Friday, November 21, 2014

Firsts and Futures

Time was, so I'm told, when a body could open up a shop with naught but brow sweat and boot strap exercises and still come out with enough change to pop down to the barber shop for a mustache trim. Times they are a changin', my friends. Yesterday was a day of many firsts, one of which was the forking over of my first thousand bucks of "skin in the game". I feel safe declaring myself officially "in the game".

Of course, $1k is small fish on the grander scale of business investments and I'm sure that those my senior are having many a knowing chuckle and head wag at my childlike innocence, but considering I'm both living off and investing from my savings, scant to begin with and rapidly becoming scanter-er, perhaps I may be forgiven.

However for all my hyperventilating in the Lowes plumbing isle over $2 pipe fittings, yesterday was a day of many auspicious firsts as well. BEHOLD!

 Wait, that's not the right one...

Tada! Tada! Tada! Tada forever!
The fruits of Nail Forge 1.0.2, a pair that only a mother could love. Nevertheless at least one of them is not so ugly that it didn't prevent me from canvasing the internet with my new business. The astute and/or slightly creepy of you may have noticed that since yesterday, you can now find me on Etsy, Facebook, for some reason Twitter, as well as, I'm sure your favorite, here. Which brings me to the part where you may have noticed that the forge proper has got a proper forge name now! If you're curious as to why Sweet Hollow Forge rather than a different combination of letters and sounds, it doesn't have a huge story. You may recall that it took a while to get the details in order and paperwork drawn up for the space, but I did get a "contract" eventually. In there, G&J (the owners) agreed to rent me space in "The Hollow". And I was like cool, the barn has a name I guess, but The Hollow is a little forbidding and dirge-like, and initially I was going to go with Fox Hollow (on account of my home turf in Georgia) but I'm not positive there are even foxes around here, and if there are they probably aren't very good blacksmiths. Anyway, Sweet Hollow has a nice kind of faintly southern ring to it, and so do I sometimes*, so there it is.

*I seem to have a southern accent in direct proportion to the southern accented-ness of the people I'm talking to.

But before I get too far ahead, let's get back to that first picture.

The worst meringue.
Pretty wild, huh? So I mixed up some of my freshly cooked water glass...

Almost the exact same consistency as those corn syrup hourglasses. Notice the deformation in the plastic - fun fact: peanut butter jars exhibit fascinating behaviors when you fill them with scalding hot liquids and then panic and dump them out again really fast.
...with ~100ml water and a quart of rough pumice to make a sort of cement. However, lacking aluminum oxide (which apparently nobody in Bend possesses or has heard of - there are a lot of fun "standing in a store being stared at blankly" stories behind that sentence), it thus lacked quite a lot in terms of refractory properties. But heat resistance be damned, I was going to whack flat some nails come hell or high water, so I crammed it in a tomato sauce can with a bit of pipe and a drill bit.

The drill bit was the only 1/2" thing I could find that I could put in the oven. I'm not crazy.
Now water glass cures by simple gas exchange so at that point I had three options to set it up: let it sit and dry for a week, inject it with compressed CO2 or heat the everlovin' jessy out of it. Lacking patience or a Soda Stream, I opted for the oven.

Nail Forge 1.0.1 was a real beauty. I wish I had pictures to show you, but in my enthusiasm to make progress, I forwent documentation. Suffice to say that after an hour of as-close-to-broil-as-possible treatment, the cement cemented. It cemented hard. Too hard. It fused to the center form and burner tube form like something out of The African Queen, and no amount of hammering, cajoling, sweating, or desperate scrabbling was going to persuade it out. At one point I literally tied a rope to the center form, tied the other end of the rope to Big Bgog's trailer hitch, and spent ten minutes yanking on it stubborn-loose-tooth-when-you-were-a-kid-style. Eventually though, I did get it free at the expense of cutting a hole in the bottom of the can and hammering it back and forth until it pulverized 50% of the rock and came out. There was about a 1/4" of cement stuck to the form that I could only get off by flattening the pipe with a hammer. C'est la vie, but at least it wasn't much work to whip up another batch and try again.

Unfortunately, being the disenfranchised, Recession Era, twenty-somethings that we are, Bucket and I only have one tomato sauce can to our names, so I had to repack the same can for Nail Forge 1.0.2 (as I said previously, taking the precaution of greasing up the forms this time around). The unforeseen complication introduced was, to quote Dear Henry, there was a hole in it. A quite alarming amount of that hard-earned water glass percolated out the bottom, oozing and boiling into that fantastic goo you saw earlier.

Undeterred, I cleared Nail Forge 1.0.2 for duty and got to forging.

