Tag Archives: Make

Morse can make anything if you know what you want, 1904

The following is a continuation of a newspaper article about the property shop of E. L. Morse on Twenty-ninth Street in New York City. The article first appeared in The New York Times on May 8, 1904, and Mr. Morse’s property shop is long gone. I have previously posted the introduction, a bit on Morse’s career, a story of a fake fish he built,  all the skills a prop maker must possess, and making things from papier mache.

Even the manufacture of an automobile does not frighten the veteran property master. He has one tied to his ceiling. To be sure it is not a real auto with a real chauffeur and real gasoline motive power, but it looks enough like it. It is entirely of wood, wheels and all. It is constructed so that a man can sit inside, invisible, working a treadle, and making the wheels go round. The chauffeur is not alive—only a dummy. His hand stays on the lever and his head is occasionally turned by a wire worked by the man on the inside.

“I don’t want the thing,” says the old maker. “The man who ordered it owes $50 on it, and the sooner he brings the cash and takes his auto away the better I’ll like it.”

“Speaking of people ordering things,” he continues, “you don’t know what a crazy man is until you see some fool vaudeville manager come here and try to get me to make things for him.

“He hasn’t the slightest idea of how anything’s made, and he couldn’t draw a straight line or cut the peeling off an apple. But he’s seen a picture in some Sunday paper and takes a notion he would like to have something like it for a show. He comes in and tries to tell me what he wants. All he can do is to wave his hands about and say: ‘Well, you know what I want.’ Of course I don’t know, and I generally end by letting the man know I think he’s crazy—which he is. Then he leaves, thinking I’m a hopeless fool because I can’t make what he wants. And he doesn’t even know what it is!”

This article first appeared in the New York Times, May 8, 1904.

Recycled metal sculptures by Riley Foster

Burlington Mini Maker Faire 2012

The first Burlington Mini Maker Faire took place this past Saturday here in Burlington, NC. Ben Harris, the organizer, pulled together a great and varied group of local artists, tinkerers and hobbyists who spent the day showing off their homemade projects and skills to the community. In between watching the main booth and fielding questions, I took a few photographs of the various exhibitions. I also posted a video at the end of this post which does a good job summing up the Faire.

Recycled metal sculptures by Riley Foster
Recycled metal sculptures by Riley Foster

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Dick tends the fire

Blacksmithing

This past Saturday, I headed out to Efland, NC, where Dick Snow was teaching blacksmithing. It was another meeting with the Alamance Makers Guild (the same group that visited Roy Underhill’s shop last week). I’ve done various metalworking projects before, but never straight-up blacksmithing.

Dick tends the fire
Dick tends the fire

Dick had his coal forge fired up that morning. He also has a propane forge. He was telling us that while a propane forge does not need tending like a coal forge, a coal forge can get much hotter. You need that extra heat if you ever want to forge weld. We weren’t doing any of that, though; our lesson that day was making nails.

Cutting the rod on a hot-cut hardy
Cutting the rod on a hot-cut hardy

Dick teaches nail-making to new blacksmithers because it encompasses three of the basic techniques used in almost every blacksmithing project; drawing the steel out into a taper, cutting it to length and hammering it to give it a head. In the photograph above, you can see him cutting a red-hot rod on a hot-cut hardy. Sometimes called just the “hardy”, this tool is basically a wide cold chisel that sits in the anvil’s hardy hole. The tool sitting on the left of the anvil is the nail header. Because the nail is tapered, it only fits through that square hole to a certain point. You cut the rod a little above that point, then smash it down with the hammer into a mushroom-shaped head.

Dick teaches Ben proper hammer technique
Dick teaches Ben proper hammer technique

I would say the trickiest part of blacksmithing is all of it. I usually think of metal as the material you use for precision machining, and other materials are used for more organic and artistic construction. Blacksmithing, on the other hand, is where metal is used like a fluid, sculptural material. Even something as simple as making a nail is difficult to do consistently, at least at the beginning. I made about 6 or 8 nails, and none of them matched each other.

Refreshing the fire
Refreshing the fire

I’ve often thought it would be cool to use hand-forged nails in the furniture I build. You can find plenty of plans to make your own forges online, all the way down to a tiny brick-sized forge which can only make nails.

Hammering out a taper
Hammering out a taper
I am boring

A Visit to the Woodwright’s School

Last Saturday, I went with The Alamance Makers Guild to the Woodwright’s School in Pittsboro, NC. The Makers Guild is a group I discovered down here which is interested in many of the same things I am; woodworking, sculpting, fabrication, blacksmithing, science and art. Some of the members have begun designing a human-powered lathe, so the trip to the Woodwright’s School was kind of a research trip to see some of the antique human-powered tools which they have refurbished.

 

Roy and Nim look at tools
Roy and Nim look at tools

For those who don’t know, the School is run by Roy Underhill, host of the Woodwright’s Shop on PBS, which has been on the air since 1981. He showed us some of the original catalogs of these various treadle and pedal powered machines.

Roy Underhill using a foot-powered spindle cutter
Roy Underhill using a foot-powered spindle cutter

In the photo above, Roy is using a foot-pedal-powered spindle cutter. We might recognize the modern-day equivalent of a router table or shaper; the tool has a rotating blade which cuts a shaped profile along the edge of a board of wood. The blade in the machine was a bit dull, so the end of the cut got a little wonky.

Natalie on a human-powered lathe
Natalie on a human-powered lathe

My wife tried out the foot-pedal-powered lathe. She just bought her own lathe at school a few days prior to this. The foot-powered one was tricky for both of us because you have to sit down to pedal. We are used to standing up and using our hips to brace the tools and our whole body to move it along the cut. This one requires you to do all the bracing and moving with just your hands, which feels awkward at first. Nonetheless, it makes some nice cuts, and it is a lot quieter than any electrically-powered machine.

Foot-powered mortising machine
Foot-powered mortising machine

We also watched Roy demonstrate this foot-powered mortising machine. It essentially has a sharp chisel connected to a lever which you push down with your foot; several linkages give it quite a bit of mechanical advantage so the chisel just plows right through the wood like butter.

I am boring
I am boring

Roy set up a boring machine outside that we all tried out. Though it was a large auger and a fairly thick plank of wood, boring through it was no problem. All of these hand and human-powered tools reminded me that if your bits and blades are sharp, it does not actually take that much effort to cut and bore. You get a good workout as well.

Planes all in a row
Planes all in a row

Above the school is the antique tool shop where all the tools which they find and refurbish are offered for sale. Planes, saws, calipers, folding rules, router planes, augers, mallets and many more varieties of tools known and unknown were on display.

War Horse puppet

Friday Link-topia

Here are seven short (under 10 minutes) films about obsolete occupations. I think as prop makers and prop masters, we are called on to do the work of each of these occupations at least once in our careers.

The TK560 discussion board is geared towards making stormtrooper armor from Star Wars, but they have a large section devoted to general tips and tricks for vacuum forming (including instructions for building vacuum forming machines of all different sizes and budgets), molding and casting, and working with plastics in general. There is a treasure trove of useful information here.

I’ve seen discussions of dying plastic in the past as an alternative to painting it, especially with plastics that refuse to take paint (such as polyethylene). Here is a good step-by-step description (with pictures) of dying the case to a MacBook computer.

CNN recently did a profile on Dale Dougherty, founder of Make Magazine and the Maker Faire. You can watch a short companion video and read a brief column by Dale titled “How to make more ‘makers’ – and why it matters.”

Finally, here is an extremely cool infographic on how the War Horse puppets work.

War Horse puppet
infographic on how the War Horse puppets work.