Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Open Source Forge

Heads up for my man Mark there in the north, he just sent me pictures of his forge in the making. I love the art...
 south elevation

 east elevation


 south at top, 1/4 " = 1 ft. or shaku

 roof structure
​layout of tools, doors, and shoji; west room changeable except sen platform is more certain.

Thanks Mark, this is truly a great gift to all of us. 


  1. Just finished the fuigo, this is perfect timing!

  2. Looks nice! I guess I'm in the wrong crowd here, but I've always dreamed of having a real large stone barn to work in.

    The layout is what stands out to me: Everything in it's place, and everything a traditional smith could need. I have questions, I somehow missed some things in my reading: What are hizumi anvils? Is Mark going to make nokogiri or nomi or kanna blades? Will I be able to order a couple boxes of files? Does flax oil work better than other oils in quenching?

    Thanks Mark! Now I have a clear idea of what to move towards.

    1. There is a book, "The Art of Splitting Stone: Early Rock Quarrying Methods in Pre-Industrial New England 1630-1825" by Mary and James Gage, really excellent reading if you're interested in stone work and masonry. I live in granite country and stone is a free abundant resource, albeit exceptionally labour intensive. One of the first things I want to make when I get the forge set up is feather and wedge sets for stone splitting.
      Have you ever tried drilling a hole with a cold chisel? Called hand steeling, single and double jack. There's still competitions out here to see who can drill the deepest hole in a set period of time, fascinating stuff.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwBimvUYEFM

      Give it a shot if you can, it will make your skill stronger. Carbide hammer bits in power rotary hammers make the work a lot more reasonable if you ever find yourself splitting foundation stones or lintels.

    2. I'm a little stretched thin at the moment. Too many crafts, not enough time!

      The stonework around here isn't so much split and drilled and such, it's mainly cobblestone work done by all the workers from the Erie Canal. They finished the canal, needed more jobs, saw the literal tons of cobbles being discarded by farmers, and started working.

      The big draw to stone houses, for me, are mainly practical. As beautiful as timber framing is, it is, after all, timber: expensive, and takes a lot of skilled labor. Wood rots, it needs maintenance... and if you do it the traditional way, wasteful. Fun, but not sustainable. I've heard one reason why the Vikings sought new lands was to find fertile land and more forests. For more examples, look at the British isles.

      cobble on the other hand, you find it all over the place in New York due to all our glacial activity in the past. And stone doesn't rot! Plus, it just looks very nice to me. However, I expect there's a lot more to masonry then just stacking cobbles in rows and going over the thing with a level.

    3. You are totally wrong there, in what sustainable means. UK is deforested because of the second world war. They needed the trees to fight nazis and turn into another capitalist america after that.

      There's nothing wasteful in traditional woodworking. If you square timber by axe, you burn the chips or use them to fix the terrain. Waste is something it appears with plastic at the turn of modernity. Traditional economies are closed systems where everything gets used once and again, even your own crap.

      Japan was on the brink of deforestation around 1600. They implemented a very strict forest management and today more than half of its forest are "artificial". And the whole world of Edo 1800 was made out of wood, from theatre mask to houses to kitchenware. And my bet is that it will last longer than than the american empire.

    4. On more research, you are correct, timber framing is sustainable in the definition of sustainability. In between bites of my own words, Let me explain my thinking that resulted in my opinions. Sharing our way of thinking, and opening it up for review and criticism, is how we grow, right?

      British Isles: I was referring to all the islands. Britain had Ireland deforested completely by the 17th Century, well before WWII. Britain had been going through the process of deforestation since the Bronze Ages, and was accelerated when the Romans invaded. However, at least in the Highlands, natural climate change (4000 years ago) converted some of the Caledonian woodlands into peat bogs. By WWI, Britain was almost entirely out of wood. They started a commission to become self-reliant for timber using introduced species that grew quickly.

      Waste: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y12PN8gaQ4Y. A massive tree, split into eighths, then most of those eighths are turned into woodchips. A vast majority of the tree is turned from useable lumber into woodchips. Not a good trade off.

