Monday, September 4, 2017

Helpful hints from hello, wheez...cough cough...sigh

The Raven

As part of my never ending effort to be useful, I decided to try a post with some potentially useful information.  At least I think it's useful.  It's always possible that nothing I have to say is useful and that's why I spend most of my time talking to myself.      ...Eh.

A long time friend of mine from a former life who suspiciously follows me on Instagram asked for this information.  Well, ya know, he asked how I did this and I said I'd make a video.  What I actually said was, if I told him I'd have to kill it's possible you will all have to die.  Probably not right away though. Anyway, I reconsidered and told him I would make a video.  Only, 1 - It would be 10 hours long and that's even too much for me.  And, 2 - I don't know how to make a video..... so the first part is just an excuse to cover up the second part.  Really though, 10 hours would be even more tedious than this explanation of why I am not making a 10 hour film.  Plus boredom would be a terrible way to die.  I decided to spare my fan and do a blog post instead.  So Bob, here's another post for you.

Anyway, back to the aforementioned somewhat useful information.  Chasing and repousse.  I will not, or probably not,  go into a long explanation of what each one is and how they differ.  Basically they are techniques that transform a flat piece of metal into a three dimensional relief.  Or something like that.  If you want the full explanations go to Wikipedia.  You can read that stuff there.  There are probably better places to find out about it but Wikipedia is concise. 

The definitions are less important to me than the technique.  Sort of.

Traditionally repousse and chasing were done in gold, silver and copper based metals.  I don't work in gold and silver and although I have some copper scrap, I mostly have aluminum scrap.  So that's what I have been using for my repousse and chasing.  One day I will graduate to steel and copper.  This is consistent with my life philosophy which is always start your day with gruel.  Otherwise it could go downhill.  Or sideways.  In other words, master every technique in the hardest possible material and then everything else will be cake.  Cake being dessert...and the last thing you eat in a day because you want to end on a high note.  Start with gruel.  End with cake.  Every day is a good day.

I feel like I should get to the meat of this blog now.  

As I said, I have aluminum sheet scrap.  I think it's 14g or maybe 16g.  It's scrap from a project I did probably 10 or so years ago.  I don't remember the exact gauge or alloy.  It's actually a bit scary because it's in jagged cuts off of the full sheets and the edges are sharp.  So I have these odd shaped pieces of aluminum sheet that I have been trying to come up with a use for.  My situation changed and I decided to do some repousse and chasing.  

Let me walk you through my process.  If you want to try this, you will need some things.  I'm just going to make a list of the things I think are useful or necessary when doing chasing and repousse.

  • A flat piece of metal sheet and an understanding of annealing and work hardening metals
  • A way to anneal the sheet.  I use a propane torch because I am working pretty small
  • A not hard surface.  This one is a little tricky.  There are a lot of things that can be used as backing.  Since I am working small, I use a pitch bowl.  There are several types of pitch and the type you choose is based on how you work.  My pitch is a combination because I keep trying new pitches.  But if you are just starting and want to try this without a huge investment, you could try using carpet or rubber or wax as a backing.  I met a guy last year who does all his chasing in wax because it gives the way he wants it too, and he thinks pitch is too hard.  The reason I use a bowl, rather than a box or some other thing to hold my pitch, is that I can move it and angle it as I work.  Dang, I gotta go take a picture of this.  BRB  hahahahah 
    Pitch bowl on stand
  • A hammer with a large flat face.  I have several hammers.  I use two most often.  I have a cheap cobblers hammer and I have an expensive chasing hammer.  They cost me about the same amount each.  You can get a cheap chasing  hammer for less than $10.  It will work fine and give you a chance to not spend all your money on tools that you will toss in a corner when you get frustrated and give up.  Not that you will.
  • Chasing tools.  Oh yeah.  That's a wide open thing.  I made most of mine,  You can buy them but it's pricey.  I don't think you need a lot of tools to start.  To begin you could probably get away with a liner, some kind of pusher and a planisher.  I made my favorite liner from a small cold chisel that had seen some rough use.  I have a doming block from HarborFreight that I use for pushing.  It may not work on other metals.  And I made a planisher from another broken chisel.  I do have a bit of tool steel around the shop, so I have made a few chasing tools over the last year.  Each situation will dictate the tools necessary, but for a basic form and to see how metal moves you can start very basic.  You could start with just a planisher that also pushes.  
  • Safety glasses and ear plugs.  Don't be an idiot.  
  • Good light
  • A surface to flatten the work between processes and when you are done.  I use an anvil.  
  • A soft hammer to flatten the work as above.  I use a cheap wood mallet, but some day I will probably invest in a paper hammer.  

