It’s Rodeo Time here in Prescott, Arizona, so what do you say to some forged horseshoe hearts?
As all the best projects do, my intention to knock together a simple, whimsical sculpture for a charity auction got completely out of hand and wound up leading in directions I’d never imagined.
Prescott Creeks, our local watershed/creek preservation organization here in Central Arizona does some awesome work, including an annual, watershed-wide cleanup that pulls tons of detritus out of our creeks. A few years back, local artists were casting their eyes longingly on all the wonderful found objects that were headed to the landfill, and the organization cooked up a fundraising idea: get those artists to pick over the cool stuff, make art, and sell the resulting pieces at auction to raise money for the organization. I’d made knives and other forged bits out of good pieces of steel that came in with the trash, but for 2015 I wanted to do something a little more in the found object sculpture spirit. I saw an old Honda gas tank, and somehow envisioned from there a Hopi corn dancer meets St. Francis of Assisi. Add a pair of Moto Guzzi exhaust pipes, a 1960s era VW Microbus steering column, a Rick Hartner bird, and a few other bits and pieces, and the result was about twice as tall as I’d originally planned. And, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t quite sure what I thought about him.
Once this desert wanderer was out in the wild, it seemed that people reacted well to him. He wound up in the front window of one of our town’s best galleries, and on the cover of our local arts news magazine.
Even better, the auction was a big success, and led to a phone call from the folks who were runners-up in the bidding on the sculpture. They commissioned a similar piece – that, like it’s predecessor, got completely out of hand. In a good way.
Instead of a free-standing sculpture, we found a neat spot nestled in the granite boulders on their property, where the figure would look like he was walking through a gap in the rocks. He’s not really visible when you drive up to the house, but when you’re leaving down the steep, curving driveway, I guarantee you’ll look one another in the eye!
Getting him into position was an all-day wrestling match, including finding good, solid rock onto which I could bolt his sandals, and welding each and every joint into a natural looking position, from the ground up.
This started as a fun project – making a double-sided sign for a friend’s church inside an antique wagon tire he found while mountain biking in the forest (Shhh – don’t tell the US Forest Service). The idea was to use 16 ga. mild steel for the main piece, and add the name & logo elements in stainless with plug welds from the back. It got especially crafty making the letters & symbols in different sizes so I could do the welds offset on each side.
It was a good plan, really it was.
Having never worked much in sheet metal, I had no clue just how much time I was going to spend chasing warpage – every time I hit it with a grinder to take off the forge scale, welded on either side, or just looked at it wrong I found myself dealing with a wavy potato chip where I wanted a flat disc. Eventually, we called it a draw, and the church really loves it, so all’s well that ends well.
I’ve been collaborating lately with Drea Shelton on some pieces that incorporate her excellent work with bones & my steel. It’s been fun, and I think the start of something very cool & interesting.
A Pronghorn skull for her – I was astounded at how light and paper-thin the bone is on this skull, though I suppose it makes sense for one of the fastest creatures on earth.
I’ve done a couple of horse vertebrae, one pictured above, and then this one:
Finally, there’s this beautiful deer skull I found beside Iron Springs road, which Drea cleaned & sealed for me.
At the urging of my friends Royce & Nita Carlson, I’ve made the trip out to East Jesus in Slab City, California twice this year. It’s a very special place, with its own close-knit community & culture, and some fantastic art every where you look. Check it out at http://eastjesus.org/
The last time I was there, Frank let me build a funky, kinetic mobile in the sculpture garden. Much to my delight, it worked just as I’d envisioned – sinuously spinning in the hot, gusty desert winds.
After helping Royce re-hang the main vehicle gate to the residential part of East Jesus, we agreed that it needed some kind of adornment, maybe in the vein of an Arizona ranch gate. I knocked these together out of an old valve spring compressor & a broken connecting rod of some sort, and attached them to the gate:
One of my favorite projects of the past couple of years is a series of door knockers that started with a commission from a friend at The Ducati Monster Forum (enjoy one of my favorite DMF threads here, the Crafty Basterds discussion).
The idea was intended to capture an image from one of the members’ childhoods, a smiling moon from a grandfather clock that gave comfort in a time that had little. The knocker for Gerry, AKA Rat900, was one of the best things I’ve ever done, mostly because he let me know how it touched exactly the place in his heart I was hoping to reach. Here’s Gerry’s piece, the start of the journey; sadly, my photography skills weren’t up to getting the contrast between shiny brass & polished stainless:
I’d made a pair of the brass-covered discs; one using lots of flux & pure brass rod, and the other using re-melted brass that had a high copper content, and no flux. The latter resulted in a much rougher, redder final product.
That rougher disc found its way into a knocker for my friend Jay, with a design that I like very much.
Finally, I made a third variant, this one for another Ducati Monster Forum stalwart, one who’d been a good friend of Gerry’s.
I’ve always enjoyed knife making and have been proud of nearly all of the blades I’ve produced – which makes it kind of funny that while I nearly always have a knife in my pocket, it’s hardly ever one of mine.
These Baby Box Cutters are an attempt to change that.
For most of my daily cutting needs, the best tool is often a utility knife, AKA a box cutter – those ugly, functional, disposable knives that live in every tool box and most desk & kitchen drawers. Whether it’s opening a box (duh!), trimming a loose thread or doing some quick harvesting in the garden, a very short, very sharp blade is just the trick.
Here’s my idea: a knife that does the short, sharp part – while deleting the ugly and disposable – has a place in my pocket day in and day out if I can make it small enough and thin enough to fit in a very flat sheath, and be entirely forgettable until I need it.
These are my first two attempts:
Made from tag-end bits of 1080 steel from other tool projects, the idea is to make them simple, inexpensive, tough, and able to take an extremely keen edge, with a shape that works either with two fingers on the very simple handle, or pinched between thumb & forefinger on the cutout. I’ll be swapping between these two and a couple of other blade designs in the same size over the next month or two to find out what I like best. Then I’ll make more!
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A lot of the stuff I’ve done recently isn’t ready to post as I’d like folks to be surprised when they open their holiday gifts; this one was an early Christmas present to my brother-in-law:
Coat Racks are an obvious project at the forge; this one takes old box wrenches through a half twist & turn up to make hooks, then blind welding from the back to attach them to a rough-cut piece of wire mesh.
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I’ve seen some very cool forged feathers – many of them surprisingly realistic. While I admire the attention to detail of the ones that attempt to mimic exactly the real thing, my favorites are the ones that instead get across … Continue reading