Soap Opera Part 4: Season 1 Finale

I made the last batches or this year. Now they need 6 to 8 weeks to dry and cure, and if I want them to be Christmas presents that means I need to stop now.

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On top is a mix of pine, rosemary, niaouli (myrtle variety) and a bit of lemon grass and it came out smelling very fresh. Very lemony, actually even more so than the pure lemongrass (I love lemongrass) at the bottom. There I tried to experiment a bit with colour, but it turned out more looking like blue cheese than artful soap, but who cares. If I do it again next year I’ll have to get some mica powders. This year my focus was mainly on getting the chemistry right, we’ll go for pretty next time.

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The very final two are all about the smell again. The lighter ones at the top are honey and oatmilk. I used the oatmilk instead of water here and I think it worked quite well. The smell is very subtle.I think I’d use more fragrance oil next time, but I also like it when soaps don#t leave your hands smelling for days to come. I got those fragrance oils and essential oils from a British seller off Etsy, I hope the current British trainwreck of a  no deal Brexit won’t make it unfeasible to order there in the future. It would be a shame for the seller.

The bottom is cinnamon and orange. There I added some colour, but it seems to have vanished. The smell is surprisingly marzipan-y and just the right thing for a Christmas Soap.

Let#s see if next year brings more soap. It surely has been great fun this time.

Hallowe’en Photo Festival of Fun and Fundraising

Today’s photo is of a ‘spider mat’ sent in by mrandmrsoccupant. This fabulous work of art was made in Eugene, Oregon during the mid-1960, when the artist was still in grade school. It’s been kept safe all these years by the artist’s mother, who recognized a masterpiece when she saw it.

Spider mat, mid 1960s, ©mrandmrsoccupant, all rights reserved

Soap Opera Part 3: I Need Coffee

The next batch is coffee and bergamot with a hint of lavender. Both turned out fine, though the coffee scent is very light, since I used no additional fragrance. Since everybody and their dog will be getting soap this Christmas, I also wanted some more neutral scents, because for reasons I don’t understand not everybody likes fruity scents.

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The “cream” is just unscented soap from the other batch. For some reason that turned out to be softer and a bit grainy and I have no idea why. But now it’s drying. One advantage to sticking it in the oven is that you get it to gel phase beautifully and also it cures a bit faster.

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Bergamot. You can see the “grainy” parts here as well. I can only speculate that it’s too much air in the soap mass before filling it into moulds.

I made another batch that is currently resting, and I’ll make one more batch and then I#m finished for this year,since anything I make later would not be finished in time for Christmas and I DO need to give as much of it away as possible, because soap making is an easy way top make lots of stuff, which is probably ideal if you want to make something with great chances of success  but not too much effort, but if you’re like me, and want to try as many things as possible, you end up with several kilograms of soap…

The huge advantage is that your whole house smells nice because there’s soap drying everywhere…

Degupdate: Candy Mistaking Herself for a Cat

Apparently degus and cats share a tendency to climb up things they then have problems getting down again… I’ll have to take some measures to prevent them from breaking their neck, as Estelle managed to get into the “storage” compartment on top of Degustan and then fall most of the way down…

In the first video you can see Candy trying to jump onto the side track of Degustan where the food is kept.

In the second video she managed to get onto it, and up the side of Degustan. We quickly needed to make that top “degusafe” after that.

Here’s a triumphant Candy with a well deserved stolen treat…

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved

They’re also trying hard to gnaw their way out of the enclosure. They’ll find out I have more hinges than that…

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And finally, our “latest degu”: Sugar, a giant crochet degu. There’s a distinctive lack of degu plushies on the market, but thankfully somebody on etsy sold a crochet pattern, so I made one for the little one’s birthday (Happy birthday my love!). While this is meant for small amigurumi projects, that wool was just too amazing.

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Upcycling Old Jeans

During my first experiments with resin stabilized wood, I had a lot of dark brown leftover resin at the end of it. So I have decided to do a little experiment.

I took some old black jeans, cut them into squares of approximately the sizee of a hand palm, soaked the pieces in the resin, stacked them in a receptacle and I poured all the remaining resin all over them. I have tried my best to chase and push manually all the bubles out and let it harden.

The resulting material has an official name – micarta – and the results look quite well, I think.

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

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

The pieces were not too big, but big enough for four small scales for two of the badger knives that I had in production, so I have used them straightaway. The material works well, it is sufficiently hard to take decent polish, but not so hard as to be difficult to work with. It does heat up a bit and clogs up sanding belts, but reducing the belt speed and using only fresh belts did away with that problem.

