Sunday, April 4, 2010

Badgerific Anvil

One of the more unusual things from my past is that I was involved with a living history museum during my teenage years. In the course of volunteering and eventually working there, I spent several years as an apprentice blacksmith. I didn't apply for my journeymans card, wish I had, but did learn a lot and carried on an all but lost family tradition. According to my grandfather, he was the last of five generations of blacksmiths in the family before the trade fell on hard times and he and my great grandfather found new ways to make a living. So, my adventure worked well for everyone. Grandpa was proud and happy and the museum had what was left of our family tradition as a resource. I have always at least dabbled in metalsmithing regardless of having a smithy to work in and am tentatively planning a few classes at the very cool Crucible in Oakland some time this summer. I would love to resurrect and confirm my skills with an official journeymans card but I have no idea what that takes these days.

I hadn't realized how much I regard anvils as standard shop tools until fate dropped an almost unused Badger anvil into my care. Though, as luck would have it, the one I have is sort of a one of a kind example from when Vulcan bought out Badger. The experts tell me it's somewhat of a museum piece. So it won't be seeing any type of use that might threaten the fragile paper decal. Badger anvils are all but non-existant these days and this transitional example with a paper decal is possibly unique. Lots of anvils got melted down during WWII as part of the war effort. Not that there are a lot of anvil collectors out there but for those that are, some older models are scarce.

I'd forgotten how often I used to cold work things to straighten, flatten or bend them into correct or more useful shapes. I do have a torch but I'm fairly certain the neighbors wouldn't appreciate the noise or the fire hazard. For now it's just nice having an anvil again (When I moved cross country to San Francisco it wasn't exactly high on my list of things to bring.) and as mentioned above I'm not of a mind to degrade the Badger's condition. So I'm still on the hunt for an anvil but for now I have something to remind me why I want one.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Ordivician Monsters

Pre-historic critters are, in a word, "awesome" and there was a lot more running around out there than dinosaurs and their pals that get lumped in with them. For me, some of the most fascinating are early Cephalopods that arrived on the scene in the Ordivician and Silurian periods. These eventually diversified and became everything from the Nautilus to Octopus and Cuttlefish. These animals are interesting in and of themselves but are made even more so by allusions to gothic horror creatures like Cthulu. I'm also pretty fascinated with model making, prototyping and generally just playing around with natural history.

Like most people, at some time or another, I have picked up sea shells and carried them home. While I'm aware that those cool looking ancient Cephalopods are long gone I often imagine auger shells and ceriths as being left behind by them. So, why not make those imaginings more tangeable?

I'm a big fan of polymer clays Sculpey. They some in a wide range of colors and types and are easily cured by baking in a conventional oven. Even with wide and varied use by crafters of all kinds I think it's an underutilized medium that offers endless applications. More use seems to center on the decorative possibilities but there is a world of practical application as well. In this case it's decorative and structural in terms of being able to turn the Cephalopod model into a pendant.

This was a lot of fun and got me rolling on a couple of other projects I'd been meaning to tackle like making a drop spindle . I contemplated buying one or using more expected materials like wood but I'm big on adapting and cross applying what's on hand as well as just exploring making things in new ways out of sheer contempt for dogma.

Note: These are intended to be more on the fun side than accurately represent an early Cephalopod but they are fairly close anyway.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Hey, it's yarn!

The new drop spindle works better than expected. I went ahead and added a metal hook after all to make it easier to use as a top whorl spindle. It isn't necessary for a bottom whorl set up and really, I guess there's no reason you can't jut flip one over to use it one way or the other. Not sure why they are even sold as one or the other now that I think about it.

There are spinning style reasons that might make you want use one type or another. In my case I learned on a bottom whorl spindle but that's not what I'm most comfortable with.  Practical reasons might be that top whorls are sometimes thought of as easier to use unsupported but again it's not critical. You really just need the thing to spin and make sure your fiber can handle the weight of the spindle taking into consideration that it will of course get more heavy the longer you spin. The photo shows my new spindle with only a few yards on it but it adds up in a hurry once you get going.

I also didn't have the money to spare for commercial cards so I substituted a couple of standard pet store dog "slicker" brushes. They work fine at a fraction of the cost. I may also build some combs if I keep spinning. It'll all depend on how it adds to my life. I'll give most things a go at least a couple times but there's just too much to experience in one life to devote a lot of time to something that doesn't make a positive impact on how I live. In the past spinning and the consequent interactions with knitters and weavers were definitely a good thing!

The mohair didn't smell until I put it in the first bath to wash it and then wow, talk about a wet smelly goat! It was still a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to washing the rest of the fleece and giving it a go. Jumping back in with the long fiber goat hair was probably not the best idea I've ever had as it can be tricky to spin. More tricky than the lambs wool sitting on the floor next to it anyway.

Now I want more fiber and am looking forward to making a couple more spindles. Making the whorls with polymer clay opens up a world of function and style options I can't wait to explore.