Friday, July 20, 2018

Alaska Tomahawk

    Tomahawk Iron John Logan made for a traditional woodcarver in the Tlingit (Totem Pole) area of Alaska. The overall design is inspired by historical tomahawks of the Mississippian style of the southern plains, though the customer designed the carved engravings I did around the eye in the Tlingit style.
I hand forged this of 1050 carbon steel with Swedish Silver steel cutting edge. Hammer poll and traditional diamond shaped eye. Handle of flame curly Hickory with bands of hot checkering and traditional Aquafortis stain. Walnut dyed sheep leather quirt completes the piece.

    I started with the customer's own sketch. As an artist himself, he knew what he wanted and could convey that to me on paper. As a woodcarver he wanted a tool that he could use while camping and in his work, but he wanted it as traditional as possible. As he already has many pieces in the style of his native Alaska, he wanted something from another American region - we both agreed that the Mississippian style is not commonly seen in todays makers, so would make a truly one of a kind piece.

    I started forging the tomahawk head from a pieces of 1inch x 1-1/2inch bar of 1050 steel. Mississippian tomahawks often have a diamond shaped eye, which I had not done before so I had to make a new drift tool to shape this area, and as he wanted this to be purely a tool I forged it solid, rather then traditionally the back of the head would have been a tobacco pipe in this case it is a hammer. 1050 steel is a great choice for hammers and axes as it is tough and will not bend, but will not get hard enough to support a good cutting edge. Like tomahawks of old, I added a high carbon steel bit to the edge by chiseling a slot in the bit and forge welding a sliver of blade steel into the slot. I choose Swedish Silver steel (this is the alloy name, as it is not made in America it does not have an AISI alloy number, though it is similar to our W-2 with added Chromium) for its high regard within the wood carving community for it's edge holding ability.

     After forging the tomahawk head is rough ground and the details refined. The second image really shows the diamond cross section of the eye. Today we mostly see what is termed the teardrop eye in tomahawks, though historically there were many different eye shapes. Teardrop eyes come from wrapped-eye trade tomahawks which have a totally different construction method then pipe tomahawks. I have yet to see an original pipe tomahawk with a teardrop eye, so it was exciting to forge one with a much more traditional cross section!

    The tomahawk head is finished with hand filing. I have tried over the years to streamline this final process, but nothing but hand files and a lot of elbow grease does it justice.

    As I mentioned above the customer is a traditional woodcarver in the Native Tlingit style of Alaska, together we thought it would be cool to make this tomahawk a collaboration to highlight each other's work. He designed the traditional North West Coast motifs for the panels around the eye of the tomahawk, and I carved them into the steel with hand engraving.

    Once the carved engraving was complete I finished the head with a traditional French Blueing process. This is an acid rusting process that once the rust is rubbed away leaves the steel burnished with a thin protective coating of FeO4 oxide to protect the steel from further rusting.
   With the tomahawk head now complete I turned to the handle.

      The customer wanted the handle to be made of good strong Hickory for longevity of use, though liked the idea of curly figure as is often seen on fancy tomahawks. Curly figure is most often thought about as a trait of the Maple tree, but any tree that gets old enough will do it. It is literally where the tree gets old enough and large enough that as it tries to continue to grow upwards it can not push itself skywards, and thus the grain wrinkles.  Weaker woods such as Maple and Walnut are famous for this beautiful wrinkled ie "curly" figure, with many sub-categories such as Flame, Quilted, Fiddle-back, Tigger-strip, etc to describe the nuances of the grain. Stronger woods such as Hickory have to get really old and heavy for this to happen, and thus is not all that common in lumber - But after a lot of searching the internet I did find a beautiful pieces of Flame curly Hickory. 
   Tomahawk handles traditionally are often ornately decorated with inlays and carvings and other traditional art forms, though again as the customer wanted this to be primarily as a tool, so I wanted to keep the grain and thus the strength of the handle as intact as possible. I choose a traditional technique called "hot checkering" to texture bands around the handle. This technique uses a red hot rasp or file to burn imprints of it's teeth into the wood. Once polished back it looks very similar to the checkering seen on high end firearms.
   Last but not least I used a historical alchemical stain to bring out the figure of the wood and to give it a deep rich color. Aquafortis, Latin for "loud water" is a mix of Nitric and Muradic acids and iron, when applied to wood and heated it does two things; first it eats away at the microscopic fibers between the grain allowing light to refract off of and show the figure better, it also caramelizes the natural sugars in the wood staining it dark.    