I think that's all the tools.  The first thing you must do is anneal the metal.  As part of that process I heat the pitch so that the metal will stick to it and I can work.  Once the metal is stuck to the pitch, I can draw the figure on the face of the metal with a liner. That is the entire first step.  Easy.
All the tools and the Raven drawn with the chisel in the aluminum sheet. I used a curved and a straight liner and my cobblers hammer.

Just beginning the repousse using doming tools
Next I remove the metal from the pitch (this takes heat) and turn it over and reattach it to the pitch. This is the beginning of the repousse phase.  To be honest, I am still working on this.  I need to get better at not over pushing the metal and seeing the negative form.  While you are doing this you are working on the back side of the piece. I also work with the pitch warm.  I never want to do any work where I'm not sweating all the time.

Ready to be removed from the pitch and be turned over for chasing

The raven has been reattached to the pitch and is ready for chasing

Once the repousse is complete you need to heat the metal again to remove it from the pitch and dress the pitch by reheating it and moving it around so it's ready to hold the work again.  I often anneal the work again at this point.  I also put pitch in the back of the work so that it is fully supported for chasing.  

The aluminum needs to be flattened
The Raven has had the detail added.  I should have taken more pictures of the chasing process. This is after it has been flattened on the anvil.
Chasing is the most fun part of the process because that's when the work takes on it's final shape and begins to really look like your vision.  This is probably the most time consuming part.  I'm not entirely happy with this raven, but that's because I made a mistake in my thinking.  I am always learning so I hope I won't make that mistake again.  Usually by the end of the chasing, the metal has broken free of the pitch.  If it hasn't then you need to heat it.  If it breaks free too soon, you will need to reattach it.  
The Raven lifted off the pitch
The raven after the curve in the aluminum has been removed.

This should be fun.  Keep in mind that you are sculpting directly into the metal sheet.  You should work it until it looks the way you want it to look.  

The impression of the Raven in the pitch.  You can see some of the different pitch colors I use.
Oh yeah, your hands will probably hurt.  

And Bob, thanks for asking, I have all new teeth now and my jaw is mostly healed.

Back to work

Saturday, July 1, 2017

An artisan and a patriot -- a little something for Independence Day -- NOT THE MOVIE

I saw something that I have never seen before on my, I probably shouldn't run again until my broken jaw is fully healed, morning walk.  I swear, I will run again.  You know, once the swelling goes down and my jaw returns to its former home and my formerly perfect teeth have their new caps.  On a side note, I'm switching from boxing to aikido.  I need to unify my life energy........or something.

 Where was I?   

Oh yeah, this morning I saw a roadrunner fly.  Or what passes for flying for a roadrunner.  It smacked into the side of the building 3 times before it got to the roof.  There was a hummingbird hovering a few inches over its head.  Maybe the roadrunner was after the hummingbird's eggs.  Anyway the carnivore was no match for the agile nectar eater who seemed to be daring it to make a move.  I'm pretty sure the hummingbird would have bloodied the roadrunner before it could even spread its pathetic virtually useless wings if it tried anything.  Hummingbirds are fierce and fearless.  

That's the roadrunner who probably sustained a brain injury trying to get to the roof and the hummingbird ready to attack

And now for the awkward segue.  

The United States was a hummingbird once.  Maybe not the United States but the colonies or the colonists.  This fledgling nation was fierce, fearless and agile.  I'm killing it with the bird analogies today.   Or are they metaphors.  Not sure.  I do know that they are not semaphores.  Actually I don't have any idea what any words mean.  I'm just making all this crap up.  Because really a segue is supposed to be a smooth transition. Onward to what passes as my point fearless reader.

Drawn and engraved for the Society of Iconophiles, New York, 1899.

