Sure, Macramé Your Hair, Why Not?

I got distracted. Again. Seems my brain has been having a bit of a vacation too, I’ve been quite the space case lately. Anyroad, came upon these um, attachments? Extensions? Falls? (Does anyone else remember falls?) I’d love to have some of these done with my hair, if it ever achieves thickness again. These are from 1840. Click for full size!

Making a Rondel Dagger – Interlude

The now finished blade came out really nicely, so I will not be ashamed to be associated with it. So I will definitively sign it. However I mentioned already that I do not currently have my own maker’s mark, since the one I used from 10 years age is now used as bluetooth logo. I am not sure whether continuing to use it could lead to legal trouble, but I guess it would lead to confusion. “That knife has a bluetooth? What does it do?”.

I tried to design a new logo, but all designs I came up with either do not appeal to me, or they require quite precise etching process to be made on a blade. And that would definitively not fit this blade, where I aim for as authentic medieval look as I can achieve.

An idea came to me to use my initials, but not in Latin script, but in Glagolitic. At least for this particular dagger. It has the advantage that not only is it a very simple design, it is also thematic – Glagolitic script is the official script of the Witcher 3 game from which the inspiration for the dagger originated. And I am not appropriating other people’s culture.

So today I set out to try how it looks and also to refine/remember my etching process, since I did not do it for quite a long time. For that I yesterday polished a piece of steel from my failed broken machete.

In the past I tried different materials as masking for etching and the best results I have got with material that does not look appealing in the least. But do not worry, it does not smell like what it looks like. It smells actually very nice when worked, because it has been made from equal parts of beeswax, bitumen and spruce resin, all boiled together and poured into water to solidify. I formed it in sticks and for last ten years it collected dust. But it does not spoil and it is just as usable as it was when new.

When heated with heat gun or even with hair dryer or a candle it quickly gets very sticky and adheres to the de-greased steel quite well. So I heat gently both the steel and the stick and rub them together to transfer some of the sticky material onto the blade. Then I use the air flow from the hot air gun to make an even thin layer. It is important for the layer not to be too thick, because it would be difficult to draw the design in it, but also not too thin because then it could delaminate during etching around the edges (delamination was a huge problem when I was trying to use paraffine btw.).

Next step is to draw the design. The layer remains fairly soft and plastic for long time and can be easily scratched through. For this I am using an old compass needle, but for finer design a razor blade or very sharp wood carving knife tip can also be used. It is important to keep the needle clean after every scratch, since the stuff adheres to it too. It is also necessary not only to scratch through, but more like scratch/chisel away. Minor mistakes can be repaired by pressing a piece of the mass on desired place and pressing it gently against the spot until it connects again. After just a few minutes of work under a magnifying glass I was ready to try etching.

For just a small logo I did not want to prepare whole big etching bath, so I used the masking mass to glue a bottle cap with cut-out top as a barrier for the etching fluid to remain in place. As a source of electrical current I have used a DC power supply from an external hard drive that has died on me a few years ago – it has an on/off switch which comes in handy. Anode (+) is connected on the steel and cathode (-) on a piece of graphite (a pencil core works too and I used it for very fine etchings in the past). As etching fluid I have used ordinary kitchen salt solution in the past, but today I have tried ferric chloride because I reasoned (correctly) that it will work better. It is solution for etching printed circuit boards diluted approximately 1:10.

It is important to not use too concentrated solution for two main reasons:

  1. The current that can go through the solution depends on concentration. Too high concentration can mean too high current and that can burn the DC power supply (lesson learned in the past).
  2. Too concentrated solution also etches too quickly and that is not desirable because it makes uneven “burned” looking and spotty etch.

After that I turned the switch on and waited for ten minutes. It was not complete success because towards the end the bath evaporated too much, it got warm and the masking layer delaminated around the whole logo. So I repeated the process once more with only five minutes etching time. I am satisfied with the result, the etching is clear and has nice black color that I know I would not get with table salt. Now I will play with the letters a bit in Photoshop to get the proportions right.

