Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Bending Solution?

I think I've solved my wood bending problem. Softwood, like the pine I'm using, seems to be on everyone's list of undesirable wood to bend. The main problem I've had with bending the kayak rib reproduction has been that it won't hold the bend. It keeps straightening out. So, I've built a block that will hold the rib in the correct shape. Maybe in a few months or years the reproduction will accept its new shape and stop trying to straighten out, but until then it can live in this little display stand.

I was hoping to have a few finished pieces to show today, but everything that I compared yesterday can be tweaked a little bit more. If I have a couple good days in the workshop I really hope that I can get a bunch of pieces off my plate on my next Rooms visit. Parks is being really good about my deadline on the project, but I have so much other work to get done before the middle of November that I really need to get this project out the door.

I need to make a raw material run out to the west coast soon, too. I really want to get more chert for the winter and I was planning to try to pick up some whalebone along the way from a couple people who I thought might have some. I still need the rock, but I got a surprise offer of whalebone from someone in town who happened to come across some bones while hiking and snorkling. It was such a relief to get these. I used a lot of whalebone this past year and its not the easiest material to replace when you are desperate for it. This takes some pressure off. Thanks Alvan!

The Fine Craft and Design Fair is just around the corner and I have very little product on hand. I'll be there during the second week, November 11-15.

Photo Credits:

Top, Tim Rast
Second, Lori White
Third, Tim Rast
Fourth, Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador

Photo Captions:
Top, The display stand solution to keep the wood from straightening out again.
Second, Antiquing the hell out of the marrow extractor with the blowtorch.
Third, Whalebones!
Fourth, Mark your Calendars - the Fine Craft and Design Fair will be here soon.

Monday, September 28, 2009

100th Post and Canada Blog Friends

This is the 100th post for Elfshot: Sticks and Stones, which is a nice little milestone. I'm going to keep this post short and encourage you to visit Canada Blog Friends, where Elfshot: Sticks and Stones is the currently featured blog. Canada Blog Friends focuses on the people behind the blogs. Alexandra Highcrest and Rob Campbell interviewed me about blogging and put together a very flattering (and conveniently timed!) profile, which hits all the highs and lows of the last 100 posts.

Friday, September 25, 2009

I Grew Up in Vulcan

Only 10 days to go until the Run for the Cure on October 4th! Its not too late to register. Huge Thank-Yous to everyone who has sponsored Lori or myself in this years run. If you aren't able to participate yourself this year, please consider donating.

The B(.)(.)bies say thanks too!

My old high school made the news this week. Students at County Central High School in Vulcan, Alberta got to talk to Robert Thirsk, on board the International Space Station. I grew up on a farm near an eccentric little town in Southern Alberta called Vulcan. When the railroad surveyors were plotting out the towns along the rail line they had to come up with town names every 10-12 miles. When they got to ours they named it Vulcan after the Roman God of Fire because it was on the highest point along that track. Originally all the streets were named after Roman gods and goddesses; Juno, Minerva, Neptune, Apollo, etc. The town kept those names into the 1920s, until the churches decided that God would probably be offended by being reminded of the competition and all the street names were changed to numbers.

So when this spectacular tornado arrived in town in 1927, it was heading down Centre Street instead of Jupiter Street. When you look up "Tornado" in most editions of the Encyclopedia Brittanica from the middle of the 20th Century, you'll see this picture of Vulcan's tornado. If you flip the picture upside down, its like God giving a big thumbs-up to the new street names!

During World War II, there was a large airport built at Vulcan by the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, which was briefly used to train pilots between 1942 and 1945. Much of the RCAF Aerodrome Vulcan is still visible, although the last time I was home it was used as an auction mart and as a sales and storage space for livestock trailers.

