Bobbin Lace, Pandemics and Christian Morals

You may be justifiably baffled about the title – what do these three things have in common? And, understandably, you probably can’t guess the correct answer. Because that answer is my maternal grandmother.

I have never met any of my grandparents, all except my grandfather died before my parents even met, and my grandfather has died when I was merely three years old. So I know very little about any of them, except for what my parents have told me. And today I would like to share a story about how the bobbin-lace-making tradition started in our family. It is not a nice story.

My grandmother has broken her leg during play when she was four, she fell from a haywagon and her leg got between the spokes of the wheel. Her parents wanted to take her to the hospital, but her father’s mother has refused to pay for it, saying that God will take care of things. He did not. In fact, it got worse to a point that when they finally did go to the hospital, it was too late and the leg was beyond repair. It stopped growing and no attempts at mending it worked, including a graft of healthy bone from the other leg.

A few years later, when my grandmother was seven years old, the Spanis-flu pandemics has broken out and her mother got sick. She was delirious from fever and kept hugging my grandmother saying “My poor child, if I die, I want you to die with me, they will torture you when I am gone.”  Unfortunately, she died and…

From what I gather, my grandmother’s father was a mild-mannered man. A gamekeeper who preferred the quiet of the forests to people. He was not very keen on religious practice, saying that he meets with God in the forests and does not need to go to church. But at home, he was completely in tow of his abusive, miserly, and religiously devout catholic mother, who ruled the family with an iron hand. They lived at a homestead, and that means a lot of work needs to be done on daily basis. Oftentimes hard work even for healthy people.  And everyone was expected to do their share. My grandmother had three healthy sisters, and she was constantly shunned and mocked for not being able to work properly. At one point her grandmother has refused to “feed the cripple any longer” and when she was eleven years old, she was sent to a cloister.

A cloister that was adjacent to a castle and has provided a lot of free-child-labor to the said castle. My grandmother was of course not suitable for many works, but she was very apt with her hands, and she learned several useful crafts there. Including bobbin-lace making – the cloister made bobbin-lace for the countess. She liked those crafts, but my guess is she would probably like them better if they did not come with a sidedish of beatings and hunger as a punishment for not meeting the daily quota of work.

At seventeen years old she was poised to become a nun, but this is when her luck finally broke for better. An employee of a mask and wig lending shop from a big city was shortly at the cloister and she noticed the exceptional skill of my grandmother. And she asked her if she would like to come to the big city to work at the company. And she did. But she was not of age yet, so she needed consent from her father to go.

The parish priest had a bad conscience with regard to her, for not putting pressure on her grandmother to send her to hospital in time. And one nun has liked her and wanted for her a better future than the cloister. So they conspired to prepare the paperwork and catch her father at the marketplace, where he went alone without being supervised by the abusive family matriarch. And he signed the papers without arguing.

And that way my grandmother escaped abuse and finally got to live on her own. Two years later her bad leg had to be amputated, but she got on to live a happy (for the times – WW2, then totalitarian communist rule etc.) life. And she kept making bobbin lace and passed the craft onto one of her daughters. Who passed it onto me, where it stops.

Today, my mother has finished another of her masterpieces. A round tablecloth, 80 cm across. She worked on it for 220 hours and has used 1530 m of thread. It is beautiful and I do wish I had a cheerier story to tell with it.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size


TNET 44: Manscaped

I am not going to embed any of those or link to their site, but I have got an awful lot of ads on YouTube lately for the products in the title and I totally do not get it. Like, at all, on so, so many levels. It is a male-centered effort similar to the one that convinced women they should shave their legs.

At some time in our evolution, our species has decided for selecting for hair that grows almost indefinitely on our heads and to a very limited degree on other parts. It is a sad fact that cutting/trimming or excessively grooming head and facial hair is a necessity, otherwise it would get too big and entangled and would impede normal function. Those are our species’ equivalent of peacock’s tails or irish elk’s antlers. And I do get why someone would opt for regular shaving instead of regular trimming for whatever reasons – convenience, aesthetic preference etc. We have to chose there one of several options.

