This is how swordfights in movies should be done.
Open thread, talk whatever you want, just don’t be an asshole.
It is raining for over a week so I went to the forest last week to check whether the mushroom season has started. It has not, but it keeps raining still so I will check once a week from now on, and I hope I will manage to get some boletes at some point. We ate already all that I picked a few years ago so we need to re-fill the pantry.
I did not take the camera with me, and I did not encounter many things worth taking pictures of anyway. But I did take a picture of my favorite beech tree with my phone.
It is not particularly huge, but it is not small either. It managed to keep the ground around itself clear of undergrowth for decades and I always stop by when going to that part of the forest. It has beautiful roots and all in all, is full of character. One can imagine this to be one of those trees that dryads inhabit and protect.
My Sharpenatrix was working well enough but having to tighten the screws holding the blade each time was a bit annoying. So I bought some stainless-steel non-magnetic screws and a bunch of neodymium magnets to play with. And some of those magnets were small cylindrical magnets with a screw, and those were ideal for a quick upgrade of the Sharpenatrix.
Here is a composite picture of the upgraded thingy.
I screwed three magnets into the end of a 5 mm strip of aluminum, glued on it another strip to make a continuous plane with the magnetic side of the magnets and I used the non-magnetic screw to make an end-stop to lean the back of the blade against. Spanning the blade is now a matter of seconds and whilst the magnets do not hold it extremely strongly, they do hold it strong enough to keep the constant angle during sharpening. And they allow me to adjust the blade position slightly and quickly, giving me greater versatility.
The screw can be adjusted to the thickness of the blade but its purpose is not to hold the blade firmly – that is done solely by the magnets – but to avoid levering/twisting the blade off the magnets when I lean it against the belt. The side with the screw is now significantly thinner than the side with the magnets, which allows me to sharpen at a constant angle blades that were too narrow for the previous version.
I have not actually tested it yet, I do not have any knives that need sharpening right now but I see no reason why it should not work.
I have also bought 500 5x5x5 neodymium magnets for making more sophistimacated magnetic chucks in due course.
I got a small commission and I have decided to make a series of blog posts about it. It will repeat a lot of the same things that were already said in my series Making Kitchen Knives and subsequent projects, streamlined and with as little technical jargon as possible. That is why I have decided to not publish it on FtB and I have started a blog on my website specifically for this series and it will be published there both in CZ and EN. If you are interested in reading it anyway, come over there, my website could use some traffic at least. I have not figured out how to add comments yet, I might need to use Disqus for that and I haven’t used Disqus for several years now and I forgot how to implement it. The service provider only offers implementation of Facebook comments and I ain’t got Facebook and I ain’t planning on getting it. I do, however, have a Twitter account and I will tweet my articles there. So if you are interested in being notified about them, follow me on Twitter.
I will continue to post my art projects, including knife-making projects, on Affinity too, but I think I do not need to repeat myself about the manufacturing process so I will only post here genuinely new things.
This is the little one’s fault (yeah, the little one. Almost as tall as me). She saw something like this on the net and asked if there was a place near where you can paint your own ceramics. I found one and invited the kids for Easter. While I dislike making huge presents for Easter, you can basically always get me to spend money on making memories. If there’s a place like that near you and you have kids ages 5 to 99 who enjoy creative stuff, I can only recommend. The nice thing is that since it’s professionally fired in a kiln, you get lasting designs, not like with other paint on techniques.
So, here’s what we did:
The little one’s haul: lots of dots there. And a kitty, because she loves cats.
#1 worked painstakingly on her Sakura blossom tree. The picture doesn’t do it justice, since it doesn’t show the many layers.
Well, and what did I do?
My new favourite mug. I love, love, love Totoro. It’s such a wonderful movie and I identify with Totoro: We’re both fat, grey haired and love naps, children and gardening.
I also did a plate which turned out completely different than planned.
The place offers you a lot of materials, like stencils, and also an introduction: you can always paint dark on light colours, but not vice versa. When fired in the kiln, they turn transparent and the dark colour underneath comes through. What I wanted to do was to use a mandala stencil to add a geometric pattern in black and then paint the spaces in between with vibrant colours. Buuuuut, well, with the curve of the plate and the clumsiness of the artist the black colour ran and smudged. If you look closely above the whale, you can see it shine through. I needed to save it and painted layers upon layers, smudging the black, drawing it out, creating a deep sea and the scratching out the whale with the help of another stencil. It turned out nice and I’ll try to create the other plate another time.
This is the second three-piece set from the second overabladeance that I have finished. It is what you might call “vegan” set, because there are no animal parts involved in this one, it is made purely from plant material – black locust and coconut shell.
