Monday, 27 December 2010

Better than Johnny Mnemonic

A carrier of secret digital information....

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

BTWC at bStore


b Store
24A Savile Row

OPENING Wednesday December 1st, 7 - 9PM

Whittling -- to reduce or eliminate gradually. The word applies as much to an action performed on wood with a knife as it does to some mediation between physical being and an abstract notion such as TIME. For over a year now, Bleeding Thumb Whittling Club has provided tools and wood, pickles and coffee, to those who wish to explore the realm of whittling.

Whittling is an intrinsically modest occupation, yet precisely as such, BTWC views it as a kind of de-alienation process; an effective way to engage with robust experiences of temporality and materiality. Starting out, you can obtain an excellent knife for the price of a pizza; you don't need much wood, so even exotic varieties are cheap (or free, as off-cuts from someone's fancy work-top (or you can go to a forest and whittle what you find there in light filtered through birch leaves and reflected off its white bark)).

Our broader interest in the role of craft versus alienation in the advanced industrial age has led us to look at a score of previous responses to this question. Following Appalachian self-sufficiency culture in pre-war America and the post-hippy "Back to the Land" movement which descended from it, one member has created a rudimentary banjo which will be played on the opening night. Another part of our exhibition touches on the early years of the Bauhaus school of design, where focus was on workshop activity as a way of learning. We are also pleased to present our second publication, where among other things, a utopian marriage of these viewpoints is discussed.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Cut of the Week

Jack´s most recent cut

It seems as though we had a dip in number of cuts for a while. Maybe because there has been less alcohol and more coffee, or maybe because we have sharper knives and more skill & patience. Who knows...

But you can never escape them really. Ever.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

10th meeting - Bauhaus

In later stages of its development, the Bauhaus school of design inculcated its students by having them recite the chant "das Quadrat ist rot, das Dreieck gelb, der Kreis blau" ("the square is red, the triangle yellow, the circle blue") every hour, on the hour. All forms not composed of geometric primitives were forbidden, thus everyone wore circular (or equilateral-triangular) spectacles.

Sorry! I lied; it's not true. However, this kind of misunderstanding is commonly trotted out at the mention of the Bauhaus. We at BTWC know better however, and wish to explore and recover the early years of the Bauhaus project: speculation, the role of craft in industrial society, even expressionism. These strands come together in the carvings at the Haus Sommerfeld near Berlin, a building by founder Walter Gropius in 1921. This is the stimulus for our next meeting.

Photocopy hand-out for 10th meeting. Whittlings roaming in Haus Sommerfeld


The meeting, our tenth, also marks a year of existence for the club (in fact it's been a bit longer, we just didn't keep track). Since it is a birthday, we will have cake. And we will always have pickles.

Mark is about to cut the cake with his newly made pear-wood utensil

Whittlings by Jacob

Comb by Pete

The Oxfam spoon by Mark

Jacob on the bandsaw. Cheating, but oh so simple.

YSL by Gery

Ben T started on his Bauhaus graveyard

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Cut of the Week - Square is Red


From 10th meeting; Gery´s cut of the week...

Saturday, 27 November 2010

OMG! Where did you get that Bauhaus graveyard...

Collaboration between Ben T and Maeve

Paul Klee, teacher at the Bauhaus

Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus

László Moholy-Nagy, instructor of the foundation course

Owl by Jana

Wassily Kandinsky, teacher in color-theory

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

John Dillinger is a Hero of Whittling

Dillinger, right.

John Dillinger, bank robber, is a hero of whittling. Having previously busted out of jail with smuggled rifles and the accomplices who would eventually form his first high profile bank robbing gang, JD -- finding himself incarcerated once again -- whittled a gun from a wooden washboard, coloured it black with shoe polish, and escaped once more using the facsimile firearm.

Here the story is somewhat obscured by myth, contradiction, and Wiki-facts. It is speculated that the gun was in fact fabricated by police to cover up the embarrassing fact that Dillinger had successfully received smuggled firearms in prison, again, or to distract from a different truth, that he simply bribed his way out.