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

Bad American Blood.

Hervé Garnier poses with a bottle of wine from Beaumont. Courtesy of Hervé Garnier.

Hervé Garnier poses with a bottle of wine from Beaumont. Courtesy of Hervé Garnier.

A story of an illicit wine, one with a history of a hysterical hunt to destroy these vines with bad blood in them. This wine is still illegal, and I have to say after reading the story, that I’d love to get my hands on a bottle, it sounds delicious.

“This cuvée hails from the tiny, remote village of Beaumont, where it’s been perfected by five generations of local winemakers,” whispers Borel. For the past 84 years, the French government and, most recently, the European Union, has sought to eradicate Beaumont’s grapevines due to their American “blood.” Although the vines are French-American hybrids, they are more than 140 years old. Beaumont’s Association Mémoire de la Vigne makes just 7,000 bottles a year.


“This wine should be celebrated as others are,” says Hervé Garnier, the 66-year-old Association Mémoire de la Vigne president and founder. Garnier loves Beaumont, which is situated in Cévennes National Park along France’s highest mountain range, and is home to groves of chestnut trees, wild boar, and high rocky cliffs. Its centuries-old stone buildings have terracotta roofs and rocky terraces, and are etched into the hillsides overlooking the Beaume River. Since its founding in the 11th century, sheepherders have practiced transhumance—moving herds to summer in alpine meadows—by way of traditional paths. They are some of the last in the world to do so.

“What wine do you think they carry when they go?” fumes Garnier. “For 150 years, the Cuvée des Vignes d’Antan is the taste of this land. And yet, a ridiculous archaic law tries to destroy it!”

Indeed. If it wasn’t for Garnier and a group of unruly older winemakers, Beaumont’s wine would be lost to history.

The village of Beaumont; it’s location in a national park makes its wine a nationally protected folkway. Courtesy of Hervé Garnier.

The village of Beaumont; it’s location in a national park makes its wine a nationally protected folkway. Courtesy of Hervé Garnier.

You can see and read much more at Atlas Obscura.

Exquisite Rot: The Lost Art of Intarsia.

Much like people still use fungus riddled Diamond Willow to make walking sticks and other items, spalted wood was also a part of the art of Intarsia, a specific type of wood inlay. Here are a few stunning examples, and you can see and read much more about the history of this art at the Public Domain Review.

The technique of Intarsia — the fitting together of pieces of intricately cut wood to make often complex images — has produced some of the most awe-inspiring pieces of Renaissance craftsmanship.

Note: if you click over to the Met Museum, the way to see the images full size is to click on ‘download’. All the images here, click for full size!

Detail from an intarsia piece by Fra Damiano da Bergamo, early 16th century. Note the subtle dots of greenish-blue in the covered archway — Source.

Detail from an intarsia piece by Fra Damiano da Bergamo, early 16th century. Note the subtle dots of greenish-blue in the covered archway — Source.

Those “cupboards” are trompe l’oeil! Part of the Studiolo Gubbio as installed in the Metropolitan Museum — Source.

cipio Africanus (ca. 1425–30), intarsia by Mattia di Nanni di Stefano using poplar, bog oak and other wood inlay, rosewood, tin, bone, traces of green colouring — Source.

Scipio Africanus (ca. 1425–30), intarsia by Mattia di Nanni di Stefano using poplar, bog oak and other wood inlay, rosewood, tin, bone, traces of green colouring — Source.

The House of Dreams.

Stephen Wright in the front room of the House of Dreams. Vice.

Feelings. This text in this picture describes how I feel about the House of Dreams, my work, and my artistic life journey. I sometimes don't have a clue what I am doing and why. I only know it's the right thing for me to do.

Feelings. This text in this picture describes how I feel about the House of Dreams, my work, and my artistic life journey. I sometimes don’t have a clue what I am doing and why. I only know it’s the right thing for me to do.

Take some time today to meet an extraordinary artist, Stephen Wright. His House of Dreams is amazing, to say the very least, and the story of his journey is both wondrous and terribly poignant. Vice has an in depth interview with Mr. Wright, and you can take a virtual tour of the House of Dreams, or book an actual visit.