Vulcan's claim to fame from the 1920s to 1971 was its unrivalled grain storage capacity. Nine wooden grain elevators along the railroad tracks were affectionately called "9 in a line" and if you bought a post card in Vulcan during that time those elevators would have been on it. For a time in the early 1970s, Vulcan was calling itself "The Wheat Capital of the World", because wheat from a local farm was judged the best in the world at an international competition, two years in a row! Everyone was proud, but by the 1980s it was getting tough to build town pride on an accomplishment that was more than a decade old.

We started putting up flag poles. Dozens of flags went up in clusters around town and we knew our destiny was to become the Flag Capital of Alberta, then Canada, and then the WORLD! After we'd put up dozens of flags someone decided to check out the current flag capital of the neighbourhood and it turned out that they had hundreds of flags. Maybe even thousands - just way too many flags. So we stopped that and went home to watch tv.

About that time Star Trek: The Next Generation was making Star Trek popular again. We needed something to set us apart from every other small town, so folks started working the Star Trek angle. I was a teenager, and seeing the local bank employees sporting pointy rubber ears and watching the mayor dress up like a Klingon was pretty embarassing. One of the first Star Trek stunts that I can remember was a contest held by the Calgary TV station that was airing The Next Generation. First prize in the contest was a trip to Universal Studios, second prize was a trip to Vulcan. All the second prize winners were loaded onto a bus and shipped to Vulcan for blue Romulan ale at the Legion. On route, just outside High River, the mayor and a bunch of other citizens wearing big rubber foreheads and Klingon uniforms pulled up alongside the bus in their mini-van and "beamed aboard the vessel", taking everyone hostage. We used to have a Canada Day Rodeo and Parade, but that was changed to Spock Days.

Despite my embarassment and to the credit of the organizers, alongside the Star Trek murals and space ships that started dotting the town, there was a new focus on science in the county. Science Stops were put up throughout the county at interesting points highlighting everyday science, like weather stations and water treatment plants. There was even one at the Carmangay Teepee Rings, so archaeology got a nod. This weeks Q + A session between Vulcan students and astronauts on the International Space Station is a fantastic example of the success of that effort. And when you drive around town, you'll notice that the old Roman street names are back up on the signs.

Photo Credits:
Top: Run for the Cure website
Second: Wikipedia, Vulcan Entry
Third: GenDisasters website
Fourth-Sixth: Photos from the Vulcan Tourism Website

Photo Captions:
First: Run for the Cure
Second: Roman Bronze of Vulcan
Third: Tornado approaching Vulcan, July 1927
Fourth: Nine in a Line, Wooden Elevators in Vulcan, Alberta for storing grain before being loaded onto railway cars
Fifth: Spock Ears sold in Vulcan
Sixth: The starship by the highway, Vulcan, Alberta

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Scraper and Fish Hook - In the Bag!

When I got back from the Rooms yesterday there were two tow trucks and a police car parked in front of our house. Traffic was crawling along and there was a car in the street scrunched diagonally into a parked car a few doors down from us. Before hitting that parked car they'd clipped the mirror off of our neighbors car who was parked right outside our house. We got pretty lucky. Parking at The Rooms has been terrible this summer, but if I hadn't been there for a couple hours yesterday afternoon, then our car could have been the one with the missing mirror or the crumpled fender.

Here are two more finished pieces.

Flake Scraper: This is an artifact from Aulavik. (original on the right) Its made from quartzite, that was probably collected near the site from glacial till. I have a tough time getting quartzite in Newfoundland, but I was lucky to have met Jack Cresson a couple years ago and he left me a couple pieces of meta-quartzite from his neck of the woods. I believe the piece I used on this reproduction is from New Jersey. Its an excellent texture match for the artifact, which is a simple scraper made on a bifacial thinning flake. It would have been struck from a larger tool and then modified on one face to create a steep scraping edge. In the photos the flake platform is at the top of the photo and the scraper edge is at the bottom.

