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One "Thing" Always Leads To Another "Thing"

Today, I am pleased to reveal the second installment in what is becoming a "machined vessel" series.

 This design project is yet another collaboration with my friends at Revolvemakers, and has been in the works since the release of our original NHVB Vessel. The idea for this series was spawned by my ongoing interest in how other industrial processes have transitioned from the factory floor into various niche and fine art traditions.

As many of you know, I have been thinking a lot about traditional forms within the various studio craft movements. Practices such as glasswork, woodwork, ceramics and stone are interesting to me because I see connections with their history and the journey I am currently on with machining. Essentially, any craft that got its start as a utilitarian industry, was at some point used to make pots, bowels, and cups. So within each craft, there are long standing traditions of making specific objects, and vessel forms dominate nearly all of them.

Strangely enough, this is something that (for now) seems to make machine work as a craft, just a little bit different.

As the name implies, machining is born of machines for the purpose of making (other) machines. As a craft, it has its roots in steam engines, automobiles, and airplanes, not to mention myriad weapons of war. It is a sprawling discipline that encompasses a wide range of processes and specialties. It is the medium of the industrial revolution, which itself spawned many art movements, but sadly machining, as a creative medium, was largely overlooked.

Because it is such a holistic practice, machining lacks a universal body of shapes and projects that its practitioners would use to learn the ropes. There are some basics, but where the majority of wood turners may make bowls and turned boxes to learn the trade, machinists tend to specialize within the wider medium, and make only what their particular pursuit demands. In this way it is both a broad and narrow medium.

This should come as no surprise to those familiar, as machining was and remains the driver of every conceivable innovation for the last two and a half centuries. At its best, it has put humans on the moon and robots on mars.

So while it may seem counter intuitive to use a technologically complex process to revisit old forms from industrial crafts of yore, it is important to remember that each craft, no matter how old, was cutting edge technology at some point in time. The impulse to formally explore technologies is often very similar regardless of its vintage.

You can see how this dynamic of blending old and new technology has played out in the knife making community.

What started out as a Blacksmith's domain, has now been utterly dominated by the world of machining. It is a perfect example of an artisanal craft being augmented and improved upon by new technology in lots of interesting ways. It has spawned many new niches within the knife making and machining community, as well as insured there is enough interest in knife making as a whole to preserve first hand knowledge of some of the more historical aspects of the craft.

An act of appropriation, is quite often, also an act of preservation.

I think this vessel project is another great way to demonstrate what is similar across disciplines, as well as what is so distinctive about my particular medium of choice.

Subtext now firmly out of the way, to the specifics of this piece. While my first project (The NHVB) was sort of a multi layered journey into urns, beads, snuff bottles, and Japanese Netsuke/Sagemono, this new work is a bit of a broader stroke as far as the specifics of it being a vessel.

Derived from the same series of small mechanical urns as NHVB, my starting point was to design a sort of snuffbox. But this time I tried not to muddy the water with too many ideas as I wanted to give this thing room to grow organically and just generally work exceedingly well. I wanted a great mechanical piece that could speak to both sides of the sculpture/craft coin that is a growing theme in all of my work.

This work is good deal larger than NHVB, which makes it a more versatile container. However, the mechanics of the object are quite intricate, if maybe a little less showy than its predecessor. This makes the build a much more intensive undertaking.

The sixteen cross-pins on this piece serve as latches. The cross-pins are actuated by screwing the knob on the lid, down onto a pressure plate. This pressure plate acts on four bronze keys with wedge profiles cut into them. These keys slide down a channel and act on small cam shapes cut into the backs of each of the sixteen cross-pins that secure the lid.

It takes good deal of force to move that many spring loaded pins, so while the action is sort of a slow moving screw action, it is an elegant mechanism and provides a robust locking action. It really is a visually and mechanically fascinating piece.

We have also worked in an optional O ring seal for a perfect air tight fit. This makes the lid extra snug (which is why it is optional), but it is, after all, a Snuff Box.

How can I get one?

This work, like the NHVB, is being produced in a limited edition as part of my ongoing collaboration with my friends at Revolvemakers in Virginia. 

Unlike previous projects however, a fair number of these works are already nearly complete and will be ready to ship within a week or so! We did this because we had a number of unexpected delays on last years projects. This time, in order to account for any unforeseen bumps in the road, we decided to be extra careful and make sure everything was perfect and ready to go before even announcing these works.

All of the parts for the first few dozen of these are already machined and are being polished and assembled as we speak.

We will be posting a sign up sale on Tuesday (February 5th) of next week to place the first two dozen of these. I will post details as soon as they are finalized.

Until then please enjoy the pictures, and comments and questions are always welcome.


Incorporated knife tech into the world of Machined Metal Sculpture.