-- Iron John Logan

Monday, May 7, 2018

Special Forces Spike Hawk

I made this work for a retiring member of the US Army Special Forces. The colors and etchings all relate to the unit of the person who is receiving this as a retirement present.

1075 steel hand forged by me. Heat treated and tempered to be fully functional. Head patina is a mix of several processes. Sealed with Renaissance Wax. Pommel spike is the same, save for being made from mild steel

Handle is curly maple stained, filled, and sealed with a process used to make violins in days gone by. Green leather pig skin grip, cowhide and silk thread fixings.


Here I've folded the face over and forge-welded it to increase width to draw the edge down for a more graceful look.

I did a quick preliminary grind to make sure everything is the right shape and that I'll have enough material for the complete piece. This passed muster so I went forward with filing in details and refining everything. 

After shaping, drifting a detail hole just forward of the eye, and polishing to 600 grit, I do several cycles of cleaning with mineral spirits, acetone, and water to prep the surface for etching.

The original artwork, left, is placed on the right side of the tomahawk face. I use graphite transfer paper to carefully place and cut the art into the etch resist by hand (right).

Both sides have been etched. I used what is called the Bordeaux method to electro-chemically pull iron away from the work. It's simply an even mixture of copper sulfate and un-iodized cooking salt. The resist I use is a mix of fine rosin, asphaltum, and bee's wax. 

For this project I needed to make a pommel spike. I used a piece of 1" heavy wall steel pipe, cut in half, and shaped each half to what was essentially a pair of 'witch fingernails'. I then forged and stick-welded these together, cleaned them up, and drilled a hole for a hollow steel pin.

Working on the fit of the head and pommel spike on the curly maple handle. I've learned to leave a little extra at the top of my handles until the fit is exact and the surface has gone through one or two cycles of grain-filling and final sanding. The big extra bit up top gets cut off later.

To finish the piece, I dyed some feathers and wrapped the tips in deer hide and twine. I then added a thick braid of twine to each and looped them through the detail hole in the head. 

The handle got wrapped with green pig skin which I affixed with a corset stitch and a little glue. Over this I placed two decorative leather turk's heads.

I'm pretty please with this one and was very sad to see it go.

Friday, May 4, 2018

1728 Model Spanish Cavalry Sword

   Our copy of an original 1771 dated Model 1728 Spanish 'Bilbo' Cavalry Sword. Original #7366 in the collections of the Arizona Historical Society, Tucson. This copy will be on prominent display at The Mission of San Juan Capistrano for their exhibit of the Life of the Garrison beginning Fall of 2018.
   In 1728 a regulation sword pattern for cavalry troopers appears for the first time in Spain. This pattern, defined by Royal Ordnance of  July 12th of that year, presents a double-edged straight blade (as all Spanish cavalry swords of 18th cent.), having a double-shell or Bilbo iron hilt with knuckle-bow and curved quillons, as this period engraving shows, along with the scabbard made in leather-covered wood. This sword would be carried by all Spanish Cavalry and Colonial units up to the 1790s, with some colonial governments holding onto them long into the 19th century.
   This sword though designed for European wars found its way to the shores of America and in the hands of both the Spanish and later the Mexicans saw prominent use in what would become the South West of the United States.

    As to The Mission San Juan Capistrano, it became the seventh of twenty-one missions to be founded in Alta California. Like the previous six missions, San Juan Capistrano was established to expand the territorial boundaries of Spain, and to spread Christianity to the Native peoples of California. Unlike the British colonies on the East Coast of North America, who brought people from their homeland to form colonies, the Spanish believed they could transform the Native peoples into good Spanish citizens. The idea was to make colonial outposts called missions, led by Franciscan padres and Spanish soldiers - these Spanish soldiers are documented to have carried the Model 1728 Sword.

   We were honored to be able to work on this project for the museum of the Mission San Juan Capistrano! And with the great help of David Rickman and the Arizona Historical Society we were truly able to do the M1728 Sword justice!