It is more or less a direct, slightly simplified, follow-up of the experimental knife set. This time the surfaces are not oiled but sealed with epoxy and buffed, just like with the jatoba&bone set from yesterday.
I hope to be able to put all three sets on the shoppe tomorrow. More pictures are, again, on Instagram.
In the second overabladeance were three tree-knives sets, two of which are finished now.
The first one is from jatoba and cow bone.
As is usual, the cow bone has had some pores that accrued the reddish dust from the jatoba during work despite my best efforts to seal the surface of the bone with epoxy before sanding and polishing the handles. At least that way it is clear that it is a real bone and not some synthetic substitute, I guess? The number etching on the chef knife is a bit smudged. I still do not know why it behaves wonky from time to time – on one and the same piece of steel it can happen that I etch one part crisply without problems and a few cm besides that it suddenly does not work properly.
Fitting the rounded bone pieces to the extremely hard jatoba wood was not exactly easy but I managed a reasonably good fit in all nine instances. On this set, I have infused the surfaces with resin, smoothed them with 600-grit paper, and then coated them with resin again. Only after that did I buff it. Thus the whole set has extremely hard surfaces and it is a bit shiny.
I do know that this whole set is suitable for like 99% of all imaginable kitchen works because it is based on an experimental knife set I wrote about previously which has been very thoroughly tested by now. I have used it to cut both veggies and meat, gut fish, and de-bone chicken and there was a knife in this set for all the tasks that I could think of. This set is slightly modified – the blades are pointer and they do not have round-heeled ricasso. I like rounded tips and round-heeled ricasso but I did not convince many people about the advantages of round tips on knives and blades without ricasso are easier to make.
Again, the set will be for sale in the shoppe sometime towards the end of the week and there are more pictures on Instagram.
First a set made from an apple branch fork. I have left some of the woodborer’s lacework visible, most of which was just below the bark. Deeper holes and cracks were filled with brown-dyed epoxy.
The stand and the handles are made from one piece of wood and the grain on the handles is a continuation (plus-minus a few mm) of the grain in the bloc. I added some solder weight to the bottom of the bloc so it is heavier and more stable because I did not want o disturb the shape by adding legs. I aimed for a more flowing and organic look and two straight metal legs would distract from that. I also have tacked on a few anti-friction pads.
It was not easy to make the slits for the blades so they are a bit rough around the edges but that is OK and in line with the design. When I was deciding how to close the back of the slits, the nearly invisible seamless gluing of flat boards that I do for straight bloc designs was not an option so instead of trying to hide it, I opted for a bold contrast. I glued in a black-locust strip and I have left enough space for a dark-brown epoxy strip around the edges too.
The bigger knife has some chatoyancy in the handle, something that I did not expect. But I did not make the wood too shiny – I only sealed it with one epoxy dip and I did not seal it for a second time like I do for shinier surfaces – I have just buffed and waxed the set. Thus all the wood has a somewhat satin look to it and the handles are nicely grippy.
The bigger blade has a minor etching defect near the handle that I thought would be hidden under the scale but It is not, unfortunately, because I made a slight mistake in the glue-up. Also, the blade is slightly thicker and heavier than is typical for this type of my knives, it has a somewhat “choppy” feel to it. All in all, it is a mixed bag as usual, I am not proud of the work I did, but I do not hate it either.
Sometime during this week, the set will be available in the shoppe. There also are slightly more pictures on Instagram.
You have seen my money tree Crassula ovata before. It is probably my oldest bonsai tree, now somewhere near 60 years old and it is still healthy and it still grows strong. This is how it looked this spring before pruning.
Money tree is probably the best tree for anyone who wants to begin growing bonsai or having just a few of them without spending a lot of time with care. It is extremely easy to propagate – virtually any cutting of any size, including a single leaf, can take root and grow into a new plant. It grows reasonably fast, but not extremely fast – a few cm to a dm a year – and it makes nice, thick trunks in just a few years. It is not very flexible regarding shapes and it cannot be formed by the use of a wire but it can be formed by simple pruning into interesting informal shapes nevertheless.
Money trees are extremely low-maintenance. They survive severe neglect, not being watered for weeks on end. They can survive both in direct sun and in half-shade (although shade makes them spindly and unseemly). Aphids and other common pests leave them alone, and birds and rodents too. They are not choosy about substrate either and they need not be re-planted for years without suffering. Probably the only thing that can reliably kill money trees is a combination of wet and cold – but they can survive a dry cold of around 10°C without a problem.
Here is my tree after pruning.
The tree was cut back a lot and thus it looks a bit unseemly right now but that will be rectified in a month or so. When cutting money trees the cuts do not need to be treated in any way – another plus – because the cut piece will dry and fall off at the closest pair of leaves/buds on its own, leaving a clean and closed surface behind it.
