Monthly archives: February 2015

The Chisel – What makes it Good?

The term “Chisel” is believed to have evolved from the Latin word “seco” (I cut) or the French word “ciseau.” As ancient, archaeological discoveries indicate, the crude, stone-fashioned forerunners of today’s chisels, may have been the first of its kind used by primitive man. Although improved, versions are believed to have been used for marble carving in 6th century BC Greece, inscriptions on an ancient tomb of 7th century BC Egypt, suggest otherwise.

Chisels are used primarily for cutting, planing, gouging, carving and finishing of such materials, as wood, stone, metal or marble. However, the end-applications and materials will usually determine which type of chisel is to be used.DSCF1216 To perform efficiently, chisels are driven into the base material manually, using different levels of pressure, depending on the nature of the intended task. A hammer or mallet is generally used as the driving force to exert pressure on the hand-held, chisel/s being used.

I do not think there is one workshop that does not have some kind of chisel in it, especially shops that work primarily with wood. In a Luthiers workshop, there will be many different kind of chisels. In violin and guitar making, chisels are most important part of the workshop. But, what makes a chisel good?

Firstly the type of steel that the blade is made of is very important, It must be of a high quality steel, because, it must hold the sharp edge as long as possible. If the steel is too soft, the tool will blunten too quickly. Secondly, the chisel must be sharp at all times. There is nothing worse than working with a blunt chisel.

How do we get this sharp edge?

  1. Grind the edge to 22,5 degrees – (different chisels can have different angles – 22,5° is the average)
  2. Remove the burr caused by grinding on a polishing wheel, preferably with a grinding paste.
  3. Keep the chisel perfectly aligned with the edges when polishing – ie. Do not lift the chisel so the edge goes into the wheel.
  4. Polish till the beveled edge and the bottom edge is smooth (it will usually start to shine).

If you can shave the hair on your arm with the chisel, then this is usually a good indication that the chisel will be sharp enough to work with. The reason for getting the chisel to a smooth polished surface, is, so that when you push or drive the chisel into the wood, the friction will be reduced making it easier to allow the tool to cut.

The Empire State Building

The Empire State Building is a 103-story skyscraper located in Midtown Manhattan, New York City, at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and West 34th Street. It has a roof height of 1,250 feet (380 m), and with its antenna spire included, it stands a total of 1,454 feet (443 m) height. Its name is derived from the nickname for New York,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the Empire State. It stood as the world’s tallest building for nearly 40 years, from its completion in early 1931 until the topping out of the original World Trade Center’s North Tower in late 1970. Following the September 11 attacks in 2001, the Empire State Building was again the tallest building in New York (although it was no longer the tallest in the US or the world), until One World Trade Center reached a greater height on April 30, 2012. The Empire State Building is currently the fourth-tallest completed skyscraper in the United States (after the One World Trade Center, the Willis Tower and Trump International Hotel and Tower, both in Chicago), and the 25th-tallest in the world (the tallest now is Burj Khalifa, located in Dubai). It is also the fifth-tallest freestanding structure in the Americas. Empire-State-Building 8



The Empire State Building is generally thought of as an American cultural icon. It is designed in the distinctive Art Deco style and has been named as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The building and its street floor interior are designated landmarks of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, and confirmed by the New York City Board of Estimate. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1986. In 2007, it was ranked number one on the AIA’s List of America’s Favorite Architecture.

The building is owned by the Empire State Realty Trust, for which Anthony Malkin serves as Chairman, CEO and President. In 2010, the Empire State Building underwent a $550 million renovation, with $120 million spent to transform the building into a more energy efficient and eco-friendly structure. Receiving a gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating in September 2011, the Empire State Building is the tallest LEED certified building in the United States.Empire-State-Building 4

The Empire State Building was designed by William F. Lamb from the architectural firm Shreve, Lamb and Harmon, which produced the building drawings in just two weeks, using its earlier designs for the Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and the Carew Tower in Cincinnati, Ohio (designed by the architectural firm W. W. Ahlschlager & Associates) as a basis.

