Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Viking Whetstones

One of my favorite items from Viking graves is a whetstone necklace.  At least some of them were made of slate.  Many don't appear to have the stone type identified, at least in resources I've found so far.  However, many are similar in shape.  The 3-4" long tapered shape seems to be a normal shape for these utilitarian items.  I never have had a really good explanation as to why anyone would go to the effort to shape them just so, but I assumed there was some practical reason I didn't know.

A really good selection of photos can be found on Pinterest at https://www.pinterest.com/cathyr19355/viking-whetstones/ if you want to see the variations in size and shape.  The next four photos are taken from there.  Note that where stone is identified, it is more often slate than anything else.  And there are some examples of beautiful banded slate here.

Still, I have wanted one for years and years. So, when I saw reproduction Viking whetstones available from Ragnar's Ragweed Forge, I was delighted.  I now own a jasper whetstone necklace and love it.  You can see it in the photo below.  It is the red one with a leather thong on it.  The surface is quite smooth, so better for final edge polishing than for working out nicks and establishing an edge on a blade.  

Some time later, my wife noticed something interesting when we were at a local river.  There were a lot of pieces of slate there, many of which made good skipping rocks.  However, there were also quite a few with a familiar shape to them!

Is it possible that many or most of the historical Viking whetstones were just found in the shape of a whetstone and used in that shape?  Yeah, I think it is possible.  

The slate stones are noticeably coarser than the jasper.  These river rocks would work fine for establishing the edge of a blade.  

I love finding answers, even if only speculative answers, to questions like "why this shape?"  Answer: maybe because that is a common shape to find the stones already in.  

A Piccolo Practice Kantele

My youngest child decided that she wanted a solid body kantele like Dad's.  Project time!

First step is selecting the wood.  Here's a fairly hard piece of poplar with a pattern drawn on it.  I don't think it is the ideal wood for this sort of instrument, but it works fine and I had it in my shop already.  The pattern is actually drawn on what will be the underside of the wood.  No particular reason, I just managed to draw it reversed from what it will be.  At this stage, it really doesn't matter to the process.

A brief session with the jigsaw and I have the body cut from the board.

I love my belt sander.  I use it for so many things.  Here, it was vital for refining the edges of the kantele.  I really like the graceful bird head shape at the top.  It is whimsical and elegant.  I think the look of the kantele was the first thing that attracted me.  The sound was next.  I know my young customer was very intent on having that shape at the top.  

A little scrap turned into a simple bridge.  Five holes for zither pins.  A spritz of spray lacquer.  

She wanted wood burned decorations.  She was kind enough to pronounce them perfect, though I can see the skill level of my pyrography just isn't up to what I would consider Third Grader artwork.

Linoleum nails make good hitch pins to anchor the strings.

I start the zither pins with a hammer, tapping them in until they stay put, then I can screw them in with the tuning wrench.

And there we have it!  A finished practice kantele for an 8 year old.  This one is tuned in G.  Super simple, fun little project.  Now I just have to get her interested in learning to play it!

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Pics for Brett

A couple knives I’ve been working on today. 

Rough forged, next to the spring steel I made them from. 

Rough ground, ready for heat treat. 

My forge stand. I don’t know why the phone turns the picture sideways. 

Saturday, June 13, 2020

The Simplest SCA Helm

I don't think it is news to either of the people who read this blog that I used to be into SCA fighting.  A lot of my hobbies and interests are still very in line with the historical side of the SCA.  I still fight when my knee and back allow.  And when I'm not quarantined because of a pandemic...

If you just stumbled across this blog, the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) is a non-profit organization that attempts to recreate some of the material culture of the middle ages.  And holds tournaments where people in armor beat each other with wooden clubs.  

Which is a lot of fun.  

But does require armor.  

This is the simplest helmet I know how to make.  I learned this from an old publication (very pre-internet) called Best of the Hammer.  The Hammer was a periodical devoted to SCA efforts to make armor and related items (there are articles about making swords, for example).  Nowadays, we have blogs and YouTube.  Back then, folks had printed material that was mailed from one person to another.  With stamps.  For real.  The Best of the Hammer books are 4 volumes of what claimed to be the best of what was printed in that periodical.  Volume 1 has the pattern for this 13th century pot helm.  

The whole thing is made of 3 pieces of 14 gauge sheet steel.  I started it yesterday afternoon and finished it today.  Spare time build all the way.  

It looks a lot like the helmet worn by the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  Which should actually get it a little SCA cred.  But won't.

Just for fun, and to make it a little more blacksmithy, I forged the nasal with a critter head and curly tail.  Nothing really impressive, just a little bit of whimsy.  Authentic versions would have a cross on the face.  I'm not being authentic, I'm having fun.  Although this is made to SCA spec, I don't know if I will ever fight in it. 

Some discussion:

This project is meant to illustrate the fact that it isn't really all that hard or expensive to get started with SCA armor.  I could make 9 of these from one sheet of 14 gauge steel, actually.  I used 1/9 of a sheet to make it.  I don't know what a sheet of steel costs today, but most steel sellers will have odds and ends on a fairly regular basis, so you might be able to pick up enough steel for one helmet for only a few bucks if you get lucky.  

For illustrative purposes, I used only simple tools.  A hand drill and a jigsaw were my only power tools.  A couple of hammers.  I did use my anvil, but I made several helms in the past before I ever owned an anvil.  I had a scrap of railroad track and that worked just fine.  In fact, I used that scrap of track for setting the rivets at the top of this helm because the shape of the anvil wouldn't allow the horn all the way up to that point.  You can also set the rivets on the inside of the helm instead of the outside and then you only need a flat surface to pound on.  I did it this way because I prefer the look of the peened over rivet instead of the machine-shaped head.  

