Slavic Saturday

Today again a little crossover with the Behind the Iron Curtain series.

Jan Hus and Jan Žižka are to this day considered great figures of Czech history. Even the communist regime venerated these two men to a great degree, so much so that it was during this regime that one of the largest bronze equestrian statues in the world was made to commemorate Jan Žižka in 1950. And movies were made about both. Today, we also have a national holiday on the day Jan Hus was burned at the stake.

We were taught in school that Jan Hus was a great reformer who has challenged and criticized the corruption within the catholic church, and that was true. We were taught that he has sparked a national movement that has fought against the hegemony of said corrupt, hypocritical, and oppressive church, and that was also true. However what was ignored was that he also sparked a fanatical religious movement that was not solely inspired by a desire for a better and juster society, but also by a merely different interpretation of holy writ.

As for Žižka, he was and is considered to be one of the greatest Czech warriors there was, and perhaps in history, as this short video suggests.

We were taught about his military successes, especially about the fact that he was able to take a bunch of peasants and merchants and convert them into a fighting force capable of defeating several crusades consisting of professional soldiers who trained in combat from childhood. What we were not taught was that he also burned at stake several dozen of “heretics” who took reinterpreting the scripture way too far for his liking.

To this day there is a lot of people who romanticize Jan Hus, Jan Žižka, and the whole Hussite movement. Perhaps there is some value in that. But I think it is also important to remember that whilst they were somewhat progressive in their times, today they would probably both be considered insufferable religious fanatics. They certainly would not approve of today’s Czech atheism.

The Art of …

… Netsuke, a small carved object made to wear with traditional Japanese kimono.

A netsuke is a small sculptural object which has gradually developed in Japan over a period of more than three hundred years. Netsuke(singular and plural) initially served both functional and aesthetic purposes. The traditional form of Japanese dress, the kimono, had no pockets. Women would tuck small personal items into their sleeves, but men suspended their tobacco pouches, pipes, purses, writing implements, and other items of daily use on a silk cord passed behind their obi (sash). These hanging objects are called sagemono. The netsuke was attached to the other end of the cord preventing the cord from slipping through the obi. A sliding bead (ojime) was strung on the cord between the netsuke and the sagemono to allow the opening and closing of the sagemono. Source – World of Netsuke.

19th Century Netsuki, artist unknown. Image from

Netsuke of Mice with Corn, Meiji period (1868-1912). Image from Carter’s Auctions.

19th Century netsuke, artist unknown. Image from Picryl Public Domain Source.

Netsuke, Autumn grasses with praying mantis.Image from Asian Antiques.


The Art of …

… needle lace, by Hungarian artist Ágnes Herczeg

Born in the town of Kecskemét, Agnes Herczeg is a talented Hungarian textile artist. She graduated from the Hungarian University of Fine Arts in 1997. While studying, she has learned many traditional handicraft techniques, from embroidery and lace-making to macramé, and weaving. Creating her works, Agnes uses only with natural materials – tree branches, roots, fruits, seeds, yarns, threads, textiles, which supplement in a single composition. They seem imbued with rays of light, their stories are unusual, the embodiment of elegance and harmony. Combining innovative techniques with traditional handicraft, Agnes has created one-of-a-kind art gallery. In particular, combining lace with various materials – ceramic, wood, and coconut shell. According to Agnes, lace-making is an extremely time consuming occupation. For example, it takes Agnes several days just to complete a small piece. – source Art Kaleidoscope

I encourage you to check out either of the above links to see more of this artist’s work. I’m amazed at the amount of fine detail and emotion that Herczeg is able to capture in such small pieces of art.

The Garden, Agnes Herczeg. Image from


Lace Art by Agnes Herczeg. mage from Fubiz Media

The Bath by Agnes Herczeg. Image from

Grasshopper by Agnes Herczeg. Image from the artist’s website.


Mirror, Mirror…

I have finished the two fullered blades that I intended to mirror-polish for research purposes. It went reasonably well, I must say. The new jig helped a lot to smooth out and polish the fullers and although I had to resort on occasion to my old method of wrapping the abrasive around a bottle cork or popsicle stick, my fingers were spared or the worst of the worst. They are not perfect, but they are good enough for it to take some time to spot the irregularities and imperfections.

I think that next time I will do even a bit better because I did not have the jigs from the start for these, I have developed and tinkered with them during this project. One such tinkering that I forgot to mention in my previous post was to coat the idler wheels on my belt grinder with PVC flooring offcuts. That has reduced the chatter when grinding and polishing the fullers on the belt grinder, so I could actually use the belt grinder for polishing, and the handmade jig was subsequently only used to remove the perpendicular scratches and replace them with longitudinal ones. And because next time I will have all this equipment and the knowledge already, the results should, at least in theory, be better and with less work.

