Rob Gorrell - Folk Artist

I am once again accepting orders to be made in my new shop.

Folk Art

Creating a Wide Awakes parade lantern.

Folk Art, Tinware, UncategorizedRob GorrellComment

When a tinsmith gets a chance to study an original antique tin item firsthand, or has access to a design drawn from an original, he or she can produce a reproduction.  More often what I create should really be called an historic interpretation.  I try to stay true to tools, techniques and designs from the period when creating a period piece.  But sometimes I end up blending parts of different traditional designs into a new piece that may or may not have existed in the period. Living history people can get really steamed on this subject. This is my interpretation, non-expert like. One project I was contacted for recently involved making what we called the Wide Awake Lantern.

Wide wake 1

 

We had the rooster image to start from and a couple of images of original parade lanterns found online.

lantern_ITM_63013      lincoln original 2   railsplitter

I worked up a design that was a combination of features and started working up prototypes.

?????????? It always looks so simple starting out on paper, but as I worked through the details I had to make many changes.  For example, it was decided that it would be much more practical to have a slide up panel that a hinged door on a lantern that was to be put on a swivel handle.

??????????  ??????????       ??????????

We also decided to put an asphaltum finish on these lanterns. Asphaltum is an old recipe of asphaltum black, turpentine and varnish. It has to be painted on, dried and then baked at increasing temperature increments to drive off the volatiles. It is a long, stinky and messy process. In the case of these lanterns I had trouble getting a smooth layer of finish. The final result is not as smooth as I would have liked, but I think they are acceptable in a period context.

Another design feature that I had to work with was the wire bracket for the lantern to swing on.  No matter what I tried to to stiffen up the bracket, the whole assembly would flex when the lanterns were carried around.  The wire looks to be about the same size as in original examples, and the design is similar. I finally decided that the originals must have had a similar flex to them.  Just because something was made a certain way in the past doesn't mean that it was a perfect design.

In the end we came up with what I think is a good approximation of what a tinsmith may have made for a Wide Awake parade lantern in the mid 19th century.  it was a real learning process and if I am asked to make more I will be making some improvements to the design again.

??????????

 

Making a Parade Torch.

Folk Art, TinwareRob GorrellComment

A colleague of mine contacted me a while back about reproducing some parade torches for his reenacting activities.  He needed some torches that could be carried in political rallies and parades from the 1860's period.  This was an opportunity for me to learn something new and I was happy to take on the project. It took a series of emails and picture swapping to get to the design that seemed to work the best.  We settled on something similar to this antique design.

il_570xN.569153673_agjc

I ran into a problem with the screw on spout.  The problem being that I don't have any idea how to make a screw on cap. Some other tinsmiths took a look at it with me and we threw around the idea of adapting an existing metal cap to fit, but didn't work out in the end. We ended up going with a corked spout on this batch.  if anyone is interested in teaching me how to make a screw cap I would very interested.  We also talked about a press on cap but were afraid they might leak.

The bodies were rolled on a mandrel and punched to receive the copper rivets that would hold the handles on.

??????????DSCN4038

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I did not get photos of making the rest of the parts. The tops and bottoms were cut and burred on a burring machine then touched up on a steel mandrel. The handle and hangers were a bit of trial and error to get right.  It's weird how simple these things always look on paper...

??????????The wicks for this series of lanterns were old smudge pot wicks I found in an antique shop.  They flame huge!  I ended up wrapping thin wire around the wick top to reign in the flame a little.  In the future I think I will try a smaller type of wick.

torch 2The torch shown above is the final design. This particular torch is made from hot dip tin which is a much more historic appearance than the shiny modern electroplate that is commonly used.

As always, I welcome any comments about the methods of construction, suggestions and opinions related to this post.

 

Making a large Parade Lantern.

Folk Art, TinwareRob GorrellComment
party-light-at-night.jpg

  A while back I was digging through the online collection of metalwork on the website for the Winterthur Museum and came across this great pierced tin parade lantern.

Courtesy, Winterthur Museum, parade lantern, 1800-1825, United States, Sheet iron, Paint, Iron wire, Wood,  gift of Henry Francis du Pont, 1959.1656

.  This looked like a great project to try to reproduce or interpret in some way.  I figured it would be a good way to practice laying out the dreaded frustrum of a cone for each of the conical parts.  Plus we think it will be a great party beacon outside of our tent the next time we go to rendezvous.