I started in the SCA as a broke college student about 23 years ago.  At that time, the norm was still that we would look in the library at books that purported to detail information about the middle ages.  We would share what bits and pieces we could find or figure out with others.  If you had a decent set of patterns for an item of armor, you treasured those patterns and shared them whenever someone wanted them.  I still have patterns I traced from other folks' tracings.  We didn't have the internet as it exists today.  

We also didn't have the businesses that now provide armor, clothing, and assorted reenactment goods.  Back then, we had lower standards of authenticity, but we made most of our own gear.  My first suit of armor took me close to a year to make because I had no clue how to do it when I started.  I had to figure out how to make armor on my own.  I did figure it out and I eventually got decent at it, though nowhere near the level of the professional armorers out there today.  By "decent" I mean I figured out how to make a suit of armor that was protective, met SCA combat standards, and didn't look too terrible.  

Why is this relevant?  Well, look around an SCA fighter practice today.  Or wait until the Covid 19 social distancing ends and look around at that time.  How many helms do you see that are built by the fighters wearing them?  Not many, if any at all.  Now, how many helms do you see that are not a bar-grilled bascinet or similar piece of very obvious sports equipment?  Again, not too many, though there are a couple of looks that have become popular among the fighters willing to pay for them.  One is the full mail drape and occulars.  Very nice look.  With maybe one historical helmet to serve as the model that they all follow, but who cares about that, right?

It is really hard for a broke college student to get into SCA fighting these days, just because the equipment he is expected to buy costs so darned much!  If my only options had been buying a helm that cost $250 (minimum) or else do something non-combative, I would have quit the SCA before I started.  Seriously.  I didn't have the money.  

If you are in the SCA, you know about the Known World Handbook.  But if you are only recently in the SCA, you may not have seen the older editions.  The first 3 editions had articles about building helms that were good, solid, historical helms.  The newest edition does not have those.  The newest edition talks about padding the helm you bought.  Oh, and using plastic barrels to make leg armor.  Can't leave those plastic barrels off the field of valor, now, can we?  Because nothing says Medieval quite like bright blue plastic on your arms and legs to go with that welded bar grill on your face, right?

Okay, you can tell where I'm going, here.  

If your idea of fun is the sports equipment and you find history a drag, that's not unusual in the SCA anymore.  If you are one of the holdouts who still wants to feel like a medieval warrior in armor, it may get discouraging to have the guys at practice keep telling you to ditch the authentic looking gear and spend a couple of thousand bucks on a suit that will make it easier for you to be more competitive.  

If you wear the helm I just finished, you will get told "that's nothing but a landing pad for some dude's mace."  You will get called Bucket Head.  You will have to deal with (more authentic) reduced visibility and air flow, compared to the guys with fully ventilated helms.  

But you will have a helm you could build yourself.  You will have a helm that looks like a sinister warrior from 750 years ago.  And when you retire, you will have the most awesome wastebasket anyone has ever seen.  

I shot video of every step of building this helm and when I get the chance, I will edit it to a viewable form and post it on the blog.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Kantele volume

The little kanteles I made recently are fairly quiet.  But not as quiet as the practice board I started with.

Just in case anyone reading this is curious about relative volume, here's a simple video.  Please remember that I am not, at this time, a kantele player.  I hope to be able to consider myself a player before long, but I am only as far as being able to tune and sort of form a couple of chords.  A good player can get a lifetime of music out of those 5 notes, but I'm not even close to there yet.

Still, if you just want to hear the volume difference, the video will illustrate.

The strings are the same between the two instruments.  Vibrating string length is very close, and I tried to use the same amount of force in strumming the two instruments.  The volume difference should purely be due to the different construction.

I actually suspect that the new kanteles would be a little louder if I used metal tuning pegs like with the practice board.  The wooden pegs may have a slight dampening effect on the strings.  I could be wrong about this, though.  I'd have to make another with the tuning pins to find out.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

2 New Kanteles

The practice board from the last post is a nice quiet way to noodle around, but can hardly be heard a few feet away unless everyone is silent.  I wanted a nicer one that actually has a hollow body and more authentic look.  So I made two.

I like to make two of anything when I am working.  Part of that is because I can correct a process if I mess up on the first one, part of it is just because if I really like what I make, I can share it with someone else and still have one for myself.  Also, there's a search for efficient use of materials that appeals to me.

These were made with wood I had on hand, using the tools I have in the shop.  The video tells the whole story, really.

The body is maple, the soundboard comes from cedar siding that was scrap from refurbishing a local church.  Hollowing the body was done with a forstner bit, which drills a flat bottom hole.  By setting the drill press table at a height of 3/32" below the lowest point the bit can reach, I knew I wouldn't drill through the wood all the way.

It is much louder than the little practice board.  I like it.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Super Simple Kantele

I love music.  I love odd, quirky, obscure ethnic instruments.  Some years ago, I got interested in the Finnish instrument called the kantele.  It is a zither and comes in many different sizes.  However, the basic small kantele has 5 strings, tuned to the first 5 notes of a diatonic scale, usually.

This is a practice instrument I made back when I first got interested.  It is nothing more than a piece of Alaska birch with 5 zither pins and a simple bridge.  The proper instrument is a more elegant piece of work, but this lets me practice without being annoying, as the volume is very low.

The picture honestly shows all that you need to know to build one.  The notebook is there for size reference.  

I plan to make a more "proper" kantele soon.  It will be 10 sttrings and have a soundbox, so should have enough volume to be heard when played.  My wonderful wife bought me a book to learn from and it should be here in less than a week.  I'll report back after I learn to actually make some music with the instrument!