The Death of Handicraft

Today’s video is not the main meat of the article, but just an appetizer:

Joe van der Steeg is a blacksmith from Netherlands. I came across his videos a few years ago and I found them very informative, even though admittedly not very entertaining. I did not subscribe, because I do not intend to seriously go into forging at the moment, but I kept him at the back of my mind for future reference should I need plain and to-the-point info about forging techniques. What was clear from the few videos that I have watched was that he is very committed to the craft and that it is his life.

Previous year he announced that he is quitting the craft as a professional and will only continue with it as a hobbyist. When I have noticed that video, I was saddened, because I hate that old crafts are disappearing.

A few days ago I found out that Alec Steele, the youth YouTube blacksmithing star has afterwards invited him for a few days of collaborative work at his workshop, they had a lot of fun together and Alec’s enthusiasm and infectious personality have motivated Joe to continue to make videos. I shed a sentimental tear over that outcome, and I subscribed to Joe, although his videos are still on a back-burner for me, because day has only so many hours.

I know that to make knives for a living is for me just a pipe dream. There is a lot of people in that market, the competition is fierce and getting notorious enough to make a living would be difficult, even more so for a shy and introverted personality (I can pretend self-confident and strong, but not for long).

But overall I think that at a societal level a step back from automation would be desirable. With current state of technology, it is entirely conceivable having 5 hours working days somewhere at a factory/farm and the rest of the day having off to be a weaver, cobbler or whatevermaker to your heart’s desire.  The factories with their automation are perfect for delivering necessities for survival, but to my mind nothing beats handicraft for delivering the beautiful, unique and shiny. Further jobs at factories are soul-crushing and many people afterward have no energy for anything else than to sit in front of TV. Also most people whom I know who do have a creative hobby are mentally much better off than those who do not. There are reasons for arts therapy.

I am not entirely convinced that decline of handicraft is purely due to automation – there are a lot of people who would love to own handmade goods, but cannot afford them.

So why do we as a society insist on having most people do jobs they hate most of the time if that is not, strictly speaking, necessary for the survival of the species?

In my opinion the thing that is killing handicrafts is the same thing that drives the world inexorably towards global warming – insatiable greed of the upper 1% who are sucking money out of the economy only to put it on their bank accounts so they can engage in pointless dick-measuring contests with their fellow parasites. More and more people have to spend 8 or more hours a day in a factory to produce cheap goods, because fewer and fewer people have the means to purchase the more expensive handmade goods. It is a self-reinforcing cycle.


Marcus has mentioned Alec Steele a few weeks ago, but at first I did not like his over-the-top presenting style. Well, he is young and full of vim and vigor, and I am getting old and full of bile, what can you expect.

However Alec seems to be a genuinely likeable guy – his career is essentially built on helping others to learn the blacksmithing trade. And that is something I really cannot object to. I got over my initial dislike of his whooping and now I am binge-watching his videos and learning new stuff. Maybe I get to try some of it in real life.

I am a bit envious that he has found a job he loves, is good at it and it puts bread on the table at mere 16 years age, I managed only two out of three when I was twice that age. Grumble grumble grum….

Making Kitchen Knives – Part 10 – Shaping the Outlines

I have not forgotten or discontinued this project, only when it is cold I have to first heat up my workshop before doing any work – which wastes a lot of fuel and a lot of time. Therefore in winter I never manage to do as much work as I would like to. But I managed to do something in the last two months – like building the tumbler (that has run for five days straight by now btw. and it has made a very nice satin finish on the broken blade).

But I could not do much actual work on the knives themselves, because first I must focus on making the necessary improvements. I managed only one step in the process and one failed improvement in the next one.

The step that I have managed with success is shaping the outline of the blades. Last time I ended up with three stacks of blanks held together with screws. So I took them to the belt grinder and ground the outline of all three stacks. After that I disassembled the stacks and cleaned up any irregularities, burrs etc.