~ Iron John

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Commemorative Squadron Knives

    7 commemorative knives for the surviving original members of Squadron VAQ130 of the 1990 Gulf War. Laminated steel blades, stacked historic plastics, and "sweetheart" style photographic grip. Overall design based on the WWII vintage USN MK1 combat knife

 ~ Iron John Logan

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Beast - Kurki Bowie

    The Beast

A Neo-Primitive mesh between the traditional Nepalese Kurki and the American Bowie. 11-1/4 inch hollow ground 1075 steel blade with knapped stone texture. Handle of stacked Mircarta, Phosphor Bronze, and Impala Horn. Horizontal cross draw sheath entirely hand tooled, sewn and riveted. Over 16in overall SOLD

Friday, March 16, 2018

Latin American El Oso Navaja

   El Oso Navaja - This is my favorite kind of project! A life story concept piece; where I am told the story of the recipients life, his likes, his hobbies, his passions - and through my understanding of techniques and materials and my love of studying culture I design a functional piece of art that tells this story at a glance.
   In this case "El Oso" (Spanish for the Bear) is a sage of a man that has been a father figure and mentor for many of those around him. He has spent the majority of his life and career working against Latin American Gangs and Cartels in the South West United States. He loves Latin American Culture and participates in his community. He is heavily involved in his local motorcycle/ hot rod club.

   Based on this story, I initially remembered my trip to Mexico City a few years ago - I had loved the the extremes of gritty utilitarian and old world finery: things like ornately hand forged window bars, silver filigree handled butcher knives, and grand stone castles pock marked with century old bullet holes. My first thoughts of El Oso were of Ursus (Latin for large Bear) and liked the idea of a heavier blade like a machete or bolo, but with further thinking and research I thought this was the wrong direction. Unlike Kodiaks and other large bears we have further north, Mexican and Latin American bears are small. The folk motifs of these southern bears are their claws and their conning - thus I followed the more claw like Spanish Scorpiono blade.
I also did some looking into Vaquero's (Mexican riders, yes of horses not motorcycles, but anyways) and ended up in the same place
The Spanish Navaja knife -
    Once I had found the Navaja and the direction I was going, I discovered a historical reference that tied the style to Gangs in Mexico during the American occupation after the Mexican-American War in 1846. Navaja knives have a ratcheting blade with an external spring that makes a archetypal sound on opening and closing the blade - know as the "carraca" it is likened to a rattle snake shaking its tail. An American Officer with the US Dragoons stationed in Mexico City in 1847 said "In the darkness of the street we could hear the rattle snakes of the their knives opening before the fight broke out"

   For Materials I choose; Red Brass, Filigree, Cow Horn, Phosphor Bronze, and polished Steel. Though keeping the lines traditional to Navaja's I beefed up the handle for a more American feel. The blade I had Copperrein etch with the quintessential flame motif often seen in the Hot Rod community, then I aged the entire knife for an "old world" feel. The knife totals 9 inches when open and just over 5 inches when closed.

  This has been a great project for a great man! Thanks for looking!

~ Iron John Logan

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Black Powder Patch Knife

I needed a little patch knife for shooting black powder and went to forge with no real design in mind. This is the result. 

 Blister-finish steel, poured babbet handle parts over deer antler. Hand-skived and finished rawhide riveted to handle with fine silver. Hand cut and filed green glass set into the end of the handle with gutta percha. NFS


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Roman Gladius - Study in historical steel

   This Roman Gladius was a study of producing my own historical steel, in this case Shear Steel from Wrought Iron.

I started with five pieces of 19th century Wrought Iron, which unlike modern mild steel or other structural material does not contain any carbon nor other alloying ingredients, it is purely iron and slag from its original smelting. Much the same material the Romans would have had in the 1st century.
   I packed these five bars of Wrought into a can (on the right of the photo) with bone charcoal and vegetable tanned leather, then welded the can closed on both ends with only a small weep hole to allow pressure to escape. To produce steel from iron in this way one needs to heat the can and its contents hot enough and for long enough to allow the carbon from the bone and the leather to penetrate into the iron. The iron never gets hot enough to melt, the carbon only penetrates the surface of the bars much the same as "case hardening" though with deeper penetration.
  I started the can's soak in the gas forge while I continued working on another project, after a few hours I chucked the can and its contents into the wood stove where it stayed in our heating fire for 3 days.

   After the Iron's long soak in the heated carbon I removed the bars from the can and forge welded them together on edge to form the core of the sword. Here you can see where I have cut and polished the forge welded stack - one can clearly see the dark carbonized edges of the bars with the soft iron still in the centers.

   After final forging, grinding and polishing the blade, a quick etch in ferichloride and the grain of the carbonized Wrought shows through.