Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Fly Press Tooling

Posted: December 17, 2015 in Uncategorized

It has been a busy summer and fall. We have been working on wildfires and prescribed burning projects, but things have finally calmed down enough to get some metal work done. I am making texturing dies for the fly press, mainly from 1045 medium-carbon shafting – 1″ round bar.

Most of the dies are worked hot, and then finished on a metal lathe. Others are done completely on the lathe. Most of these tools will be used on hot metal.


These were cut with the lathe, and then hardened using a brine quench.


Some are hand-filed or cut on the lathe and then forged.97




The flower is built from rods and hand-filed. Negative was faced on lathe.99

Next step – using these for some projects.

Fly Press

Posted: February 28, 2015 in Uncategorized

We just got a new tool set up in the shop. It is a 1930s Norton Fly Press, made in England.
We are using it to make tooling, and will be using it to forge hot and cold iron.
Here are a few first experimentations using it to form blocks of hot steel into rounding dies, and a make hot-cut hardy chisel from a jackhammer bit.

Some tooling that we’ve made for it so far:

One of my favorite things about springtime in Chico is knowing that our wild Chinook Salmon are making their way up our local creeks.

I met the fish in the late 1990s when my friend Eric – who was living in Helltown, in Butte Creek Canyon – got me surveying work in the Upper Butte Creek Watershed. He invited me over to his place to swim with the fish, and I have never been the same since.


Poolfull of Spring Run Chinook, 15 miles from Chico.


The fish navigate the crazy hydrology that is the Sacramento Valley, swimming thru the Golden Gate and SF Bay, thru the Delta and up the Sacramento River, turning right into a canal that parallels a huge flood control bypass, past some gates that spill Butte Creek into a different part of the Sac. River near Colusa, thru duck clubs in swamps near the Sutter Buttes, between levees through rice fields South of Durham, over cobblefields leftover from hydraulic mining and gold dredging, and then into the tranquility and shade of Butte Creek Canyon.


Some old friends have a place in Helltown overlooking the pool where the top two photos were taken, and over the years, they have introduced hundreds of people to the fish, and done an enormous amount of lobbying, politicing, and activism to help improve the odds for the fish. They asked if I could make them a metal Chinook Salmon and matching address sign for their place, and I finally had time this week to finish the project.




Holding in the Shade

Pectoral Fin


Wanted the sign to match the fish



Industrial scrap, with reflective road sign surpus that I found years ago at a fabulous crafting store in Durham, North Carolina



Hammered scrap pipe


Texture from custom punches


Bullet holes for local flavor


Picked up some industrial scrap in the form of discs that are left over when holes are laser-cut into plate steel. I wanted to make a candle holder/altar that can hold 3 large candles, so I made a couple of dies for the treadle hammer to use to shape the hot discs into bowl shapes.



Final product




I had another unfinished piece that was the result of an experiment to hot-twist multiple bars of steel rod and rebar using an impact wrench, so I cut that in half, and untwisted the open end to make a sort of tree candelabra.


The top candleholder was sort of a ‘happy mistake’. I heated a 2.5″ disc and used punches and a ball peen hammer to texture it, then heated it again and used a large ball peen under the treadle hammer to press it down into a cut-off piece of 2″ pipe. It wanted to fold along the textured edge, and I love the way it worked itself out.



Wasn’t happy with the clunky welds where the base meets the stem, so I added roots with a MIG welder and they looked like – welds… So I ground them down, like them much better. The grinding pops out the decorative punchwork, too.





New Fire Hose Tool Bags

Posted: February 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

Just made a couple of fire hose tool bags for our friend Dave Richer at Earthen Iron. They do ornamental metalwork and custom forgings, and need to lug a bunch of hammers, chisels, and clunky tools around to their various jobsites, and the old milk crate wasn’t cutting it anymore.

We made them two 6×20″ bags out of indestructible fire hose that nest inside of their rolling tool chest. One bag is going to be used for hammers and punches, the other for small tools. The small-tools bag has pockets for pens, small chisels, and bits.

These bags are 99% recycled. The only new material in them is the thread. $80/apiece or 2 for $150. Email us.


Even though steel prices are high and lots of old stuff is getting melted down to make new, poorly-made Chinese crap, there is a lot of good, high-quality tool steel around, and we are looking for ways to recycle it into tools and art.

I have been lucky to spend some time in some great metalworking shops this year, and have learned a lot from the generous people in these photos.


