Making a Drum Sander – Part 4 – It Sucks!

My brother and my sister-in-law were busy as bees and between the three of us, we managed to do all the necessary work re-painting the kitchen in just two days. On Wednesday I had to do some little cleanups and shopping and on Thursday I could continue to work on my drum sander. So I did.

After the first successful test run of the drum sander, I glued up a 50×1500 mm leather belt to drive it. For better precision, I bought an already-cut leather strip (a prefabricate for leatherworkers to make belts), cut both ends at an angle of 45°, and glued it up with special extra-strong elastic cement for shoes. I was thinking of reinforcing the seam with sewing, but so far it does not appear necessary – the glued joint can withstand all the force my hands can exert, which is significantly more than the spanning spring on the belt sander can do. I run into a minor setback here – I made the driving wheel on the drum sander with a groove as I would for running it with a rubber belt. That was a mistake, the leather jumped the low fence quite easily and when I tried to make the fence higher, it jumped the spanning wheel and the motor wheel. The best solution (which, luckily, did not take long to find out and implement) was to remove the fence on one side and to make the cylinder wider. The leather belt is not precise and needs some space to oscillate from side to side.

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After this, It was running quite well. The crowned spanning wheel does keep the belt on track and on the motor wheel, and on the driving wheel of the drum sander, it moves a bit side-to-side when running. With that problem solved, I could move on to dust collection. Pushing the wood with one hand and vacuuming the dust with the other is neither an easy nor elegant solution.

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The dust collection does not need to be especially sturdy. Its main two functions are to stop sanded-off particles flying all around the shop and to prevent me from accidentally grinding off my fingers on the drum. Thus I opted for the easiest and cheapest material to use I have available – cardboard. And it is held in place by four M6 fly screws that go into threads cut directly into beach wood.

I cut a piece of pine board to put across the drum and I glued on it fences from cardboard that slot into the grooves I pre-cut in the two pillars holding the drum. To prevent the edges from fraying, I glued strips of sturdy paper over them. To attach the vacuum cleaner I used a reduction I saved from my old hand-held circular saw when it broke.

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As far as inner geometry goes, I tried to glue in two strips of paper to reduce the space between the drum and the walls. I tested it with these and without them and I think that they did help with the dust collection, but they were not very stable and had issues (dust collected behind them). I am currently in the process of finding a better and more permanent solution to getting the inside of the housing to conform to the drum better. For now, it works, albeit it can be improved.

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Initially, I intended to glue the belts on the drum but rsmith’s link in the comments under the first article gave me the idea of using velcro. If I can change the belts reasonably fast, I can use the drum sander not only for material removal and flattening of surfaces but also for getting a reasonable surface finish on completed cutting boards. And I also could have a separate set of belts to flatten metals, if I need to. So I went and ordered some velcro and a set of belts. The velcro was so far the most expensive part of this whole assembly- about 30,-€! I hope it was worth it. I glued it in a spiral around the drum and I wound up a strip of abrasive around it in the same direction. On the trailing edge (left side of the drum) the velcro suffices to hold the paper in place. On the leading edge, I had to make a groove, bend the paper into it and secure it with a screw.

The next day I made a few optimizations. I improved how the whole assembly is held near the belt sander by inserting two M10 hammer-in nuts into the table. I made one of the two supporting legs adjustable in length so I could adjust it to the uneven ground of my workshop. I made two long M8 fly screws and I used them together with two hammer-in M8 nuts to attach the legs in a secure yet easy to disassemble way. And finally, I made a specialized push tool to shove the pieces through the sander without endangering my fingers and without exerting myself needlessly.

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It is made from an old furniture leg and two offcuts from an old spruce board. The table height is just below my navel so I can easily brace this thing against my belly and gently but firmly push with my body weight.