When I look at these photos they are kind of like looking at that optical illusion of the cake with the missing slice - sometimes they look right and sometimes they look upside down to me.. The convention in archaeology is to photograph flakes with the platform at the top, but scrapers are usually photographed with the working edge at the top. I photographed this like a flake, instead of a tool, so for archaeologists looking at this picture the flake properties are probably accentuated. It looks like a flake made into a scraper. If I would have photographed it with the scraper edge at the top I would be emphasizing the 'toolness' of the artifact over the 'flakiness' of it. If I wanted to argue that this was a lightly retouched flake quickly modified into an expedient tool, then these are the photos that I'd use. If I wanted to argue that this is a carefully made scraper, perhaps a diagnostic form, then I'd use a photo with the scraper edge at top. I wasn't thinking about all this when I took the photo, it just looked right to me to photograph it with the platform at the top, but another archaeologist could look at the same object and instinctively orient it the opposite way. Sometimes that bias creeps in unintentionally, but sometimes its used intentionally to bolster one interpretation over another.

Fish Hook: The original fish hook (middle) was found at Ivvavik National Park. I mentioned this one in an earlier post and here's a look at the finished reproductions. The two holes at the thin end are for attaching the fishing line and a metal or bone spike would have been fastened in the large hole at the bulb end. In this photo, I'm holding the object in my hand - this is how archaeologist's say "This is a very cool object and if we don't find something better I'll put this picture on the report cover."

Photo Credit: Tim Rast

Photo Caption:
Top: Ventral surface of the fish hooks - original in the middle
Second: Dorsal surface of the flake scraper - original on the right
Third: Ventral surface of the flake scraper - original on the right
Fourth: Dorsal surface of the fish hooks - original in the middle

Monday, September 21, 2009

Weekend Update and Wood Bending, Again

On Saturday morning I was out of coffee filters so I darted out to Dominion to pick some up. When I got in the car I noticed that I'd left the glove box and another drawer open. Then when I started driving the centre console clicked shut and I realized that every drawer in the front of the car was open and that our parking change was gone. I must have left the car unlocked on Friday after returning from The Rooms and overnight someone rummaged through it. The only thing that I noticed missing was $2-$4 in parking meter coins. All of the CDs were still in the glove box. I guess people don't steal CDs anymore.

Sunday was a pretty chilly day. I've been continuing with my running schedule - running on Monday, Thursday, Friday with a long run on Sunday, but the Sunday runs have been getting much less enjoyable the past few weeks. Two or three weeks ago it was raining so hard that after an hour or so my iPod stopped working. After a couple days in a bag of dry rice it started again, but I know how it felt. With single digit temperatures yesterday I decided to run on the treadmill and watch Indiana Jones on Satellite for 80 minutes, rather than go out in the gloomy morning.

Lori got back from the field on Sunday evening. I just got a sneak peak of her photos and I can't wait to see her blog posts!

I worked a little on the weekend. Mostly on the bows and on some little antiquing treatments that take some time to dry. One of the pieces that I have drying is that kayak rib that I've been bending since August. I thought I had it beat a few weeks ago. It was bent to the correct curve, I'd let it dry in the clamps for several days and whenever I wasn't working on it I kept tension on it with a bungie cord. After two weeks of holding its bend I decided to cut it to length. Almost immediately it started to straighten, and within 3 or 4 days it was completely out of shape, even with the bungie keeping tension on it 24 hours a day.

Its pine and I've read very mixed reviews on bending softwood, some people saying that it can't be bent. Others who have bent it say that the 1 hour per inch of thickness steaming rule only applies to hardwood. Softwood takes much less time. I've been soaking the wood for a few hours and then steaming it for 15 minutes and the bending goes much better, but even that's not perfect. I got tension cracks on the outside of the bend. The artifact I'm reproducing is so desicated that those cracks won't hurt the final project, but on other projects they would be frustrating. Since the same piece is getting bent multiple times I've switched from a water soluble carpenters glue to repair those cracks to super glue and sawdust. The superglued repairs don't come unstuck during the long soaking process. The simple shape of the bend I'm going for also let me use a ratchet strap to bend the steamed wood to the jig this time. The strap worked a little like the backing on a bow and don't believe any new tension cracks formed on this most recent bend. I'll probably go after it with the hair dryer before I take it out of the jig this time.