During operation, the propane torch is lovingly crammed into the side of the forge. 
Soaring new heights for the non-literal use of the phrase "baby steps".
It took a lot longer than I expected to preheat the little sucker (close to 15 minutes), but once it was up to temp, I had fun experimenting with the duplex nails, seeing what kind of swords I could turn them into. I opted to start with the traditional Flat Duplex Nail style, and then moved on to a more conventional Sword An Extra Might Be Given to Hold in a Period Piece style. After that my mind started simmering with ideas of how to do this better (a simmer which, lucky me, boiled over at around 3am today with dreams of katanas, sabers, and epees), but before I could play around too much, I started to get worried about how much the forge was melting and smoking. Though ventilation was good and every measure to make this safe was observed, the forge started degassing some sort of tomato/pumice miasma after about an hour of duty, so I decided to shut things down until the snow clears enough for me to move into... The Hollow†.

† sotto Batman voce

Speaking of which, here's a quick peep tour of the space. I went over on Monday and did a little work clearing it of petrifying horse poop and forklift pallets, and doing my best to level out the ground a bit.

It's hard to tell how much like standing on a 1:1000 scale model of the Himalayas this is, but I promise it was Not Good before I shoveled my little heart out on it.
An arial view of my brilliant dirt layout of the space. Labeling to follow. 
I'm colonizing the right side to start, but theoretically I'm allowed to expand anywhere under the eave... 
...Or, as I said under my breath when I thought G couldn't hear me, "Everything the eave our kingdom."
Tentative layout labeled for your convenience.
That's it that's all for now. Bucket and I are off to St. Louis for Thanksgiving today, so enjoy your weeklong reprieve from my prolixity.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Nail Forge...ASSEMBLE

They say you can't make a cake without breaking a few eggs, and if that's true then I'm absolutely doing it right. I'm crackin' eggs like the rapture's hot on my tail. There's certainly something to be said for taking the scenic route on your way to a goal. You can learn a lot by asking yourself, "Can I figure out how to make this?" Unfortunately, it's easy to forget what you were doing in the first place while you agonize over a specific component.

Things have been a little up and down the past few days. I've finally successfully produced a batch of (EXTREMELY) concentrated water glass, which was a major confidence boost, and a big step forwards to getting a forge in place. In case you're curious, my efforts to make it from some local silicate didn't work out. At the last COMAG meeting, I talked to a lovely geologist and she told me I should hunt down some diatomite, which is a more rock-like form of diatomaceous earth and similarly composed of trillions of bitty critters of yesteryear. I then left town for a week and then it promptly dumped a foot and a half of snow on all my hopes and dreams. So I conceded to buying some flower drying silica from Michaels just so I could move forward with the project.

I've been throwing a lot of money at some of these miscellaneous projects like that, and it's become a little frustrating. Lots of DIY sites/YouTubers like to brag about how cheap it was for them to throw together something that would have cost them a pretty penny at a box store, but a lot of times they sidestep the cost of not being established and networked. They throw out things like, "I have these 5 lb sacks of silica gel lying around so I used them as..." or "I borrowed my buddy's welder to..." What starts as a $10 forge burner quadruples in price when you realize you don't have the tap you need to thread that one vital piece. It'd be nice if Bend had a tool library like Portland's.

Anyway, now that I have the water glass made up, I've spent about the whole day experimenting with it and the pumice I collected back in the fall. My goal today has been to make a nail forge. My Paw told me about this guy he met who was taking duplex nails and flattening them out into little swords. I thought that'd be a swell reason to make a forge in miniature to test some of the components I've been assembling.

So as I write this, I've got a tomato sauce can full of home-brewed refractory speed-curing in the oven. I made one earlier today which set up beautifully. A little too beautifully in fact - it practically melded to the tube form, and I ended up destroying it just trying to get it out. I took the advice of ye venerable internet and coated the form pieces with vegetable oil this time around, but so far this seems to be having the effect of making the water glass bubble into a sort of glass meringue. Probably I will not eat it.

Lord almighty, if our landlord could see what's going on in here right now, his head would probably explode. Anyhow, we'll see how this all shakes down (or at least I will - I realize that I may be the only one reading this anymore). Fingers crossed. Big money, no whammies.


Friday, November 7, 2014

Storm's a Brewin'

Well it's definitely been longer than I expected since I last updated ya'll on things. Let me set that aright.

Things were slow for a while, I spent a lot of time reading through some new books: New Edge of the Anvil by Jack Andrews and Metal Techniques for Craftsmen by Oppi Untracht, as well as every book on blacksmithing that the library has available (which is three). So my head is fairly swimming with terminology, metallurgical data, and techniques, and I'm super pumped to start putting some of it all to use.

Which will be SOON. A couple nights ago, I went back over to the meet with the folks with some barn space they might be willing to rent out, and we fleshed out all the necessaries and quid pro quo's, etc., and I got a brief look at the specific area they've got in mind for me. I head over again on Monday to, I think, sign a rough agreement and get working.

The past couple months I've been lurking at the Central Oregon Metal Artist Guild (COMAG) meetings and getting to know some of the peeps in this neck of the woods that are working metal. There are a lot of incredibly talented people here, and they've been incredibly generous with their knowledge and advice. To that end, I've been talking more with Hunter and Kellen (who I met back in April, but never had much opportunity to get to know) - two unbelievably talented, hilarious, and gregarious smiths who own/operate at the Orion and Dry Canyon Forges.