Excavation of the site began on January 22, 1930, and construction on the building itself started symbolically on March 17—St. Patrick’s Day—per Al Smith’s influence as Empire State, Inc. president. The project involved 3,400 workers, mostly immigrants from Europe, along with hundreds of Mohawk iron workers, many from the Kahnawake reserve near Montreal. According to official accounts, five workers died during the construction.[29] Governor Smith’s grandchildren cut the ribbon on May 1, 1931. Lewis Wickes Hine’s photography of the construction provides not only invaluable documentation of the construction, but also a glimpse into common day life of workers in that era.Empire-State-Building 7

The construction was part of an intense competition in New York for the title of “world’s tallest building“. Two other projects fighting for the title, 40 Wall Street. and the Chrysler Building, were still under construction when work began on the Empire State Building. Each held the title for less than a year, as the Empire State Building surpassed them upon its completion, just 410 days after construction commenced. Instead of taking 18 months as anticipated, the construction took just under fifteen.

Aircraft Incident

At 9:40 am on Saturday, July 28, 1945, a B-25 Mitchell bomber, piloted in thick fog by Lieutenant Colonel William Franklin Smith, Jr., crashed into the north side of the Empire State Building, between the 79th and 80th floors, where the offices of the National Catholic Welfare Council were located.Empire-State-Building crash 1 One engine shot through the side opposite the impact and flew as far as the next block, where it landed on the roof of a nearby building, starting a fire that destroyed a penthouse. The other engine and part of the landing gear plummeted down an elevator shaft. The resulting fire was extinguished in 40 minutes. Fourteen people were killed in the accident. Elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver survived a plunge of 75 stories inside an elevator, which still stands as the Guinness World Record for the longest survived elevator fall recorded. Despite the damage and loss of life, the building was open for business on many floors on the following Monday. The crash helped spur the passage of the long-pending Federal Tort Claims Act of 1946, as well as the insertion of retroactive provisions into the law, allowing people to sue the government for the accident.

A year later, another aircraft narrowly missed striking the building.

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What is interesting is that if we look at our strict health and safety rules that apply today in our current work places, imagine if the work ethics and conditions of these workers on the Empire State building suddenly appeared on a building site today……………..?

Acoustic Guitar Neck Width

Why are guitar necks as wide as they are, who decided that that is what it should be? In guitar making there are standard neck widths. These have been worked out over time to be the most comfortable and effective. Much like violins, there are also very strict standard dimensions. For violin players this is more pertinent, because if you as a player, pick up an instrument that is not your own – this may be to test, or maybe an emergency before a concert, or a student that you are teaching – your muscle memory will automatically place your fingers in the right place to play the right notes. Now, if the dimensions are not correct, initially, you will have difficulty getting the right notes. After a while you will get used to it and you will sort out the difference, but if you move to another instrument you will have the same challenge. The same applies to guitar neck widths, there has to be a standard size. However, the guitar has frets which help tremendously in finding the position for the right notes and so, you do not rely on the same muscle memory as you do on the violin where there are no frets.DSCF8038

For the guitar, the smaller, or narrower the neck, the easier it is to play, the easier and quicker it is to change chords. But, it is also easier for your fingers to mute the string alongside the one you are pressing, the one you don’t want to touch. So, if you have small, or average size hands, you will cope well with a narrower neck, but if you have bigger hands, or thicker fingers, you may prefer a slightly wider neck. The width difference in the neck to facilitate a change is very small, one or two millimetres would make a big difference! In this case, if makers and manufacturers made a variety of neck widths, their guitars would become a lot more specific and each instrument would be bought by someone who found that specific neck width comfortable, so they would to have to manufacture many more guitars in order to meet their sales targets. This would be good for the consumer, but not good for the manufacturer. One could have an instrument specifically made for you and then hope that the end result is to your satisfaction. You can also make your own instrument and when it comes to shaping the neck, you can customise the neck to your liking.


