Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Assembling the smithy 

I say assemble because it's early, very early in the process but I'm determined to resurrect the family tradition again in a more formal way than I've kept it alive since moving to San Francisco. There's something appropriate about rebuilding in PA both with respect to history and circumstance. 

So far I've got my anvil, hammers and several small torches. Channel locks will have to do for tongs right now and I still need to scrounge some logs. There's a nice little space out back under an eve on our very neglected garage/cottage. I have to start somewhere and it seems like there's a blacksmiths cooking photo essay or cookbook in there somewhere. 

I'm mostly making a point to put this out in the world so it's harder for me to not do it but im committed to making some version of Butler Forge emerge anew. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The fleet moves to Philadelphia 

...and lessons about moving with too many bicycles. 
I recently relocated to Philadelphia with, and to be closer to, family. Admittedly attached to my velo fleet, I gave thought to, but ultimately moved with all but a couple of them.
I had some intention of letting this vintage Schwinn go but a certain little girl has grown up since our ride to China camp and has fallen for the old machine. It's outlasted so many of its peers, it may just be pedaling around for decades to come.

While the movers were afraid to damage expensive looking carbon fiber parts with Italian names, they weren't afraid to push, move and otherwise maladjust the group on nearly every bike. I suspect it was out of frustration with packing a dozen bicycles.

My beloved CAAD 8 Campignolo/Shimano "bike you can't build" was the first back in order. I haven't gotten it out on the questionable Philadelphia streets yet but I can tell it's lonely up there on the wall looking like art...

Sunday, August 7, 2016


Just recently I scored a project Triumph! So excited. My first bike, too many years ago, was a Triumph Bonneville. It was a trial. Always breaking down, reliably unreliable but I loved that bike and have lamented selling it since the day I let it go. 

My new project is a 2005 Daytona 955i. A great bike with only 5000 miles on the clock. It's in need of a lot of love but mechanically whole. It'll be a great project that'll change the shape and goals of my VFR.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Updating a VFR 700

I laid hands on a project VFR700 about a year ago. It wasn't and still isn't quite all there but it's mechanically sound and the obvious issues at this point are cosmetic. 

These iconic V4s were great bikes in the late 80s, the 700 winning bike of the year in spite of being 50cc's smaller than its Canadian and European cousins. Even pushing 80K miles mine has plenty of snap in the throttle. 

OEM fairings are both rare and costly for these machines with new manufacture after market fairings being affordable  but still on the costly side. As irony would have it fairings for the venerable race version, the much sought after RC30, are not only readily available but fall in the inexspensive cataegory. 

With effort it's possible to turn something like my VFR into something like Geof Infield's VFR. 

I've already done some small things, making mechanical repairs, changing mirrors, and updating turn signals. It'll be no simple task but I'm looking forward to putting some new life in this old machine. A V4 just has soul, a sound and feel inline engines don't have and grace at higher RPMs where V-twins rattle things apart. 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Dog's head hammer

There is a style of hammer typically associated with metal smithing, more often blacksmithing and within that, working with blades of one kind or another. Regionally it's often associated with Scandinavia and Japan. Known variously as a dog's head, cutler's and sawmaker's hammers, they all exhibit a weight forward design, usually having only one striking face. As a historically trained blacksmith I have encountered and used them but had for the most part forgotten about them until recent conversations jarred my fractured memory. 

In the forges of my youth we used mainly straight or ball peens as well as larger sledges. When I lived in Japan I saw some used in the shops I visited but again the majority of hammers were straight, ball and sledge. A recent visit to James Austin's forge in Oakland got my head wrapping back around iron, coupled with a move to East Bay it was kind of a mental homecoming. 

To that, I've been dusting off some tools and memories and thought I might post about an old dog's head I layed hands on. It came from Michigan, north of where I grew up, and was found in a log house built in the 1880s. By style, location and time of construction of house its associated with my educated guess is the hammer pre-dates the house. It's very clearly hand made and hafted with a hand shaved handle with wedges we would expect from a smithy. Based on Scandinavian settlement patterns in Michigan and the time period we know the hammer was there, it makes sense to have found it.
It could use some help, cleaning up anyway but in spite of looking rough can be used as is. There are no clear brand markings but there are what appear to be letters, "XhB" or maybe "XRB" on one side of the head. 

This type of hammer could very likely have been used to make and maintain crosscut saws of the type introduced into the Michigan logging industry in the 1870's and later and I'd say that's the likely history of this one, especially considering it was found in a log house. 

It's future will be as part of my forge tooling. Someone put a lot of time and effort into making it and clearly valued it enough to mark it so it would find its way back to them if lost. The least I can do is put it back to work. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Bianchi Sport SS reinvented

The Bianchi Sport I worked over a few years back(similar to the Eco Pista pictured above) turned out to be a great bike. It saw a lot of Nor Cal and even made it into a Blackburn video. While not one of the legendary Bianchi marks, it really is a great riding bike and it is my Bianchi regardless. Alas it suffered a setback when I took an off road shortcut and trashed the wheels beyond repair during the filming of that same Blackburn video. 

The replacement wheels got it back on the road but even with the help of pro mechanics, I never got it dialed in and working well again. I was lucky enough to have a loner bike through Blackburn and then get a couple of other nice late model bikes leading me to mothball the Bianchi. 

As noted, this Bianchi Sport wasn't a high end machine even new but it does have some nice frame tubing that's supposed to be better than the fancy all Italian manufactured bikes of the same era. So, it's both a good candidate for a radical upgrade and far from "ruining" a rare vintage bike. In part this is about realizing ideas I've had for it from the start. It's also an experiment to see how far I can take an old ten speed short of cutting and welding the frame. Turns out you can do a lot and it doesn't have to cost a fortune. 

Since these photos were taken its been through a couple evolutions including an upgrade to a modern stem. That will require an upgrade to different shifters and I finally found a celeste saddle for it. 

Specialized Sequoia

This one is more of a case study for discussion rather than a project post. I needed a more suitable commuter than my CAAD8 or Daily. This Specialized Sequoia is about one frame size smaller than I usually ride, and stock, it wasn't something I wanted to ride but it had promise. That's the point of this case study. It needed a lot of part swapping and some repairs but turned out well.

The first image is my complete(almost) Sequoia, the second is of a stock bike from the Specialized website. As sold, the Sequoia had a clunky adjustable stem, a heavy shock absorber seatpost and a funky comfort saddle. It also had an OK gruppo and a light, rigid frame with a nice carbon fork. In short, it didn't look like much at first but, by not ignoring what it could be, I was able to build a nice bike. It's also not too far off from the Sequoia Pro that sold for about double the price of the Sport model. Even got the bar tape looking decent this time! 

...of course now that it's built the way I want, works well and looks decent, much like my CAAD8, I'm left questioning whether to risk it locked in a rack.
 With the addition of a Tioga style saddle I think it's ready to roll for now. least until I remember where I put those Dura Ace brakes.