Nevertheless, I'm going to assume that the wood won't hold the bend, so I'm going to have to come up with some kind of support to send along with the reproduction to hold the shape. At some point it will stop trying to straighten out won't it?

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Top: Antiquing workspace on the dining room table
Middle: Correct bend shown with a bungie. There was no flex in the wood, it stayed bent with the bungie off, but I didn't take any chances and left it on all the time anyhow.
Bottom: After I cut the extra length off it started to straighten, so its back in the bending jig.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Snow Knife and Bow Update

I just drove back from The Rooms in the pouring rain. September is the floodiest month in St. John's. I have a couple more pieces finished for Parks, which is good since I'm basically at the end of the time allotted for the contract. I have a fair bit of work left, although a lot of it is antiquing and finishing work which mostly means waiting for stuff to dry. In St. John's, in September, the floodiest month.

Whalebone Snow Knife: The original (middle) is from Ivvavik National Park. I made one of these for Parks last year and this year I did two more copies. Almost all of the whalebone artifact reproductions that I made this year came from one big rib that I got last spring from Dave Snow at Wildland Tours. Thanks Dave! I Really like working whalebone, it has all the best properties of wood and antler. If I use power tools it works best dry, otherwise it gums things up. If I use hand tools it works best wet - a little soaking in water does a lot to soften it. You can chop it with an axe and not worry about it splitting along the grain like wood. It sands nice and takes colour well. It can be porous and spongy or dense like antler. The original snow knife is a lightly modified rib from a smaller whale. I had to carve my reproductions a little to match the natural surface features of the smaller rib, but I'm happy with the end results. I'll probably dust them a little bit, my copies are a little shinier than the original at the moment, but these are pretty much done.

Tuktut Nogait Bow update: I've been cautiously working on the bow reproduction. The yew stave is starting to take shape. The bow blank in the photos is the one for Parks. The back is pretty much finished and the rest of the wood will come off the sides and belly of the bow. I get kind of attached to projects like this and while I'm looking forward to the final reproduction, I'm not looking forward to chopping the limb off and desicating the wood. It seems a shame to butcher it like that. But I do have a second one on the go that will be a keeper for me.

My plans for the working copy have changed a bit. I'm not going to try to incorporate the spliced limb into the bow from the beginning. There is a stage in bow making called "tillering" where you very gradually remove wood from the limbs and test how they bend. The way the Tuktut Nogait bow had one limb spliced on and held in place by lashings around the cable backing will make tillering more difficult than I think I'm ready for. My plan now is to make my working bow in one piece. Adding the spliced limb can be a seperate project at a later date. I'm also going to need to decrown the back of the bow. The original has a very flat back and after talking to bowyers who have made similar bows that is an important detail to keep the cable backing centered. I'm kind of glad of that actually, I'm finding it a little easier to keep track of and follow the tiny growth rings of the yew on the decrowned bow.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Top: Barbed Point reproduction in progress
Second: Whalebone Snowknives
Third, Fourth: Tuktut Nogait bow and reproduction in progress

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Gone Fishin'

Lori's off for a few days of archaeological survey work on the Northern Peninsula. Hopefully she'll tell us all about it in the near future. The plan is to come back early next week, but if they find something, they may have to stay longer. There's potential to find some fantastic stuff, so I'm pretty jealous.

I've got a few days of cutting, grinding, and antiquing to look forward to. Yesterday was a visit to the Rooms to compare my Parks reproductions to the Inuvialuit artifacts. I didn't get to cross anything off the list, but things seem to be more or less on track.

Here's a look at a fish hook that I'm reproducing. The original (in the middle) is from Ivvavik National Park and is made from a very unsual ivory with alternating light and dark bands. There is a good chance that its some kind of tooth, most likely beluga whale. The Parks folks in Inuvik got me some beluga teeth from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans last spring to experiment with. They are definitely shaped like the fish hook, and they do have banding inside them from growth layers, but I couldn't get the right look anywhere. The bands are at the wrong angles and the beluga tooth reproductions wound up looking less like the original than using walrus ivory with tea died bands.