A jig for clamping hot metal in a post vise at an angle so you can work it hands-free – @Earthen Iron


David searching for a part in his van-based storage system


A kitchen knife we made from part of an old sawmill blade with a baseball-bat ash handle

Somewhere in South Chico

Consignment auction in Chico

Old iron in Portland

Dave Richer and Anthony at Earthen Iron bending up a custom stair railing for a hair salon.
I like the scaled-out template on the concrete floor

Their finished product

Forging night at Earthen Iron

Dave and Brent Bailey at the coal forge

Metalworkers social

Heavy sculpture in progress at Earthen Iron

Some basic tools

Preparing an exhaust hood for our forging area from reclaimed nut-drying ductwork

Starting point of a coal forge blower rebuild, c. 1901.

Champion Forge Blower guts, just needed some oil, cleaning, and $5 worth of loose 1/4″ bearings.

Champion Forge Blower frame and tuyere, it needed new legs

A new burner for the forge, some sort of old hub.

Nena Creasy, Klamath River metal sculptress

A collage

There’s a heart in there

Hand forged hooks in Nena and Max’s kitchen

The beginnings of a firepan for the coal forge, an International Truck wheel and hub.

Firepan, step 2. a custom base plate to fit it on the tuyere of the original blower.

Anthony texturing straps for gate hinges on the power hammer

Oak chair parts > forging hammer handle

Rake becomes pound-in key hooks

Richer’s gas forge

Rake becomes key hook or cellphone shelf

Anthony laying out a railing

Firepan, step 3

The refurbished forge, complete

Forge, in action

First tool out of the new coal forge

Hatchet made from old hammer head

J. and David Irle, South Chico, with 58 years of accumulated materials

Anthony and Dave at the forge. There has been a blacksmiths shop on this property since the late 1800s.

Anthony practicing his decorative twists on an old railroad spike

Looks about right

Improvised anvils were getting old

Broken anvil found in a junkyard and purchased by the pound. Made in England in the 1800s.

The broken top cleaned up well, and without the missing tail, it still weighs 200#

Got a 24″ Valley Oak stump from an arborist friend to put it on, together they weigh about 500#

Decorative twists in railroad spikes

Drawknives made from car leaf springs

Handles from an old axe handle, ferrules from 3/4″ copper pipe couplers


New-Old Xtracycle Bag

Posted: April 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

Just finished a four-year-old project.

I started on a pair of leather bags for my bike back in 2009, but somehow only ended up finishing one of them. The basic panel for this one sat in a milk crate under a spare industrial sewing machine motor and some other hemp Xtracycle panels that we cut in 2011(?)

I think that reason that I only made one back in 2009 was that these bags are deceptively complicated, and the first one took so long. I forget about this until somebody finds a picture of one of our bags online and sends me a custom order like this one. Then I say that I can do it for $200 and it takes me 20 hours. Man, they are a lot of work.

I was feeling it yesterday, though, and had a little time in the shop with Penny Lee and KZFR. I wanted to make a new one that incorporated the tweed and leather style that we have been toying with for our new handlebar bags. The tweed is backed with heavy-duty cordura packcloth.

One reason that the bags take so long is that we build a separate suspension/harness out of seatbelt webbing that distributes the load across the whole panel – I was worried that if we just used leather, that the loops that go over the top of the Xtracycle frame would stretch or sag – you can see the harness as 2 lines of horizontal stitching about 3 inches down from the top.

Another reason I quit on the last one was that our walking foot machine wasn’t working very well, and it kept choking right in the middle of each line of decorative stitching. Unlike nylon or other textiles, if you blow a line of stitching in leather, when you pull the thread, you are stuck with a bunch of holes in the fabric that don’t rub out – you have to start over. The main panels for these bags use 9 square feet of leather each, so mistakes are expensive, or you just have to live with them. Leather is fairly heavy but so are Xtracycles! These bags probably weigh more than some road bikes, but we aren’t weight Nazis around here – we’d rather look cool. Also, Chico is flat.

I sure like rivets.

The straps are military-surplus cam buckles. One day a guy showed up at our house with a shoebox full of them (about 80). He said ‘Some of your friends from Westwood go you our church and they told us about you, do you have a use for these?’ They are great. Thanks Larry and Seren! I have been liking having tie-downs for ratchet straps and bungees, so we added extra loops to the webbing that holds the buckles, and ask some sewn loops between each buckles.

Inside pocket with snaps.
We can make you a pair, but it might take us a few years to finish them.

I just finished a bag for our friend Ron, who is a bike mechanic, pacifist, former Marine, and man of action. Ron is passionate about bikes as a solution to oil-driven war and violence, and has made building low-cost bikes his life’s work. He has also ridden his bike across the country several times on rallies to protest war and militarism.