So here are some pictures containing the main things that I am writing about – blades, flowers, and insects.

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

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

The pumpkins are flowering nicely and there seem to be enough solitary bees around to pollinate them.

The blade on the left is the one that I have almost tossed. The fullers align well near the hand, but they diverge towards the tip quite noticeably, at least a few mm. Both fullers on both blades are a bit irregular.

I have a love-hate relationship with mirror-polished blades. They are very difficult to make, it is a lot of hard manual work that busts fingers and back so I hate doing it because I am tired and I do not recover as well as I should from physical exertion. But I also like doing it because it is very rewarding and satisfying to see the gradual change with each step as one progresses from 40 to 7000 grit and then to the buffing compound.

But they are never truly finished because the mirror polish exacerbates every minute irregularity to an absurdly high degree. A few microns deep divot will be seen at a certain angle. Also one thinks all scratches are removed and then, a few days later, you look at it at a very specific angle in a very specific light and suddenly you see that some gossamer-thin scratches are still there.

Then there is the practical side of course – although the steel is hardened, at mirror polish you can literally scratch it if you cut cardboard or office paper with it. They are very precious flowers indeed – basically, the wind blows a speck of dirt on the blade, you wipe it off and it leaves behind a scratch that will be visible in some light. That was one of the main reasons why I have decided to make a tumbled finish for my friends’ knife and why I am going to use it for most of my knives because that hides all but the most egregious scratches.

All in all, although these two blades are not perfect to a degree that I would be perfectly content with them, they are good enough that I shall go on and finish them with high-end fittings.

The Art of …

… the spoken word. One of the best perks of being part of this blog is the opportunity to showcase the art of our readers. Today, I’m sharing a new form of art for us. About a month ago, I posted a poem called The Mall, by Canadian poet Evelyn Lau. Dakotagreasemonkey (Rick) then took the time to record himself reading it aloud for us. He has a deep, resonant voice and I found his reading touching. I think he may have a future in dramatic arts and I hope he explores his talent and finds other ways to express himself. I’m sure you’ll all enjoy it. I’d also like to take a moment to thank Marcus (Stderr) for his technical assistance. (The photo in this clip is mine. It’s a place called Plage Nord and it’s across the street from my mother- in- law’s home in Perce, Quebec. Jack and I spent a lot of happy time there.)

The Mall

Today I chose it over the ocean.

Over the trees, their fall leaves

a flock of orange parrots perched on branches.

Over the chandelier of sunlight broken

on blue waves, over flowers

shaped like teacups or trumpets,

over the jade garden where once I dreamed

I wore a green velvet dress

clasped tight at the waist

like the grip of a man’s hand.

I walk toward it like a Zombie,

this strange planet suspended in time,

a space station in the rainforest

inhabited by teenage girls wearing glitter eyeshadow

and slippery lipgloss. I skate

along its arid walkways

as if on an invisible track, away

from my life. Here it could be day or night,

the walls stripped of clocks,

music moaning a mindless refrain,

not a window in sight.

The stores hold their mouths open

like seductresses, radiating heat and light

and a bright array of wares,

a sorbet rainbow of merchandise

delectable as pastilles.

Outside, the lives of grasses

and insects and breezes go on.

After a day at the mall,

stepping back into what’s left of the world,

the sunlight will sear your skin,

and the gallons of fresh air

will pour over you like pain.


by Evelyn Lau




Mammoth Wasp

An amazing capture from Nightjar,

I didn’t have my camera with me when I saw this huge wasp on a wild leek flower last month, but I didn’t know what it was so I tried to use my phone to get good enough photos that could let me ID it later. I wasn’t surprised to learn it’s called a Mammoth Wasp. It really is big. While I wish I had taken my camera, the photos didn’t turn out so bad and I thought of sharing them since it’s such an impressive bug.

©Nightjar, all rights reserved.

©Nightjar, all rights reserved.

Fulleramajig & Joy and Depression of Knifemaking

My friend got the knife I conspired with his wife to make for his 40th birthday. He wasted no time and tested it on a BBQ that very day. Afterward, he called me and thanked me and sung praises of his new toy. I must admit that it made me happy for a moment because this is the main reason why I am making knives – to make the end recipient happy that they got something unique, beautiful, and useful as well. That is the good news out of the way, lets go to the somewhat miserable part now.