Having said all this, if you have an acoustic guitar with a standard neck width – steel string44mm (approx. 1,76inches), classical – 50mm – 51mm (approx. 2,04 inches), after playing for a while, you will learn to cope with it and you will get to prefer your instrument to others.

Nitrocellulose Lacquers

One of the preferred lacquers in guitar making is Nitrocellulose Lacquers. It is one of the more safe lacquers to use compared to the catalyzed lacquers that often contain formaldehyde which are banned in most first world countries. The advantage of nitrocellulose lacquers is that when you apply your layers, there is a chemical bond between coats. If some damage occurs to the finish at some stage, it is easier to repair compared to catalyzed lacquers, in that, the layer can be softened with a solvent, whereas the catalyzed cannot. Nitrocellulose can also be rubbed with a pad like the French Polishing technique to help close the grain of the wood and to help create a fine finish. Below is some more detailed information specific to Nitrocellulose……….DSCF0297…..

Lacquer is a clear or coloured wood finish that dries by solvent evaporation or a curing process that produces a hard, durable finish. This finish can be of any sheen level from ultra matte to high gloss, and it can be further polished as required. It is also used for “lacquer paint”, which typically is a paint that dries to a more than usually hard and smooth surface.

Quick-drying solvent-based lacquers that contain nitrocellulose a resin obtained from the nitration of cotton and other cellulostic materials, were developed in the early 1920s, and extensively used in the automobile industry for 30 years. Prior to their introduction, mass-produced automotive finishes were limited in colour, with Japan Black being the fastest drying and thus most popular. General Motors Oakland automobile brand automobile was the first (1923) to introduce one of the new fast drying nitrocelluous lacquers, a bright blue, produced by DuPont under their Duco tradename.

These lacquers are also used on wooden products, furniture primarily, and on musical instruments and other objects. Nitrocellulose lacquers are also used to make firework fuse waterproof. The nitrocellulose and other resins and plasticizers are dissolved in the solvent, and each coat of lacquer dissolves some of the previous coat. These lacquers were a huge improvement over earlier automobile and furniture finishes, both in ease of application and in colour retention. The preferred method of applying quick-drying lacquers is by spraying, and the development of nitrocellulose lacquers led to the first extensive use of spray guns. Nitrocellulose lacquers produce a hard yet flexible, durable finish that can be polished to a high sheen. Drawbacks of these lacquers include the hazardous nature of the solvent, which is flammable and toxic, and the hazards of nitrocellulose in the manufacturing process. Lacquer grade of soluble nitrocellulose is closely related to the more highly nitrated form which is used to make explosives. They become relatively non-toxic after approximately a month since at this point, the lacquer has evaporated most of the solvents used in its production.

The Samurai Sword

Samurai Sword 5What we commonly refer to as a Samurai sword, is an absolutely amazing piece of craftsmanship. For the time it was made, the sword smiths way of working with steel seems to be way ahead of their time in what we refer to as ‘today’s standards’. Below is some more detailed information that is interesting to read and it explains how the swords were made and folded to have as many as 215 (approx. 65000) layers of steel, to sometimes up to 220 (approx. 1million) layers. This resulted in an exceptionally strong, light, aesthetically beautiful and durable blade

Historically katana (刀) were one of the traditionally made Japanese swords (日本刀, nihont) that were used by the samurai of feudal Japan. Japanese sword blades were often forged with different profiles, different blade thicknesses, and varying amounts of grind. (The grind of a blade refers to the shape of the cross-section of the blade).


The forging of a Japanese blade typically took many days or weeks, and was considered a sacred art, traditionally accompanied by a large panoply of Shinto religious rituals. As with many complex endeavors, rather than a single craftsman, several artists were involved. There was a smith to forge the rough shape, often a second smith (apprentice) to fold the metal, a specialist polisher, and even a specialist for the edge itself. Often, there were sheath, hilt, and tsuba specialists as well.