      So, this is sustainable, as trees grow. However, it’s not as practical as dimensional lumber, as to get the raw stock for hewing will taking a couple hundred years. The time does vary between the species used, and the desired quality of the wood. Even so, if the human population was small, timberframing and hewing would be dandy. As humans are, though, we are past 7 billion and are growing; Timber framing just doesn't fit our needs. In the past, as the forests of Europe were decimated, people just went to Iceland, the Americas, etc to find new woods. That's no longer an available option.

      So, over 7 billion people, and growing;. The best hope for humanity to continue forward (from my viewpoint) is to start colonising other planets, and to switch from generating the bulk of our energy from fossil fuels to alternative energy. We will still need oil for some products until alternatives arise.

      Timber framing produces a fantastic house, and is pretty fun while still being a challenge. My dream workshop would still be stone, so I can have a nice fireplace or even a forge in one room and not have to worry about the place burning down. Plus, cobblestone architecture is a big part of New York, at least 75% of all cobblestone architectures in the USA are within a hundred miles of Rochester.

      Sebastian, I hope our differing views don’t drive a wedge into our friendship. You’ve been an incredible teacher so far, and I’d hate to see this ruined because of differing views of the world. Thank you again for introducing me to new methods of enjoying this craft, and introducing me to several new crafts in the process. I wish you success with your goals.

    5. jajajaja, no way. Sorry for my professional deformation. As a physicist you get used to argue till the last bit, like dogs. Still friends, no worries.

      I also like stone but maybe clay better, breathes more. Also a local material here.

      I guess the problem, at the end, is the sheer amount of people, but that's too politically incorrect to say. O rather, the energy use per person. Tax energy not labour.

    6. This reminds me a bit about the argument that some vegetarians put forward about beef being unsustainable because of the grain inputs, it being much more calorie efficient to simply feed the grain to the people. You see that quite cogently developed in pre-industrial Japan, which does not have the arable land base for grazing land. The point I need to make is that with a population of whatever billion and counting on this earth, the solutions, what is sustainable, is different depending on where you live. Where I live growing corn is stupid and wasteful, grazing ruminants makes sense because the land wants to be in grass and low alpine scrub forest, it makes sense to be a meat eater here. Just as it does for the Nepalese and Tibetan nomads who still herd yaks on the high plateau.

      Reading back through some of Chris Hall's earlier posts about the context of timber framing is useful, he points out just how early in the earths history most of the prime forest resources were depleted. I mean, there used to be amazing, awe inspiring cedar forests in Lebanon.
      Where there is nothing but earth we build with earth. Where stone is abundant we build with stone. I live in amongst a dying juniper/pine forest where it would be a damn shame to let the timber go to waste, so I think about timber-framing. In my case the best expression of resources uses a low stone wall to get the wood away from the moisture of the earth, timber for the frame, and wattle and daub for the wall infill. Dimensional lumber sounds great, but what happens when a house is taken down? Its simply bulldozed into a landfill, often in as short a span as one generation, that's all that you get from your average 2x4. A timber frame structure is generally a material hog compared to stick building, but the re-use potential of the material is still excellent, not just to end up in the landfill. Any structure requires constant maintenance, especially the stone ones.
      Just to be clear, stone may not rot, but it is still subject to freeze/thaw, to plants growing in among the gaps. A major ingredient in sustainability and longevity in construction is the skill with which the material is plied.
      Steven, you're quite obviously a brilliant young man, haven't you heard of permaculture? We need every good idea you have if were going to make it through the next couple of generations. You're ideas are valid, don't worry about expressing yourself, you're amongst friends.

    7. I have heard of permaculture, a while ago and forgot about it; you guys brought it back to my mind. I need to find some books at the library on it, although I did find articles and at least one book on Project Gutenberg.

      I am thinking of going to SUNY ESF, an environmental school, to get a bach. degree in forest health. I've entertained the idea of hiding from the world through chairmaking or saw forging, and maybe my path leads me there, but I think I might be able to do more good by managing the health of the forest...God knows there's enough work to be done in that field, with all the diseases and insects.