But I completely do not get why I should shave my chest or my groin. And I won’t. Regular hygiene is sufficient to keep me comfy and non-smelly and there is absolutely no health benefit to shaving body hair. In my case, there is even a downside which also the reason why I have a beard – I have sensitive skin and I react badly to shaving. However, that is not the point. We are the only species that is capable to alter or even downright mutilate perfectly healthy bodies for mere fashion. I will never understand why some people feel the need to inject pigment into healthy skin, or pierce and cut healthy functional organs in order to put pieces of metal in them. Oftentimes in a manner that impedes normal functioning and sometimes even endangers health.

I am not saying people should not be allowed to shave their balls, tatoo their faces, or pierce their tongues. Your body, your choice, just do not expect a compliment from me and we will get along just fine. But I find it ridiculous if it is a personal choice, doubly ridiculous if it is a fashion trend and several orders of magnitudes ridiculous if it is a concentrated effort of a company to sell me products that I neither need nor want. Unfortunately, they will probably succeed in convincing some, even though not me personally.

Open thread, you can talk whatever you want, under the condition of not being an asshole.

Previous thread.

Branding Stamp

I am finishing the kitchen-knives sets, and one of the tools that I was still missing in my toolbox was a branding stamp that could be used for wood and leather. For leather, I have used an impromptu one made from wood stabilized with epoxy, but that cannot be used to brand wood of course. But when making that I have figured out a process that could be also applied to making one out of steel, so after a lot of procrastinating the task, today I have finally bitten the bullet and took the two hours it needed.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

The handle is from an extremely old and out-of-shape potato peeler. Maybe even antique, but I know of no museum that would take it of my hands so I have recycled it. The screw is recycled from old furniture. The stamp itself is from tool steel, although I will not be hardening it.

I could not tap the hole in the stamp very deep and well without re-grinding and thus destroying the taps, because standard taps need to go through.  Thus I could not cut very good threads in there, just two turns of half-assed ones. But that should not be a problem, a few dents for the thread to latch on to should suffice, friction should take care of the rest. It is not supposed to come apart, and if it comes apart, I will braze it.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

The one advantage of having a logo consisting of only straight lines is that it made the job relatively easy. A bit of filing, a bit of grinding with an angle-grinder, and here we go. Up close there are some flaws and the width to height ratio is a tiny bit off, but that is just life. I have tossed one attempt due to flaws, but I think this one will do.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

Wood branding is not an exact science, there will always be some irregularities. But with some practice, I should get crisp and nice logos that can be placed even in visible areas. Which is my intention.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

And there is absolutely no doubt that on leather, the results are way, way better than those I got with my wood-carved impromptu stamp.

I may give it a go one more time to get the proportions better, but in the meantime, I am going to use this one. I doubt anyone will complain about it.


Kitchen Knives Set – Part 7: Getting to Grips

These knives have full-width tangs, but no visible pins. As far as I can tell, nobody else is using this type of construction, so it might be somewhat unique

A few years ago Walter Sorrels made a video in which he tested various glues for fixing scales to tangs without pins. He made several mock-up knives from mild steel for this and they all have failed his stress test. Which consisted of tossing them in the air and letting them fall on the concrete pavement. As it turns out, the shearing forces during these impacts were too big for the glue to reliably stick to the steel and they all delaminated. But he gave me an idea on how to overcome this problem. I have tested the idea on one broken blade and it held out to several hammer blows before the scales delaminated  – and at that point, it was not only the glue that was failing but also the wood was starting to shatter and break. And since knife handles are not supposed to be hit with a hammer so I think it should be OK. I really hope it works out in the long term because I am going to make a lot of these. So if you want to know how this goes, read on. [Read more…]

Bramblings Whoosh

This year we have snowy winter. The snow came late, but it came in droves. And with plenty of snow also came bramblings, a flock of about 30 individuals. They returned multiple times, and I have managed to get some pictures, although the light was less than ideal.

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

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

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

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

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

YouTube Video: 5 Biggest Lies of Knife Sharpening

In my opinion, every household should have at least one person who knows how to sharpen a knife and occasionally does so. Not that good knives need to be sharpened very often, but even the best knife will get a bit dull at some point and it will need to be sharpened.

But most of my friends do not know how to sharpen knives, some are even afraid of it. There is in my opinion absolutely no need to be afraid of sharpening knives, and you do not need any fancy or expensive equipment either. And when searching for knife sharpening info online, one can encounter some pretty wild stuff, sometimes stuff that is not true.