Vice Story. The House of Dreams.


When working in US some twenty years ago I borrowed from the local library in Ketchum (ID) the Ed Fowler’s book Knife Talk: The Art & Science Of Knifemaking. Unfortunately I did not have time to read the whole book so I basically just skimmed most of it and therefore I do not remember all. I can recommend the book with good conscience though, because I did read one chapter in full and remember its title and contents well – “Knifesharpenophobia”. I consider that a sign of good and persuasive writing.

I have remembered about this book and this particular chapter recently when I was obsessing over properly hardening a blade for a knife that in all likelihood will never be used to cut anything harder than a mushroom or perhaps some soft wood during a walk in the forests. And maybe not even that.

In the past I have made knives from improperly hardened steel. Not that I wanted to, I did not have much choice. I did not have high-quality knife steel available just a few mouse clicks away, and even if I had I was so poor I could not afford it. And I lacked a lot of the knowledge I have now so I could not improve the steel I had.

Two of those knives are occasionally still in use (by me) whenever I go to the forest.

A knife

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

A knife

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

I let you in on a little secret: They cut perfectly well. With the second one, made from low-carbon structural steel, I was able to do even quite a lot of wood carvings and heavy cutting/chopping when I was camping in the past.The first one is made from some unknown martensitic stainless steel that I was not able to harden for unknown reasons.

However the softer than normal blade did not impede work in the slightest. All that was needed to do was to sharpen the blade a bit more often than is perhaps usual and it was much quicker to sharpen than other blades. Just like Ed Fowler says in his book:

…Granted, edge holding is a fine attribute for a knife. The problem is, knives that seldom need sharpening generally are usually too hard to sharpen when the time comes to sharpen them…

I could not agree more.

I think that for anyone who starts to learn the knife making trade it is vitally important to keep in mind the fact that for thousands of years people were perfectly capable of hunting, cooking and fighting with blades made from soft metals like copper, bronze and wrought iron. Sure, steel was the ideal material of choice once discovered, but untill the invention of blast furnaces it was hard to come by in larger amounts and it rarely had consistent properties.

I hate it when I come across some smug knife maker who berates some young beginner for forging or making knives out of the steel they can get their hands on. Some people even feel the need to hurl derogatory epithets at knives made from rail spikes or structural steel. I wish they stopped doing that, because it accomplishes nothing except maybe discouraging a future master from pursuing further the hobby they enjoy. Obsessing about the frequency of sharpening and edge retention is not necessary for a beginner, I would even argue the opposite. And why the aversion to knives that need sharpening? Well, I let Ed Fowler have a say again:

…What is knifesharpenophobia? …I define it as an irrational, excessive and unnecessary fear of sharpening knives. This is a malady that strikes fear in the hearts of all too many knife lovers and users.

And to make the point even finer you can watch this video where it is demonstrated that properly sharpened flat bar from 5,-€ low-carbon structural steel can cut just as well as 100,-€ katana:


Hackamore Miniature.

An astonishing work, from Kestrel: There is a group that issues a fun challenge to model horse tack makers: push your skill set and see if you can make a nice piece of tack in one month. For the project I chose to make a hackamore in 1:32 scale (normally I work at 1:9) and the goal is to make it look as much like a piece of tack for a living horse while being in scale and as detailed as possible. This was hard… it really was a challenge for me to go this small.

Click for full size!