The fish hook has two holes at one end to attach the line to and a single larger hole at the other end for a metal or bone spike. The little copper awl artifact is the kind of thing that would have been stuck through the bottom hole to serve as the actual hook. The ivory is more of the lure. From the staining on the surface the hook was wrapped with a spiral of red string that left a pink stain on the ivory. To simulate the pink stain I found that beet juice works great. I dipped a string that was the right thickness in a little dish of beet juice and wound it around the reproductions while it was damp. The only string I had that was the right diameter was green, so you don't really get the red effect in the photos, but when you peel the dried string off after an hour or so the pink stain is there. The ivory actually has tiny indentations on the edges for the string to sit in, which makes reconstructing the string pattern that much easier.

The final bit of antiquing on these pieces will be dabbing on a bit of oil-based stain to create that brown blob in the middle of the original. I'll need to spray on a clear finish as well to seal in the beet stain. I can fade it a bit by rubbing some of the pink off, but once its at the right shade I want to seal it in and stabilize it.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Top, Lori waiting for the Boss to get his field shoes on as they head out for the Northern Peninsula to do Important Scientific Research.
Second, Ivvavik Fish Hook, between two walrus ivory reproductions, in progress
Third, Beluga Whale Teeth - Fresh!
Fourth, Beet staining the reproductions

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mixed Bag Monday

Here's a couple of friend's sites to check out.

Cara and Pam have their blog open for business; Visit The Grumpy Goat Gallery. I can't say it any better than they can:

We are two, funny girls who live and work in a wee, kooky cottage by the sea, in a tiny, little town in a quirky place called Newfoundland. We carve, paint, build things and run a 4 star hotel for cats. Life here can be hard and the ocean can get angry, but on sunny, calm days, the whales come out to play and it is the best place to be on earth. If you'd like to stop by our studio to have a gander at our artwork, we'd love to see you. There is a free cat with every purchase, and a complimentary lint rolling service as you depart. Can you ask for anything better than that?

Over at the Burnside Archaeology blog there is a new promotional video up. There's a couple seconds footage from the knapping demo I did out there in June and I play a tourist in the earlier video. Great job, Matthew!

As for me, I spent a bit of time working on Fibre Optics and collecting lichen on the weekend. I ended last week by adding one more artifact to the Finished pile in the Parks contract.

Broken Biface: This artifact comes Aulavik National Park. (Original on Right, Reproduction on Left) Its a fairly rough biface with one end broken off. A biface is a tool that is worked on both surfaces and gives you a sharp cutting edge. It may have been a small knife, projectile point, or endblade that broke in manufacture. It looks to be at a fairly early stage because the flake scars along the edge are so pronounced. Normally as a biface nears completion the edge gets flatter and the flake pattern gets more complex. I don't know the origin of the stone used in the original piece, but I used a piece of English Flint from Devon, England to reproduce it. The colour and texture of the stone was a very good match and the flint forms in chalk, so even the patina is very similar. I knapped the complete biface and then scored and snapped it with a tile cutter to get the break. I had some control over where the break went, but there was also a lot of luck. Some of the patina on the reproduction is the actual chalk patina from the flint and the rest is a rock dust and glue mixture that I carmelized with the blowtorch to match the colour of the patina on the artifact.

Photo Credits:
Top: Screen grab from Cara and Pam's blog
Middle Videos: Matthew Brake, Nova Media and Burnside Heritage Foundation
Bottom: Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Top: A Day in the life at The Grumpy Goat Gallery.
Middle Video 1: Imagine, Imagine life at Burnside over the past 5000 years
Middle Video 2: Burnside Archaeology Web Video
Bottom: Side by side comparison of biface reproduction (left) and original artifact (right) from Aulavik Island National Park.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Copper Inuit Bows in the CMC

Lori's trip to Ottawa last weekend prompted me to revist some photos I took at the Canadian Museum of Civilization last year. I found a few photos of Copper Inuit Cable backed bows.