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

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

That the layers are not perfectly perpendicular and flat adds a bit more character to the material, which I like. I think it is a good way to use excess resin and these knives should now be extremely resistant to elements – the blades and fittings are all stainless steel, the handle scales are micarta and the sheaths are leather infused with beeswax. They would probably survive for a non-trivial duration in fog and rain outdoors. Not that I would do that to them.

I am also pleased that now that these knives are significantly less work than the bowie-type small hunting knivest that I was presenting previously. The goal is to have a mix of cheap(ish) and expensive items on offer in the future, I do not wish to only make luxury items that take weeks to months finish each, neither do I wish to destroy my enjoyment of the craft by bogging myself down in repetitive tasks o making the same thing over and over again.

A Soap Opera, Part 2: Vanity and Hubris

Those are common elements of soap operas, right?

Now, the second batch turned out beautiful:

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I wrapped it tightly in old towels and for good measure stuck it in the oven at 80°C, because those small moulds will of course cool faster, but the “soaping” is a chemical reaction that feeds on its own heat. I could demould it the next day, no problem. The smell is rosemary, orange and lemon grass, with some ground rosemary and food colouring for the visual. Thus encouraged I decided to make that one soap I’d been thinking about: A marble cake soap: One part Vanilla soap, one part cocoa soap, blended in a cake mould and then cut into pieces.


For one thing, both batches experienced “soap seize” (in German it’s “Blitzbeton”, instant concrete): Instead of staying in a custard consistency for quite some time, it turned hard fast, so any attempt at making a marble cake was out of the window. Second, there’s a million recipes for making cocoa soap. Just stir the cocoa powder into your soap gloop. Looks and smells like chocolate, only if you think that chocolate smells vaguely like old fish. I wouldn’t have mixed it with the vanilla anyway, but I still did my best to put it into the cake moulds and let it set. So here’s the result:

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As you can see, because of the soap seize the moulds have not been properly filled. Second, the smells kinda, reversed? The chocolate soap smells now very mildly of chocolate, while the vanilla fragrance smells like cheap, over aged eau de cologne. They are not fit for giving away as gifts, but good enough around the house. At least the chocolate. Also, without the marble, the cake slices don’t look that nice. At least they look realistic enough that my beloved kid bit into one while I was shopping. I swear, she’s the dumbest smart kid I ever met…

A Soap Opera

I’ve wanted to make soap for a long time now. What stopped me so far was the lack of a safe work space. I am not going to handle NaOh in my kitchen with the kids running around. But with the workbench finally set up I got myself a “starting kit” for soap making and tried my first batch.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

I did everything by the book, prepared my stuff, and still managed to grab a bottle of bergamotte scent instead of lavender. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise. For one, my oils turned the colour pretty yellowish, the purple didn’t look that nice, and for a pure lavender soap it would have been ugly. But with bergamotte in the mix, the yellow “makes sense”. Second, while I used the amounts of essential oil specified in the recipe, the lavender does come off really strong. If I’d used 20 ml of lavender, it would have overpowered everything and probably made the soap unusable.

I let it rest for two days, and it was still too soft to take out of the moulds. Re-reading everything I came to the conclusion that the freshly made soap cooled too quickly as my work shop is quite cool. The next batch will get taken to the kitchen and wrapped thoroughly so it can cool more slowly.

My book also offered a dirty trick for dealing with too soft soap, which is to freeze it for an hour or so. That worked fine, but somehow turned the purple pink. I’m curious to see if it will turn purple again. It’s now off to drying and should be ready in time for Christmas. Yeah, this year’s Christmas presents will smell nice.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Card Weaving

kestrel is graciously sharing her woven artwork with us, and she’s taken the time to teach us about how this type of weaving is done. I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s fascinating.


Card weaving (or tablet weaving as it’s also called) is a very ancient craft going back quite a ways. A very wonderful find was the Oseberg ship with two women buried in it. Among the many textiles found, there was also a loom with the warp still attached to the weaving cards. However historians believe card weaving is much older than this 9th century find. Card weaving was a technique people used to create very strong and sturdy as well as ornamental bands. Some of the very ornamental bands seen in religious textiles were created this way. 


Although I used to weave quite a lot, for whatever reason, I had never tried card weaving. I’d had to give up weaving (there was no room for my very large loom and I had to sell it) but recently I decided I wanted to weave again. My big loom was gone, but you don’t need much to do card weaving. 

