The Sculptural Knife Vase
I’ve been teasing for a lot of months that I’ve been working
on a knife venture…. What sort of knife venture?… Why, a flower vase after all! A
machined steel flower vase with fifteen razor-sharp hardened metal blades that
encircle its valuable blooming cargo.
(Really dried flowers on this case, it’s winter in any case)
This will likely seem to be an odd mixture, possibly even a tad tongue in cheek, nonetheless this piece
has been in improvement for a number of years and embodies most of the themes I
have been laying out over the previous few tasks. It connects a lot of
conceptual threads in my work, and does so in ways in which have been surprising even to me.
So please tuck in for a protracted learn (in case you are inclined) and
I’ll do my finest to elucidate.
I’ve spent a number of time occupied with conventional craft-forms
inside numerous studio artwork actions. Practices comparable to glasswork, woodturning,
and ceramics are all crafts that received their begin on a manufacturing unit ground so much like
machine-work. Nevertheless these crafts differ from machining in a couple of essential
In contrast to machining, every of the above craft actions
represents a course of that has largely fallen out of business use. They’ve since
been picked up by artisans and have been turned in the direction of extra artistic ends. Likewise, these
crafts have signature shapes and varieties which can be frequent inside their commerce
(Vases, bowls, urns and so on). They’re shapes that inform that crafts explicit historical past.
Most of those varieties are used to be taught their respective practices and have
turn into inseparable from that crafts visible language.
These craft-forms are of curiosity to me as a result of whereas
machining is a craft that shares an identical industrial previous, there are few signature varieties one can level to that uniquely consultant it as a medium. The machinist panorama appears to lack ubiquitous varieties that fall
neatly into the identical paradigm of craft and craft-form. One probably cause is that machine-work is a sprawling self-discipline full of specialised abilities. The vary of instruments
and processes at play are so diversified it’s almost not possible to seek out tasks
which can be analogous to what one finds in a woodturning class or glass blowing
Due to this absence of distinctive craft-forms inside the world
of machined steel, I’ve spent appreciable time exploring what a “machined craft-form” may be. Ought to machining finally
discover higher standing as a sculptural medium, what varieties would possibly come to outline it?
I undertook all kinds of tasks to discover this, together with
hand-held kinetic artwork tasks, a machined vessel sequence, and even a couple of collaborations
with different makers and machinists. These tasks drew inspiration from lots of
the commercial crafts listed above, in addition to traits inside the up to date
machinist neighborhood, and even historic craft-forms comparable to Japanese Netsuke and
Chinese language snuff bottles.
varieties from older crafts and remodeling them into extremely engineered machined
craft-forms of my very personal. And whereas it could appear counterintuitive to
use a recent and technologically superior course of to revisit varieties from bygone
industrial eras, it is very important keep in mind that each craft, regardless of how
outdated, was innovative know-how sooner or later in time.
The impulse to formally discover know-how transcends
classic and it has turn into a vigorous and fruitful line of pondering for my work. This
new venture is the subsequent step alongside that journey and takes the thought of
borrowing, reimagining, and remixing conventional craft-forms to new locations.
The Sharp Arts
custom that up till now, I had been avoiding. I’m after all referring to
the world of latest knife making (each ornamental and utilitarian).
Knife making is a self-discipline that completely captures the
dichotomy between historic and up to date industrial processes. A lot within the
method that I’m exploring older traditions with machine instruments, it’s a subject that
mixes historic and fashionable strategies moderately elegantly. Knife making is a uncommon
craft, in that it maintains working first hand information of almost each
technological step of its lengthy historical past. Its roots go all the way in which again to the
Stone Age, and it has advanced and adjusted with every technological epoch
alongside the way in which.
The historical past of the knife is the historical past of mans materials
progress. Like machine-work, it embodies a large spectrum of metalworking
processes. One can discover numerous practitioners nonetheless placing hammer to anvil
in a method that’s hundreds of years outdated. And whereas its historic traditions
are alive and properly, the world of knife making has additionally been utterly
reworked by the adoption of recent machine instruments and new know-how.
inform the aesthetic components of a craft, knife making is past fascinating to
Whereas I’ve resisted taking on knife making immediately, preferring as an alternative to maintain my consideration firmly on sculpture, I’m drawn
to it as a supply of inspiration.