 

 

I have not found much information about this particular style of parade lantern.  I have found reference to the parade lanterns that swing on a hanger and burned oil or kerosene, like this one for sale on Etsy, but no other that is pierced and on a pole like this.  But I have only checked a few sources so far.il_570xN.569153673_agjcLaying out the round parts and doing the tin punch was pretty straight-forward with ruler and compass. However, laying out the cones gave me fits.  There are a number of period books that show how to do the geometry to lay out the cones, But every time I tried it the large diameter of the cone came out too large.  In hindsight I think it was an error in adding the extra needed to do the set down seam between the body and the cones that threw me off.  Laying out the six vent holes (under the little half-cones) so that the came out even when the lap seam was soldered took some time to learn also. There is probably one a simple geometry tricks that I haven't learned yet to get them right.

As I mentioned, there are a number of books available online and in print that cover layout techniques that were written in the early 1900's.  There is a chapter on tinsmithing in this one.  I have downloaded or purchased several the same information is presented in almost all of them.

As usual, I had intended to take lots of photos as I worked out the pattern to illustrate my successes and failures along the way, but I did not.  But here are a few shots of the finished lantern.

Shelleys party light

 

Party light at night

 

A few new projects for a peaceful yard.

Folk Art, TinwareRob GorrellComment

It has been a while since I posted anything new, but I have been working away in the shop.  I have been working on several new tin projects that I hope to post soon. But most of my time has been spent updating our back yard.  It had been several years since anything really new had been built and it was looking pretty sad and shabby.  the first project was a new fence.  It was supposed to be a two weekend job........that ran into about 4 I think.  I should have given more thought to the 300+ individual fence posts that I cut out.

blog pic 2

It took several days and evenings to get everything cut. Then there was getting the frames built, level lines pulled and the fence constructed.  At this point this is what the fence looks like.  We will be adding gates later.

blog pic 1

After the fence was in we needed to add a new shelter for the blueberries, blackberries and raspberries that we are trying to grow.  The old shelter kept the birds out but was getting pretty shabby. We decided to go with a greenhouse style structure made from conduit and bird netting, and lots of zip ties.  I wanted something that could be taken down in the winter if we want to take it out.

blog pic 3

We also tore out some trellis work and wood artwork that was along the garage.  I decided that I wanted to do a copper bird sculpture along part of the wall. It started out as a trellis for the clematis vines, but after Shelley and I worked over the design we decided to make it a stand alone sculpture instead.  The theme is flying birds in copper.  The inspiration was Shelley's bird jewelery, and the image of birds taking flight.

Birds for blog

The birds were cut from scrap copper and formed on a sinking block to give a more natural shape.  The birds were then soldered to copper wire and formed along the fence and wall. Here is Shelley taking a break from making jewelry to help me get the shape right.

Shelley working on birds

And here is the finished sculpture. I think it adds a nice feature to the back yard.

birds for blog 2

So that is what I have been doing mostly. It is my plan to have these projects finished in the next couple of weeks so that I can get back to the coopering projects that I have been itching to work on now that the weather is good and I can work outside.

More to follow soon.

Monkeys on a Weathervane? I call it "King of the Hill".

Folk Art, Painted Folk Art, Tramp Art, WhittlingRob GorrellComment

For some reason the other day I got to thinking about the old "Barrel full of Monkeys" that we played with as kids. Did you have a set? It was a pretty simple toy, but fun.  At the same time I was thinking about the series of folk art weather vanes that I am working on in the shop. So here is how my mind tends to work sometimes. I am thinking of a new weather vane design and about monkeys, so the obvious conclusion is that I need to make a weather vane full of monkeys. Right? So I did.

Cutting out some of the planning steps, I ended up with a pile of monkey shaped blanks of basswood. I was going to hand-carve each of the monkeys, but decided to save time and effort and power carve them into vague, monkey-influenced shapes.

It was at about this point that I started thinking about how the monkeys would be climbing over each other to get to the top of the weather vane. Would the top monkeys be pulling the others up, or kicking them off the heap? Were the monkeys working cooperatively to achieve the summit, or were they trying to jerk the top monkey off of the peak? I did not know yet.

After loosely carving the monkeys I set them aside and worked on the copper weather vane parts. For the arrow and tail I used some salvaged copper sheet that I had in the shop.  Once the copper was shaped and soldered into shape I worked on the layout of the monkeys. Thank goodness for zip ties and wires. Getting wooden monkeys to fit neatly on a weather vane turned out to be quite a challenge.

Skipping forward again, I finished carving and painting the monkeys and fastened them together using a variety of techniques to get them under control.  For the base I used part of a salvaged pine beam, an old spool of some sort and a few chip carved pieces of a shipping crate.  A few layers of paint, some antiquing of the copper and I called it done.