And with all that done, it was Friday evening and I went to bed late. Yesterday, I ran it for about 6 hours to test it thoroughly. In those 6 hours, I managed to flatten twelve jatoba boards approximately 15×30 cm. I think I could do the job faster if I used a coarser abrasive, but unfortunately, 40 grit was not in stock and the 60 grit I ordered had not arrived yet. Thus I had to do with 80 grit. I ordered the 40 grit finally yesterday and the 60 grit should arrive on Monday. I still have some unflattened glued-up boards and I will probably wait for those to see how much faster I can do the same work.

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I do consider the test to be a success. The machine ran the 6 hours (three 2-hour segments) without a single problem. The boards are not tutti flatti perfetti, but they are flaterooni accepti. As in within a few tenths of a mm over the 30 cm. That is enough for a good and practically invisible glued joint.

I learned a few things while doing this. The food-safe PVA glue does not gum up the abrasive but it does create small resin-like chunks that can attach to the wood and/or the table and make the board run unevenly. So I have to brush those off, especially at the beginning when it grinds off the glue runoffs. I also learned how to incrementally lift the table for best results and I got a few more ideas for improvements and optimizations.

That was significantly easier and quicker than I thought it would be. It is not completely finished yet and I will write about the finishing touches. However, as of now, I have a fully functional drum sander. I made it in about three weeks and so far it cost me less than 200,-€, most of which was the velcro and the abrasive belts.

And while I am waiting for the coarser abrasives to arrive, I will paint it.

Making a Drum Sander – Part 3 – First Run

With the drum sander being essentially functional, I could start fixing it in its working place and truing the drum. Both issues were simple but not easy, so it took me a whole day and some more to do it properly.

The first problem to solve was how to fix the drum sander besides the belt sander so it could be powered by it. Here has shown my first serious mis-measurement. I had to trim a sliver of the belt sander base because I could not position the drum sander close enough for the wheels to align properly. Then I stood in front of the problem of how to fix the drum sander in place so it does not slide around.

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From the start, I wanted to do it with two M10 bolts at the back but my first attempt was a bust. You can see the results of that first attempt, those two yooge holes in the back of the base. The problem was not that it was not stable or somesuch. The problem was that the bolts would be in the way if I wanted to sand something longer than about 40 cm. What followed was about an hour of serious thinking and faffing around in the workshop and when I started to work on another solution, I accidentally found two metal angle irons with pre-drilled holes.

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I undid all the work I did in the last hour, screwed these two onto the back of the belt sander base, and cut the 10 mm holes open. That way I could slide them onto the M10 rods inserted into holes in my workbench and fix them in place with winged nuts. I also had some play to slightly re-position the belt sander to align the wheels properly before tightening the nuts.

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With the back of the belt sander being fixed to the table, I could run it but I also added two legs on the front just in case. They are not strictly necessary – in fact, one of them is a tad short and is not even touching the ground properly and I will have to add a screw extension – but I feel better with them.

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With the belt sander standing, I could run it for real. I used an old trizact belt to power it. That works for now as an impromptu measure, I will make a proper sturdy leather belt to do the job. For now, I stood in front of it for a couple hours running a piece of particle board with 60-grid sandpaper glued to it to true the drum, holding the board in one hand and vacuuming the particles with the other.

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Here you can see the drum being sanded down to being nearly, but not entirely, concentric. There are still visible gouges made by the table saw. I had to run the sandpaper under it quite a few times after each lifting of the table, and I only could lift the table about ¼ of a mm at a time. I only ran it at 20% speed at first because the drum was so unbalanced and the whole assembly vibrated violently. After a while, I could increase the speed to 40% as the cylinder became more and more concentric and thus better balanced. That is also the top speed at which I intend to use the machine since higher speeds would burn the wood and destroy the abrasives (I built the machine so the surface speed of the drum is approximately the same as the surface speed of the belt so I can transfer experience from one to the other).

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Late in the evening truing the drum was finished and it was flush with the table across the whole length to within a tenth of a mm. I left a bit of a gap here so it can be seen.