I had a chance to go over to Dry Canyon yesterday and meet up with Kellen for a day of tool making. He was mega patient with me and let me work at my own pace, which I was soooo grateful for. His style of teaching really strongly reminded me of climbing with El Jefé. Jefé is a way better climber than me, and I always feel really intimidated and self-conscious of how annoying it must be to have to belay for someone so agonizingly slow and ignorant. But that embarrassment and intimidation is entirely self-imposed - Jefé manages to be effortlessly patient and forgiving of my childish flailing and screaming, and seems to enjoy hanging out with me regardless of the vast difference in our ability levels, which makes it way easier to learn at my own pace. Kellen has a lot of those same qualities, and it was great to be able to make mistakes and ask questions without feeling worried about asking something stupid or not getting it perfect on the first try and I flailed and screamed a pair of tongs into the world.

For grasping square stock in the 5/8"- 1 1/4" range.

Especially in contrast to my first* tong making experience in Michigan, which involved being crowded into a very small garage with a great number of hot objects with an especially grumpy old man, who would frequently become flustered and pry the metal from my hands and try to reshape my mess to match his increasingly terse instructions.

* First actual - as proud as I am of what I accomplished in Oz, the products of my work there are as close to tongs as Atlanta is to Tokyo.

Exhibit A: Tongs
Exhibit B: Panic Tongs
While to be fair, I did spend about an hour and a half on the Michigan tongs and the better part of an entire day on this pair, I think Kellen's attitude and willingness to let me do it for myself is the biggest difference between them.

As an aside, let's get just...balls to the wall, high school drama up here for a minute or two. Now most of you will not be shocked to know that I'm a huge dork. I have Serious Thoughts about freshwater macro-invertebrates. I am easily enraged by poor board game box design. I know more words to camp songs than [musician you think is cool][/musician you think is cool]'s. I make jokes that have a passing knowledge of HTML coding as a prereq. I do pretty convincing pigeon and eagle impressions. I run a Minecraft server.

I'm not particularly worried that anybody know this about me, because I am a generally confident person. I take pride in many of my personal accomplishments. Maybe I should be embarrassed that I've spent days constructing making a 1:1 scale model of Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water in a video game populated these days mostly by 8 year olds, but I'll happily brag about it if you ask (it took forever to get the fireplaces right). However, I am often very worried that knowing this will stop someone from considering getting to know me any further. In the same way that I'm worried that someday Bucket's parents might find out someday that I've donated money to NPR, I find myself moving through a lot of social interactions like I'm made entirely of knees to avoid revealing things about myself that I think might cause someone to narrow their eyes and think, "We are not alike."

Yesterday was a great example. Kellen and Hunter have talked a little bit about possibly extending an "internship" type deal to me - work here and there in exchange for valuable experience and "literally dozens of dollars" - which would be an actual dream come true for me. Now, I don't know a lot about Kellen and Hunter, but they're cool dudes - I'd like to work with them and I'd really like to be friends with them, and the part of me that I'm talking about is worried that if they knew how much money I have spent on virtual space ships, they might decide not to talk to me anymore. Inconveniently, my strategy for concealing this information is torn out of the playbooks of Behaving Like a Marionette-Person, and How to Maintain a Mistrustful Awareness of Your Hands and What They are Doing, and Talking Like You're a Big Fancy Grownup. Especially having spent the past several months interacting almost exclusively with large groups of 2nd-7th graders, I have to be extremely careful to modulate my voice so it doesn't get too loud and/or start doing Arnold Schwarzenegger impressions.

I think probably a lot of introverted people tend to mirror the personality that is expected of them in a social situation and, if it leads to a connection, sort of side-door their actual personality into the relationship as it evolves, but the flaw in this strategy for me is that the personality that I front isn't actually super good at making friends.

Also, jeezy chreezy, I'm so flip flappin' exhausted with being the person in a social situation at a disadvantage. Trying to make friends and network is so hard when you're the only one in the conversation that really needs a connection to form. I know that the healthy reaction to this frustration is not to burrow deeper, but to force yourself to stand woodenly and maintain eye contact (but not too much eye contact); still I'm seriously looking forward to having my own, private space if not just to have somewhere to build my confidence.

Anyway, lest this morph into a Live Journal, the point is that I'm glad I had a chance to work with Kellen yesterday, but I wish there had been 30 seven year olds there because apparently that's really where I'm in my element these days.

Some tools gathering for the migration to the barn.
Que sera, sera. Any way you look at it, things are really clacking along at a good pace now. I'm hoping to pick up some nice Virginia Coal from a fella up in Hood River this weekend, and Hunter and Kellen lent me a coal forge firepot, so it's possible that as soon as a week from now, I might have a forge operational! Name suggestions are welcome. I'm leaning towards something unicorn themed*, but you never know...

*I don't know if this is a joke either.