It all started with a single white horsehair. I braided 8 strands of very fine silk over the hair, to create the base of the noseband (bosal) for the hackamore. I have to check to see if it will look in scale:

Then I tie a series of braided knots in the silk, to create the finished bosal, a very complicated little device:

We need some buckles for the headstall to hold the bosal on the horse’s head:

Next I have to make the headstall of leather, and why not tie a few more braided knots on it to make it decorative. Also I need to braid a long rope with a tassel at one end and a leather popper on the other (mecate) which is the traditional way of rigging reins and a lead rope:

The finished piece, which hopefully looks like it could be full-sized on a live horse:

Making a Rondel Dagger – Part 5 – Bounce

I lied to myself when I said that I will continue even though the blade might not be hardened properly. I just could not do it. Even though the knife will in the end be just ornamental thing, a wall hanger that will never be used, I could not bring myself to making a knife with improperly hardened blade. So I had another go at it. Fail again, the steel was still soft and it was not only surface – I tried to break of the tip and it bent and straightened as if it were copper. So I had another go at it, using water as quenchant – a big risk because in high carbon steel this can lead to the blade cracking or even exploding into bits. Fail again, it remained soft.

At this point I had to reconsider. I was convinced that I did everything correctly, testing with magnet for the austenite transformation etc. and I am already relatively good at assessing the temperature by the glow color, so I did not think the failed quench was due to wrong temperature. The quenchant also could not be the problem, since I hardened three blades in it without problems and one at the same time as this one failed.

So I surmised the problem lies in the steel. Perhaps it was surface hardened file and when I did the test with ferric chloride I had all the hardened steel ground off already, so it could not show in color. Or perhaps I burned off the carbon due to the not-so-well functioning protective coating. I consider the first option to be more likely. Anyway, I could throw this blade away and start anew, or I could do what I mentioned before – surface harden it.

Theoretically this makes for a very good dagger, because under the hard and brittle surface remains soft and tough steel, which means the dagger would not break easily when hitting something hard – like an armor. But it is a long process that burns through a lot of charcoal with results unsure. And the layer might be too thin and get ground off during polishing.

I succumbed, knowingly, to the sunk cost fallacy and decided to go for it in an attempt to save the blade. This is what I have done:

Cleaned dagger blade

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

First I have cleaned the whole blade thoroughly with angle grinder and a twisted knot wire brush wheel. After that I also scrubbed the whole blade with abrasive pad (similar to Scotch-Brite, only different manufacturer). Whilst doing this I noticed that the blade got slightly blotchy and pitted, so there was definitively more material burned off than I am happy with. Inevitable after three failed quenches. Theoretically quench could be attempted infinite amount of times – but practically the blade would burn away pretty soon.



Blade packed in charcoal

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

Secondly I took my limited supply of stainless steel foil and wrapped it around the blade forming a little trough. Not wanting to perform more than one experiment in one project I did not experiment with the hardening material and I used powdered charcoal. Any organic material would do, really (sugar works extremely well I might add, and in the future I intend to experiment with bone dust and various mixtures from easy to get chemicals), but they give blotchy, coloured surfaces, and with charcoal I had a best shot to get evenly hardened and evenly coloured surface.


Package enclosed

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

After filling the trough about halfway with the powder I crimped very tightly the edges, folding them twice and pressing the folds together in a vice. It is important to get the package as air tight as possible. But the tang was not packed in, because that was supposed to remain soft. Thus prepared package was now ready for heating. For this I have used my improvised setup build from fireclay bricks, but without forced air supply (a fancy way of saying I left the vacuum cleaner in the workshop). I filled the fireplace with charcoal, buried the package in it, lit it and left it to its own devices over night. Under an impromptu cover because it was raining.


The next day the package was burned through near the tip, a bad sign. But the charcoal dust was still all in there and it did cling to the blade very nicely – I had to scrape it off. A good sign. But I decided to repeat the process once more just to be sure.

Today, after I returned from work, the weather was again good so I could have another shot at quenching this cursed thing.

And it is a success. The blade is hard as glass on the surface and there are no cracks that I see after cleaning it with wire brush. I hope no hair thin cracks shows later on.

Tomorrow the blade goes into the baking oven for heat treatment 150°C half an hour. Maybe two courses.

Poor Man’s Belt Grinder – Mark 2

As I was saying last time, I have given my belt grinder a complete overhaul.

Since now I knew that I can do it and it will work, I was not so stingy about spending money so I bought for about 50€ a few beech wood profiles 50×50 and 50×30 mm, some new ball bearings and a few other thing.