In my previous post about that knife, I commented that making the fuller was a pain in the fundament, to which Marcus helpfully replied by reminding me about an old video by Walter Sorrels in which he made a small handheld jig to polish fullers. That has inspired me to make my own jigs for making fullers.

First I made a semi-functional attachment for my belt grinder.

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

The aluminum arm can freely swivel around the rusty screw along the right side of the upper idler wheel. It is held in position by an M8 screw on the back and the brass L- part is an end stop. When grinding, the screw on the back sets the maximum possible depth of the fuller and the brass end stop sets the distance of the fuller from the blade spine/edge depending on how I put the blade on the jig.

It works, somewhat. It does not allow me to make the fuller too deep by accident, which is a definitive plus. But it has the major disadvantage of being asymmetric, whereas blades are (mostly) symmetrical. When grinding one side, the back of the blade lays against the end stop, when doing the other side, it is the edge. That makes it difficult to make the start and finish at the same point on both sides of the blade – I have made two blades with it so far and whilst one is reasonably symmetrical, on the other the fuller is off by about 3 mm towards the tip. I wanted to toss the blade but my mother says I should finish it, so I will. Whether I will attempt to sell it, we shall see.

I intend to polish both of these blades to mirror polish, to see how much work that is and how it will look. And to polish the inside of the fuller I have made a small jig from an old furniture leg.

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

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

It is along the same general lines as the one by Walter Sorrels, only from cheaper materials and less precise. Putting the paper on is a bit fiddly and I will try and come up with a bit better system, but it does work. It is elbow-grease powered of course, so it is a lot of work, but it does allow me to apply the pressure with wrists/palms instead of fingers, so I can put my whole body weight behind it when needed. I got the fullers to 800 grit reasonably fast so I do think that I will manage to get mirror-polish without extreme suffering and pain.

And last update to my workshop is this.

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

I would love to have the grinder in a separate room, but alas I cannot afford that. And the dust was getting on my nerves, as well as everywhere else. So I have bought ash vacuum particle separator for my shop-vac. The inlet is made from a piece of leftover sheet metal held with insane amount of ductape on an extendable tube recycled from another, defunct, vaccum cleaner. It works reasonably well and although it does not catch all of the dust, it does catch most of it. As a result my workshop is a lot cleaner and I need not vacuum every surface as often as before.

And now to the total misery.

I was happy to get my licence to actually sell my knives, but I feel miserable all the same. I need to buy and set up accounting software, set up a separate bank account, contact tax/accounting consultant and buy and set up a webshop. And I am procrastinating all of those things because that is the one actual part that I hate.

I have done almost all of the things above as part of my various previous jobs (exception is setting up webshop, but I do have experience with setting up and maintaining webpages), so the problem is not that I do not know what to do. The problem is that if I do not do anything, I cannot fail, whereas when I do all those things, I can. I know it is totally silly, I know that the only way to actually succeed is to do the things that need to be done, but subconsciously (and partly consciously – the odds are not in my favor) I am just expecting failure and I do not want to go through all the hard work just to toss it after a year or two and get emploeyed at some shitty deskjob again. I want to make knives and I would love to give them away for free. But if I did that, I would not be making them for much longer. Attempting selling them is the only way how I maybe can keep making them . And I hate, hate, hate that.

I am depressed. It is irrational, and I know it, but that does not help.

Tummy Thursday: It’s Pokémon Birthday Cake Time

The kid’s birthday was already at the start of the month, but of course with my body being an asshole again I couldn’t make a cake for her actual party. Thank goodness teenagers mostly require insane amounts of food and not attention, so she could have her friends over for a small party.

Last weekend we celebrated with our friends and she got her cake for that day. She went for her favourite Eevilution, Leafeon.

©Giliell, all rights reserved      The eyes are not my best work.

©Giliell, all rights reserved Yes, that’s a ton of individually cut and applied grass blades

The inside of the cake is a standard vanilla cake with a cream cheese and cream filling. The filling was really easy and tasty: I used a packet of lemon flavour jello to mix with the cheese and the whipped cream, added some lime zest and cut canned peaches. The only problem that I had was cooling it down quickly enough for the jello to work so it wouldn’t run all out on me. I then covered the whole thing in a thin layer of buttercream before adding the fondant.

Because a German buttercream (butter with custard) has too much liquid for fondant and an Italian meringue buttercream (my usual go to buttercream) was too much work for the state of my recovery, I made an American buttercream. I usually consider American buttercream the symbol of everything that is wrong with American cake making: It’s just butter and sugar, too heavy and too sweet. I love watching cake videos, but quite often the American ones leave me a bit puzzled: Yes, this looks amazing, but all you have in there is cake and buttercream. Where’s the flavour? Do Americans really spend 200 bucks on a cake that looks great but doesn’t taste of anything but butter and sugar? Please do tell me.