Ron Bikes 4 Peace

Ron left Chico yesterday to ride on part of a cross-country tour that is being led by Cindy Sheehan, who became a major voice in the antiwar movement after losing her son in the Iraq war. The ride is called Tour de Peace, and it is a fundraiser for charities in Afghanistan and Iraq. Ron is riding as far as Flagstaff, and the rest of the riders will follow Route 66 to Chicago, and finish their ride in Washington D.C. The riders demand: To end wars, to end immunity for U.S. war crimes, to end suppression of our civil rights, to end the use of fossil fuels, to end persecution of whistleblowers, to end partisan apathy and inaction.

The riders in action:

I decided to make Ron a bag for his ride, and hoped that the bag would make it across the country with the tour. Ron just built a bike for Cindy using spare parts and with donations from a lot of our local bike shops. He said that he’ll give Cindy the bag once they get to Arizona.

Made in the USA

This was an introspective project – what do you make for a woman who is riding to mourn her son and raise money for the innocent people in the countries that we have destroyed? I thought about making the bag all out of military surplus fabric as a metaphor for healing the cycle of wasted potential, squandered resources, and ruined lives, but I ended up thinking that I wanted to make a piece that was beautiful, calm, rich, and fit for a grandmother – a dignified woman out on an important errand.

This bag ended up being a little larger than our stock handlebar bags, and it barely fits inside of Ron’s mustache bars. It is supported by our locally-forged steel frame.

I used repurposed tweed, upholstery scrap, and a bit of a waxed-cotton tarp that was the roof of our friend Lauren’s family’s Sierra Nevada summer tent cabin.

Most of our handlebar bags haven’t had lids on them, as I like being able to graze out of mine as I ride, and they are deep enough that things don’t usually fall out, but Ron wanted a cover for foul weather, so we came up with this first draft – it is made from repurposed drysuit material that we got from a friend who does fisheries research. The back is attached with snaps, so you can remove it when the sun is shining. Trim and clip on the front are military surplus.

We ended up with a bit of military surplus in there after all – the trim on the sides, buckles, and brass D-rings are all surplus. Actually the only new or virgin materials in this project are the rivets, thread, and steel rod in the frame that holds up the bag.

Salvage is the new patriotism. We salute the peace riders.

We just got an inquiry from a person who is interested in making the leap from portable to industrial sewing machines. Industrial machines are awesome – even if you are just sewing dresses or light fabrics. Their stitch quality is very consistent, they last forever, and they are made to work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (think ‘factory’). Buy one, your grandchildren will thank you!

Here are some more thoughts:

See Jennifer’s original email, below our reply.

Thanks for your inquiry.
I’d recommend that you get a walking-foot industrial machine.
While there are some decent heavy-duty portable machines like the Sailrite (very similar to the Consew CP206), there really are no good ‘halfway-between-portable-and-industrial’ machines. Big machines take some getting used to, and are a real hassle to move, but they are so worth it. You’ll never want to sew on a portable again.

Most factories/assembly lines have many different specialized machines. (e.g. walking foot machines for top-stitching, bartack machines for buttons and structural work, a post-bed machine for sewing in bag sides or awkward corners, and lockstitch machines for long, fast runs). You won’t find one single machine that does everything, but If you are just going to have one machine, I recommend a walking-foot.

Walking foot machines are best for leather and rubbery materials like inner-tube as they feed material simultaneously with both the foot and the feed-dog. Without the moving foot, frictiony material tends to bind against the foot as it is pulled along by the feed dog. We use our main walking foot machine as the goto machine. They can sew through anything. License plates, books, or fire hose. They are also good for super-light fabrics like ripstop nylon, as they pull the material thru the machine evenly. 

That said, if you mainly are working with light suede, demin, and vinyl, a normal lockstitch non-walking-foot machine will do a lot at a lower price.

For industrial machines, look for any Consew, Singer, Brother or Juki walking foot machine. Try to buy a used machine. Older is better – these brands are all solid, and pretty much like a Toyota pickup – they last forever, and parts are inexpensive and easy to find. Avoid Yamata, or other new Chinese machines.

Pfaffs and Berninas are great, but parts can be expensive. Any working walking foot under $400 is usually a good deal, but make sure it has reverse.

Any of these brands are usually good for a straight-stitch model too. We have a Brother DB2-791, and a Brother DB2-755, both are great – the 755s are very popular for sewing factories.  Any good straight-stitch in the brands above under $300 is a good price.

Dream list – look for a Bernina 217, Consew 206RB, or Pfaff 545. The Bernina isnot great for leather/rubber, but has dreamy zigzag action, and is super smooth. I had one and should have never sold it. Anything under $600 is a good deal for any of these. Also, the Consew 206RB is sold as a Seiko STH8-BLD-3.