King of the hill weather vane

In the end I decided the monkey on top was a mean looking dude and is trying to dominate the other monkeys. Maybe I'm just in a mood, but that is the way I see it. What do you think? [polldaddy poll=6717789]

I have listed this creation in my Etsy Store if you are interested in purchasing King of the Hill for your collection.

Repairing a tin lantern.

Folk Art, TinwareRob GorrellComment

I have been doing a lot of reading about coopering and tinware lately and trying to learn the techniques myself.  One area that I have found very interesting is in the repair of tinware, buckets and other handmade items.  I think sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the idea that every handmade item produced in the pre-industrial period was flawless, and that we should only present perfect reproductions. But not every tinsmith was an expert.  There were people cranking out crap then just like today, the difference being that the crap wore out and some of the really good stuff survived. And they fixed stuff.  I don't have the reference handy, but there are lots of documented repairs that have made it own to modern times.  So in that spirit, here is how I repaired a tin lantern that I made.

Last winter I made two tin lanterns for us to use at reenactments and living history events. We used them a few times and they worked pretty well, until one of the rivets came loose and the handle fell off.  Well actually I guess I should say that the lantern fell off the handle to be more accurate.  You can see here where one of the rivets pulled through the hole. It turns out that I used the wrong rivets, which were also too long.

So I cut out a heavy piece of hot dipped tin plate and curved it to ft over a wood mandrel. I also punch a proper hole for a new rivet.

Next, I cut a small washer for the inside of the handle, then riveted the washer, handle, and curved plate together.

The final step was to solder the assembly back onto the lantern.

So the lantern is now good as new.  Maybe not perfect, but fully functional.

Variations on a Parisian street sign.

Folk Art, Painted Folk Art, Traditional woodworking, WhittlingRob GorrellComment

The Carnavalet Museum in Paris has a fantastic exhibit of trade signs made up of original metal signs saved as many sites in Paris were being torn down to make way for new streets and buildings.  One of my favorite signs was this all metal sign of  a trumpeting angel.  I have no information about the actual original use for the sign. To me she is a kick-ass messenger trumpeting some important message to passers-by.  I feel like the branches she carries might be some sort of olive branch, symbolizing the possibility of peace and joy.   I thought about this sign many times after we got home and eventually decided I wanted to make a folk art carved sign inspired by this street sign.  I wanted to combine some different materials such as copper, steel and wood to create my own version of this great antique sign.

I started out with a basswood blank and cut out the blanks for the wings and body of the angel.  I'm not much of a carver, so the carving is pretty basic. I was going for some sort of loose quilted look.  You can see where I planned to attach the wings and cape later on.

After I carved and sanded the wood parts, and put the parts together, it was time to base coat the angel.  I started with a sort of light mustardy color.  I did not want this piece to end up all dark right off the bat, so I did not antique the paint layers very much. This photo was taken early on in the painting process. And yes, I know the head looks a little Cro-Magnon at this point. Shelley helped me get it looking a bit more human before the sign was finished.

And yes, that is an awesome post vise.

I created a sort of flowing cape from some salvaged copper next and fastened it to the body behind the wings. The original sign had another apron of sorts in the front but I decided that I did not like the way it looked. So I left if off. 

It was at this point that I ran into a problem, the hair. In my mind I wanted to sign to have hair inspired by the way some girls wear their hair in big loose style like this (as a guy I guess I really don't know what the style is called, but this model is very pretty).

  My technique was to curl sections of wire and glue a number of them into the head of the angel.  Well........it did not exactly come out as I imagined. It looked more like a victim of a bizarre accident with an extension cord.  We worked on it later on in the project and got the "hair" under control. It isn't what I envisioned, but at least it is not demonic anymore. The foliage on the original sign was flat and cut out of the metal sheet with the rest of the sign. I wanted to give the sign work shape and movement with a copper garland.  It took a while to cut out all of the leaves, shape them on the mandrel and solder them to the twisted copper wire stems. I am happy with the way it came out in the end.  In fact, after seeing how the foliage came out I decided that I wanted to leave out the hanging sign that the angel was holding in the antique sign.  The trumpet is also copper as was pretty simple to work out.

The remainder of the project involved the wavy metal banner that supports the angel.  Rather than try to figure out some way to hide the bars that attach the angel to the banner, I decided to make them a prominent part of the design. Since it was a nice day when I was working on this part I used my smaller outdoor forge.  This required some creative fire management to get the large banner supported during the several heats needed to work up the banner and straps.  The hanging bars are attached to the banner with hand hammered copper rivets.

So at the end of it all we ended with the angel sign shown below.  I think it still needs a little work here and there to really finish off the project. The next project in this grain will be a scrolled metal wall bracket to support the sign outward from a wall.

Coopering Tools class at Tillers International.