But the whittled gun story holds water. In a post-breakout photograph, Dillinger is pictured holding a Tommy gun and a small rudimentary looking gun, which could well be wooden. The John Dillinger Museum of Hammond, IN, has shown a gun claiming to be the one in the picture; it has a rounded barrel and, for want of enough wood, only a partial handle. In use, the missing handle area would be covered by the hand, rendering it convincing. Ineffectually gouged into the side is the legend “COLT 38”, an example of JD’s sarcastic sense of humour, maybe. This gun, however, is manifestly not the item sold on historical auction site Heritage Auction Galleries for $19,120 in December 2009. That gun has a rather square barrel, and several other differing features. According to that website, there are three guns with credible claims to being the one used by JD. This one came down through the Dillinger family; think of that what you will.

John Dillinger display at BTWC show with a copy of the copy of a Colt 38

There are several notable points of craft on the gun. The replica of the facsimile which was produced by Bleeding Thumb member Jana is fairly uncomfortable to hold. In the photo with JD, the same awkward grip that I was forced to use can also be seen. Several intriguing details are listed on the Heritage Auctions description: that the barrel was lined with a little copper pipe – to reflect light with the characteristic metallic glint that anyone familiar with guns would expect and recognise? That small nails were used to create the illusion of sights on the weapon – the tiny details of silhouette that an artist or expert knows will complete an illusion. On creation, the black shoe polish coating the gun would have had the deep gleam of burnished steel. Seeing it wielded with confidence by the swaggering Dillinger, it is easy to imagine being convinced. Internet forums debate how JD could have gotten the knife to whittle the board, but the construction could certainly have been carried out with an old style flat razor-blade.

Dillinger is sometimes looked upon as a Depression-era Robin Hood figure, but from my readings, his redistribution of wealth was not significant. More endearing is the sense of audacity he embodies, like Bonnie and Clyde, in moving in an arena of bluster and romanticised anti-morality which cannot be explored today. Robbing banks with a big mouth and sticking it to J Edgar Hoover personally, and good for him too! John Dillinger was eventually killed by the feds in an ambush outside a movie theatre. The fatal wound entered the back of his neck. He was running towards an alleyway and had not yet drawn a gun.

The cinema in Chicago where Dillinger died

Sunday, 14 November 2010


Monday, 8 November 2010

Blades on my mind

First using, and then collecting knives, you eventually end up wanting to make one yourself. So I made a knife some time ago & decided recently to try to do it more regularly. I´m not in the position to make my own blades quite yet so I stick with my pre-made favorite; the 'Erik Frost 120', and concentrate on the handle design for now. The first few knives have been very simple and traditionally Scandinavian, but since Jack started to leave Japanese tools around the wood-workshop I kind of got the desire to make a knife inspired by the Japanese Kiridashi knives.

The Kiridashi is a general utility knife used for cutting, marking or carving. They have a simple chisel ground edge and look a bit like a scalpel since they don´t normally have a handle. What interested me in these blades is the way that they are sometimes inset in a block of wood where one continuous bit is used as both handle and sheath. I tried to use this technique but with a long Mora blade. Im not sure of the technical success of this combination, but the looks are sort of in the right spirit. This knife wont be any good for chopping so I´ll give it to my mom with the hope that she will use it to cut her Polish sausage using the paring/pull cut.

Walnut wood and aluminium inlays

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Rock, Paper, Scissors; Steel versus Stone

Steel beats wood, stone beats steel...

In the course of whittling wood, especially harder woods like pear, box, and lignum vitae, it is not unusual for the edge of one's blade to become round, rubbish, and worthless. Don't throw it away! You must sharpen it! But how? With all that time taken to carefully select your perfect knife, equally you must find your ideal method of sharpening.

What is a sharp edge?

A nice maxim regarding edges: "A sharp edge is the intersection of two mirror polished surfaces".