The Tuktut Nogait bow would have been cable backed, like these and you can see how there is extra lashing at the bend in the limb for the recurve. This is necessary for the cable to follow the line of the bow, but it also reinforces joins in the wood. I can't be certain from the photos, but it looks like the bow in the display case has a limb spliced on in exactly the same way as the Tuktut Nogait bow.

But there are also many differences. The CMC bows are much thicker limbed and the bows have quite square cross-sections. The Tuktut Nogait bow has very flat, delicate limbs by comparison. There doesn't seem to be an isolated grip in these bows either, whereas the Tuktut Nogait bow has a narrowed grip that protrudes on the belly side of the bow. Nevertheless, references like these will be useful when it comes time to assemble my bow, there is a lot of detail visible in the cable backing.

Here's a quick look at the bows I'm working on as of this morning. I've narrowed the staves a bit and tried to layout the length of the bows to avoid as many knots as possible (the Tuktut Nogait bow has no knots in the wood at all). Right now I'm working the backs. The growth rings on yew are so narrow that its a real challenge to plane the back down to a single growth ring, when they are only 1 mm thick. Once I get the backs properly planed, the rest of the shaping of the bows will be on the sides and the belly.

The Kitikmeot Heritage Society has more great information on making these kinds of bows on their website.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Top, Inuit Cable Backed Bows at the CMC
Second, Copper Inuit Bow and Hunting Case on display at the CMC, dates to before 1916
Third, Same bow, different view
Fourth, Yew staves in progress

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Antler Tools Past and Present

This morning, my friend Patty is popping over to borrow some of my antler tools. She's the Ph.D. student at Memorial University who is studying Palaeoeskimo organic artifacts. I did some experimental work with her early in 2008. She'd like to examine the usewear on my knapping tools under a microscope to compare to some of the artifacts in her collection.

Since I have antler on my mind this morning, here's another look at some of the caribou antler pieces that I'm working on right now.

Here's how the adze socket is shaping up. The last time I showed this piece it was soaking in vinegar to soften it, so that I could wedge the socket open wider. The vinegar really does the trick. After 24 hours or so the prous interior of the antler turns to soft sponge and the dense outside turns to hard rubber.
I think that prolonged soaking would probably irreversibly harm the antler, but its been slowly hardening every since, so I'm not worried it will permanently feel like a wet rubber tire. I pounded a progressively larger series of wedges into the socket and its very close to the correct width.

I've been having some good luck with the rock dust and carpenter glue surface treatment on the antler to match the dusty, cracked look of bleached antler. I've been testing it along the way on the reproduction of an antler tine section. A piece like this is hard because there is so little modification to the antler that its very difficult to find an antler that just happened to grow in an identical pattern. I found as good a match as I could and have been slowly modifying it. I've cut, ground, bent, pressed, rebuilt, and antiqued this little reproduction so much over the summer that I'm amazed it still looks like antler. The weathered surface helps cover all the abuse I've heaped on it, but even before the antiquing I'm surprised how resilient the antler is to being torn down and built back up again.

When I have the final dimensions, I need to drill the series of holes across the bottom. I think the original artifact is a discarded waste piece - it was the piece that was sawed off and thrown away. The interesting thing is that it wasn't cut with a saw, a series of holes were drilled through the antler and it was cracked off. With a bow drill, an operation like that would take about the same amount of time as sawing through the antler. A lot of the artifacts that I'm reproducing this summer have holes drilled in them.

Many of the holes were drilled so that two different pieces could be lashed or rivetted together. This little brace piece has 3 complete holes of at least 2 different diameters (and therefore 2 different drillbits) and it was broken through a fourth hole. In this photo the reproduction is almost finished, except for the antiquing, so it gives a good sense of how different fresh antler looks compared to old bleach antler.