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

I ended up with a stack of 12 knife blanks. They are not all identical, but in three shapes – next time I will have to think a bit more about how to get reliably reproducible results. To save my self trouble when cutting the handle scales I have marked the blanks in each group on the tang with letters T, V and X. Why these letters? Because they are easily distinguishable from each other and can be scratched with just two lines.

This step was not actually very time-consuming before – just 10 minutes per blade, or 1, 55% of the whole process. Theoretically not worth improving. But I hope that having three groups of four reasonably identical handles will save me some time when shaping the handle – which took 110 minutes per handle, or 17% of the whole process.

Nevertheless, shaping four blades at once did bring some minor time-saving in itself – I have spent only 5 minutes per blade now, so I have saved 5 minutes from my process. This has confirmed that this was indeed low hanging fruit – it was a very easy improvement.

Next step is basic grind of the blade – and this is where I have my first failed attempt at improvement to share in my next post.

Lets Get Ready to Tumbleee!

I hope this will work. If not, I am determined to fiddle with it until it works.

I found an old asynchronous motor in our cellar. It is a small thing, mere 140 W, and it lacked wiring, any elements to fix it to something and cam wheel completely with wedge. But I have managed to convince my father to connect a cable and a switch to it, and it was working. So last few weeks, whenever I have got an hour or two, I was building a tumbler. I did not document the building process, because there is not much to it, really.

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

Just like with my belt grinder, I started with a particle board leftover from kitchen renovations, which was the base for my old drill press. It is a nice >2 cm thick board, covered with waterproof plastic on the upper side. Stable, strong, simply ideal as a base for a machine. Because the motor lacked any flanges or wings or whatevers to fix it and only had 4 M5 threaded holes, I took two pieces of steel that had 90° angle, straightened them to about 120°C angle and screwed them onto the motor. This provided me with two ears, that could be screwed on wooden blocks connected to the base plate. The switch was attached to the plate by its standard holes, plus two wooden pieces to better secure the cable.

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

As I mentioned, the motor lacked cam wheel. So I stood in front of a choice – to buy V-belt cam wheels and V-belts, or try something else. I tried something else, because I deemed it easier and cheaper. I bought two PP furniture wheels of different sizes. One got attached onto the motor in the standard way – with a steel wedge ground from a piece of spring steel and a lot of cursing. The diameter of the axis was slightly smaller than the inner diameter of the wheel, but I was able to fill the space with a piece of steel pipe. For the bigger wheel I had more luck – it had inner diameter 15 mm. So I could just buy a 15 mm steel pipe and further I could put to use two old ball bearings that also had 15 mm inner diameter. With a bit of banging and a lot more cursing I was able to fix the two ball bearings and the big PP wheel onto the pipe (the PP wheel is further fixed with a nail, so it dos not hold on only by friction). Next step was to fix the ball bearings on two wooden blocks onto a separate particle board plate.

At this stage I also took a strip of leftover flooring PVC and glued it onto the PP wheels for better traction. It is actually nearly impossible to glue anything on PP with reasonable strength, but there are adhesives on the market that manage this task strong enough for this kind of application (I think). If it goes pear-shaped, I can always screw it on later.

For the tumbling drum I took a 100 mm diameter PP pipe and again I glued on it a few layers of PVC for better traction. The PVC lays directly on the steel pipe in order to reduce the fast rotations of the motor as much as I can.

Two small furniture wheels aid in keeping the tumbling drum in place whilst allowing it to freely spin. The tumbler thus lies between the axis and the two wheels and holds in place purely by its own weight.

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

Last week I cut a piece of thick leather 1 m long, 3 cm wide, and I cut the ends at an angle so they overlap whilst the overall thickness remains the same, and I glued it together with epoxy. Hide glue would probably be better, but the weather was way too cold for messing about with hide glue. Today I took last few hours in adjusting the positions of the two wooden plates against each other to have adequate tension on the belt without it wandering in one direction or the other. As of now, it has been running for an hour without problems.

It has about 120 rotations  per minute, which might be a bit too fast. I put in shredded walnut shells, a soft coarse polishing compound and a broken blade from my failed machete build.