Over the last few years, I have undertaken a much more serious examination of how my process fits into a wider conversation about art, craft, and design. I have been searching for potential connections between other industrial craft heritages and my approach to machine work as a medium for sculpture. I am curious to learn how other previously industrial processes, such as glass work and ceramics, have transitioned into the fine and decorative arts in order to better understand the arc of my own journey. 

As part of that research I find myself looking more and more at the knife community, both for inspiration in my own work, and also as an example of how machining can influence and be transformed when it is appropriated by an existing craft or decorative arts community. 

I have come to discover that knife making is that rare craft that continues to embody both medieval and modern practices. Where it was once dominated by forges and blacksmiths, it is now as high tech as you want it to be. Knife makers use every modern machine tool you can imagine, but you can also find practitioners still putting hammer to anvil and engaged in processes from every stage of its long and storied history. Knife making is a craft that precedes the invention of machine tools by millennia, however it has been utterly revolutionized by them and it has created a foothold for the decorative arts within the machining community. 

If you look around the knife world, you will see that most knives are not the utilitarian work-a day objects you first think of, but instead are some of the most intricately detailed and aesthetically thought provoking machined objects you will find anywhere. Even if knives are not your thing, any serious examination of machining as it pertains to the arts warrants a close look at what is happening in this field. I myself have been itching to find ways to build bridges between what I do, and what the knife makers I have come to admire do. I humbly submit this work as my first attempt.

So, lets get started then. 

First off, as you can see, this work does not very much resemble a knife (sorry to disappoint). However, it does in fact share many aspects, including its guts, (or rather mechanics) with an object familiar to any knife enthusiast. 

This work is loosely based on a very common type of automatic knife called an "OTF" or "Out The Front" knife. Sort of like the much more popular switchblade, it is characterized by a spring loaded assembly that extends and retracts the blade through the top of the knife by means of actuating a small lever. 

In the case of my work, the center object moves both "Out the Front" and "Out the Back". Surely some crazy knife designer has made a knife like this somewhere at some time, but in any case, I am calling this work the "OTFB". The B stands for more than one thing, but I have given you the most obvious one.

Zulu Spear OTF by D Rocket Designs
In all honesty, an OTF knife is more for fun than it is useful as a practical tool, and that is exactly the sort of extravagance that made it an easy target for something a bit more sculptural. 

Before I started this project, I didn't have a good conception of how this type of assembly worked. Luckily a collector friend kindly lent me one of his prized OTF knives to take apart and play with (I can't believe he let me take it apart!!!). Upon doing so, I found the mechanism simple enough to modify, elegant, and irresistibly fascinating. 

First oversized prototype.

After digesting what I had learned for a few weeks, I set about designing my own version of the assembly . I redesigned the mechanism into something much more tubular, so that rather than a flat blade, it could move an object that was decidedly larger and more complex. It also needed to be something that could be incorporated into a range of possible sculptural objects. I had my work cut out for me, but after building three prototypes, I had come up with something quite functional.

From there it was a very long and tedious process of arriving at a composition that complimented the functionality while also concealing it as much as possible. As with all of these kinetic endeavors, I am very careful to ensure that what I create presents as a sculpture first. In this case it meant limiting obvious visual indicators like the tell tale switch that accompanies most OTF knives. 

To solve this issue, I ended up translating the simple sliding thumb switch into a rotating action. This allowed the body itself to become the actuator rather than relying on any knobs or buttons. It was a clever solution that made it easier to concentrate on the overall look of the object.

For those technically savvy,  it also has the added benefit of creating a small amount of mechanical advantage, lessening the effort on the part of the user needed to load the spring in the assembly.

So where does this project go from here? 

Well, I consider this first piece to be just the working prototype. There is still much more refinement ahead of me in terms of tightening up the mechanics and tweaking the looks. I think the best way to facilitate this is to do a series.

I have in mind a very small edition of these, maybe 6-12 total objects. For a project as mechanically complicated as this, I think it is the right way to go. I want to be able to take my time improving and experimenting with each one, but I also want to be able to move on to something new in a reasonable amount of time (you know me, always moving forward).

 I made this first one in raw unfinished aluminum to keep it as kind of a blank slate, as I envision doing each consecutive one in a different finish and color scheme in addition to making many compositional modifications and changes along the way. 

While I will keep the overall format similar, I expect each one to have a look and character all its own. 

So in the short term, I wanted to share this first iteration with all of you. I imagine some of you might be interested in adding one of these to your collections.

I will open my books to orders for only a few of these, but it will be a one time event like all the other editions, and it will be extremely limited. 

 I will make an announcement as soon as I figure out the right way forward on this. I suspect the number of people who might want to collect one of these may far outstrip the supply, so I need to figure out a fair system, as well as get a better handle on the total costs. 

In the mean time,  I hope you find this all as interesting as I do and, as always, questions and comments are welcome.