Making a Rondel Dagger – Part 15 – Troat of the Scabbard

I have decided to make the fittings for the scabbard from the same shovel that provided steel for the rondel. It is good carbon steel of appropriate thickness and I reasoned that after I grind it to remove all pitting from the outer side, it shall be thin just right. However, because I wanted to bend the steel at least in part whilst it is cold, I had to first anneal the shovel – in case you do not know, shovels are hardened and tempered. So I have decided to burn some more rotten wood, bbq dinner and anneal the shovel at the same time. Luckily the droughts in the place where I live are less severe than in the rest of CZ, so we do not have ban on fires (yet). Nevertheless, despite how it might appear, I am actually careful with fire – I always watch the direction in which the wind is blowing, I have water prepared and I douse all coals when I am done. And I have portable fireplace that I position in the middle of a gravel field¹.

I proceeded to make a paper template by wrapping it around the scabbard and adding about one cm for length. That I transferred onto the shovel and I cut the rough shape with angle grinder.

My improvised bending setup did not work as intended. The main problem being, that this steel proved to be extremely tough and hard, even annealed. I tried and tried, but it just did not work. After a few attempts I gave up and had to think up another way. I have decided that I have to do what I did not want to – forge it hot.

I could not go outside and make fire, because firstly it was way too hot outside for that and secondly because my improvised anvil for this delicate task was an old annealed file held in a vice. As a source of heat therefore I had to do with handheld propane torch and a few fireclay bricks as an impromptu forge. Unfortunately I forgot to make more detailed pictures of this process so you have to be content with red-hot glowing steel on fireclay brick laid on a granite paving stone laid on wooden bench. I see you cringe with my mind’s eye and I agree. For subsequent works I moved the whole assembly onto the circular saw table (also seen in the picture) which is made from metal and therefore fireproof. Needles to say, bucket of water was on standby the whole time and I checked the workshop a few times after I finished. I do not like doing these things inside, I will have to get some better setup, perhaps a mobile vice? I will have to think about it.

The bent strip did not fit neatly around the scabbard whatever I have done, so I decided in the end to shorten it even more so the ends do not meet, but lay just outside the stitches in leather. And to cover that gap with another slim strip of steel. this proved to be a very good fit all around.

I was thinking about whether to make the throat covered in steel or whether to let it be just the wood and leather on the inside. I decided to go for steel, which of course meant third piece, flat piece covering the throat with cut-out rough shape of the blade. Very rough. I was not even trying to aim for a good fit and I left a good 0,5-1 mm free space on all sides.

When thinking about how to connect those three parts in the most authentic manner I decided to go for silver brazing. I do not know how much silver is actually in the brazing rod I bought, but it costs 12,-€ a piece. Compare that with brass brazing rods that costs 5,-€ per five (or more) pieces. Whew. But I wanted to first try it with the more expensive silver rod because it has lower melting temperature than brass and my welding, brazing and soldering skills are not top-notch, to put it mildly. I also hoped that the silver solder will have less profound color contrast with the steel than the brass one would have. Which it does, but the color contrast is still very strong.

It took three attempts to braze the thing together with no gaps anywhere and I used up almost the whole rod. Oopsie-daisy, this is proving to be expensive. So when removing all the excess solder, i was filing it carefully and slowly onto a piece of paper and collecting all the silver dust into a little plastic bowl that I later have sealed with a lid. I hope to be able to mix that dust with boric acid and use it for brazing the chape. I certainly would not like to spend another 12,-€ on the chape alone.

As far as I know – and I would love to inspect some medieval originals sometimes – medieval craftsmen did not take particular care about the “back side” of the scabbards and scabbard fittings, or even swords for that matter. After all what is the point in finely polishing something that will not be seen? Today the aesthetics sense is slightly different and people expect things to look just perfect from all angles. I have decided to not overtly polish the back side, but I did somewhat polish and buff it for the sole reason that polished steel resists corrosion better. But, unlike on the front, I did not remove all pitting and I did not bother about some minor file scratches remaining visible there. And here you can see the result of my works these last few evenings. I will buff it with hematite befoe fixing it ont he scabbard for good.

