Roses

Making of Atoke Bells

Finished bells
Finished bells

These pictures represent the process of making Atoke bells, a forged iron bell used in West Africa, particularly from the Ewe nation in and surrounding Togo. The bells are held in the palm of one’s hand and played by striking the edge with a metal rod. I was asked to make some bells for a local band in Oakland that plays traditional African music, as well as a mix of funk and blues.

Layout for the Atoke bells
Layout for the Atoke bells
Cut pieces
Cut pieces

The most challenging part of making these bells was to make sure the intonation was correct and in sync with the other bells. I figured the easiest way to play with the tone was to gradually decrease the thickness of the walls, but this process proved to be very slow and tedious.

Adding texture to the inside of the bell
Adding texture to the inside of the bell
Curving of the sides
Curving of the sides
Shaping a "banana" curve
Shaping a “banana” curve
Tools used in the shaping
Tools used in the shaping

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Tooling

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Dies for guillotine used to shape tube stock.
Dies for guillotine
Dies for guillotine

Making one’s own tooling is one of the most amazing and inventive aspects of blacksmithing. This post only shows some of the tooling I’ve made over the years, but in reality I’m constantly making my own tools and feel excited to use the personalized tools of other blacksmith-friends.

Tools used to sculpt eye sockets
Tools used to sculpt eye sockets

The history of tool making is amazing and diverse. Many anthropologists and historians still question how humans were able to develop the skill of annealing, hardening and tempering metals to make efficient and long-lasting tools. The history of this science is interwoven in alchemy, war and trade, which I hope to touch on in depth in later posts.

Hot cut for a blacksmithing class.
Detail of color change that occurs during heat treating.

Lighting

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Detail of roots and wood trunk
Detail of leaves and acorns
Detail of leaves and acorns
Oak tree lamp
Oak tree lamp

I like my work to be both functional and beautiful, which is why lighting and furniture for the home seems like a good avenue to explore.

Oak trees and bamboo stalks are some of my favorite types of plants. With the advice from a blacksmith-friend in North Carolina and some trial and error, the stalks (1 inch pipe) were heated a few inches apart with a torch, then compressed with a press. Straightening the stalks out took some control and time.

Bamboo lamp
Detail of bamboo
Layout of leaves
Layout of leaves