Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Let's all get hammered

I haven't posted in a while.  Not because I have nothing to say, as people who know me will tell you, but because I haven't had the time to stop and say it.  
Recently, I was sucked back into theater...or theatre...or ...I don't know....back into making set pieces and props.  And not just for one show either, because those theat..errr people can smell blood.  Plus when you are a micro manufacturer, you can't be picky.  One of the interesting things about the experience, among many, is acknowledging the way we generally learn the craft.  I think this applies to most crafts.  Since the dissolution of guilds and apprenticeships, we tend to learn through brief and minor exposure followed by years of trial and error.  And just about the time we have begun to master our craft our bodies give out.  It's a beautiful process. 
I will be cremated.  I think it's appropriate. 

The whole mind body relationship is a joy to experience.  One of the shows I made props for includes a one woman trapeze act.  Yes....you are about to hear the wonderful and pointless story of my inadvertent humiliation.  For reasons known only to my less than masterful brain, I find these stories funny.  

The  trapezist in Twisted Vegas.  Go see it.  It's fun.

Anyway, I met the trapezist (that's apparently what you call that person swinging from the swing, although Microsoft doesn't recognize the word)  when she accompanied one of the stagehands picking up one of the props. ( Rolling staircase for a Celine Dion impersonator bit.  I knew you wanted to know.) A couple of weeks later, I went to see the show.  I saw her act.  My brain seriously did not register how strong she must be, because... you know, we are all strong enough to hang upside down by a toenail and then flip to standing on the swing in our minds.  After the show I was hanging out in the house waiting for my friend to finish work while the trapezist was working on adjusting her harness with a stagehand.  She does a neat trick at the end of her set with it.  Rather than hang in the air while they did the adjustments and tests, she decided that they should use sand bags as a stand in for her. 

I know you think you know what is about to happen.  You are wrong.  Also you are probably wrong about the point of this pointless story.
Anyway, she headed backstage and reappeared with a sandbag in each hand. She's 5'-2" tall.  A large and burly stagehand did the same.  I should have noted he carried the bags with much less grace.  The stagehand vanished as they will, and the trapezist turned to me and asked how many sandbags I thought she would need to approximate her weight.....Nope, I did not insult her by saying something stupid about her weight.  What I did say was "How much do you think the sand bags weigh?"  She grabbed one and started walking toward me while curling it.... and said "I don't know maybe 20 lb. I curl about 20."  This is when I should have run screaming from the theater.   My brain didn't work.   I just stood there while she said "what do you think?" and HELD THE BAG OUT TO ME......................................Giant sigh.....................................................

I swear that sandbag hit the floor at twice the speed of gravity...with me holding on.  Twenty pounds my flaming red keister.  All I could do was hope, while trying to still my fluttering heart, that when I righted myself she wouldn't be smirking or laughing out loud.  

I'm pretty sure trapezists get a lot of training and do a lot of training.  Trial and error after a short intro would kill them.  

I don't know what the first thing you learn when you want to become a trapezist is, or how long you spend learning it.  I do know, from one account I read that when there were guilds, the first thing an apprentice blacksmith learned was how to file.  He, because they were all he, would spend his first year doing nothing but filing.  I'm pretty sure after a year of filing, with constant correction and instruction, anyone can file.  There is a part of me that wishes for a return to this level of craft, but I don't really want to return to any other aspects of that time so I will just go ahead and get to my point.

Yes, yes, yes.....I'm pretty sure there is one.  

One of the things that I notice (aside from lack of attention to safety, but they are related) when I watch or even see pictures of aspiring and often working smiths is a lack of hammer control.  It's probably nothing that a year of hammering with correction and instruction wouldn't fix, but we have no guilds.  

I recently saw a picture of a "famous" smith who was holding her hammer so close to the head that I was surprised she didn't have bloody knuckles. Hammers should swing.  They shouldn't punch.  Part of the problem, I think, is that the hammer is too heavy to be controlled.  If you can't control your hammer, I don't know how you can master the craft.  It's that simple. The tool must be allowed to do its work properly. 

I asked my buddy, Jim Peppryl, who is the finest smith I know for a picture holding a hammer properly. He sent this.  It makes me happy that he chose this hammer.

The romantic attachment we seem to have with big heavy hammers is counterproductive, because if you choke up to the head you have lost the power of the momentum of your swing.  You cannot push a hammer and get anywhere near the power you get if you let it swing. 

There are some things that I think are important and that I look for in a hammer.  I have three of four hammers that I use for almost everything.  I own many more and I keep getting new ones but I don't use them because they don't have the qualities I need to have good hammer control.  Of the hammers I use, two are 2 lb and two are 1 lb.  Most people would think those are too small to be effective, but I straightened a piece of 1/2" plate with my 2 lb ball peen and a torch.  It's all in the control of the swing. What these hammers have in common is that they are all very nicely balanced, both side to side and front to back.  That means that when I hold them properly with a loose hand on the handle, they don't twist or pull.  None of them is so heavy that I need to hold them by the neck.  That means that they do the bulk of the work without my shoulder wearing out.  I'm also very careful to dress my hammers so that they don't leave excessive marks.  That means I sand off the sharp edges.  

I got this strange little riveting hammer at an ABANA conference

My three favorite hammers. 2 lb engineers ball peen bought at a garage sale in a bucket with a bunch of other stuff, 1 lb rounder and 2 lb french pattern hammer

Swinging a hammer can be profoundly satisfying and when done properly incredibly productive.  So my advice is, choose a well balanced hammer that's handle sits easily in your hand.  Chose one that's weight  doesn't require you to grip it by the neck to control it. Keep it well dressed and always WEAR EYE, EAR AND LUNG PROTECTION.  
There it is.  We aren't all destined to be little strapping trapezists.

Now back to work.

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