Finally, this barbed antler point still has the iron rivets in place. There is a longer, skinnier brace piece still in place on the other side. (a complete view of this barbed point is here). I've included this picture to show the texture match between the artifact, on the left, and the reproduction, on the right. This particular artifact has a greenish tinge, so I'll use serpentine dust when it comes time to antique the reproduction. There is also some lichen growing on it, which I'll add to the reproductions after I'm happy with the rock dust antiquing.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Top, The antler tools in my flintknapping kit
Second, Side by side comparison of the antler socket, original is on the bottom
Third, wedging open the socket
Fourth, Antler tine artifact (right) and reproduction in progress (left)
Fifth, Drilled antler artifact (left) and reproduction in progress (right)
Sixth, Barbed point artifact next to the antiqued surface of a different reproduction

Monday, September 7, 2009

Making a Dorset Palaeoeskimo Knife

I finished up the Dorset Palaeoeskimo knife that I needed. On orders like this I tend to make more than I need to give the customer choice and to help build an inventory. I need to keep the Fine Craft and Design Fair in the back of my mind for November, so I made two, one with a natural antler handle and one antiqued.

The Dorset knives are a favourite of mine. I talked about them in a previous post and explained why I think the knife handle is a stylized polar bear. Here's a photo I took years ago of the actual artifact and a typical dorset chert knife blade (the scale is 10cm). The handle wasn't found with a blade, but these triangular stone knives are fairly common artifacts in Newfoundland. It looks like the one in the photo has had some resharpening retouch done along the top and bottom blade edges, it probably would have started out a little bit wider in the middle. The handle was found at Port au Choix, on Newfoundland's northern peninsula and is now on display at The Rooms in St. John's.

When I make these knives I alway start with the knapped blade and then create an antler handle that would balance it. I'll scale the artifact handle up or down to create a match. In reality, the handle would have probably been re-used and curated many times as the stone blades broke or wore out. (The knife I made this week is to replace one that was bought on a trip to Newfoundland several years ago, but broke in a horrible dusting accident.) Using a stone tool kit, the labour in the antler handle would far outweigh the labour in making a stone blade to match. A broken stone blade could be reworked into another tool or discarded, but the handle would be held on to and reused. Which, along with poor preservation of organic tools in most of the Province, is one of the reasons why archaeologists have found hundreds of the stone blades and only 2 of the handles.

The handle has a slot in it and an incised groove for a lashing material. I use hide glue to secure the blade to the handle and tie it on with sinew. Its important the the grooves on the handle are deep enough that the sinew makes contact with the stone inside the notches. If I tea stain the handle to antique the antler I do it before attaching the blade. The hide glue and sinew is water soluble, so it would just unravel if it was dunked in warm tea. Using a reversable glue like this in the past would have been important when it came time to retool the handle.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

Photo Captions:
Top; Dorset Palaeoeskimo knife reproductions, antler, chert, sinew and hide glue
Middle, Photo of original artifact from Port au Choix, Newfoundland and Labrador
Bottom, In progress shot of the reproduction knives in the top photo

Friday, September 4, 2009

Fort Garry Tobacco Tin Progress

One of the artifacts that I'm working on is a portion of a rusted tobacco tin found in Aulavik National Park. The partially visible words on the tin say 'FORT GARRY SMOKING TOBACCO'. Its a different material for me to work, but if I take it one step at a time its manageable. Fortunately biscuit tins are still made in a very similar way today as these tobacco tins were a hundred years ago.

For the reproduction, I used a section of an old cookie tin to create the blank. I used a blowtorch and soft steel brushes to strip the paint off and then had to cut and hammer a new lip to match the Fort Garry tin, but its a good match now.

Now that I have a basic tin blank, I need to transfer the design onto it. At first I looked for fonts on my computer that matched the lettering on the can, but I didn't have any luck. I guess the Fort Garry graphic design team weren't using MS Office. So instead, I photographed the tin and manually traced the letters in CorelDraw. That gives me the clean template that I can use to print and make stencils. I'll print the designs onto clear acetate and cut them out using an x-acto knife.