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With the drum being concentric and true, I could finally fix some abrasive to it. For a test, I used an old torn 40-grit belt. First I wound it around the cylinder, fixed it with rubber bands, and trimmed the edges to flush (these scissors are used for trimming abrasives and nothing else, in case you are wondering). After that, I cut grooves into the sides of the cylinders, tucked a bit of the belt in it, and fixed it in place with a screw.

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It worked reasonably well as a temporary solution and I learned a few things when running it for a few hours with some testing pieces of wood. The leading edge held up fine but the trailing edge eventually tore off. It seems that at the trailing edge, the screw is completely unnecessary and a bit of double-sided adhesive tape would suffice plenty. That is good to know, but I am already looking for a better way to do it in the final version. I am ordering some velcro and abrasives with velcro.

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And that’s it for now. The 40 grit did hog off material quite nicely. I flattened a seriously twisted and bent piece of jatoba that I definitively would not be able to flatten manually, ever. Although manually feeding the stock through the machine is still hard work (for me) – I did get some workouts on my back and my pecs that way. Still an order of magnitude less work than trying to flatten one of the hardest woods on the planet by hand.

There is still a lot of work to be done and I will do it and write about it. Optimize the assembly/disassembly, optimize the attachment of abrasives, optimize the legs, make dust collection attachment, make a proper and safe push tool to feed the wood through, and finally, paint job. Only I do not know when I will do all this it because I have to take about a week’s pause from this work. I have to paint the kitchen now. I hate it, but it needs to be done and it has to be done now because now my brother can come by to help with things that need four hands.

Making a Drum Sander – Part 2 – Tilting Table

I took Sunday off and on Monday I had other things to do but yesterday and today I could work on the drum sander some more and I progressed significantly. First I finished and attached the propulsion wheel. I started that right at the beginning but it progressed slowly because I glued it from several layers of old plywood and I had to wait for the glue to dry a few times. Just before the two-day break, I soaked the surface with epoxy resin to make it harder and on Tuesday I turned and sanded it until it was passably round. I will probably give it another layer of epoxy once everything is finished, I will use the epoxy on other parts too to improve their surface hardness and strength.

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The wheel is attached to the axis with an M4 screw going through a thread drilled and cut into the axis. I hope it is strong enough and won’t get sheared off in work because I do not have any better idea how to do it. I need to be able to eventually remove this wheel in case a ball bearing gets busted and needs replacing. I am also leaving myself a bit of the axe poking out so I can power the thing with my drill in case powering it with the belt grinder does not work.

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On the right side, I added a fence with a shelf to lift the base 55 mm; on the left side, I simply added a 55 prism. Then I screwed two spruce boards on it to reinforce the structure. Though I screwed them on with the wrong grain direction of the core but it seems to hold strongly enough. Should a problem occur, I will reinforce it later or replace it with properly oriented boards.

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The base under the propelling wheel is unsupported. This has a reason – I need to be able to slide this side over the base of the belt grinder because I need to align this wheel with the motor and the spanning wheels of the belt grinder. It should not be under too much stress but I did reinforce it with steel under the wheel where there will be most of it. Again, I might add some more support later, for now, I think this suffices.

That was Tuesday done. I attached it improvised to the belt grinder and it worked, albeit it was loud as hell. I think that can’t be helped, the ball bearings are not perfectly aligned and the drum is not concentric yet and I can only solve the second of these two issues.

Today I made the tilting table to adjust the sanded thickness. And here I must thank to rsmith for pointing me to a page with useful information about how to make a very simple one.

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I started by cutting-out a piece from the lifted base. This was the plan all along, to use this space for some sort of mechanism to lift the table. On the front, I added a 55 x 20 mm beech board across. Beech is reasonably strong hardwood, it should be able to support the table. In the middle of the board is inserted a 24 mm long M8 nut with a sufficiently long rod through it. To operate the screw I tightened on it a hex nut and a winged nut against each other.