      I had forgotten about freeze/thaw. Really stupid of me, I even mentioned the glaciers, how did I forget freezing and thawing is how these cobbles first formed!?

      I think part of the reason, was I had the cobblestone buildings of New York in my mind...and almost every one is a historical site, of course I never see any faults from the road. That, and they were first put together by master masons from Europe, who became and taught master masons from New York.

      Life is so complicated, and I find I make waaaay too many absolutist opinions...

      Then when I try picking them apart, it becomes a huge can of worms...and I am reminded about just how mind boggingly large this existence is.

      I was first interested in Japanese tools because they were the only ones I could afford. Then it was because I wanted to learn how to take care of them, and use them... then slowly it was because I found I could form a small, clean work area, and pretend the Universe was in order. Working on a small project, that only requires the tools in hand, helps calm me down and forget about the whirlwinds that deafen me and the sunlight that blinds my sight.

      On a lighter tone, I'll have to see if ESF has one of those competitions available...I've been practicing my hatchet-throwing and my bow saw cutting in preparation for the lumberjack competitions.

    8. Gabe! Excellent considered response as always. All of you guys are humbling, such thoughtful and educated responses.

      My thoughts on stone ......Absolutely love it, and is reuse cycle potential is beyond compare, haha. It's also a cold MF'er! I lived up in the high north of Montana for two absolutely miserable winters, in a 130 year old house built of stone. If you kept the temp up, eventually the thermal mass of the stone could work in your favor, but it's a tough calculus. You need high energy input, assuming there no insulation (as my house didn't have). Hot summers were most excellent though.

      There are no absolutes. To paraphrase what Gabe puts so eloquently, "Use what you got". We as a society have proven ourselves eager to ruin and waste ANY material, large and small, but I also agree completely with Steven, that turning a tree into one beam for a structure, through converting the rest of it's mass into a multitude of little chips IS wasteful.

      On my drive to Ellie's school in the morning, I've been watching yet another house being built in the "normal " way. There is no regard being shown for the regional building vernacular, just another crap house. 1 week from pouring the slab, and it's got a roof, windows and doors. How long will this structure stand? 20 years maybe? If populations continue to escalate, land prices will continue to climb and it just makes more sense to tear down and build new, considering how labor costs also escalate. All of us builders need to earn a living (maybe I'll buy a giant truck like the rest of the guys, look more "professional").

      I guess that I'm one of the ultimate pessimists. All that I can hope to change is myself. I like the wood, I like the tools, and I like the joinery. I am also lazy. I want to live in as small an area as possible, because it's less work. I am cheap/poor and if living in a shed means lower taxes (thousands of $$$$ here), I'm gonna go with the shed. My neighbors have a $300,000 mortgage, pay $2000 some in property taxes annually, and due to FEMA flood zone re-evaluations are having their mandatory (because they have a mortgage and bought beyond their means) are expecting their flood insurance to jump from $1,200 to $13,000 odd in the next 5 years. They are great people, but are having a tough time breaking their cycle.

      We paid cash, and will be building the minimum structure(s) that we can stand, but all with no permits. No permits means that we are ALLOWED to use recycled materials, build at a pace and using means that make sense for us, but the flip side is that our resale potential is shit. Banks REALLY don't want to loan on unpermitted homes here. After seeing most of the building here, I can see why. Anyways....no mortgage, and taxes estimated at $400 annually. No utility bills, aside from Internet. This lifestyle wouldn't work very many places in the USA, nor would many choose to live this way. The only thing that seems reasonable is to lead by example.....and not get offended when they call you crazy.

    9. How embarrassing.....Sebastian's post was about Mark Grable's ideal forging studio, then we got all into it, haha. Great, considered responses all.

    10. Last winter for some reason I googled Cedars of Lebanon, and found there is IIRC, 50 mi2 of virgin forest left. Then on the satellite map view I went up and rotated to take in the surrounding land.