It did work well here, btw, because it was only a small layer to get the surfaces even and it contrasted nicely with the tart lemony filling.

Goldfinches Come for a Visit

This year I planted some cornflowers that grew in front of the window. They were planned as degu treats, but with one thing and another, I didn’t get around to harvesting and drying them. They do look pretty sad to human eyes now, but they look damn delicious to the goldfinches. I rarely get to see them, so I was all the more surprised to find them within 30 cm of my nose, happily munching the seeds.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved This one’s grainy because I took it with my phone

Behind the Iron Curtain part 38- Vietnam War

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give a 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.

This one will be very short because the regime ended shortly before the Vietnam war was covered in the school curriculum, so we were not told a lot. History lessons in that last year were a bit scattershot, as is expected during a year in which revolution happens. And what little we were told I mostly forgot, except very few things.

Those few things could be summarized thus: The USA tactics and behavior in Vietnam were shown as essentially the same as German tactics and behavior in eastern Europe (edit: in WW2). Scorched earth, civilians massacred, war crimes committed left and right. We were shown short films about how the US forces were the baddies and how their defeat was a victory of good over evil.

It got embedded in my subconscious, but I was also aware that the USA has helped to defeat the Nazis in Europe, including in my hometown. I was unable to shake off this comparison with Nazis and I felt like it should not hold water on closer scrutiny. But it did not get better when I sought information about the conflict on my own, which was still difficult in the following decade with nonexistent internet and the history books being only slowly updated.

It would be a shock if it came quickly, but it was not because the realization came slowly over the years – whether you call it education or indoctrination, what communists said was accurate. The tactics the USA used in Vietnam were those of Nazis, no matter how you try to slice it. The USA probably could not present itself in worse light if they tried and they gave communists an excellent propaganda tool – the best propaganda might not always be one that is solidly backed by facts, it must address emotions first, but it does help if the facts are on your side too.

When I was visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. in 2000, it felt quite strange. There were people there, looking up their long-dead relatives and acquaintances. As with all war memorials, It felt quite somber and I have remained quiet and respectful as one should. But I could not shake the feeling that this is a memorial to victims of an unjust war and whilst most of the fallen soldiers being remembered were innocent draftees, there were very likely quite a few nasty war criminals with the blood of innocents on their hands among them too. To this day I did not quite figure out what to think about it.

The Art of … Caine, Again

Surprise! It’s another unfinished painting by Caine, sent in by her husband, Dakota Grease Monkey

Another unfinished artwork by C, directly painted on a wall, circa 2006. About 20″ X 20″, ( .5 X .5 meters).
I don’t know if C ever shared these works, but it’s time to share, now.

untitled portrait, ©Caine, all rights reserved.

The USA are burning, Germany is drowning

Well, how to write this post? First and foremost: I’m fine, in case anybody was worried, I thankfully live about 100 to 300km away from where this is happening. I don’t know about or other German regulars. If you see this, please check in.

Maybe you heard it on the news, but the Southwest of Germany is currently experiencing extreme flooding. So extreme that even the climate scientists who expected something like this to happen are shocked by its scale. The effects are dramatic. There are over 100 confirmed deaths so far, with thousands still being unaccounted for, though authorities are hoping that they’ve been merely cut off.

The worst happened in two states: Rhineland Palatine and Northrhine Westphalia. In Rhineland Palatine the river Ahr, usually a small meandering river that runs between vinyards, has swollen dramatically. The catastrophe there isn’t a result of sealing large parts of the ground or straightening the river. That region is usually one of those brother Grimm fairy tale landscapes: middle high mountains with wine on the slopes, forests ion the heights, a castle at the top, and a nice medieval town in the valley. After weeks and weeks of heavy rain, the ground was soaked and couldn’t take any water anymore. It all rushed down into the Ahr. And now there are places that basically no longer extist.

Description: muddy brown water with half a bridge. The other half has been destroyed .

Description: Pictures of the town Dernau. You can see the muddy brown water in the whole town.

In Northrhine Westphalia it was flooded dams that could no longer hold the water. They tried to prevent the worst by causing smaller floods beforehand, but no avail. The Wupper, usually a small river, flooded town and completely destroyed neighbourhoods.

Description: cars buried to the windshield in rubble and water

I’ll spare you my thoughts on our politicians, climate change and so on. I’m preaching to the choir anyway.