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

The most important lesson of this exercise was perhaps that I should do these metal fittings before I shape the scabbard to its final shape and cover it with leather, and not the other way around. In retrospect it seems like something from The Collected Sayings of Captain Bloody Obvious, but fitting a piece of soft wood and leather into a steel tube should be easier than to form a steel tube around a piece of soft wood and leather. I tried to google how to do scabbard throat before I did anything of this, but I do not remember seeing this mentioned anywhere.

Last piece in the mosaic is the chape then. And then there will be pictures.

1 – The bough you can see is one that I “harvested” near the road, where it broke off of an elderly apple tree. The city seemed unwilling to clean it up, so I confiscated it for knife handles.

Anatomy Atlas Part 19 – Torso Muscles

Compared to the back, muscles on the front of the torso are relatively well-known even to laypeople. Prominent pectoral muscles and the famed “six-pack” are shown-off in comic books, movies, advertisements etcetera ad nauseam.

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

However Professor Kos had nothing interesting to say about any of the muscles shown here, except the musculus platysma, which is not on the torso but on the neck.

It is a thin sheet muscle, directly under the skin to which it is connected with fascia. In humans it is a muscle of relatively minor importance, nearly a vestigial organ. But vestigial of what? According to Professor Kos, its function can be really well observed in horses and cattle. These animals use their tails and ears to try to keep flies and mosquitoes at least somewhat at bay, however they cannot effectively reach their necks and parts of torso. However what they can do, and do (I have in fact observed this myself) they can flex their  musculus platysma and similar thin muscle sheets directly under the skin, thus giving their skin a mighty shake in some places that can scare some insects off.

It is a nice story, but I doubt that this is original purpose of this muscle and its equivalents somewhere else on the body. More likely it is its repurposing for another function. Who knows?

The Completely Wrong Way to Cook Shrimp. Deliciously.

No politics today. Giliell¹ got me drooling so I cooked myself really generous lunch today and now, two hours later, I am still barely able to move. And because I did not follow any recipe anywhere and was more “freestyling” I have decided to make pictures just in case. And write-up the recipe and share it, because it turned out very tasty.

The Ingredients. ©Charly, all rights reserved

The ingredients are, as you see, one very big tomato, one lime, two cloves of garlic, about one half of a leek and a very, very small pattypan. The lime and the leek are store-bought, the rest is the courtesy of our garden. Not shown here is rice, because rice is rice and there is nothing interesting about it.

However with rice I started, because I like natural rice and that takes half an hour to cook. So first thing I have done was to start cooking rice, start the timer for half an hour and then proceed to make the next step.

Shrimp Bath. ©Charly, all rights reserved

Next step was prepare the water for cooking shrimp, because those need a bit of time to cook too. For this I have used the lime and I squeezed all the juice out of it into about half a liter of water. I added white pepper, shredded caraway, about a tea-spoon of salt and splashed in some olive oil with garlic essence (If I did not have olive oil with garlic essence, I would have thrown in third clover of garlic). I have set the water to boil and proceeded to cut or otherwise preparing other ingredients.

Preparing the shrimp was easy. Take the bag out of the freezer, take out one serving of shrimp, give shrimp into a mug, give the bag with the rest of the shrimp into the freezer.

Chopped up veggies . ©Charly, all rights reserved

Rest of the ingredients had to be chopped. Well, except the peas. The pattypan into about 20×20 mm bits 5 mm thick, the leek into rings and the garlic into tiny bits, but not too tiny. And the tomatoes into thin crescents, although ring would work just fine too.

I cut all the green stuff out of the tomato and toss it away. It has unpleasant taste and contains unhealthy toxin, so it hardly counts as wasting food.

The pattypan was rather harder than I thought it would be, To cut it and peel of the 1 mm waxy skin I had to use a small knife, because the big one was not a safe option for that task.

At this stage the water for shrimp started to boil, so in they went, still frozen. I had to ramp up the power afterwards for a bit so it starts to boil again quickly, and once it did I have put a lid on it and let it slowly boil for about 15-20 minutes.


Leek Rings. ©Charly, all rights reserved

Frying pattypan. ©Charly, all rights reserved

I put a generous amount of sunflower oil into a frying pan, heated it up to 150°C and fried slightly the leek rings. When they just about started to turn transparent, I have thrown in the pattypan bits and also fried them to the point when they surface started to turn transparent and darkened. As I said, I was freestyling, but I had a reason to do it this way – the darkening signifies the breaking of cell walls and it is the point where the veggies start eventually lose water and suck in the fat. And I did not want too much of that.