      I think I was reading "Civilization and Soil" at the time. Now I have to explain, the Mediterranean Sea was once surrounded by forests. Then Homo Sapiens came along, and IMO desecrated all that land. Turned it to desert, relativly speaking. Then we did the rest of the planet. Including the Oceans, if you can believe "The Un Natural History of the Seas"

      How to stop is the question; there are many paths and patterns to follow.

      For example, I repaired chairs for 5 yrs, and made enough money to buy tools, go to a few workshops for skills, and by a truck, now 29 yrs old. Went to Japan for 3 months. Basic;y started by dropping out of college, when Raygun was elected. Planned on doing some Permaculture, but couldn't make that situation workable. I confess I don't know, except by intuition, that building this forge is good. Or rather I might say, I know it's more how I build, and why I build, that is the point-not what I build, that might make it good.

      So one thing I left out of the plan, is the Shimenawa that goes around the forge. It's made from rice straw, twisted into a two strand twisted rope, about 6 mm D, and long enough to encircle the forge space. White folded paper representing lightening are spaced 6' apart and hung from it. So to make a pure space.

      What is a pure space?

      Key question, that.

      Consciousness is involved, and awareness, but thinking? Not so much. Gratitude, and respect for the Trees, and for the Life they share with us, and the world. Gratitude for the beauty that is commonplace, and would instruct us if we would stop and wonder at it. It is alive, right, beauty is alive, not a theory, not a metaphor.

      We were working in the vegitable garden one day, in Ono, and Yataiki was on one side and I was about 50ft away, on the otherside, and he stands up and throws something to me to catch, a high arching underhand pitch. At the top of the arch, I see it's a small frog, and he says, Frog! and I reach forward and catch it and whip my arm back, so not to harm it; I thought "that wasn't very nice to the Frog" ..... and it wasn't till the other day I understood. What he was teaching me, about steel, was alive. Not dead. Living. Not of great value in the marketplace, but a small Life.

      Pure space is alive. So then the question becomes, "How do you nurture Life?"

    11. Ha! Not quite swords into plowshares, but awfully damn close, haha.


      I am trying to teach my daughter to "Live with beauty", perform each act with grace and purpose, like a dance. I'm working on this as well, but when you move with that particular attention, it's almost like magic. Things just...work. It's not quite the same as concentration, something is different. She's almost 10, and of course listens to none of her old man's ramblings.

      I like the idea that its not what we build, so much as why we build, how we build. It seems to relate to how we deal with life. Are we gracious and kind to those who are around us, or are we locked in our mirrors of misery, wishing that we were doing something else. Working with the various materials is also like working with different personalities. Respect and attention can work wonders, though sadly, it often doesn't put food on the table.

      It would be a good thing, to see your forge built.

    12. Mark, that's completely to the point, and for me very timing. I've been thinking all this time here of "what" to do, and I cannot find proper answers to it. I could make many things but I don't really feel like making anything. But the other day my aunt came, she's the only one with whom I have a relationship, of the 5 sisters of my father, with a broken wooden thingy for her bread, like a pin for taking her toasts out of the toaster. Took me 5 minutes to fix it, make a new leg for it and it was extremely satisfying to see her face of amazement and happiness.

      So after reading your comment today I got it, I was all the time focusing on the wrong question. The how I know it: by hand and with centre line. The why then, maybe, it's so that it nurtures life. And that should be enough.

  3. I've been studying these plans, imagining what it would be like to work in this space, its very beautiful. Just what is a file making lathe? If I was getting a machine to dimension the file blanks it would be a shaper or mill, obviously I'm missing something.

  4. A file making lathe is something that exists in my imagination, inspired by the YTV's Sebastian posted awhile back, and the old metal lathe a fellow has here in Springfield. It has a bed and a leadscrew and gearbox and motor. I prefer single face files for X-cut teeth. The point of this building is the three spaces each have the necessary light for the work involved. If you imagine Sun at the top of the page, and rice-paper covering the shoji (or frosted glass) you have even, diffused light to work by.

    In the forge room, you have morning sun varying by the (sliding) door opening. Since this is Vermont, there are insulated rain doors in the central outer compartment. Yataiki had a different layout, but the light is the key.