First thing I have done after that was to remove the belt support and compeltely dismantle the idler wheels. I have rebuild them. Instead of using threaded rods throughout I used about 100 mm length of a 10 mm rod on which I cut thread on the ends – on one side just about 1 cm each side . This has provided better fit with the inner opening of the ball bearings. I also shortened the inner spacer between the  ball bearings so that I can sink in the nuts inside so it and the rod are flush with the wheel edge.

This has allowed me to to fix the wheels on the future idler on only one side, so I fixed them perpendicular to 50×30 profile and after that I got distracted.


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

The distraction was the spanning wheel, which I did not intend to rebuild. But changing belts was a bit awkward – I had to pull on the lever with left hand and change the belt with the right hand. And I got an idea on how to improve that. So I have built out of plywood a gravity latch that falls into position when the lever is pulled beyond certain point. That frees both hands to put on the belt comfortably and without hassle. When the belt is on I lift the latch, the spring spans the arm and after I let go the latch end lays on the top of the spanning arm without restraining it.


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

With that done I returned to the idler. Whilst I did spend some money on good materials, I did not spend too much time with planning except in my head. So I was still working by mostly piling stuff on other stuff making it up as I go along. I did not bother with precision too much and relied heavily on epoxy to fill any gaps and I added dovels and sometimes screws for strength

The only thing that I actually have spent some time to make precise was the parallelity of the wheels.

On the idler I prepared two screws with wing nuts for fixing the platen, and on the other side are two screws for fixing the support table (not seen here, but the positions are the pale circles in the lower half).

With that done I have cut two platens out of an old U profile that was rusting in my garden for years. Here is the final setup with all threee options visible. Left is setting for 20 cm hardbelt, middle 12 cm hardbelt, 10 cm slackbelt and right is 24 cm slackbelt.

Belt support options

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

After this was done and tested – which I have done by truing the platens by alternating them as support/workpiece against each other on the grinder – I gave the whole thing a new coat of paint. The machine blue and the detacheable idler arm pale grey.

Belt grinder

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

Belt grinder

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

It is Amazing how a simple paint can improve the looks of things, isn’t it? I am glad to say that it all works as intended.

Next step is to make second detacheable arm with changeable wheels of different diameters, for hollow grind an fullers.

Making a Rondel Dagger – Part 4 – Hardening

Today, after finishing with my bonsai trees for now, I got an hour or so to use and get a shot at hardening the blade.

I was so stressed from working almost non-stop the whole weekend and trying to manage to replant all my outdoor bonsai trees that I forgot to take pictures of the process and only could take pictures afterwards. So here is a picture of my setup. I was hardening two blades.

Blade hardening setup

Blade hardening setup.

Slight  contrast with Marcus’s fully equipped workshop I guess :-). On the right is gas mini-forge where a future kitchen knife was heated up most of the time, on the left is a charcoal fire between fireclay bricks for the dagger and in the middle is quenching oil. This is the main reason why I cannot harden blades in bad weather – I have to go outside to do it.

And here are the blades after hardening and before tempering, covered in burned oil and, in the case of the dagger, slag and scale.

Blades after quench.

Blades after quench.

I am not all together sure It was a complete success. I am sure it was a 50% success. I definitively successfully hardened the kitchen knife. Which is slightly strange, because the kitchen knife is made from N690 steel that is allegedly difficult to harden in impromptu settings, whereas the dagger is simple carbon steel that should have been easy-peasy. The kitchen knife is completely without deformation, the dagger got a very slight bend that I was able to correct after tempering the blades in kitchen oven at 150°C for an hour. In fact, it was maybe too easy to correct. File skids on the kitchen blade like on glass, but it is possible to make a shallow bite with it into the dagger.

The problem might be that I tried to coat the dagger with an experimental anti-scaling solution that unfortunately did not work as intended. Back to the drawing board there I guess. So it might be that the blade is hardened, but a few tenths of a mm on the surface have slightly lowered  carbon content due to decarburization. The N690 steel blade was not covered in the solution, but was covered with stainless steel foil that burned through towards the end.