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I decided to make the table from a 15 mm particle board because the piece I had had a very smooth surface and it is straight. However, particle boards are not exactly known for their strength, so I had to reinforce it. I reinforced the rear end with stripes of beech wood for the hinges to have better and stronger anchor points. I put it under weight and went for lunch while it was setting

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After lunch, I continued reinforcing it. On the front end, I added an offcut of angle iron. That also provides a hard surface for the screw to lift the table.

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For longitudinal support, I screwed on two beech strips. I forgot the exact measurements, somewhere around 25×15 mm or somesuch. I tested it and it seemed to be sturdy enough against bending, but not against twisting due to the table being supported by a single point on the front. It should not be a huge problem if the sander is loaded in the center as it should be, nevertheless, I decided to reinforce it further with three offcuts from the same particle board intended for firewood.

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One continuous piece would be better and I had a suitable one – the one that I cut out of the base in the morning – but I completely forgot about it until these were screwed on and I did not want to go through the hassle of trimming it and drilling all the holes again. I think it is strong enough and if not, I can add more support later. I say that a lot.

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And this is where I finished today. I think the work is progressing nicely. I have a tilting table with a range of about 35 mm, which is plenty for my purposes. It takes about 80 half turns to lift from zero to full. That is enough sensitivity to sand off only tiny layers of material when needed. The whole assembly so far is sufficiently light and compact that I can easily lift it and put it under the table next to the table saw when not in use. I am reluctant to be optimistic but I do feel ever so slightly positive about this project.

Making a Drum Sander – Part 1 – Base

How the time flies – it is two years since I wrote a series of blog posts „Showing off my wood“ where I have shown various woods at my disposal for crafting. I have so much material in fact that it is not improbable but downright impossible for me to use it all up making knife handles and knife blocks, I just cannot make that many different knives alone. So I would like to make some high-quality end-grain cutting boards to convert at least some of that massive amount of material into something useful.

I started last year but I hit a snag. I need to mate wooden surfaces together perfectly, but there is no convenient way for me to flatten wooden surfaces in reasonable time and in scale. My manual method is precise, but also tiring and time-consuming. I need a drum sander to make even a few end-grain cutting boards. And I cannot buy one for two reasons. Firstly I don’t have the money. Second, I don’t have the space needed for one.

But since I have managed to build myself a belt sander, I decided this year to spend some time trying to build a drum sander too. I had more than a year to think about it and with the money these things cost, even if I spend a whole month building one, it would still be worth it.

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I started by gluing three large pieces of black locust wood together to form a large prism through whose center I put a 10 mm threaded rod. I cut the edges off on a circular saw and then I stood in front of a bit of a problem – how to turn a large-ish wooden cylinder without a lathe. I rigged up a temporary wooden structure that allowed me to span the prism in such a way that it could run against the edge of the circular saw whilst being continuously rotated with hand-held akku drill. I hope the picture makes it clear what I mean.

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It made an absolutely unholy mess and I was terrified the whole time but I succeeded in making a rough cylinder round enough to progress to other works. I will make the cylinder perfectly round and concentric with its rotational axis later.

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I swapped the threaded shaft for a smooth 10 mm one and to secure it to the cylinder I drilled 3 mm holes throughout it and the shaft on both ends and I drove 3 mm hard steel through the hole. I hope it’s strong enough for the forces needed, if not and it shears off during work, I will have to think up something better. I also cut grooves in the shafts to secure one ball bearing on each side with circlips. I later decided to use two ball bearings, with the second one being put near the first one and not being secured with circlips. As you can clearly see, I am making things up as I go along and I do not always know what I am doing.