You may have heard of this guy named Paul Revere.  He was a silversmith who apparently practiced dentistry.  Hmmmmm..........probably can't fix my own he was able to identify the nine month old corpse of one of his dental patients from the wire he used to hold his false tooth in.  The guy had died in a battle and was buried on the battlefield. His family wanted him to have a proper burial and a headstone.  Digging up corpses, creepy and yet fascinating.   Revere also made gunpowder.  Eventually he got into iron casting and he opened the first copper mill in North America.  To me he is a testament to the adaptability of the skills of the artisan class in general but specifically in Colonial America.    He did live a really long life which gave him time for all of this.  At this point it doesn't look like I will have that kind of time.  At least not if I continue to accidentally try to kill myself.  For those of you who like Hamilton, Revere was a Federalist.  

This wasn't the guy.  Patrick Carr was killed in the Boston Massacre. Paul Revere did the engraving.  What a talented guy.

Print shows section of newspaper column with illustration of the coffin bearing skull and crossbones and the initials of Patrick Carr, who died from wounds received during the Boston Massacre. Revere, Paul, 1735-1818, engraver

The bloody massacre perpetrated in King Street Boston on March 5th 1770 by a party of the 29th Regt. Boston : Engrav'd Printed & Sold by Paul Revere, 1770.   A sensationalized portrayal of the skirmish, later to become known as the "Boston Massacre," between British soldiers and citizens of Boston on March 5, 1770. On the right a group of seven uniformed soldiers, on the signal of an officer, fire into a crowd of civilians at left. Three of the latter lie bleeding on the ground. Two other casualties have been lifted by the crowd. In the foreground is a dog; in the background are a row of houses, the First Church, and the Town House. Behind the British troops is another row of buildings including the Royal Custom House, which bears the sign (perhaps a sardonic comment) "Butcher's Hall." Beneath the print are 18 lines of verse, which begin: "Unhappy Boston! see thy Sons deplore, Thy hallowed Walks besmeared with guiltless Gore." Also listed are the "unhappy Sufferers" Saml Gray, Saml Maverick, James Caldwell, Crispus Attucks, and Patrick Carr (killed) and it is noted that there were "Six wounded; two of them (Christr Monk & John Clark) Mortally." The print was copied by Revere from a design by Henry Pelham for an engraving eventually published under the title "The Fruits of Arbitrary Power, or the Bloody Massacre," of which only two impressions could be located by Brigham. Revere's print appeared on or about March 28, 1770.

Paul Revere kind of amazes me.  He really filled his life.  He had something like 16 kids.  Who can participate in a revolution, run a silversmith business, create a gunpowder manufacturing facility because there was a need, create mass produced silverware with the use of a rolling mill , learn to cast iron and then bronze, and then use the rolling mill to mill copper?  Probably didn't even know his kids names. 

I do think it's fascinating that a guy who was depicted riding a horse and ringing a tiny little bell ended up casting giant iron and bronze bells.  This isn't one of them, but I couldn't find a picture of one. Seemed appropriate though.

The bell's first note....Woman with hammer alongside the Liberty Bell, in foundry. 
Repro. of painting by Jean Léon Gérom̂e Ferris.
-  This record contains unverified, old data from caption card.

Paul Revere never said "The British are coming"

The artisan class in colonial America was incredibly resourceful.  Not all were as successful as Mr. Revere, but they had limited technology and resources compared to manufacturers today. Even compared to the available technology in Europe at the same time in history.  They probably never had to say that their goods were handmade.  That was assumed.

Illus. in: Gleason's Pictorial, v. 6, (1854), p. 360.
-  This record contains unverified, old data from caption card.
-  Caption card tracings: United States History; Connecticut; Foundries; Shelf.
I realize I am jumping around in history and maybe someday I will bring all of this together to make some sort of point, but for now I am just sharing the discovery process. 

One last thing.  This is a poster from 1917 for something called Wake Up America Day.  It uses a portrayal of Paul Revere to recruit for military enlistment during World War I.

Wake up America Day - April 19, 1917 / James Montgomery Flagg.
Poster showing a woman, possibly Jean Earl Moehle (Möhle), dressed as Paul Revere carrying lantern and American flag. Moehle reenacted Paul Revere's ride for the Wake Up America Patriot's Day celebration in New York City. (Source: Flickr Commons project, 2015 and The New York Times, April 19, 1917)
Flagg, James Montgomery, 1877-1960, artist
Enjoy your 4th of July and remember history has lessons and we need to study it and contemplate it to see if we can figure out what it can teach us.  Follow the threads.  Don't get duped by the present.