Two-three years ago during one of my yearly get-together with friends from university, I was (as usual) dismayed by the state of knives in the communal kitchen at our lodging, so I have decided to sharpen at least one knife to a state when it will cut and not squish. However, on this particular trip, I have forgotten to take a whetstone, so I had to do without it.

I went on a walk in the forest and I have checked the geology on the wayside, where the bare rock was exposed. It was granite, which is of no use. However, where is granite, there often are metamorphic shales nearby, so I went further – and it was indeed just a few km further (about a half-hour walk). This particular metamorphic shale was phyllite, which is suitable for making a whetstone. So I took two stones to a nearby stream and I ground them against each other until I got perfectly flat surfaces.

And thus obtained whetstone worked perfectly well. The knife did not have the best edge it could get, but it was good enough for cutting safely and comfortably. I have even managed to teach one of my friends how to sharpen with it, and I did recommend to him to buy a professionally made one afterward.

And what did I recommend to him to buy? A cheap two-layer whetstone for 10,-€, 100 and 300 grit. The same one with which my father was sharpening knives his whole life and which I sometimes take with me on my travels.

If you are interested in learning how to sharpen a knife, I do recommend the above mentioned Burrfection YouTube channel. He does explain the principles well, without exaggerating. And he supports his claims with empirical evidence. For example, I have said to my friend that sharpening angle more or less does not matter if it is between 10-20° and constant throughout the blade. That claim was based on nothing more than my subjective experience, which could be mistaken. But Burrfection did say the same and he has the equipment to test the said claim. So he did.

Do not be afraid of knife sharpening. The basics are easy and more than enough for a typical store-bought mass-produced western knife.


These were very welcome visitors – about 8 to 10 of them. Last year I have seen no goldfinches at all, the whole year. A small flock last week made me really happy.

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

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

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

So, Does Homemade Honing Steel Work?

I think it does.

My mom’s knives needed to be sharpened. Normally I would sharpen the knives with the current manufactured batch, but since the honing steels, whilst not finished yet, got to a stage when they can be at least tested, I have decided to test them. So instead of sharpening the knives on my belt grinder and stropping them with the MDF wheel, I have sharpened them the old fashioned way on a whetstone and then honed the edge on steel.

First a picture of a “blunted edge” bevel.

Edge bevel before sharpening. © Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

You can see the perpendicular scratches right near the edge. Those were made by the belt sander. The angled scratches are from half-arsed maintenance with a whetstone that I have done last week when I did not have time to do the job properly. This is not, strictly speaking, a blunt knife. It would still take yer finger off in a jiffy and was perfectly fine for hard veggies like carrots and taters. But it did struggle with tomatoes a bit. Notice how the light reflects differently from the mirror-polished primary bevel, which thus appears nearly black.

As far as size goes. this bevel is very small – about 0,3 mm wide.

100 grit bevel re-established at ca 15 °
© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

First I have re-established nice regular bevels at 15° with the rough side of the whetstone, which has circa 100 grit. 15-20 passes were needed, even though the bevels are very small – the steel is very hard. It does not look very different from the first picture, except for the scratches being all angled all the way to the edge now. On carbon steel, this would establish a so-called “needle” which is a thin foil of steel on the edge that bends and cannot be ground away, but I have not seen this happen with N690. The needle here breaks usually off very easily, leaving behind a bit of jagged edge.

320 grit bevel smoothened
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Fine 320 grit side of the whetstone is used to slightly smooth the edges and eventually break off the needle on harder and brittle steels (like most stainless steels). However here it does not look that much different from the second picture, which I did not expect. The knife at this stage is perfectly capable of cutting tomatoes, but it does not shave hair yet. And this is where the test of the honing steels comes into play.

Bevel burnished by honing steel.
© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full

Now the bevel looks significantly different from before. Note that the edge is now mirror-polished between some of the deeper scratches – the light reflects very differently from the bevel than it did before. The knife is now also shaving-sharp not only tomato-cutting-with-its-own-weight sharp.

So TLDR is –  Although this is not a scientific proof, I am convinced and I think the honing steel works as intended.