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Doug Ayen

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putting it all together/shop philosophy [Dec. 5th, 2011|03:39 pm]
Doug Ayen
In case you're wondering why I just don't pick a project and finish it.

1) That's not how I think. I have a well-paying job that has fairly high time demands, so I'm not relying on knifemaking for income. For me, it's a net expenditure, one of a few things I do that doesn't involve logging onto a computer and that can't be done sitting on my butt. As I learn something (a new technique, or a bit of info that makes a previously uninteresting style or method more interesting), I try to incorporate it into a current project, or if not I start a new one so that it's not just a note somewhere, but tied to a physical thing I will occasionally stumble across and be reminded of whatever it was.

2) 90% of knifemaking is boring. Cutting, forging, initial grinding -- these are all intense actions, sparks flying around, heating things, making my vision of whatever come into being. Very fun. That usually takes a couple of hours per knife. The other 40 hours are spent cleaning, setting up jigs, ordering belts for the grinder, fixing broken or just annoying equipment, polishing, fitting handles and guards, and generally turning the neat, fascinating, exciting blade into a nicely turned out polished work of art.

3) I'm always interested in doing something new. Most knives have operations that are standard: you shape the blade, grind in the bevels, clean off your tooling marks, then attach fittings and you're pretty much done. I could practice grinding, for example, on cheap scrap, but I'd rather, if I'm going to make the effort, spend a few hours making some damascus. And, since damascus has gotten pretty easy, I'm expanding into titanium, wootz, and making my own alloys. The added complexity from using these exotic materials keeps it interesting, as it impacts even the "standard" operations I've done hundreds of times before -- polishing stainless is different from polishing a high-carbon steel, but both are trivial compared to polishing wootz, a tamahagane blade, or other exotic blade materials.

4) A good friend once said, when explaining how she did watercolors, something like "it takes two people to do a watercolor. The artist, who does the painting, and someone with a gun who's job it is to shoot (or at least threaten to shoot) the artist so they stop before they ruin it." I've done this numerous times, with a blade that just needs a bit of polish getting sucked into a buffer and slammed into a wall or the floor at 60mph, or trying to get that last bit of set in the blade and having it go "ping" and snap in two, or my favorite, applying a finish to the handle that, as it turns out, was aggressively corrosive to the fittings and/or blade. Etching too deep and getting pitting, or applying a patina that just didn't work out, the ways of ruining a piece just as you think you're finishing it is just too common and, frankly, too heartbreaking. Sometimes, I reach a point and say "I don't know that I can finish this without ruining it. Therefore, I'm putting it aside until my skills are up to it." Needless to say, several projects have been ruined because I put them aside for later, then something happened in the interim.

At any rate, I'm just glad to be back in the shop again. It's been too long.

[User Picture]From: frobzwiththingz
2011-12-05 10:07 pm (UTC)
In case you're wondering why I just don't pick a project and finish it.

Nope. never crossed my mind. My shop and basement is also littered with unfinished projects, for many of the same general reasons.
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[User Picture]From: dcseain
2011-12-06 07:03 am (UTC)
Yeah, hadn't crossed my mind either.
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