We can think about this on a microscopic scale. When a blade is blunt, it is rounded over. When ground, it gets a sharp cross-section, but it has microscopically tiny jagged teeth along the edge. When used, these will bend over and stop the blade working well. The aim of using finer and finer sharpening stones is to make these teeth small, smaller, vanishing, then you have a nice glass-like edge. Ow. The angle of the edge determines how tough it will be, and only the very last part of the edge needs to be highly polished...

Sharpening Stones

The usual way of sharpening is on a set of sharpening stones. If your blade is badly chipped (chips 1mm or bigger) or the sides of the bevel rusted, you may need to use a coarse stone (coarse=grinding), something like a few hundred grit. If you can't be bothered to buy this stone, you can clip some wet-and-dry paper of a similar grit to a perfectly flat surface - I use a granite pastry block from Sainsbury's.

After you've got the chips out and the sides are clean, you can move on to the medium stone (800-1200 grit, medium=sharpening), then the fine (3000+, fine=honing). I use a Japanese combination water-stone which is 1000 on one side and 6000 on the other. The last stage in sharpening a knife is to use a leather strop to buff it. This is simply a piece of leather nailed to a block of wood which polishes the cutting edge, and can be used at the end of each whittling session to prolong the life of the edge. It only takes on the order of a few minutes on each stone to get the blade sharp.

Once the edge of the blade is honed, it is usually sufficient to use just the fine stone and strop to maintain the edge, unless heavy work dings it out of shape.

Information abounds on the net regarding how to sharpen knives, much of it contradictory of course. These gents talk primarily from the point of view of kitchen knives but I find their explanations on the motion involved in sharpening to be helpful:

Expert Village
Murray Carter

Some more technical info can be found here:

Fine Tools 1
Fine Tools 2

This is in contrast to one web-page that I came across that would have you believe sharpening a chisel takes 12 hours -- when would you get to use the thing? There are many techniques, and the only way to understand them is to try them out; ultimately, you will know that you are sharpening well because your blade will get sharp. Do not get discouraged! It takes a little trial and error.

There exist both oil-stones and Japanese water-stones. oil-stones last pretty much forever while water-stones eventually wear out. In my experience, water-stones are quicker and easier to use. Because of their fast action, I would especially recommend them if your knife is of very hard stainless steel, but then I would recommend them anyway. I use a 1000 and a 6000 grit water-stone and finish with a strop. The blade achieved is sharp enough to shave with (if you are a sailor and can take a rather tough shave). However, I also have oil-stones, including a very fine and old one purchased from Deptford market. For some reason, I like to sharpen certain tools on the water-stones, and certain on the oil-stones -- I've no idea why.

BTWC offers knife-sharpening services and instruction, in fact we always have.

Japanese Tools 1 -- Nokogiri (Saws)

"Form follows function" is a truism, so where do we find it lacking explanatory power? Several familiar tools take interesting twists in design in Japan. For instance, while Western saws cut on the push stroke, Japanese cut on the pull, placing the blade under tension and keeping it straight.

Let me relate the story of this impressive saw. Before the advent of mechanised milling, these Maebiki-Nokogiri were used in Japan to mill raw lumber down to flat boards. The huge flat body is to guide the blade straight along the entire length of the tree. Note also the teeth -- smaller near the handle for initiating the cut then more coarse further along, a standard feature of Japanese saws. It was said that the sawyer who used the one in the picture was over six feet tall and ate two litres of rice at each meal. Said also that he, a master of his trade, would serve tea to his apprentice. How cool.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Whittling at the Woodmill

Our 9th meeting took place at the Woodmill studios in connection with the Heat Haze outdoor sound seminars. We had the pleasure to whittle while listening to Mark Pilkington's talk on 'Western occult tradition, told through British popular music' & the evening ended with a screening of William Eggelston´s film ´Stranded in Canton´.

Note plaster

Little horse on pillow by Ksenia

Multi-tailed cat by Jana

soft object by some visitors

A young boy called Liam dropped by the Woodmill and did some whittling while on his way home. Staying out way longer than he really should, he figured he could appease his mothers rage by whittling her this heart.

Cat by Little Jack

Jack´s finished spoon.