The Sculpture Connection
Whereas numerous knife makers have impressed my work, I discovered it
tough to method the craft immediately by my work. My course of sometimes
includes stripping away the utility from numerous design or craft ideas to higher reveal what’s aesthetically fascinating about them. I felt that it
may be not possible to strip the utility from a knife and nonetheless have an
object that’s each fascinating and spoke meaningfully to the craft.
It lastly occurred to me that it isn’t obligatory to totally strip
the utility from a knife to understand its inherent aesthetic qualities; one
can merely put these qualities into a novel context. My earlier tasks
involving historic craft-forms have (oddly sufficient) supplied me a conceptual
bridge of types. They’ve provided me with the required framework inform a narrative about
materials progress and blade making on the identical time.
method to discover knife making, however I felt the very best method was to make use of the blades
as sculptural components in a method that created an surprising context for them. Quite
than stand alone objects, I felt it extra fascinating to distinction the blades with some
of the opposite craft-forms I’ve already been exploring. I needed to make use of my foray into blade making to additional inform the story of how numerous industrial crafts come to be appropriated for the aim of constructing artwork.
So whereas it could appear
counter productive to make a flower vase out of machined knives, that’s
surprisingly sufficient, precisely what I’ve carried out, and never with out cause.
This work is an effective instance of mixing two comparatively easy
concepts (making a vase and making a knife) to create a scenario that impedes the usefulness of each. What stays is an object that mischievously calls for that it’s appreciated for greater than its precarious utility.
Now there could also be a few of you on the market who’re delay by the
concept of exploring weapons of any type as artwork, however I believe this piece simply
demonstrates that knives could be many issues apart from that. I actually am not
totally positive what all of the implications of utilizing blades as sculptural components
may be. However to those that could be important, I ask that you simply preserve an open thoughts, and acknowledge that most of the time, knives are instruments like every other.
There’s magnificence (and humor) to be present in even essentially the most tactical aesthetics inside
the artistic industrial arts, so whereas it’s simple to guage, it’s way more
fascinating to discover, and it’s my intention to do the latter.
Since I used to be protecting this work form of a secret, I used to be not
capable of share course of pictures in actual time like I’ve turn into accustom, so under
is breakdown of a number of the challenges I confronted in addition to a number of the
documentation I made alongside the way in which.
Once more, a little bit of a learn, however for these within the nuts and bolts
of the venture, it needs to be fascinating.
Whereas my desire is to introduce new strategies one at a
time, tackling knife making made that method fairly not possible. I used to be in over
my head in too some ways to depend, which was refreshing and disorienting on the identical time. I had
by no means made a knife blade earlier than (not on goal anyway), so there may be moderately a
lot to the touch on right here.
Machining the blades:
There are a number of frequent methods to make knife blades, some are
cast (suppose hammer and anvil), some begin with pre-made bar inventory and go straight
to the grinder to create the form, and nonetheless others machine nearly all of
the geometry after which go to ending operations. In my case, I clearly needed
to machine the blades, however this isn’t as easy because it first appears.
For starters, I had by no means machined excessive efficiency knife
steels earlier than. Knife steels are a lot tougher than the alloys I sometimes choose.
They’re unforgiving to machine, so set-ups and machining parameters have to be
rather more rigorously utilized. Selecting an acceptable alloy was daunting, however after
a number of analysis, I settled on a metal referred to as AEBL. Like all knife steels, it
has execs and cons to be used as knife metal.
The professional: AEBL is utilized in a number of kitchen cutlery, so it’s
fairly frequent and simple to supply. It has nice corrosion resistance and is thought
to be comparatively simple to harden and sharpen. It is usually fairly cheap,
which is essential for an experiment with so many blades in it. Unique knife
steels can get extraordinarily pricy, and there was no have to be unnecessarily spendy
when good choices abound.
The con: Surprisingly, there was not a number of data on
machining AEBL. I had a tough time getting suggestions on chopping parameters.
I got here to be taught it’s because AEBL is primarily utilized in making giant amount
business blades. It’s extra generally reduce with abrasives processes like water
jet cutters or lasers, after which floor to last form. That didn’t imply it was
un-machine-able, it simply meant that that it wasn’t frequent, so data was
scarce. I did finally get some helpful steerage from a fellow knife maker to
use as a place to begin.