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A 15 mm particle board from an old PC table serves as a base to build upon. To hold the ball bearings I cut short boards from hardwood (beech) and I made cutouts for the ball bearings between two pieces and screwed them together with long wood screws. It appeared to be reasonably strong and it held the ball bearings firmly, but it was a bit wobbly. So I glued 15 mm particle boards to the beech boards to widen the bases a bit.

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While the glue was setting on that, I trimmed the edges of the cylinder. I used the boards that held it in the circular saw jig and a hand-held drill as the source of rotation again. That left me with only one hand free to trim the edges but a hacksaw blade proved to be quite efficient at that. Setting the initial groove was a bit fiddly but once started, it went easily, albeit slowly. The edges are not perfectly square and flat but they do not need to be.

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Once the boards for holding the ball bearings were glued together, I glued them to the base with five-minute epoxy. Epoxy is expensive, but I needed a strong bond to make subsequent works easier.

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Once the epoxy cured, I added 4 80 mm wood screws through the beech cores and then also multiple 6 mm bamboo dowels glued in with PVA glue. I do hope that is strong enough in itself but it was additionally reinforced with the last step.

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 There are strong anchor points on the base for the ball bearings and I changed the way they are held between the boards from the temporary wood screws to the final solution – I put two M8 rods through the whole thing with pronged nuts hammered into the particle board base and wing nuts on top. It holds the ball bearings firmly in place and the cylinder can rotate freely.

And this is where I am right now. Next, I can start working on the propulsion part.

During all this work I am also spending a lot of time just thinking not only about each step but also about what might be the main challenge of this project – the adjustable sanding thickness. I have several ideas but they all are fiddly and complicated and I would like to keep things as simple as possible. The simpler the mechanism, the fewer potential points of failure. I won’t even attempt to make some sort of automatic feeding – the wood will be fed through the machine manually (if I manage to make it work).

A Soaring Eagle Knife

In a sense, this knife was in the making for over twenty years. At least more than twenty years ago I drew the picture of a soaring eagle for the purpose of using it to adorn a knife. Initially, I wanted to etch the image on the blade, but I made this blade with a ridge, thus it could not be fitted on it. So I decided to use it on the leather sheath instead.

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The blade is mirror-polished and it was a major PITA to take a picture. One day I will simply have to invest time and money in a better lighting setup. I just don’t want to.

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

The handle is made from the same material as the kestrel knife, but the inserts are only from a birch polypore. The big thick white pieces contrast nicely with the wood. Which has in my opinion a much more interesting pattern than the previous one.

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

To take a picture of the embossed sheath was a bugger too. It is too shiny and in most pictures, it gleamed like a naked bum. At some point I had to work with what I had, I could not re-take the photos forever.

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

Carving and embossing all the feathers was fairly difficult, especially the tips of the wings, and I am sure it could be done better. Sometimes I think I am punishing myself with these elaborate designs. But despite its flaws, this time I do like the end result. I think it looks handmade, but not ineptly made.

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The metal fittings are from wire-brushed bronze and the washer at the end of the peened tang is shaped like a chrysanthemum blossom. It is already acquiring patina. I was thinking about whether to let it age naturally or whether to speed up the process and I decided to let things to their natural progression.

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With the blade over 17 cm long, it is a big boi. But weighing just about 392 g with sheath, it is not particularly heavy. And since the point of balance is at the forefinger just at the boundary between the white polypore and the wood of the handle, it feels very light and nimble in the hand.

A Kestrel Knife

I’ve been extremely busy these last few months, that is, I was busy when I had the spoons and the strength to do anything meaningful at all. Knifemaking has progressed at a snail’s pace, which those who read the knife blogge will know. But I did manage to finish dressing up two more blades from my first overabladeance and today I sharpened them and I started to take pictures. And I started with the smaller of the two.

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

I tried my hand at embossing the sheath with a picture of a kestrel, based on one of my own photographs. I do not think I have done a spectacular job, but I showed it to a few people IRL who seemed to like it. Although some thought the kestrel was an eagle. But I think that is an indictment of their knowledge of birds and not of my leather carving ability. Though honestly, I had trouble getting into the mindset needed to work, I am barely keeping depression from eating my brain.