Coopering, Folk Art, Traditional woodworkingRob GorrellComment

Last weekend I attended the Coopering Tools class at Tillers International in Scotts Michigan. It was my second class at Tillers and was a very good experience. The goal of the class is to make a croze, inshave, curved draw knife, a set of bands and some gauges. It was a large order for a two-day class. Coopering tools made at Tillers International

This class covered a lot of ground in a hurry.  The purpose of the class was not to make us expert tool makers. The goal was to have tools to make buckets. Most of the class would be staying two more days after this class to make a piggen using their new tools. I had taken the piggen class before and would not be staying.

The class was taught by Chuck Andrews and Peter Cooper (yep, that's really his last name), assisted by the staff and volunteers at Tillers. Chuck and Peter also teach buckets, butter churns and barrel making at Tillers.

The first morning we started out with an informal meet and greet information session at the guest house. The house has been undergoing a spruce up and is really looking good. Generally, day one was woodworking and day two was metal working.  The class started out making the croze. The croze is used to cut the groove in the bottom of the staves to hold the bottom. It is a critical tool to good coopering and it hard to find a good usable antique version. Chuck brought some nice cherry to work with, along with tool steel blanks for the cutters.  The woodworking part of the croze was pretty straight forward. Making the saw tooth cutter was another matter. I really struggled with getting the angled teeth filed correctly with hand files.  I came home with an extra blank in case the one from class will not cut.  I think most everyone else in the class ended up with good cutters. Along with the croze we cut out some gauges that are used to check the angles and curve of different sized staves.  Some students also worked on making a set of dividers that are also used for checking the stave angles. I had already made these items at home and skipped over this section.

Late in the day we moved over to the blacksmith shop to get a jump on the metalworking.  We were provided with annealed tool steel blanks that were already cut out in the rough shape of the inshave and the hollowing knife (curved drawknife), but were still flat. We used a variety of bench grinders and sanders to get the cutting edge roughed into shape, along with cleaning up the other rough edges.  A few of us stayed late to get this step done before morning.

The next morning we jumped back into grinding the edges and getting ready to start forging.  This is where it started getting intense.  There were 10 of us, 20 tools to make and one gas forge.  Once things got really going there were several in-progress tools in the forge at once and two jigs in constant use.  People teamed up to get the red-hot metal into the jigs and hammered into shape.  It was amazing how quick you had to get the blank into the form, clamps in place and the next bend made before it was too cold and had to be put back into the forge.  At this point in the class sweat was flying, stress levels went up and some moderate swearing was heard. But there was also a lot of laughing, so all was well.

Fortunately there were some people in the class with blacksmithing experience. They were able to help Chuck and Peter keep things moving along at a good clip.

After forging the blanks into shape for the inshave and hollowing knife we had a crash course in normalizing, hardening, oil quenching and tempering the cutting edge. As Chuck told us, each of these steps can be studied for years, but he was great at giving us the bare essentials to get the projects finished and I think with a lot of help and encouragement we all came out with decent results.  Wooden handles were drilled and fitted to the two tools and expoxied in place.  Unfortunately one student's hollowing knife cracked and broke in the final stages of the class. It was a terrible moment. I think the Tillers folks were working something out to make sure she had a tool to take home anyway.

By this time I needed to get on the road back to old West Virginia, so I held off on any of the final grinding and polishing until I got home.  The other students were still banging and grinding away as I left.

Tillers is a great organization with an important mission. By taking classes at Tillers one both learns a useful traditional skill, and helps finance the work going on through Tillers International.  I have thoroughly enjoyed the two classes that I have attended and hope to take several more in the future.  I really encourage anyone who wants to learn about traditional coopering with hand tools to take classes at coopers. They are working very hard to learn, teach and spread the use of these and several other techniques and trades.

A chip carved treadle lathe.

Folk Art, Traditional woodworking, WhittlingRob Gorrell3 Comments

There is a temporary lag in shop time right now, due to spring yard work, that has kept me from posting much.  In the lull I thought I would post a few things that I have run into that have inspired me to take more interest in folk art and hand tool use. I saw this incredible treadle lathe in a shop in Paris. Unfortunately the shop was closed so I have no information whatsoever about the lathe.

The whole lathe is chip carved. At first I thought maybe it was some sort of trophy piece, a fancy tool to be admired and not really used much. But this lathe shows a lot of wear and a few repairs, so I think it was in good use at some point.

The flywheel and treadle are substantial, so this was no lightweight lathe, it could handle some mass.

But the thing that stopped me in my tracks was the carving. This thing was a beauty. I wish I had more to add about the lathe, but I do not. 

 If anyone knows anything about this lathe I would really like to know more about it.