I have no way to measure the hardness of the steel, and I am probably not going and try to re-harden the blade. I will proceed and we will see what comes out of it.

Making a Rondel Dagger – Part 1

When the weather is not suitable for work outside, I will make use of my belt grinder, now  Mark 2. So today I took another old file and I decided to make a dagger out of it. The inspiration is dagger used by Vesemir and Ciri in the game Witcher 3, but there will be some design changes even for the blade (less daggery, more knifey). I will post my progress, but beware that I am no expert, just a self-taught hobbyist goofing around. Risk of concussions from facepalming for any expert. You have been warned.

I started with an old file that I threw in the stove fire last year to soften the steel. I cleaned some of the rust on the belt grinder when I was testing the new design. But before proceeding I needed to make the tang slightly longer. So today I just made the tang more pointy and chamfered the edges. Then I took an old piece of round stock of structural steel, cut it lengthwise for a few cm and fitted it onto the file tang.


Old rusty file

Old rusty file

Chamfered file tang

Chamfered file tang

Fitted tang extension

Fitted tang extension

After that there came the trial by fire, or more precisely, electric arc. My first real welding. I admit I should have tried to simply weld scraps together a few more times before I try for something real. I should have. But learning skill on something that is subsequently thrown away simply is not me. I always try to learn on the real thing. Not smart, I know, but that is just me. I have already forced my self to try it once on scraps.

I must admit, I could not have done a better job. That is to say, the job is crap, but I lack the skill to do better. But it holds together even after grinding off the slag and rust from the whole thing. There are some visible slag inclusions in the weld, but it is definitively welded together and since it will all be hidden in the handle, I will not lose sleep over it. Hopefully no rampaging rhino will stamp on it and ruin it all.

Welded tang extension

Welded tang extension with slag.

File cleaned.

Cleaned and the tang ground to rough shape.

With that done I finally could do some work on the belt grinder. Since I do not have machinist’s blue, I used 1 cm thick blue marker to cover one side of the file. Then I have drawn the center line  and quarter marks using a steel ruler and a self-made steel marking needle. After that I ground the file into a symmetrical leaf shape. With that I was done for the evening and I will resume the work at some other random date.

ground basic blade outline

©Charly, all rights reserved.

Poor Man’s Belt Grinder – Mark 1

Belt Grinder

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

This was the first iteration of my belt grinder. I built the whole thing out of scraps and it was completely ad-hoc process – piling stuff upon other stuff as it seemed appropriate at the moment. The base is a piece of thick particle board – specifically the piece I had cut out of new kitchen counter for the sink. Further I used a few other cuts of particle board I had lying around and an old 1,5 kW motor from old pump. The tracking wheel, the drive wheel and the platen I got from a cheapo 60,-€ belt grinder that I bought specifically for those – I expected it to be useless and I was correct. The guiding wheels I have built each out of two ball-bearings, a piece of threaded rod, a piece of metal tube as a spacer between those bearings and a stainless steel furniture leg as a shell. The furniture leg did not pass tightly over the ball bearings but I was lucky enough to find for 10,-€ a plastic tube that filled the difference perfectly. The guiding wheels were then fixed between two scraps of plywood together with the platen in hard belt + slack belt configuration.


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

The tracking wheel was a major headache for me. I had everything done but I still did not know how to do that part. As I was mulling it over in my head I got the idea one day whilst driving home from work. I have used a garden gate hinge (a new one, because there was no suitable one in my scrap pile) on which the wheel is fixed to the short wing and the longer wing can rotate. The angle between the hinge wings can be adjusted by a screw going through the long part and pushing against the part that holds the tracking wheel. The force for tension was supplied by a spring from an old bed. The spring ws too long so I had to bend it around a strange wheel of unknown origin.

It has worked reasonably well, after all I made two knives on it and I ground the basic shape of a machete. But mainly it was a proof that I can do this and that it will work. The machine as seen on these pictures does not exist anymore. I have completely rebuilt it and only the base and frame have stayed unchanged.