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

The blade is an old design that I have shown here multiple times. Nothing new about that, but I tried some new materials for the handle and I think they show great promise for future projects.

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I used strongly decomposed (spalted) wood and this time, I submerged the wood in wood dye first and then I stabilized it with a resin that cures at 80°C. And it worked very well. The dye soaked primarily into the more decomposed parts and that created an additional marbling effect to the one created by the fungus itself. The white-ish inserts are not bone this time, but also resin-stabilized material – birch polypore, Fomitopsis betulina. It looks to be very promising material, I will write about it more when making my next project with it. And the chocolate brown inserts are also resin stabilized conk – tinder fungus, Fomes fomentarius. That also looks like a promising material for bolsters, inserts, etc.

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And to cap it off, at the end of the tang is a nut shaped like a heraldic rose blossom.

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Sometime this week I will also make pictures of the second knife. That one is significantly bigger.

Moar Easter Gingerbreads

My mother made these on Sunday and only just now I got around to post them.

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© 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.

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

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

Knives on Snow

Winter did not want to give up yet, which suits me just fine. I wanted some pictures of my newly made knives with snow/winter backgrounds and I could not do it because the winter was insanely tepid and wet with nary a snowflake in sight. Yet tonight the weather obliged and I woke to a nice sunny day with a few cm of snow cover. Thus right after breakfast I went out and arranged all three knives and took pictures. I might never use them for the intended purpose, but I am glad I made them anyway.

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

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

I am also glad for the cold spell since it gave me reprieve from hard labor in the garden and I could spend the day indoors making knives again. I still have a lot of undressed blades to finish.

The snow melted right away and everything is soggy now.  Still more should come according to the forecast. I was just about to plant the potatoes when it started to snow and now it might take a few more days before I can do that. Hooray!

A Howlicool Knife

I am still undecided on whether to offer this knife for sale or not. It is a cursed knife, mistakes, and obstacles just kept popping up. I tried to use the oak extract blackening on mild steel fittings and it did not take. So I used heat and linseed oil and the results were great – but they got damaged badly at the last minute when I was sharpening the blade. That damage is irreparable now, although one might not spot it if unaware of its existence. I damaged the blackening on the blade too, but I was able to restore that to an almost new look. It turns out that some paper masking tapes have glue that is damaging to both blackening techniques used. It sticks too strongly after a while and it is nigh impossible to clean it off the metal surface.

Pictures below the fold.

[Read more…]

Still Not a Masterpiece

Strictly speaking, I can never make a masterpiece, because I do not know about any knifemaker’s guild or similar organization around here that could grant me one. And even if I knew, I could not be bothered with going through the hassle accompanied by obtaining one. There was a knifemaking vocational school in CZ, but a quick Google search failed to confirm whether it is still functional. When I found out about its existence, I already had my Master’s degree in Biology and Chemistry and it was not feasible to go back to vocational school at that stage of my life.

Nevermind. I just finished two knives and I do think I did a good job, although they both took an absolutely unholy amount of time to finish. The blades were first seen in the first Overabladeance post. Both blades are highly polished, which makes them a PITA to photograph. I am not entirely convinced my choice of background for these photos was correct but I am reluctant to go through all the hours of photographing it again with another color.

Lotsa of pictures under the fold. [Read more…]

Creativity AIn’t the issue

I tried to use generative AI in my last designs, both for the auroch and for the wild boar. First I tried the AI that is supplied with the latest version of Photoshop. Since I am paying for that, I might as well use it. Then I tried to use Stable Diffusion because it is free. And after that, there is no way in hell I will pay for Midjourney, even if I could afford it.

I won’t post the pictures I got here, the internet does not need more AI-generated crap to pollute it. Suffice it to say, that whilst some results looked at least somewhat interesting, most were total crap and none were useable for my purposes. Right from the outset, I found out that the AI does not actually contribute anything to my work at all.