And here is a bucket of pruned offcuts.
Each of the offcuts could be grown into a new tree if I desired to do so. Indeed I have in the past used some of these off-cuts to grow new plants and one of them I gave to one of my friends. That is how I learned its only weakness – his mother was watering the plant too zealously when he was away and it succumbed to root rot. But I have kept some of the pieces that I have cut off in the past and I composed them into a nice little bonsai forest, about 10 years old now.
This demonstrates another specific need for money trees- deeper pots. They do not make strong structural roots like true trees so they need a bit of depth to anchor them properly.
The best routine for money trees: in the summer put outdoors in full sun, out of the wind and rain, and water regularly when the weather is warm. Do not water when the weather is cold and rainy. When temperatures drop to ~10°C at night, move indoors, into a light but cool-ish place, and do not water at all or at the most once-twice a month a bit of splash. In the spring cut back strongly to promote new growth. If kept indoors all year round, the best would be a south-facing window and the plant needs to be turned twice a week at about 90° to prevent it from bending towards the window. Use substrate for succulents and deeper pots with big enough drainage holes. With just a bit of care, you can have a plant that will look well for decades and won’t die on you if you need to go on a business trip and leave it alone for a few days.
This year the tree took its time to start growing – it only started a few days ago, at the beginning of May. I was already worrying again since this is the only specimen that I have and if it dies, it is unlikely I would ever be able to replace it – it took about ten years to find one seed, dammit. But it started to grow, finally. and it looks promising.
Last year it grew three branches on the main stem in the end. I cut them all down this year and they all are sprouting 2-3 buds so it is branching out, which is good.
We shall see what form the tree chooses. Preliminarily it appears to be suitable for formal broom style. I am reluctant to use wire on this wood at all, it grows relatively fast in thickness and length so there is a great risk of ingrowth, plus it is a very hard and strong wood so it would probably be prone to breaking when stressed incorrectly. And broom style often does not require the use of wire, just judicious pruning. And spreading the soft twigs apart early in the spring, which can be done by simply inserting a piece of cardboard between them as a temporary spacer. Which I did last year and I probably will have to do this year again since the tree still has a very strong tendency to grow straight upwards. That is normal for seedlings and it should slow down as it matures.
I have also worked on my other bonsai, repotting them. When they are picture-worthy again, I hope to write a few more articles about species suitable for beginners. Right now, I am very tired. A bit more than usual because in addition to re-planting the trees, I have also built a shade over them. It was necessary because my trees suffered greatly these last few years when it rained very sparsely and the summer heat was abnormally intense. I had to, on occasion, put some trees manually into the shade near the house, so I have decided this year to bring shade to all of them right from the start. I hope it will also mean I will need less water for the trees during the summer.
I have re-purposed welded U-poles for a clothesline that we used to have in our garden before we got an electric clothes dryer. I put the poles over the bonsai bench and instead of clotheslines, I spanned between them thick 4 mm wires. And instead of hanging up clothes, I spanned a shading net between those wires, using our old clothespins. Should the clothespins not hold up to windy weather, I will sew the net to the wires with a rope. Although I do hope the clothespins will suffice because I will need to take the nets off again before winter.
I hope to have the spoons to write at least a few posts about bonsai trees again and today I will write a bit about one genus that I consider very suitable for beginners – larches. Among coniferous trees, larches have several huge advantages.
You have already seen one of my larch trees in the past. And today I have made pictures of the rest and I will write something about how to care for them.
First, the tree that was in the previous post, how it looks this year before re-poting.
As you can see, it has grown slightly bigger, but not that much considering it’s been six years. And it is flowering again, showing that it is indeed a mature tree and not just a few years old seedling. But it had to be put in a slightly bigger pot because there is a limit to how much back the crown can be cut – new twigs can only sprout from brachyblasts, they cannot be cut back beyond them, and the roots must be of adequate size for the crown to prosper. So with a larch tree, either start with an oversized pot or expect to increase pot size every few years ever so slightly. The base of the trunk has visible roots and is covered with moss and lichen – as it should be.
The next tree demonstrates the sturdiness of larches.
Initially, it was very similar to the first tree (and they both are from seeds planted in the same year). But two years ago, most of this tree’s crown has not survived dry summer followed by a tough winter. But it bounced back remarkably from a lower branch and as you can see, it has acquired quite a character in just two years. To help the tree to recover its strengths, I have put it into a slightly larger and deeper pot and I will continue to do so for another year/two depending on how it fares. But it looks quite well and the dead wood is now part of the composition. And the tree has now a genuine story behind it – it was not my deliberate destruction that created it but nature itself. Such dead wood is oftentimes part of a composition of a bonsai tree and it needs to be preserved. I am soaking it once/twice a year with an antifungal polysulfidic sulfur solution. It will slowly preserve and also somewhat bleach the wood. If I decide I do not like the dead branch, it can be cut and it will heal in a year or two.