Buy locally, don’t get one from Ebay. Shipping is expensive, it may arrive damaged, and you may have to pay someone to set it up. If you are buying one from Craigslist, try to get one that is in working order, and try it out before you pay. Bring samples of the fabrics that you want to use. If it is not working, or you can’t plug it in, check to see if it turns smoothly (you’ll need to press down the feed pedal with the motor switched OFF to release the clutch and spin the machine freely). Avoid machines that have an oil bath (pan full of oil under them) if they have been sitting for a long time and the oil is rancid or crusty.

Find someone local who can teach you how to service your machine – including adjusting the hook timing. If you push the limits of the machine (sewing hose, trampolines, and other found objects) you’ll jam it now and then, and unless you can do a little mechanical work, you’ll spend a lot of money at the shop. Before you go to a sewing store, look up upholstery, motorcycle, and boating shops in your area. All of these businesses have sewing associated with them, and you’ll connect with people who know the local industrial sewing scene.

Oil your machine ALL THE TIME (every day if you are using it a lot). Buy Lily White brand sewing machine oil by the quart or gallon, get an oil can, and oil every place where there is metal on metal contact (lots of machines have a daub of red paint on all of the oil holes). If you are buying an old machine, oil it well and work it loose before you start sewing on it. If the machine is filth when yo uget it, take it in for a cleaning ($100+), or put it over a baking pan and attack it with a big bottle of WD-40, some Qtips, and a clean cotton rag. Wear rubber gloves. Some people say not to use WD40 on your sewing machine, and it is a good idea not to use it for normal lubrication, but it works well for cleaning it up, and being able to blast gunk off with the little red hose is a bonus. 

We use #22 needles for our heaviest work, and #69 nylon thread (buy the 1 pound spools to save money). We sometimes use #16 needles with the #69 thread, or #46 thread for lighter projects. If you get a machine with a small bobbin, you can run #46 thread in the bobbin so it lasts longer. If you are topsticthing anything structural, you may want to use polyester thread, as it is less prone to UV degradation and rot. Buy Orange-brand needles off of Ebay. We often put a drop of oil on the needle before starting a thick run of stitching if we are using rubbery materials, otherwise the needle gets so hot that it melts the thread.

Happy hunting, and don’t blame us when your shop is too full of machines to walk through! Industrial machines are addictive…

On 1/18/13 7:25 AM, Jennifer Karches wrote:
Hello Zeke and Erika!

Wow, right now I wished I lived in Chico! I just spent most of last evening going through your blog and I am really enthralled….I feel like I have soul mates (who are light years ahead of me!) with you guys.;-)

The cattail bag was just amazing….truly a work of art. And I love the bike bags for the front of the bike! I never would have thought to use firehose for material!! It makes me want to stop by the firehouses in town and see what they throw out!!
I am currently making scarves, mitts, snoods, phone cosies, etc. out of thrift store cashmere and felted wool, but I am now branching into bicycle inner tube wallets and cell phone cases (and I just found a source for billboard canvas) and my 90’s era Singer is not cooperating with my ideas! We live in a college town so I am endlessly coming upon interesting things in dumpsters, the trash and during our big junk week, when there is “unlimited pickup”, which is basically a big trash fest for a handful of crazy people trolling around looking for useful things. 😉 I generally just load up my car many multiple times, and donate most items to Goodwill…because it makes me sick thinking all that stuff would go to the landfill! It is just gross how students (mostly) throw out entire contents of their apartment!

Anyways, so I have been researching getting a new (to me) industrial machine, and I am soooo confused about what to buy! I have been advised to buy, by different people, a Pfaff IDT machine, a Sailrite, an old Kenmore, an old Singer, a Consew…..

I did find this brand new Consew on ebay:
…but I’ve read a couple of not so stellar reviews.

So I feel kind of paralyzed as to what to do!
So, can you give me advice on a good machine that will sew multiple layers of leather, bicycle tubes, wool jackets, canvas, denim, etc. that a basic sewing novice (I’ve taught myself) can operate without much problem in a spare bedroom? Or do you have a machine to sell to me? Do I need to get one of those monster industrial machines or would a portable work? What needles/thread should I use?

I am basically just trying to take my occasional pastime up several notches, and hopefully consign some of the stuff at our local bike shop to support my habit! So I think I will be looking at older machines, which is fine with me. I am just a bit intimidated with the big industrial motored machines…

So, I hope you can help me! Thank you for any advice you can give me!!!



Posted: January 29, 2013 in Uncategorized
o·ver·haul  (vr-hôlvr-hôl)

tr.v. o·ver·hauledo·ver·haul·ingo·ver·hauls


a. To examine or go over carefully for needed repairs.
b. To dismantle in order to make repairs.

2. To make extensive renovations or revisions on; renovate.
3. To catch up with; overtake.
n. (vr-hôl)

1. An act of overhauling.
2. A repair job.