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Resin Art: Hochmut kommt vor dem Fall (Pride comes before the Fall)

Well, nothing dramatic, just the fact that sometimes things that started easy may not keep going smoothly. After the easy time I had with the first resin and opal ring I decided to make some more, one for me and one for my sister. Only this time I ran into quite some trouble and had to do both rings twice. The reasons for this are pretty much black and white. Literally. Those were the base colours for my resin. First of all, they are tricky colours to start with as especially white pigments tend to misbehave. And yeah, I got all sorts of different dyes. Then, of course, they turn the resin completely opaque, which means the UV light has a hard time penetrating the resin and curing it.

With my first attempt at the white one everything seemed fine until I started sanding and hit a layer that had not properly cured all the way down and the whole thing flew off. For the next run I tried a different dye and while it’s not the white I’d have preferred, it cured all through (though I also took the time to cure again after sanding down the outer layer).

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved

It’s difficult to get a good pic here, because the steel will reflect the sunlight.

The black one had an additional problem. The opal came from a different seller and the pieces are smaller. This meant that in the first try they didn’t stick out like you can see above and I had to sand down inside the score. This ground the resin so thin it broke the first day of wearing. So back to the basement… In the second attempt I made the first layer thicker. While this stood the risk of sanding off the complete opal splinter, it also meant I didn’t have to sand down too much. I’m moderately happy with the result. The black turned greyish in parts and I’ll have to try a different dye again.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Punch and Die (and Fun)

I do not have the genius of Leonard da Quirm, but I do share one trait with him – I get easily distracted and sometimes spend several days trying to shave off a few minutes of some task or save a few bucks. Sometimes the effort definitively pays off – as in the case of my belt grinder or my forge burner, sometimes it is a success but with a question mark whether it was worth it – like the unbender (now I know it was worth it, btw, I have used it several times already and it is time-saver), and sometimes it is a bit of a flop, as when building a vacuum pump. If I had a definitive fail, I do not remember it, and so I allowed myself to get distracted again these last two days.

I have a problem with making metal bolsters, handguards, end-caps, and pommels. As in, it is difficult to get material thick enough to make them pretty, and even if it were not difficult, the result would be overtly heavy and thus would put the knife balance totally out of whack. The proper way to make bolsters and end caps is to make them hollow, and there are techniques for that. One of them is forging – as I did in the rondel dagger project. But that is labor-intensive, has poor reproducibility, and requires special tools anyway. Or I could buy prefabricates and adjust my design(s) to fit what is already on the market. Screw that!

So I have decided to make some new tools, and test them. The inspiration was a technique of minting coins before the invention of fly screw-press, which I have seen as a child in some black and white movie which has shown the making of Prague groschen at Kutná Hora. I remember nothing else about the movie except the part where they strike a punch on a silver blank with a hammer and thus make a coin. I think there was some drama and history in there too…

First I have made a die out of 5 mm high-carbon tooling steel. It consists simply of two holes – one for the bolster and one for the end-cap  (I have chosen my small hunting knife as a pilot project because I think the design will be improved a lot by it and because I do plan to make more of these knives in the future). Second I have ground two punches out of square stock of high carbon tooling steel that I have scrounged at my previous job. Grinding the forms with angle grinder was not easy, but it was not insurmountably difficult either. I had actually a lot more trouble with welding onto it the 15 mm round stock for holding the punch in place and for striking – my welding sucks, bigly. And because at least the first strike needs to be real mighty, I have built a small wooden stand to hold the punch in place for that.

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

With the assembly on the concrete floor, as you see it in the photo, I have given it a mighty whack with my puny Mjolnir. And I rejoiced because it was a success. To protect the floor from damage I have put it on a steel plate for subsequent tries and I went and punched four sets for the four blades that I have currently in making, three out of brass and one out of pakfong.

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

The pakfong was a bit thicker than the brass so it gave me some grief, thus the surface is not so smooth on the end-cap – I had to whack it several times and it wandered off the die and I struck it without noticing it. But that should not be a problem, there is enough material in there to polish these dents out.

It took me mere minutes to punch all these, and after a long time, I was really, really happy for a bit. There are a few details to iron out – like making a better stand for the punch, making it so I can put it safely on my anvil, figuring out the ideal amount of overhang and so forth – but it functions as it is and it is a massive saving in time already. Whether the knives will really look better remains to be seen, but I am confident they will. Further, this opens a lot of new possibilities for knife designs for me.

I Probably Won’t Do This Again…

After a month of work, I am finally at a phase where I have something to show for it. The kitchen knives are in the tumbler for the second day now, tomorrow I shall check if they are ready or not. But it need not hurry, I have enough to work with – eight fully polished blades.