We will see what comes of it.

Tummy Monday Flowers, or something, on Tuesday.

I’m sorry for missing all the regular posts, but on top of the regular holiday business, my cold came back with a vengeance.

But the cold seems to be on the way out (I hope it cannot read this. Last time I said something like that, I wanted to die the next day…), Christmas Eve is over (the big day in Germany) and from now it’s visiting relatives and having them cook.

So, first, have yourself a tree:

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Every year, people decorate trees ion the woods. We wanted to do so as well, I even bought ornaments, but sadly it was either always raining or I was sick. But we went for a short walk yesterday and brought birdseed and nuts to the birds in the woods.

As I said, the next days are for visiting relatives. A few years ago we decided that since we couldn’t visit anybody on Christmas Eve without other people being offended and feeling less loved and what have you not (because being 60+ does not mean handling your emotions like an adult), we wouldn’t leave the house and nobody was allowed to visit and that really, really improved our Christmas time dramatically.

On Christmas Day, Mr’s family visits each other. Each year, one of the siblings hosts the whole family. This year it’s my favourite aunt in law. I promised a cake.


©Giliell, all rights reserved.

That’s espresso infused chocolate cake. The first filling is vanilla and espresso buttercream and caramelised walnuts.

The second filling is buttercream once more with oranges that have been marinated in spiced rum and white wine for about two weeks. I also used that syrup to moisten the cake. On top there#s more oranges, some fresh, some marinated, and a few pomegranate seeds. That took most of my time yesterday morning.

Now for gifts. Charly has lamented the obligatory nature on Christmas gifts, and I fully share that sentiment. I love making gifts and I enjoy giving just as much as receiving. I don’t need Christmas for that. Nevertheless, there’s going to be a lot of resin jewellery this year, which gets me to the fuck annoying things. I’m going to give jewellery to all the ladies present today. That includes my mum in law. Who will politely thank me, but never wear it, but who would be very upset and hurt if I didn’t give her something she doesn’t like anyway, because see above.

©Giliell, all rights reserved.

Anyway, here’s all the gifts for friends and family.

I hope I’ll have time and muse for some better shots of certain things between the years, I really need to post an update.

And last but not least, temperatures dropped to December levels over night and I was greeted with ice flowers at the window.

Ice flowers

©Giliell, all rights reserved.

Ice Flowers

©Giliell, all rights reserved.

I hope you all get some rest, a time to breathe, and good food and time with your friends and family.


The Heart of Caine

Yesterday on his blog Stderr, Marcus wrote about the creation of a very special heart in a post titled  Un-Achable, Un-breakable. This is the rest of the story, told by kestrel who used her artistry to create a unique and meaningful braiding for the heart.


Marcus sent me this amazing Damascus steel heart that he had made as a gift for Someone Special, and he asked me to put some leather braiding on it. I was happy to comply and decided a key fob would be good to braid on there. 

©kestrel, all rights reserved

[Read more…]

Metal Magic – part 5

Kestrel finally reveals her finished piece of jewelery and it’s drop dead gorgeous. Before the unveiling, though, there’s still more work to do.

I’ve come a long way with this piece of metal and now it is finally even and thin enough that I can make a piece of jewelry out of it. So let’s get started. 

I’m going to use a nylon mallet for shaping. Here’s the beginning: 

©kestrel, all rights reserved

[Read more…]

Metal Magic – part 3

The next installment of kestrel’s magic making is here and there are tools to ogle.


It’s time to meet some of my favorite tools, the raising hammer and the planishing hammer. The faces on them are different shapes and that helps to shape the metal in different ways. The first one I’m going to use is the one on the left, the raising hammer. 

©kestrel, all rights reserved

[Read more…]

Light Magic

It’s an open secret that LED fairy lights were invented for me. I love lights and there’s an abundance of solar powered lights around the house in summer and (rechargeable) battery lights in winter inside. So to combine resin and lights was a natural step. Especially since Marcus sent me a crystal mould and a handmade big globe mould.

