For about a year I was driving up to Sonoma County from Oakland every other weekend to see my partner who lived there. Throughout that year I enjoyed watching the grape vines change color and shape. I became really inspired and wanted to replicate them the best I could in metal.
The bark is made from 1″ x 1/8″ flat stock. With the power hammer I chiseled shallow cuts into the metal, being careful not to cut through the stock. The cuts were occasionally overlapping and all laying in the same direction, parallel to the edge of stock. I then used a 1″ swedge block and the peen side of the hammer to curl the stock into a hollow tube, making sure to curl the edges first, then working my way towards the center until the sides met.
I didn’t worry too much about making sure the sides met perfectly. I utilized the gaps where the edges met on the tube to insert some forged out branches. (For the smaller branches I used 1/2″ round stock.) The transition looked more natural to me, and when welded offers more stability.
After rounding out the branch and closing the gaps as best I could on the horn, I came out with a couple branches, about a foot and a half long.
The leaves were plasma cut from 10 gauge sheet, then chiseled to make the veins. I used a leafing hammer and a small swedge to give it body. The grapes were made from old stainless steel ball bearings which I welded together with 1/8″ stainless wire. They are very heavy, which ended up working to my advantage when I was balancing the sculpture.
It took me a long time to figure out how I wanted the sculpture to come together. I must have welded it together and cut it all apart again three or four times. But sometimes you need to walk away from something for a while (and in my case, months), then come back to it with more clarity. It felt so good to finally get this done since it’s been sitting collecting rust for so long. I will post a picture once I get the electrical and the lamp shade all hooked up.
I re-purposed an old shelving unit that I made many years ago because, to be completely honest, I couldn’t look at it anymore. The fit was all wrong, the welding sub-par, and the wood I found was starting to deteriorate. So I cut it all up and decided to build a sturdy and spacious desk, knowing my skills have improved greatly since then.
I followed my drawings exactly for a while, and experimented with different ideas along the way. But over time I drifted away from my original drawings and started going with what just looked good at the time. In many ways, I enjoy spontaneously playing around with the metal, but this has led me to many late nights putting pieces together, which I may not even like the next day. My drifting creativity is a result of lack of a continuity in my work because of my full-time day job as a maintenance mechanic. If I could work on a project everyday until completion, I’m sure the process would be much different, or at least a little more consistent.
This desk is a combination of old and new ideas, consistent and spontaneous planning, and a desire to move away from my typical organic style. For this project, I focused on how to accent the linear frame with curve and joinery. What came out was something more spacious and less pleasing to the eye than I hoped, but a piece of furniture that is extremely sturdy and functional with detailed accents that look beautiful close up.
A carpenter friend of mine cut, shouldered, and finished the wood from a 7ft slab of white pine. I’m excited about the sharp contrast between the black metal and light pine, as well as the natural colors that have come out of the wood, like greys and dark blues.
I’m posting this relatively recent video (2015) as a source of inspiration for all you industrial metal workers out there. Chinese blacksmiths are making pipe flanges with the biggest power hammer I’ve ever seen.
Watch there teamwork and the movement of each worker around the power hammer. Watch how they maneuver their bodies with their tools. This kind of fluidity and strength is indicative of consistent practice under a probably arduous and competitive demand for product.
If you work in industry, the grind may get to you, but your labor is also your art. These blacksmiths are an homage to that.
Stainless steel is an expensive but desirable alloy because of its resistance to corrosion and extreme heat. You’ve certainly cooked with it or seen it in a bathroom, because it won’t rust (or it takes a very long time to rust) depending on if the metal has been contaminated during the forging or fabrication process.
Stainless differs from carbon steel by the amount of chromium present. Chromium oxide forms on the surface by a process called passivation which coats the metal in a kind of protective shield against corrosives if there is enough oxygen.
Stainless requires a high forge heat and hard hammer blows. The metal is tough and takes a while to move. I don’t recommend forging it past a high red heat because it has a greater tendency to crack and splinter if forged cold. After some wire brushing and grinding, it produces a beautiful, shiny finish; and after some direct heat, it produces the temper colors very vividly.
This is the second table I’ve built and I have found a lot of joy in the process. I had uncharacteristically taken my time in putting together the bottom layer of the table, carefully assembling the pieces as I went and forgoing all former designs I initially drew out. Sometimes not going with what you’ve planned ends up working out better.
It is also the first time I have played around with color. When I TIG welded the table together, I loved the blues and deep purples that came out from the discoloration. I painted the angle iron a blue matte to bring out those colors and create a deeper contrast between the grind marks, blacks and grays. To be honest, I don’t think I would go with this particular coloration again, but it was good to experiment.
For the top, a carpenter friend of mine is helping me create a redwood border, then I will fit a piece of glass on top. The redwood will also add a splash of color that I can’t foresee yet.
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.
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.
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.
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.