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

Today I have etched the logos and numbers on these because it is easier to do on a naked blade than on a finished knife. Now I can finally work on finishing at least some of these into final products while the kitchen knives tumble.

Working in bulk does save significant time and even resources, but 18 blades in one go was a bit too much. I am going to reduce the batches to 8-12 in size. That way it should keep its savings, but the polishing hell will not be that long. Polishing is extremely onerous and unrewarding work because one keeps doing the same thing day after day, working through the row of belts with very slow progress. With one knife, it is one-two days of a boring slog. With eighteen knives, it was three weeks – and one of them got broke and nine only to 120 grit before going into the tumbler, if not for that, it would be even longer.

These are not perfect, some of them have serious problems regarding symmetry, although only in one case it is visible with the naked eye. On all of them is it visible with calipers. I am starting to doubt that I will ever do a good job, but there are some signs of progress. One of those signs has, unfortunately, a bit of a negative consequence on these blades, all 17 of them – they are a bit thicker than I expected (a few tenths of a mm). That is because I have gotten a bit better at working on the belt grinder and thus I did not grind away as much material as I used to by having to correct mistakes

Mind you, they all will cut perfectly fine even so, and some of them already do despite not being sharpened yet. But a thinner blade will always cut better. On the other hand, these should be extremely sturdy and should be able to withstand even some serious abuse, and that is a plus for a hunting knife. We will see if there will be people willing to pay for these without bashing me over the head afterward.

Now to think about how to dress-up these blades and the accompanying sheaths. I think I have quite a few more weeks of work ahead of me, but now it should be creative work, and therefore much more fun.

Ring Ring! Resin and Opal

After lots of frustration and some success, the right blanks finally arrived. That vendor will sure see some more business from me. So, while still not being able to use my lathe, I started to work on my first resin and opal inlay ring. What can I say, after all the building up to this moment, the process was so damn quick and easy that it was almost and anticlimactic letdown. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love, love, love the result and will sure make more of them, but it somehow feels a bit like cheating, like ordering one of those teddy bear kits where you just stuff the already sewed animal and then close the opening.

I was actually pretty anxious about this beforehand as the materials don’t come exactly cheap. While you don’t need much opal for a ring (I suspect I used about 0.3 grams for the ring), a gram is 10-15 bucks plus shipping and it looks like nobody in Germany has yet thought of selling it so I had to order from the UK and the US*. I’m thankfully not anywhere near poor, but the thought of possibly having a starting cost of 100 bucks without any results was not appealing.

Anyway, here’s some pics from the making of and the final result.

When watching videos on youtube, the people making these rings usually use either UV resin or CA glue, so naturally I decided to do both. I was worried that the opal would vanish under the midnight blue resin, so I first put on a thin layer of coloured resin and then tried to glue on the opal splinters. Only that apparently the resin prevents the CA from curing. Don’t ask me. It stayed completely fluid even after about an hour while on the ring, but occasionally it would drip down, taking my carefully set opal splinters with it and then instantly harden on my workbench. In the end I just slathered everything with a generous serving of UV resin. Because the pigment is quite dark, curing it took some time. Another bonus of finally having a workbench in the cellar is that I could just go and fold the laundry while turning the ring and restating the UV lamp every other minute. After that I put the mandrel into the drill and started to sand down the excess.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Yes, you can see me “how to attach the mandrel to the drill” contraption here, which would make my miner grandfather proud and give my machinist dad hives.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

At 100 grit that is maybe 10 minutes of time, with breaks to let the abrasive paper cool down. At this point I filled in all gaps in the resin, cured it again and then sanded some more until moving to the polishing going 240/400/600/800/1200/1500/2000/2500/3000, which would be pure horror by hand. Here it’s just “hold the wet paper to the ring and make sure you don’t burn your hand. For the final polish I usually use a “scratch ex” kit for cars. Dunno if they are available where you are, here Aldi usually has them twice a year or so. They contain a mildly abrasive paste meant to smooth out small scratches from your car paint and polishing paste and they work a treat**.

Now I hope I built up some tension for the end result. Sadly no sunshine, but with a heat wave and a drought I’m really happy about the rain this morning.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Yes, that ring goes on my “stinky finger”.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

I photographed a bad position on the ring, but I only saw that afterwards.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Today I was assisted by a friendly gecko.


*Apparently by now international mail from the USA is faster than national mail within the USA.

**Do you also have those expressions that you find yourself using in excess for a while? Seems like “works a treat” is currently my favourite expression…