Simmering Veggies. ©Charly, all rights reserved

When I judged the leek and pattypan to be at the right stage, I tossed in the tomato with a pinch of salt and the green peas and with occasional stirring gently simmered it under cover for about ten minutes.  The tomato was very juicy, but still I had to add a bit of water twice, because I have kept the temperature relatively high.

Tomatoes actually lose a lot of taste to fat, but this was exactly the reason why I used generous amount of oil at the beginning. Because I have done similar thing before, with different vegetable mixes, but the cooked shrimp were always relatively bland and without much taste – they were not bad, exactly, but they were not delicious either.

Frying Shrimp. ©Charly, all rights reserved

Therefore this time I had another plan for the shrimp than just to cook them. When the veggies were cooked I put them into saucer and I poured as much of the sauce and oil back into the frying pan as I could manage. And after that I have thrown in the shrimp with the finely chopped up garlic and ramped up the powah.

The shrimp simmered with the garlic for a bit in the sauce, and when the water evaporated and only mostly oil remained, they started to fry as well. I was frying them for just a few minutes, until they changed colour from opaque white-pink into just-barely transparent gold-brown, but not as long as to burn the garlic which would have turned bitter. When I considered them finished I took them out of the oil and onto the veggies and rice in the saucer they went.

And here it is. It turned out also to be ever so slightly more than one serving, so if you decide to reproduce my recipe, take that into account when scaling for more people. However I cannot guarantee you will enjoy it as much as I did. This time, the shrimp were juicy and their unique taste was finally brought out with just a touch of garlic and not completely outcompeted by the vegetables.

A very generous serving. ©Charly, all rights reserved

1 –  Not blaming, quite the opposite.

Not an Alien Facehugger.

The crab spider on our Sunflower has grown pretty big and fat. The diet of bees apparently suits it well (I have seen it to eat another unfortunate bee).

I think this picture shows how the spider manages to subdue much bigger prey without falling off the plant with it during the struggle, although I have not had the luck to see it in “action”. You can see that the spider has built a small web and has thus essentially tethered itself with spider silk to the plant. Ingenious.

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

The Handmade Dilemma

The heat is killing me. Temperatures outdoor during the day over 35 °C, overnight never lower than 18 °C. Temperatures indoor 28 °C throughout the day and there is nothing I can do about it – if I open the windows wide, the house will be swarmed by mosquitoes in minutes. I have nets, in some windows, and in normal weather those suffice for ventilation. Not in this weather though.

So works on the dagger progresses at a snail’s pace. Not that it matters much, because snail’s pace is also the speed at which linseed oil hardens. But it means it is unlikely I will have anything to post about it anytime soon. However, that does not stop me thinking about stuff and one of the things I am thinking about – will it be fair to say, that the dagger is handmade?

In the past, when I have made a knife, it was truly and undoubtedly handmade. The only electrical tool I had was a drill that I used to make holes for pins. Everything else I had to do manually, with hand-held and hand powered tools, whereas today I have a table top belt grinder, handheld belt grinder, an angle grinder, a lathe, a bandsaw, a circular saw and a jigsaw. And in due course I intend to build a power hammer and a polishing drum.

And I do not spare any of those electrical tools. If I can save time or my muscles by using electricity, I do it without hesitation. But there are some purists, who would argue that therefore things I do are not handmade.

I disagree with that.

The way I see it, these electrical tools are nothing but providers of raw power. They do not provide or increase any skill – all that still has to come from my hands, because ultimately they guide either the tool or the workpiece during work and therefore determine its quality. In fact, some of the tools – especially the belt grinder – require a slightly different set of skills to do the work properly, than doing the same work with bastard file and a set of polishing stones would.

So I think the dagger is handmade. And purists can go and purify themselves.



Anatomy Atlas Part 18 – Arm Muscles

I mentioned that hands are a marvel – and so are arms. However the muscle structure is a bit weird.

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

If you have ever wondered why biceps are called biceps, now you have the answer. The musculus biceps brachii splits into two parts on the upper end  and each is attached to a different part of the shoulder-blade. Whilst it its the most prominent muscle and its development is seen as a sign of strength, biceps is not the strongest flexor in the arm. That is in fact musculus brachialis which lies underneath, connects to ulna it and generally is not seen very much.

