ground and used that as a guide to filing down the end of the pipe flat-ish.
Gluing the legs with epoxy was pretty straightforward after that and they were already mostly – although not perfectly – flat against the plate.
They did need a bit of sanding to get them perfectly flat, but not that much.
And that is the project almost finished. All that is left is to sharpen the knives and make pretty pictures. Hopefully sometime soon. You can see here that I have also already begun the next batch of knives. Yup, that is how long it took for the lacquer to harden, I have managed to grind and harden ten new blades in the meantime.
The next – and last – post in this series will be pure cutlery porn. This is one of those rare instances where I think I have done a good job.
It is very rare that I get an opportunity to take a picture of male black redstart. I see them all the time, but they are restless and they never come to the feeder. This one was moving around the feeder, although he did not eat the seeds – he used the surroundings for vantage points to spot insects in the grass. And he stayed a few times in one place long enough for me to take a picture.
That last picture gives me the impression of an old grampa looking disapprovingly at me. Something about the line between the black and grey feathers above the eyes gives him that look.
… flowers, by Joshua Reynolds
A herm is a square pillared statue topped by a bust, and Hymen is the Roman god of fertility and marriage who sits atop this particular herm. The ladies are Barbara, Elizabeth and Anne Montgomery, daughters of Sir William Montgomery, who were known as the Irish graces.
In one of Pratchett’s best novels, Nightwatch, Sam Vimes travels back in time and takes part in the “Glorious Revolution” (twice, actually), with its motto of Freedom, Reasonably Priced Love, and a Hard Boiled Egg, and its symbol of lilac in bloom, which happens on the 25th of April. I remember Caine being very fond of that day, posting pics of lilac. For me, living in a place where spring comes earlier than North Dakota and wherever Pratchett lived in the UK, by that time, the lilac had already bloomed, taking its sweet perfume with it.
Except this year, with its extraordinarily cold April. This year, the lilac has not yet dared to open its flowers.
Most nights still had freezing temperatures and lots of plants are four weeks behind their usual schedule, which creates a problem for your dedicated hobby gardener: I planted the seeds according to the usual timeline, and most beds are also ready, only that it’s way too cold to plant anything outside:
This means everything is still inside, although I usually carry about 50 plants outside in the morning and carry them back inside in the evening. Say hello to the cocktail tomatoes.
I’m also running out of pots, because most of them have now been replanted three times and had to ask my mum for planting pots. What I really couldn’t keep inside for longer is the squash, so I planted it outside, hoping it would survive. By now, none of the plants look happy, some of them also don’t look alive:
I can only hope that it will regrow those leaves, otherwise the squash will be entirely shop bought this season. As they were last year, when all my plants insisted on having male flowers only.
In the meantime I’m taking joy in the growth of my corn. Intellectually I knew that in order to get that high, it had to grow like mad, but knowing and seeing are two different things.
The two upper terraces in the garden will become “milpa” beds, also known as the “three sisters planting”, an old central American planting technique where you plant corn, beans and squash in the same area (hopefully the squash will survive…). The corn provides stability for the beans to grow on, the beans provide nutrition for the ground, and the squash protect the soil from drying out and being washed away. This was the little one’s idea and I must say, the idea of fresh corn on the cob is intriguing. So, cross your fingers for warmer weather and surviving squash (also the fucking slugs have been at it already. There’s a whole garden for them to eat, they can’t tell me they need to eat my squash).
It’s been a while since I’ve been around, but I thought I’d pop in to say hello and let you know what’s up. Several weeks ago, Mr. V had a health crisis that’s kept me busier than usual. A lot busier, and I admit that I’ve been feeling stressed, exhausted and depressed. We’ve come through the worst of it, for now, but it’s left me feeling behind in just about everything, with worry nibbling at the edges of my days. Add to that the lingering grief of losing Jack, the fact that my best friend has moved to Nova Scotia and the continuing isolation of Covid, and it becomes a recipe for getting stuck in a not-so-good place.
It’s always been my vision to provide a positive type of blogging. This channel is full of serious writers who provide important content that I value, but what I have to offer is simpler. I want to share my vision of the beautiful, simple things in life that nurture us and give us reason to continue the fight for equality, justice and a livable planet. I think that has value, and I hope you do too. So, today I am kicking myself in the ass and saying enough of the feeling sorry for myself. It’s time to stop and lookup.
It’s Springtime, and tender green plants are being born. Colour is creeping into the grey landscape left behind by winter, and leaves are painting in the spaces between bare branches scratching at the sky. There’s a riot of green trailing streamers of red and yellow tulips, blue forget-me-nots, purple violets and pale blossoms of apple and plum. I’ve thrown open my windows, and the passing breezes bring in the sweet earthy scent of spring.
I’ve taken stock, and now it’s time to take a deep breath, count my blessings and with intention, begin again.
These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.
One of the central dogmas of the regime was the notion that everything is for the common workers, the laborers, and peasants. Those were deemed not only essential for the proper running of society (not wrong), sometimes to ignoring that intellectuals actually have useful functions too.
The International Worker’s Day was a state holiday, and we were taught at school a bit about the history behind it. Not much, as far as I remember, but the actual reasons behind the holiday were discussed and even in hindsight, most of them were valid then and are valid now.
However, as it is with authoritarian regimes, the good came with the sidedish of the bad and sometimes downright ugly.
1st of May was an official day off of work and school, so officially people were free to spend that day as they choose. In every town and moderately sized village, there was a procession and a speech by some party representative, but attending was not compulsory. In the sense “it is voluntary, but you have to go”.
I did not like the processions that much, because I do not like crowds and loud noises. But I did attend. I do not remember much, only two experiences come to mind at least somewhat vividly.
The first experience was an extremely strong feeling of embarrassment when our local firefighter truck was driving along the procession, shouting propaganda and encouragements for cheering from loudspeakers. I did not like it and even to my socially stunted mind, it was clear that nobody else liked it either. If the day is so glorious, if our country is so great and the party so beloved, why on earth do the people need to be egged on to cheer and shout slogans by an obnoxious a-hole with a megaphone? I did not put it in those words exactly, but those were my feelings.
The second experience was the chastising of one of my classmates who was not a member of Pionýr and whose family did not attend the parade one year. In a small town, this did not go unnoticed and our class teacher did call him out publicly during class for this. There were no other repercussions other than the public shaming, but I did not enjoy seeing that at all.
In both of these instances, I have subconsciously sensed a deep disconnect between the messaging we get and the true state of affairs. That cognitive dissonance was not particularly strong, but it was there and it was nagging. When the regime finally fell, a lot of the things that did not make sense to me as a child started to make sense later.
Later in life, I was surprised that much of what I have been taught to see as “Capitalist countries” also celebrate the holiday, oftentimes including the parades and speeches, but without the voluntary compulsory nature. I am afraid that in my mind this holiday will always be tainted, as it is in the minds of many of my generation.