Thursday, July 24, 2014

Shrink Pots and Birch Bark Containers

Some random projects of this summer.

The shrink pot is made out of Chinese Elm and to my surprise is water tight. The spoon is carved out of apple wood.

Of course all of this had to be approved by
my dog who is in charge of all snacks containing meats and gravies as well as anything photographed in her yard. She also loves to have her picture taken.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Dovetail Hinge with Peter Ross

Recently I purchased a DVD from Popular Woodworking featuring Peter Ross forging a dovetail hinge. As with other Peter Ross DVD’s it was well done and very informative. Someday I would love to take a class with him, but as North Carolina is a long way from Nebraska, I will have to settle for watching videos. I do hope there will be more in the future.

I got into blacksmithing so I could fabricate my own hardware for the furniture and tools I make. This video was informative enough so someone with a beginner skill level like myself could actually turnout a working period correct hinge. Besides a basic blacksmithing setup, all I needed to make the hinge was a jig to bend the sheet metal around. This was difficult because I don’t have a modern welder, but I was able to cobble together something out of angle iron and bolts. It did work just not that great so I will have to find someone to weld me a jig like Ross’s.

The hinge itself is formed by forge welding 16 gauge sheet metal to itself. The blanks are shown on the top of the door panel. From there it’s all about filling and fitting. My hinge is not as nice as Ross’s, but I’m pleased with it.

If you want to make a working period hinge, but don’t have a blacksmith shop try making a snipe/gimmal hinge like the set below the dovetail hinge. I made these by taking the thickest clothes hanger I could find, heating it with a torch, and bending the loop around a 16 penny nail. Hammer or file flat and you have a very durable hinge.

See Peter Follansbee web page for more information on gimmals
and how to install them. I have used them on a tool chest I made and they have worked great. Keep in mind modern mild steel is more durable that the old wrought iron used in antique gimmal hinges.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

This Week in My Forge

Finally the weather is getting nice so I've been able to get back into my forge for some tinkering around.

The first project I made was a trivet. This was a lot harder than I thought it would be, but I am happy with the results. Getting the circle shaped is harder than it looks, but by trial and error I got the circle close enough to round. This made me really want to get a blacksmith cone. The other fun thing with this project was the forge welding of the circle. This was the best weld I have done to date and after filing the edge I could see I got good fusing.

The next project was a trammel and grease lamp. In use the lamp has a wick in each corner so it puts out a lot of light. The traditional fuel for the lamp is tallow, but I use olive oil. I burned the lamp for two hours on a filling of olive oil with all four wicks going and I still had a little oil left to go.

My dog is my chief engineer and security consultant with all my projects and today was no exception. She would not get out of the way until I took her picture.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Log Cabins in Nebraska

Whitwer Site
This weekend I explored a cabin site that was built by Nicholas Whitwer an immigrant from Rohrbach Switzerland. Mr. Whitwer lived in a dugout for several years until the log cabin was constructed in the early 1870’s. The area the cabin was located in is remote and for the most part untouched by modern agriculture. With the help of the land owner I was able to locate the cabin foundation (metal stake in center of picture is the middle of the cabin) and even found part of one of the oak logs complete with bore hole for a wooden pin that held the wall together. The owner also showed me the dugout and well. 

Whitwer cabin after being used as barn
I learned from another resident in the area who is 93 years old (I should say young because he still cuts his own fire wood) that the cabin was torn down in the late 1940. He was able to save some of the wood and later carved a horse out of it. See the accompanying picture. This old guy is probably one of the most interesting people I have ever met and a wealth of historical knowledge. He remembered playing in the cabin as a kid. He said that the Whitwer’s cut the logs with a pit saw and they were not hewn. He said there was no daubing or chinking that the cabin planks were fit tight.

Horse carved from cabin log
What makes this story so interesting to me is that oak logs were used. There were few trees of any kind this far west in Nebraska, but this location was unique as it had a very large growth of oaks. The area was soon clear cut and the oak logs were used to build a flour mills in both Norfolk and Oakdale Nebraska.  

Contrary to popular belief log structures in early Nebraska were quite common. The first documented log structures in Nebraska were built by James Mackay in 1795. Many more log structures were built for trading posts involved in the fur trade in the state. In 1819 Fort Atkinson was constructed of logs. It was huge, holding around a thousand troops and consisted of many log out buildings. In 1846 the Mormons built a little over 500 log cabin in the Winter Quarters located north of present day Omaha. They did most of this in a little over two months!

Sod houses were first made by Mormons at Winter Quarters, but they really did take off until around the 1880’s when most of the good land was taken and most of the trees were cut down. Most photos of sod houses come from the Solomon Butcher Collection. He made over 2000 and his photos saturate history books. It must be pointed out however, that most of Butchers work contains pictures of sod houses constructed primarily in the area of Custer County Nebraska towards the end of the ninetieth century.  

Friday, January 31, 2014

Conestoga Wagon Jack

I finally found a Conestoga wagon jack I could afford. I love these things because of their history, age, and the blacksmith skills it took to make.

This one is dated 1797 and is in bad shape. I didn't want a museum quality one I wanted one so I could examine the inner workings and see how it was constructed. Someday I would like to make one, but for now I am going to study this one and restore it to working order. Should be fun and I plan on taking lots of pictures and drawings and posting them on the blog.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Trade of the Joiner

Came across this video on sash construction from the Arnold Zlotoff Tool Museum. Great video check it out at

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mini Moravian Spring Pole Lathe

My latest project is a smaller version of a Moravian spring pole lathe. I've seen pictures of this lathe in some of Roy Underhill’s books, but I became really interested when I saw it featured on the Horn Guild’s blog. They have some great photos of a reproduction at Old Salem Village in Winston Salem.

I had a spring pole lathe, but it got to be a pain using it at living history events because of the problem with transporting the long pole. Finding a good straight pole is difficult in my part of Nebraska because the trees tend to grow more out in the open. This causes the trees to be more scraggily and gnarly. Not good for a spring pole.

I wanted a pole lathe that I could break down and set up with no tools. I also wanted it to be self contained so if I had to set up on concrete or in a building I could. The Moravian spring pole lathe was the ticket. I will

primarily use the lathe to turn chair parts, but with the application of a modified tool rest I should be able to turn bowls. The thing I’m most impressed is the tensioning devise I use for my hickory spring. By turning the screw I can move it on the beam thereby changing the resistance.

Overall I’m pleased with the outcome, but I’m still tweaking the design. First problem I encountered was the cotton cord I was using was stretching. I fixed this problem by using 550 parachute cord…I know this is not historically correct, but for now it will have to do.  I am also not fully satisfied with the foot treadle. It’s weight and the combination of the leverage caused by the pitman arm robs tension from the hickory spring. The easiest fix is to add weight to the end of the spring to counteract the weight of the treadle, but I will have to play around a bit first as the treadle is awkward to use. It needs more refining than just adjusting the weight.  

Last week I used it at the local museums pioneer day. The lathe drew a crowd which is always good because I want people to get involved and use the tools I display not just watch me use them. The lathe was the definite favorite of the kids. Most of the people that tried the lathe could not really coordinate the foot and tool action together, but in the case of the children it didn't matter they just want to work the treadle. I just about could have charge admission for the amount of kids wanting to pump the foot treadle. It actual worked out nice because it was extremely hot and humid and I had plenty of child labor to power the lathe while I did the turning.