And the best for last.
First, a picture from 2003, shortly (several years) after I acquired the tree.
Originally, the tree grew near railroad tracks, on a rocky slope, in an orientation that was turned about 90° CCW to how it is in this picture. It was cut down at least four times – you can see where the trunk suddenly ends (cut 1), then there is one dead branch (cut 2), a living branch that suddenly ends (cut 3), and a thinner branch that overgrew all the rest from under until it too was cut. It was clear to me that the tree will ultimately be destroyed so I poached it from its location with a clear conscience and re-planted it in my garden. Because it grew in a rocky location, I could not get a nice rootball with it, just two long thin roots and a stump of the main root that I had to cut. That was the beginning of several years-long journey of restoring the tree’s roots. Each year I have cut back the roots a bit so they branch out, treating the cuts with crushed charcoal, and as it developed thinner roots nearer and nearer the trunk, I have slowly shortened the stump of the main root until it was completely gone. After about five years or so the tree could be planted in a pot, originally as you see it above.
The tree also had an unseemly hollow in the trunk where the original first tip was cut and that had to be filled. I treated the hollow with fungicide, then with a bit of resin I glued in a piece of cork and waited for several years too. The tree developed a callus over the cork and the trunk healed and developed nice bark. And now, after two decades, it is a pride of my collection. It is also the only tree that prompted me to give it a name – The Reclining Dragon.
As you can see, I have in the end completely changed the direction in which the tree grows, and instead of a windswept informal standing style it has a windswept semi-cascade style. A tree like this should be grown in a different pot according to Japanese bonsai rules but I like the way it looks now. I am searching for a suitably big stone to make a pot even better suiting its dramatic looks.
It is flowering this year too, so it is now covered in beautiful teensy red (female) and yellow (male) cones.
If you wish to start growing bonsai trees, you cannot go wrong with larch if they prosper in your climate. The one major downside they have is that they are susceptible to being infested with aphids, especially wooly aphids. But they respond well to being treated with insecticides.
I worked a bit in the garden, I got over 1 cubic meter of wood from the coppice already stacked away in bags. That’s about 10% of my yearly firewood usage so it is a good haul this year – there will be at least as many bags of wood chips from the smaller twigs etc, totalling somewhere around 20%. Given the current prices of firewood, that’s a significant cost saving.
But winter does not want to give up so quickly this year and after my injured hand had healed, a short spell of frosty weather hit us again. I have used that time to be a useless couch lump and also to finish the bobbin lace phoenix.
Here it is finished still on the lace pillow.
After this, it took me about one hour to take all the pins out and approximately another hour to frame it. Completely finished picture is below the fold.
We haven’t had a plush in a while now, for a couple of reasons. For one, the patraeon patterns I was getting were either not quite my style, or so elaborate that I wasn’t feeling up to them. Not for lack of skill, but for lack of patience and time. I need a bit of instant gratification from my hobbies, so spending weeks on a project didn’t appeal to me. Also, with my back fucking up, sitting was painful and I needed to conserve my sitting down time. But my back got better (damn, you , exercise) and the little one came to me with a project. She’s in the school cheerleading team. Now I must clarify for my American readers: we do not have a school football team. While there are American Football clubs here and they do have cheerleading teams, it’s also purely done as the amazing sport that it is (and deserves recognition), so one of the teachers who loves cheerleading and is involved with a sports club cheerleading team is also training the school team. Their school team is the Flying Bulls (because the teacher’s team has a similar name) and she wanted to make a mascot. We went pattern shopping and soon created Ferdinand (named after this good fellow). Of course the wings were not included, so I had to make up my own pattern for them, but he turned out really cute:
Isn’t he handsome? The eyes are made from epoxy and UV resin and secured with screws. The wings get their stability from pipe cleaners. While Ferdinand was a big hit with the cheerleading team, saying goodbye was hard and I needed something to comfort me. Well, why not make another plush? I have to say that Ferdinand is a completely different style from the last plushies I made and I quite liked it. Instead of the machine embroidery, these designs live from old fashioned eyes and designs. The creator has a couple of plushes in that style and one of them is my favourite animal, a hippo, so I had to go for it. Please meet Sweetie:
Yes, she’s incredibly adorable. It’s amazing how much of that look comes from adding the eyelids. Depending on how you place them, you get dreamy, sad or angry. She’s moved in with us and has become a full member of the hippo crew. I hope she can brighten your day a little as well.