I first tried my regular resin with the crystal. I absolutely love how the colour came out and how the copper metal foil really makes it all mysterious.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

But, but, the resin clearly wasn’t the right one for such a project. It cured too quickly and with too much heat. You can see the bubbles all around.

resin crystal

©Giliell, all rights reserved

So back to the computer to get a different resin. This one cures a lot more slowly and with less heat and is more suitable for bigger projects.

resin crystal

©Giliell, all rights reserved

This one cured nicely without too many bubbles, though the longer time meant that my metal sunk down more than I like it. The opaque sheen is due to the acrylic paint I added for the colour.

resin crystal

©Giliell, all rights reserved

I used one of the solar fairy lights Marcus sent in this project.

Now on to the big globe. I first ran a trial freezing water and then deemed it suitable.

resin globe

©Giliell, all rights reserved

The mould is not quite perfect with some bubbles at the top, but with such a project you won’t notice that anyway. This time, my metal rose to the top and there are still some bubbles, but I think they add to the otherworldly flair.

But man does that resin eat itself. I swear the mould was filled completely. It#s not a problem here, since a perfect globe wouldn’t rest nicely on my window sill, but I think it would be best to refill part of it after a day or so.

resin globe

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Metal Magic

We’ve received a wonderful surprise from kestrel. She’s making magic and has decided to let us watch the show. This is part 1 of what may be about 5 parts and I am just as in the dark as you about what’s coming next. Kestrel will reveal all one post at a time so make sure to tune in for all the updates. That’s just the way magic should be, full of anticipation and surprises. And now… heeere’s kestrel!

A while back, Marcus posted about some mokume gane he had made, and the exciting adventures he had making it. I know it’s properly called mokume gane, but I like to think of it as MarcusMetal. (No doubt that will trademarked soon.) Much to my surprise, it arrived at my house early one morning. I immediately leaped up to polish part of it – away from the coffee, mind you – because I knew it was going to be very beautiful and I could not wait to see it. If you look carefully, you can see a pattern of swirls of copper against the nickel in the part that I polished. When I am done and I finish a piece, I will put a patina on the metal that will make the pattern show up in greater contrast.

©kestrel, all rights reserved

[Read more…]


Kestrel has finally shared some of her jewellery making with us and it’s phenomenal. What starts out as a pile of horsehair becomes ordered and ultimately beautiful at the hands of a master artisan. I’ll let kestrel explain the process…

I’m working on my website and one of the things that needs to be done is to re-shoot all the photos. Since most of my work is custom (in other words, people send me hair from their own horse, and then I make stuff out of it for them) I don’t have things in inventory, and that means I had to re-make all the items in order to take new photos. One of the things I like about my work is being able to transform my materials, whatever they may be but in this case a messy pile of hair, into something orderly and worth having. 

©kestrel, all rights reserved

Some of the braiding was done before it occurred to me to take a photo, but that messy pile of hair is going to be turned into 6 bracelets: 3 that are an 8-strand braid, and 3 that are a 25-strand braid, one each of white, chestnut and black. In case you are wondering: that messy pile of hair is made up of 1,761 individual hairs. That I had to count. On purpose. I don’t usually sit down and figure out things like that, because I just really don’t want to know; it’s a little depressing. But, if one is going to braid hair, one must first count it. 

©kestrel, all rights reserved

Part way finished, you can see the 3 8-strand bracelets are done and I’ve just started on the black 25-strand bracelet. 


©kestrel, all rights reserved

All done! It looks very different from how it started out. Now what I have to do is take good photos of each product so that hopefully, people will want one of these made from their own horse’s hair as a keepsake or memento. Just another day (OK, actually it was about two weeks) in the life of a braider. 

Thanks for sharing, kestrel. I’m astonished at the precision and beauty of the finished product. I can’t begin to imagine the amount of work involved, especially the counting! These are surely cherished keepsakes. Why, it’s enough to make me wish for a horse of my own.