General: As soon as work received underway, I discovered that AEBL wasn’t
horrible to machine, even on the modest instruments that I’ve, the end was
truly fairly good. However, whereas the machines dealt with it properly sufficient, I needed to
take my time and never push issues. I discovered that AEBL has some abrasive
properties to it that wore the top mills quicker than anticipated.
Since I needed to make 15 blades (plus some spares) for the
venture, I burned by extra $25 cutters than I care to confess. A few of this
untimely put on might have been mitigated with a extra inflexible and balanced tooling
arrange, however I soldiered by, took my time, and ended up with fairly nice
Under can be a video displaying a number of the fixture-ing and the
warping points I additionally encountered.
Warmth-treating and Hardening metal:
One other course of I had little expertise with was
heat-treating and hardening metal. Whereas that is one thing that toolmakers and
machine designers are fairly acquainted, as a sculptor, it simply isn’t one thing I had
a lot of a necessity for, till now.
Warmth-treating is fascinating for a lot of causes; chief amongst
them is that it makes a lot of the steel work I do doable. At its easiest,
machining is just utilizing a tougher materials, to chop a barely softer one. When
milling brass with metal, this could appear a easy mater of fabric choice.
However when chopping one form of metal, with an identical form of metal, issues begin
to get technically fascinating and down proper philosophical.
That is grossly oversimplified, however consider it this fashion,
the principle consider figuring out metal’s hardness is its carbon content material, and the way
these carbon atoms are organized inside the steel. Warmth-treating is how one
arranges the atoms to create the hardness one wishes. Cutters and blades solely
have to be barely tougher than the fabric they intend to chop. So it’s
totally doable to take two items of the identical alloy, heat-treat one to make
it onerous, after which deal with the opposite in order that it’s mushy. From there you possibly can simply
form and reduce one with the opposite, form of like chopping heat softened butter
with a tougher piece of frozen butter. That’s fascinating stuff.
they might take a pleasant edge, I needed to spend money on a particular kiln to heat-treat
them. From there I used to be capable of crash coarse my method by this fascinating
course of and achieved good outcomes. Having a method to harden steel additionally opens a
lot of doorways for fascinating future tasks.
Whereas I’ve been shaping steel for many years, I had by no means
deliberately drawn a razor sharp edge onto a chunk of steel for the needs
of constructing artwork. I’ve sharpened cutlery in a utilitarian context, however by no means in
a method that was cautious of the geometry and polish of the metal. Sharpening
blades with precision was one other ability I must hone (get it).
There are seasoned knife makers who’ve perfected their sharpening approach
over a few years, and over hundreds of knives. Some can draw an edge onto a
blade standing at a guide grinder in only a few minutes utilizing some hard-earned
muscle reminiscence. I nonetheless, should not have this ability (but!) so regardless of my lengthy
profession in metalworking; I needed to compensate for inexperience with using a
sluggish, however tried and true, knife sharpening jig. It produced nice outcomes, however
was time consuming. It’s one thing that may probably change however sluggish and regular
was the way in which to go right here.
Meeting and composition:
The general design of the Vase is an space with which I used to be rather more comfy.
All of my sculptures are constructed round some novel meeting methodology or engineering idea that I can specific in a visually fascinating method, and this work is not any exception.
Every blade has a T formed backbone that engages with a comparable slot alongside the size of the vessel physique. The blades are secured by a few tiny setscrews that have interaction the backbone and supply a clamping power for the blades in every slot.
The screws are accessed from the alternative facet of the
vessel, by reaching by the work from the ornamental pin holes precisely
reverse the lock screw. From there, the remainder of the meeting was fairly straight ahead, I used the ornamental pin holes as further locking set screws for the stainless-steel liner of the vase.
I made a brief video to reveal the idea. (under)
As you possibly can see within the video, I additionally made some enjoyable
units for shifting the work with out having to the touch the blades, one thing that
wanted fairly a bit of additional consideration. Getting this factor into place with out hurting your self or others is definitely fairly difficult.
Anyhow, thanks for studying.
As all the time, questions and feedback are fairly welcome.