The steel bloom, or kera, that is produced in the tatara contains steel that varies greatly in carbon content, ranging from wrought iron to pig iron. Three types of steel are chosen for the blade; a very low carbon steel called hocho-tetsu is used for the core of the blade, called the shingane. The high carbon steel, called tamahagane, and the remelted pig iron, called nabe-gane, are combined to form the outer skin of the blade, called kawagane. Only about 1/3 of the kera produces steel that is suitable for sword production.Samurai Sword 10

The best known part of the manufacturing process is the folding of the steel, where the swords are made by repeatedly heating, hammering and folding the metal. The process of folding metal to improve strength and remove impurities is frequently attributed to specific Japanese smiths in legend.

In traditional Japanese sword making, the low carbon hocho-tetsu is folded several times by itself, to purify it. This produces the soft metal, called shingane, to be used for the core of the blade. The high carbon tamahagane and the higher carbon nabe-gane are then forged in alternating layers. The nabe-gane is heated, quenched in water, and then broken into small pieces to help free it from slag. The tamahagane is then forged into a single plate, and the pieces of nabe-gane are piled on top, and the whole thing is forge welded into a single block, which is called the age-kitae process. The block is then elongated, cut, folded, and forge welded again. The steel can be folded transversely, (from front to back), or longitudinally, (from side to side). Often both folding directions are used to produce the desired grain pattern. This process, called the shita-kitae, is repeated from 8 to as many as 16 times. After 20 foldings, (220, or about a million individual layers), there is too much diffusion in the carbon content, the steel becomes almost homogeneous in this respect, and the act of folding no longer gives any benefit to the steel. Depending on the amount of carbon introduced, this process forms either the very hard steel for the edge, called hagane, or the slightly less hardenable spring steel, called kawagane, which is often used for the sides and the back.Samurai Sword 6

During the last few foldings, the steel may be forged into several thin plates, stacked, and forge welded into a brick. The grain of the steel is carefully positioned between adjacent layers, with the exact configuration dependent on the part of the blade for which the steel will be used.

Between each heating and folding, the steel is coated in a mixture of clay, water and straw-ash to protect it from oxidation and carburization. This clay provides a highly reducing environment. At around 1,650 °F (900 °C), the heat and water from the clay promote the formation of a wustite layer, which is a type of iron oxide formed in the absence of oxygen. In this reducing environment, the silicon in the clay reacts with wustite to form fayalite and, at around 2,190 °F (1,200 °C), the fayalite will become a liquid. This liquid acts as a flux, attracting impurities, and pulls out the impurities as it is squeezed from between the layers. This leaves a very pure surface which, in turn, helps facilitate the forge-welding process. Due to the loss of impurities, slag, and iron in the form of sparks during the hammering, by the end of forging the steel may be reduced to as little as 1/10 of its initial weight. This practice became popular due to the use of highly impure metals, stemming from the low temperature yielded in the smelting at that time and place. The folding did several things:

  • It provided alternating layers of differing hardenability. During quenching, the high carbon layers achieve greater hardness than the medium carbon layers. The hardness of the high carbon steels combine with the ductility of the low carbon steels to form the property of toughness.
  • It eliminated any voids in the metal.
  • It homogenized the metal, spreading the elements (such as carbon) evenly throughout – increasing the effective strength by decreasing the number of potential weak points.
  • It burned off many impurities, helping to overcome the poor quality of the raw Japanese steel.
  • It created up to 65000 layers, by continuously decarburizing the surface and bringing it into the blade’s interior, which gives the swords their grain (for comparison see pattern welding).

Generally, swords were created with the grain of the blade (called hada) running down the blade like the grain on a plank of wood. Straight grains were called masame-hada, wood-like grain itame, wood-burl grain mokume, and concentric wavy grain (an uncommon feature seen almost exclusively in the Gassan school) ayasugi-hada. The difference between the first three grains is that of cutting a tree along the grain, at an angle, and perpendicular to its direction of growth (mokume-gane) respectively, the angle causing the “stretched” pattern. The blades that were considered the most robust, reliable, and of highest quality were those made in the Mino tradition, especially those of Magoroku Kanemoto. Bizen tradition, which specialized in mokume, and some schools of Yamato tradition were also considered strong warrior’s weapons.[