Professor Kos mentioned that this arrangement of these two muscles leads to one peculiar thing – flexing of the arm can exert more force when done palm up, than when palm down. Why? Because when the palm is directed down, the musculus biceps has its load bearing tendon wound around the radius to which it is connected. Therefore it cannot flex without also trying to turn the hand palm up.

So when lifting things by flexing your arm palm-down, only two muscles – m. brachialis and m. brachioradialis – can exert force, whereas palm up the m. biceps can join for more strength.

Why is it like this I do not know, but had it been designed, the engineer would deserve at least a pay cut.

Behind the Iron Curtain part 14 – Greyness

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.

Coincidentally my mother mentioned to me that she overheard some talk about people who emigrated from here before the fall of the Iron Curtain, and this year was the first time they visited since then. Allegedly they were speechless when they saw the town.

I find it totally believable, because independently from this I was just thinking about the same – how much the country has changed, visibly, for the better since then. Because if there is one overwhelming association that I have with the “good old times” as some people insist calling them, it is an overwhelming sense of dullness, and not because we mostly have black and white photographs and movies from that era.

Today people are used to simply go and buy things they need. Want to plant flowers in your front yard? Well, you can buy them! Want to paint house bright yellow? Well, buy the paint! That was not always the case. I have already mentioned the scarcity of even some basic goods. And those that were available, were often (not always) of questionable quality, because high quality goods were exported to the west so the regime can actually make some money to run itself.

So most buildings were grey on the outside, no matter whether public or private. Not that it was always intended to be grey – privately people did sometimes at least whitewash the walls, and public buildings occasionally had some not very bright pigmentation in the plaster. But no matter what one did, in a few years time it has turned grey-ish due to the ever-present air pollution and dust. So many people, and most of public projects, did not bother and the favourite finish for facades became so-called brizolit, cheap, durable, low-maintenance and, above all, dull and grey.

Private house owners did what they could at least with the gardens – sometimes. It took real dedication for years to build, for example, rock garden, like one of my aunts had. But even the flowers could not fight against dirt and their bright colours did not last for more than a few days at best. And getting new varieties or replacing dead plants required connections, because, you guessed it, you could not simply go and buy a rhododendron to plant whenever the fancy took you, even if you had the money.

So only houses of those really well-off, well connected, those unscrupulous and those extremely dedicated looked somewhat-fancy at least some of the time.

However as a child I did not know anything else, so I thought this is how it is supposed to be. This is normal. It was only much later, shortly after the Iron Curtain fell, when I had an opportunity to cross the border to Germany and visit the town where I now work. The contrast was incredible. Every garden neatly kept, mostly with at least some decorative shrubbery and a patch of flowers. Facades also well maintained, brightly painted, with whites white, greens green and reds red. Even the macadam streets looked cleaner and it is hard for a road to look clean.

The Iron curtain has really managed only to make the whole country look poor and rather mediocre at its best. The black and white photographs are sometimes actualy an improvement over the real thing.

Sunny Spider

As I was walking around the sunflower yesterday evening, making some pictures before the sun sets, I noticed a strangely positioned bee. When I looked closer, I realized that it is strangely positioned because it is dead and being held by a bright yellow crab spider. You can see it in the yesterday picture, if you look close enough.

So of course I had to go for a macro lens (the one I have built) and make a few close-up pictures. I tried my hand even at filming the fellow and it did not turn out all that bad considering that I do not have monopod (but I should buy one).

I have no idea what those little flies are doing there. Maybe they are insect equivalents of vultures? That spider must be strong and have quick venom to subdue a bee twice its size quick enough to keep a hold on it.

Video is bellow the fold.

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

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Lunar Eclipse 2018

These are my pictures of the event. Unfortunately half the time I did not know what I was doing, half the time I knew that what I am doing is wrong, and half the time I could not even see what I am doing. That gives you one and half of a clueless dork. It was exciting nevertheless and I am happy I could see such a thing. I wanted to witness lunar eclipse ever since I was reading about them in books as a little boy.

I think a few pictures are worth sharing. Here is the first one, taken just after the sky finally cleared and I found the dim moon in the sky. Rest is bellow the fold. The pictures are in chronological order, also the last ones show the Moon emerging from the Earth’s shadow.

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