I found a few reference photos of antique Fort Garry tobacco tins that appear to be the same style as the artifact. That helps with filling in some of the missing lettering and colour matching. There were several different desings used over the years, but the one in the photo on the left seems to be a good match with the artifact I'm working with. According to the site, the paper tobacco tax seal on the antique tin is dated 1915. Luckily, the artifact is missing the complicated image shown on the lower half of the antique, so the part I need to print is fairly simple.

After painting, the final step will be the antiquing; cutting, bending and rusting the reproduction to match the original. Cutting and bending won't be a problem and I've collected a few recipes involving different kinds of household acids and salts to accelerate the rusting. I'll need to experiment with those now so that when the tin is painted and ready I'll know what I need to do to get the rust growing where I need it.

The metal work is a bit of a departure for me, so I've also been working on some of the lithics for the project to keep one foot in my comfort zone. Lori is off to Ottawa for the weekend and I've been doing a bit of flintknapping while she's away. There are a few more flintknapped artifacts in the Parks contract, but I've also been working on a Dorset knife for a customer who has been very patiently waiting. I hope to have these knives finished before Monday.

Photo Credits:
Top, Bottom: Tim Rast
Middle: Photo from

Photo Captions:
Top: Fort Garry Tobacco Tin section shown with the digitized template
Middle: Antique Fort Garry Tobacco Tin
Bottom: Reproduction overlain with partial acetate stencil

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Craft Council Gallery Shows and Fundraising Supper

On Sunday, Lori and I went to the gallery opening of two new exhibits at the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador's Gallery, which will run from August 30th to October 4th, 2009.

Breaking Point: Jason Holley's chainmaille inspired sculptural pieces. There are some metal pieces in the show, but the majority are made from raku-fired ceramic links. The twist here is that in each piece there is an intentional flaw - a link or more are broken or missing. It brings a bit of randomness into the repeating patterns in the chainmaille. This is a great opportunity to own one of Jason's award winning designs. If you are in St. John's check it out! You'll find the show in the main gallery on the second floor of Devon House, 59 Duckworth St, St. John's.

400: In the annex gallery, across the hall from Breaking Point, there is a show filled with pieces inspired by 400 years of English settlement at Cupids, Newfoundland and Labrador. John Guy landed in Cupids (or Cupers Cove) in 1610. There are some stunning pieces that explore everything from the first European baby being born in Canada to the collapse of the fishery in the form of a massive concrete cod. One of my favourite pieces is Nicola Hawkin's painting of a Beothuk canoe and map interspersed with text extracted from John Guy's journals.

Dogberry Moon 2009: The Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador is a member run non-profit organization dedicated to promoting craft in the province. They were a huge help to me when I was starting Elfshot in the form of advice, marketing opportunities, studio start-up money, travel money, and a network of peers. Lori and I volunteer on several CCNL committees. If you live in Newfoundland and value handmade objects, why not shop local at the Craft Council Shop or the Gallery at Devon House? Or why not attend the Dogberry Moon Fundraising Dinner on October 1st?

Dogberry Moon, 5th Annual Friends of the Craft Council Fundraising Dinner Featuring a delicious dinner by A Taste of Class catering & live music presented by Janet Bradbury and Gerry Madden.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Reception 6:30 pm
Dinner at 7:30

Dinner includes a three course meal with vegetarian option.

Johnson GEO Centre, 175 Signal Hill Rd
Tickets: $60 (tax receipt for $30)
Silent Auction

To purchase tickets for this fabulous dinner, call Candace at 753.2749 or email
More information about becoming a Friend of the Craft Council here.

Photo Credits:
Middle, CBC
Bottom, Extract from CCNL Friends Application

Photo Captions:
Top, Piece from Jason Holley's show, Breaking Point
Middle, Engraving of John Guy meeting the Beothuk people of the New Founde Land
Bottom, Devon House, 59 Duckworth St., St. John's
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