I am one of those people who has some trouble visualizing things in their mind. Especially human faces. I would be completely incapable of drawing the face of even the most beloved person in my life. That might sound odd for someone who doodled all the time and who used to be sufficiently good at drawing to get into art school where part of the entrance examination was drawing a Goethe bust, but that is the way it is. I generally need some kind of template to get started. However, as I found out with the AI, my inability to form a clear visual picture in my mind does not mean that I start without a clue as to how the result shall look. And that is where I clashed with the AI and lost.

I got plenty of two-headed or six-legged animals, plenty of zebu or bison-like animals instead of aurochs, and a lot of domesticated pig lookalikes instead of wild boars. The pose of the animal was never right, no matter what prompts I used. Even after I wrote “auroch running from left to right” I got a picture of what looked like a pair of six-legged water buffaloes running from right to left. At one time the Photoshop AI even deleted one of three generated pictures because the prompt “auroch bull charging” somehow triggered its anti-porn filter or something.

After a few days of faffing around, I found out that my old process – which I described in my previous post – is actually the better way to go. Because despite my poor visualization skills, I still have a pretty good idea about what I want to achieve and what the end result should look like. The AI did not help with that in any way. I only wanted it to generate the picture to get started, and I haven’t got even that. I had zero control over what came out of it. It was a game of chance and I never enjoyed those.

No doubt that with a lot of work and a supply of carefully selected images to train the AI myself, I might get some useable results, but I also got those with a simple Google photo search and making a biro sketch in a few minutes. And once I had the sketch, once I got started, I built on that.

I do not consider generative AI to be completely useless but if it is creative, to me it was a hindrance, not a plus. Sure, I used it to generate dozens of somewhat unique pictures, but despite me being the one giving the prompts, I was in no meaningful way the one who actually created the result.

The results were pictorial ends to a game of Chinese whispers. Sometimes amusing, sometimes interesting, but always widely off the mark.

My Creative Process

Marcus’s recent posts about AI got me thinking and as a part of my thoughts on the issue, I want to start today by writing about my creative process, using my most recent art pieces. Those pieces being knives, because why not.

For me, the idea of how to create something usually pops into my mind without any conscious effort. I can be sleeping, eating my lunch, or driving my car, mulling over this and that and I get the starting of an idea about how to create something. And then it grows from there organically during the process itself.

Of course, all my knives are influenced by my experiences with using and making knives, as well as the designs I saw, whether conscious of that influence or not. But with these two knives, I can be a bit more specific. One of them started nearly thirty years ago and it is inspired by another knifemaker’s blade that I saw in one of my books. I changed both the outline and the grind profile, but the inspiration from someone else’s work was the starting point. For the other knife though, it started with my first failed attempt at a machete (-click-), thus the inspiration for this specific design was an accident.

When I started to make the two blades, I had no concrete plans for them and I had originally intended to make them with ordinary wooden scales. But as the works progressed, I started to think more and more that they would look splendid with engraved bone scales and I left them lying for a year with that idea at the back of my mind. During that year, I worked on other things, as the ideas for what to do with these two slowly matured in my mind. The bigger one got me on a line of thinking that ended up with the idea of engraving a picture of an auroch on the scale, but I still had no idea about the smaller one.

Then in the fall of last year, I successfully sold a knife with a picture of a roe deer on the sheath and when talking with my mother about what animal to use next, she suggested a wild boar. And whilst I have declined the idea for a sheath decoration (for now), I did think that it would look well on a bone scale, thus I finally got the idea for the second knife. Again, inspiration for one came out of some murky associations in my subconscious, the other one came from a nudge by another person’s ideas.