    This is the minimum size for someone 5'10". A little bigger would be good, but smaller would not work IMO. I drew two smaller plans, and more elaborate roofs, and tried one other layout, and could see moving the open fire to the opposite wall, and might add a foot each way, but will make a scale model of this drawing.

    The idea is to recycle old files, grinding off old teeth, forging to shape, dimension by hand, cut teeth on lathe, using machine hammer, 4 passes, then tempering somehow that works. Haha.

    Still to finish other work now though!

    1. Thanks so much!

      That file making lathe sounds very intriguing! Would you happen to know about this company? http://saveedge.com/ I think I may have posted it before, but my memory is terrible.

      Their business is grinding off old teeth and cutting new ones in, I haven't used them but I have heard good talk about them.

  5. I also like stone; The stone work in Japan is as remarkable as the wood work.

    My sense of Japan was even people are fit together in harmony, so that all are comfortable, their strengths appreciated, their weaknesses also appreciated and not denied. Not that everyone there could do everything they wanted, when they wanted, but just about everyone contributed something satisfying. Modern Japan? I think just (slightly) more open to weirdness.

  6. BTW, I missed the June postings on flattening saws, which I prefer to call, hizumi. At one point toward the end, of the "more colors" I think, or shooting from the hip, maybe, the question of seeing distortion came up, as a kind of after thought. This is the point of the Sen platform being against a wall with no windows, and two walls also dark, perpendicular to that wall, and looking at a shoji wall opposite. This is the ideal arrangement to see hizumi.

    1. Another BTW, the anvils in front of the Sen platform are tilted so that light is reflected from a blade being worked on the anvil, to the eye of the metate-ya, as are the Sen boards.

    2. Ach so! so the green things are small pillows. Now I understand. I was wondering if you wouldn't burn your ass with the cooking fire...

    3. And another great "Thank you!" to Mark! Even your minor hints and tips are, well.....basically all we've got. Hizumi is one of those things that is difficult /impossible to learn, just by reading about it on the Internet, and your thoughts can do much to help those of us who are struggling with trying to reinvent the wheel.

      Are the hizumi anvils still as hard and as polished as your main forging anvil? I have been leaning more towards getting a large mild steel block for some of my hizumi attempts, more forgiving than the hard anvil, but more resistance than the wooden block. The middle path.

    4. Hizumi anvils have a proof mark: one corner is chipped off! Like chipped glass. Should have a dome; 1/8" over 3 - 5" and mirror polish.

      Another alternative is a reverse in the dome, which is easy to miss, so slight it is. This lowers the dome by half; two cresting waves and a trough in the middle, in cross section. This is the face of the anvil made from the tip of a spent 12"naval ordinance shell, weighing in at about 220lbs. Very hard steel.

  7. The plan is to make nokogiri, yariganna, and small knives, various; more Sen, setting hammers, hammers various; single sided files, and metal stuff to serve local people. It may look like I'm just lazy, but I'm really just waiting for the buck to tank.

    1. and what about having some apprentices dropping by to learn? I would not mind to use that small room, light the fire, cook some rice and spend the rest of the day forging saws ;)

  8. I just have to add, this is the most interesting post-blog discussion I've ever read. I just the other day made the mistake of arguing with a guy, yes, on a woodworking blog, who thinks those lucky ducky fast-food workers get paid way too much. Reading this is helping me partially recover my sanity. ;) Thank you.

    1. Thanks Steve, glad to hear we are helping with your sanity. I always wonder if there's other people reading all this; a real honour that somebody of your talent is reading by the way. Love your planes.

    2. “It seemed to me,' said Wonko the Sane, 'that any civilization that had so far lost its head as to need to include a set of detailed instructions for use in a package of toothpicks, was no longer a civilization in which I could live and stay sane.”

    3. I once demonstrated the use of Kanna to a woodworking club in Lafayette IN, and a prof from Purdue asked me, "Can you make a living with that?" and I said. "depends on who You are".