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 watertight. 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 turn out 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 webpage 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 than 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 shape 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 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 landowner, I was able to locate the cabin foundation (metal stake in the center of the picture is the middle of the cabin) and even found part of one of the oak logs complete with borehole 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 firewood) that the cabin was torn down in 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 mill in both Norfolk and Oakdale Nebraska.  

Contrary to popular belief log structures in early Nebraska was 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 outbuildings. 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 contain 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.