So with a rough idea in my head about what I wanted to accomplish, I started outfitting the knives. And as I wrote in my previous post, during the manufacture I decided to make the handle scales with hidden pins, which gave me an even bigger area to embellish. And when the knives were finally finished, I could start on the designs for the engravings.

With animal designs, I normally start by looking through my books and the interwebs for photos and drawings for inspiration. Not to copy – not the lest because to find a picture with the exact pose that I could use would be a stroke of luck indeed – but to use it as a guideline for a picture that is not egregiously anatomically incorrect. When I find a picture that is roughly what I want the end result to be, I start sketching. Most of that process can be seen in this picture:

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

Nowadays I start with biro sketches on paper that I subsequently refine on PC. In the past, I would go with pencils on paper all the way to the finished product. I wanted to use a whole pig, but I had trouble fitting that on the scale due to its shape, so I decided to use just the head.

When I fine-tuned both designs on PC to my satisfaction, I decided to test whether the boar head would look acceptable, so I made a test piece on an offcut of bone.

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

As you can see I made again changes from the previous sketches. Not only because I am not a copy machine, but also because each medium imposes its own limits on the creative process and thus each medium demands some changes in attitude to get a usable result. At this stage, I thought I was finished with designing and ready to set out to work, but my mind kept working. It kept nagging me that the scales looked too empty. There were no visible pins and thus there was ample space to fill. I added a rope pattern as framing around the head, but it still was not enough. I tried to fish my mother’s mind for ideas and she delivered – I should add some spruce twigs. I initially dismissed the idea because I did not know how to implement it, but when I tried to google “spruce twig pattern”, I got an idea for how to do it, I drew it and I was finally satisfied.

Nevertheless, I still only had decorative designs for the right side of each knife. I decided to leave the left side on the auroch blade blank, but I felt somehow that the boar needed to have something on the other side too. And without prompting, an idea came to me in the evening just before sleep – to continue the rope frame around the boar head to the other side and engrave a decorative knot there. As far as which knot to use, this time I did not look for inspiration to others, I simply took two pieces of paracord and arranged them into knots for about an hour until I got a result I liked.

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

I have redrawn the design on the PC into a shape that fits the scale and thus my designs were finished. I printed them out on paper labels and set out to work.

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

The actual realization is more about craft and technique than about the creative process. If you are interested in that, tomorrow there will be a short article on my Knife Blogge about it.

Next time I would like to write about how this all connects to generative AI. I do not know when, but hopefully next weekend.

Hidden Pins on Bone Scales

I wrote about how I make handles with hidden pins before (-click-, -click-) so I won’t repeat myself in this post too much. However, I tried that technique with something new this time – bone scales.

I am currently making two big outdoor knives with highly polished blades. Those blades alone were a lot of work so I have decided to go all the way and make the knives really posh. So I have decided to make the handles with bone scales. However, when making handle scales from bone this big, they were a bit too thin. Thus I have decided to bulk them a little bit with 2 mm micarta (dark brown for contrast). And using micarta gave me the idea to use my hidden-pin technique for bone scales too.

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

I did not originally plan to make the pins hidden so the holes were placed just as if they were visible (I originally planned a different bolster shape too). So there are six 3 mm metal pins and 4 6 mm bamboo dowels holding the handles together now. The super big holes filled with wood were drilled so big to remove needless mass from the tang and the wooden plugs are there to increase glued surface.

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

I drilled all the way through the micarta and about 1 mm into the bone. I would not use this technique for bone alone because it is very rigid, stiff, and brittle. But micarta is somewhat pliable, elastic, and strong both in tension and pressure so I think it is an ideal material for the transition between the metal tang and the bone scale.

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

This gives me a nice, big surface on which to draw something pretty. I already have designs for both handles and one is half-finished.

Mechanically, I think this handle construction should withstand everything that a classic one with pins going all the way through would. As far as aging goes, the epoxy glue did not fail on any knife I have made yet, but should it fail at some point in the distant future, it should also be relatively easy to fix with new glue.