Back to work

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Rabbit Hole, part deux

 I'm still stuck in the rabbit hole.  I thought I would be showing a process this week , but instead I decided to have a near death experience and then do online research while I recovered.  I asked a buddy of mine who is also an exceptionally fine blacksmith, and who made the bunny railing for La Fonda in Santa Fe about 20 years ago if he had any information on who did the metalwork for Mary Colter.   This is his response.

                Colter must have been an incredible force.  The bunnies ‘we’ (me) made were a railing for the La Fonda addition that became the high end guest rooms built where there was formerly a car park.  Actually John Prosser rough forged the bigger bunny butts ‘cause the 50 lb. Giant was not going to move that much material...... Lots of stories wrapped up in bunny butts.  The original bunny ash trays were made at the Santa Fe Rail Yard blacksmith shop.  I don’t know if that was in Abq or Santa Fe.  The owners (at the time) of the La Fonda or the architect tracked down one of the old farts that made them.  Ward met the old guy who apparently said something to the effect of “We hated making those fucking rabbits”, I think he used the collective “we” but I was not there.........

Since Colter used the rail line blacksmiths for the bunnies she might have utilized them for other objects. 

There you are.  I have a clue.  Yeah, I know, you wish I had a clue. 

These are the bunnies made by Harmony Forge for La Fonda about 20 years ago

This is the installed railing by Harmony Forge at La Fonda

Anyway, off I went to the Library of Congress and some other online resources to find out a little about the Santa Fe Rail Yard blacksmith shop.  I think when most people think of blacksmiths and blacksmith shops they either think of quaint little shops where a guy works on making all the things that the little town he lives in needs.  He shoes the horses and makes hinges and fixes wagon wheels.  The other perception is probably of the contemporary smith who makes really pricey decorative stuff.  Every time I go to a demonstration by some guy who describes blacksmithing, he describes one of those two things.  It's all about gates and hinges, but that description leaves out the industrial smiths.  They were making ship parts and train parts and machine parts.  They really didn't have any interest in bunnies.  So it's not surprising that the "old fart" hated making the rabbits. 

Hammering out a draw bar on the steam drop hammer in the blacksmith shop, Santa Fe R.R. shops, Albuquerque, New Mexico -- This is the title of this photo from the Library of Congress -- Photo by Jack Delano, 1943,  There is a black and white version of this too.  I don't know...

Albuquerque, New Mexico. An apparatus for shortening drawbars. The drawbar has just been taken out of the forge and is being lowered into place in the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad blacksmith shop  -- Again title from Library of Congress -- Photo by Jack Delano 1943

Albuquerque, New Mexico. An apparatus for shortening drawbars in the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad blacksmith shop. Repeated blows from the hammer at the heated end will shorten the bar to the desired length  --Library of Congress title -- by Jack Delano 1943

The interesting thing is, that according to the New MexicoDepartment of Cultural Affairs, the jackrabbit ashtrays were made by Walter Gilbert Wrought Iron Studio, ca. 1929.  So that's a little confusing.   It's plausible because according to Los Poblanos website Walter Gilbert worked with John Gaw Meem.     
                                  So what?,  you say.    
Well, John Gaw Meem  worked with Mary Colter on La Fonda.  So there you are.  Once again I am clueless.... ish.  

This is one of the original ashtrays attributed to Walter Gilbert (no relation) iron Studio

This is a jackrabbit ashtray made by Jim Pepperl
 about 20 years ago

I have more information and a bunch of pictures that I hope you enjoy but I don't have the full or even a clear answer to who made the metalwork for Mary Colter at the Grand Canyon.  

VIEW OF STORAGE YARD AND ASSEMBLING PLATFORM. BLACKSMITH SHOP UNDER CANVAS FLY IN RIGHT FOREGROUND - Kaibab Trail Suspension Bridge, Spanning Colorado River, Grand Canyon, Coconino County, AZ -- Library of Congress -- I just put this in because this all started with metalwork at the Grand Canyon.  This photo doesn't have a year or a photographer attribution.  It's just another trail to follow.

Also, you probably noticed that I have gone back to putting virtually pointless links in my post rather than footnotes.  Eh.  

Check back next week.  If I recover fully and haven't thrown myself into a vat of vinegar, or baking soda, or boiling oil, or whatever works,  I will have a process post.  Otherwise you get more of this crap.  Which I'm enjoying.  If you aren't enjoying it you don't need to read it....oh wait, you aren't reading it.  Ha, jokes on me.

Back to bed