Monday, September 9, 2013

Four Saxes à la Petr Florianek (Part II)

The next project I had was more or less the centerpiece of my work in CZ and the hub of my learning.  It utilized my design skills and all the material and technical aspects of what I was trying to pick up.  The blade itself was an early experiment in multi-bar pattern-welding, and, while the manipulation of pattern is certainly less than dazzling, the geometry and proportions of the blade were pleasing to me, and I decided to use it. 

With a wide profile and a thick spine, I wanted the handle to echo that sturdiness and straight lines, especially with the parallel grooves I scraped out of the blade.  The materials I chose to meet my designs were elk antler and bog oak, both strong words in the mouth and stout things in the hand.  They also have strong intrinsic narrative properties, at least for me, and evoke ancient things when I touch and smell and admire them. 

The blade shape, construction, and features I had constructed were inspired by drawings I had seen from a record of Vendelperiod graves, and Petr's practiced eye placed them in the 7th century.  Following that judgement, I turned further to books full of period ornament to see what would flow from the page onto my piece.  The Salin style-II biting-beast chain I had drawn earlier fit perfectly around the waist of the handle.  I became infatuated with strange faces within ellipses that seemed to permeate the ornament, and I decided to incorporate them. 

 I brought my ideas to Petr to discuss application, and he suggested I try my hand at engraving, a common method of decoration for the historical work in question, as well as  particularly applicable and striking in the brass that I was going to use as the ferrule and butt-cap.  So, I rolled some brass out and squared it up, sizing to a paper mock-up.  Petr showed me how to attach it to a block of wood with a little bit of black pitch, which was then placed in an engraver's ball vise.  Next, he showed me his v- and round-tipped push gravers, and how to use them.  I spent hours and hours hunched over a small table in his backyard, filled with matched frustration and determination, constantly enraged by the loss of control when the graver slipped and the endless gratification of it making the exact cut you want it to.

My control got better and better, but my injuries did not turn around so quickly.  My hands were soon covered with scrapes and cuts from brass burrs and puncture wounds from the graver itself.  But it was worth it when my work yielded recognizable but strange moustachioed faces, staring pupil-less from the brass. 

The next step was to remove the antler waist and transfer my design onto it, which was certainly an exercise in eyeballing!  It went over pretty well, and I altered the lines to match the cuts I was going to make with the dremel.  I can't really convey exactly what it's like to cut antler with a dremel tool, but it's soft and grainless, and it's pretty much like cutting butter.  It's going to cut exactly where you put it, so you better put it exactly where you want it.  It's not like filing, where material is removed (relatively) slowly and you can plan it out while it's happening.  You have to have a plan and stick to it, because there's no following your groove and coasting along the cut.

That said, if you know what you're doing and have the feel for it, you can make it exactly as your heart desires.  It also means that its speed and power in antler make for very quick work.  Also antler just looks awesome, and I'm going to be using a lot of it, as well as carving a lot of it when I have the tools. 

 Project #3, really quick, was the re-hilting of an old sax blade I made in Worcester, Massachusetts with my good friend Jack McAuliffe of Underhill Edge.  I knew it was vaguely early-Frankish in design, and I knew that most Frankish saxes from that period have limited non-organic materials apart from the blade, so I wanted my principle elements to be wood, antler, and leather. 

I made a curving handle I felt complimented the design, and I ought to pay due here to the extensive research of Jeroen Zuiderwijk, a Dutchman whose work has really bolstered the historicity of the bladesmithing community.  He more or less started the trend of long, accurate handles. 

 I couldn't resist the new technique Petr had developed for texturing sheet, however, and I decided to do in brass what he had done in silver in this knife.  I also set risers where I felt they were ergonomically desirable, dyed some leather, and wrapped it all up.

With a lot more carving, steel-wooling, scraping, and banging things around to make them fit, I had four unfinished pieces but a lot of new things flowing between my hands and my head.  It'll be more hard adventure to finish it all up, but doors have been opened and I'll charge through them, messily at first but always getting better.

Stay tuned for finishing the handles, making the scabbards, and hopefully some more originality on my part!

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