The Sculptural Knife Vase
I’ve been teasing for a lot of months that I’ve been working
on a knife undertaking…. What sort of knife undertaking?… Why, a flower vase after all! A
machined metallic 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 may occasionally look like 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 couple of tasks. It connects a variety 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 clarify.
I’ve spent lots of time occupied with conventional craft-forms
inside varied studio artwork actions. Practices reminiscent of glasswork, woodturning,
and ceramics are all crafts that acquired their begin on a manufacturing unit ground rather a lot like
machine-work. Nonetheless these crafts differ from machining in a couple of vital
In contrast to machining, every of the above craft actions
represents a course of that has largely fallen out of commercial 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 types which might be widespread inside their commerce
(Vases, bowls, urns and so on). They’re shapes that inform that crafts specific historical past.
Most of those types 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 the same industrial previous, there are few signature types one can level to that uniquely consultant it as a medium. The machinist panorama appears to lack ubiquitous types that fall
neatly into the identical paradigm of craft and craft-form. One probably motive is that machine-work is a sprawling self-discipline full of specialised abilities. The vary of instruments
and processes at play are so diverse it’s practically unattainable to search out tasks
which might 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 metallic, I’ve spent appreciable time exploring what a “machined craft-form” may be. Ought to machining ultimately
discover higher standing as a sculptural medium, what types may 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 a lot of
the economic crafts listed above, in addition to developments inside the up to date
machinist group, and even historic craft-forms reminiscent of Japanese Netsuke and
Chinese language snuff bottles.
types from older crafts and remodeling them into extremely engineered machined
craft-forms of my very personal. And whereas it might appear counterintuitive to
use a up to date and technologically superior course of to revisit types from bygone
industrial eras, you will need to keep in mind that each craft, regardless of how
previous, was innovative expertise sooner or later in time.
The impulse to formally discover expertise transcends
classic and it has turn into a full of life and fruitful line of considering for my work. This
new undertaking is the subsequent step alongside that journey and takes the concept 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
means that I’m exploring older traditions with machine instruments, it’s a discipline that
mixes historic and fashionable strategies fairly elegantly. Knife making is a uncommon
craft, in that it maintains working first hand data of practically each
technological step of its lengthy historical past. Its roots go all the way in which again to the
Stone Age, and it has developed and altered 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 means that’s 1000’s of years previous. And whereas its historic traditions
are alive and properly, the world of knife making has additionally been fully
remodeled by the adoption of contemporary machine instruments and new expertise.
inform the aesthetic parts 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 varied knife makers have impressed my work, I discovered it
troublesome to method the craft immediately via my work. My course of sometimes
entails stripping away the utility from varied design or craft ideas to raised reveal what’s aesthetically attention-grabbing about them. I felt that it
may be unattainable to strip the utility from a knife and nonetheless have an
object that’s each attention-grabbing and spoke meaningfully to the craft.
It lastly occurred to me that it isn’t essential to totally strip
the utility from a knife to understand its inherent aesthetic qualities; one
can merely put these qualities into a singular context. My earlier tasks
involving historic craft-forms have (oddly sufficient) offered me a conceptual
bridge of kinds. They’ve equipped me with the required framework inform a narrative about
materials progress and blade making on the similar time.
solution to discover knife making, however I felt the perfect method was to make use of the blades
as sculptural parts in a means that created an surprising context for them. Quite
than stand alone objects, I felt it extra attention-grabbing to distinction the blades with some
of the opposite craft-forms I’ve already been exploring. I wished to make use of my foray into blade making to additional inform the story of how varied industrial crafts come to be appropriated for the aim of constructing artwork.
So whereas it might appear
counter productive to make a flower vase out of machined knives, that’s
unusually sufficient, precisely what I’ve completed, and never with out motive.
This work is an efficient 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 postpone by the
thought of exploring weapons of any form as artwork, however I believe this piece simply
demonstrates that knives might be many issues in addition to that. I personally am not
completely certain what all of the implications of utilizing blades as sculptural parts
may be. However to those that can be crucial, I ask that you simply keep 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 probably the most tactical aesthetics inside
the artistic industrial arts, so whereas it’s simple to guage, it’s way more
attention-grabbing to discover, and it’s my intention to do the latter.
Since I used to be preserving this work type of a secret, I used to be not
capable of share course of images in actual time like I’ve turn into accustom, so under
is breakdown of among the challenges I confronted in addition to among 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 undertaking, it must be attention-grabbing.
Whereas my choice is to introduce new strategies one at a
time, tackling knife making made that method fairly unattainable. I used to be in over
my head in too some ways to depend, which was refreshing and disorienting on the similar time. I had
by no means made a knife blade earlier than (not on function anyway), so there may be fairly a
lot to the touch on right here.
Machining the blades:
There are a number of widespread 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 the vast majority of
the geometry after which go to ending operations. In my case, I clearly wished
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
far more fastidiously utilized. Selecting an applicable alloy was daunting, however after
lots of analysis, I settled on a metal known as AEBL. Like all knife steels, it
has execs and cons to be used as knife metal.
The professional: AEBL is utilized in lots of kitchen cutlery, so it’s
fairly widespread and simple to supply. It has nice corrosion resistance and is understood
to be comparatively simple to harden and sharpen. It is usually fairly cheap,
which is vital 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 lots of data on
machining AEBL. I had a tough time getting suggestions on reducing parameters.
I got here to be taught it is because AEBL is primarily utilized in making giant amount
industrial blades. It’s extra generally reduce with abrasives processes like water
jet cutters or lasers, after which floor to remaining form. That didn’t imply it was
un-machine-able, it simply meant that that it wasn’t widespread, so data was
scarce. I did ultimately get some helpful steering from a fellow knife maker to
use as a place to begin.
Total: As soon as work acquired underway, I discovered that AEBL wasn’t
horrible to machine, even on the modest instruments that I’ve, the end was
really 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 sooner than anticipated.
Since I needed to make 15 blades (plus some spares) for the
undertaking, I burned via 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 via, took my time, and ended up with fairly nice
Under can also be a video exhibiting among 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 metallic work I do potential. At its easiest,
machining is just utilizing a tougher materials, to chop a barely softer one. When
milling brass with metal, this will appear a easy mater of fabric choice.
However when reducing one type of metal, with the same type of metal, issues begin
to get technically attention-grabbing and down proper philosophical.
That is grossly oversimplified, however consider it this manner,
the principle think about figuring out metal’s hardness is its carbon content material, and the way
these carbon atoms are organized inside the metallic. 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
completely potential to take two items of the identical alloy, heat-treat one to make
it laborious, after which deal with the opposite in order that it’s delicate. From there you possibly can simply
form and reduce one with the opposite, kind of like reducing 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 means via this fascinating
course of and achieved good outcomes. Having a solution to harden metallic additionally opens a
lot of doorways for attention-grabbing future tasks.
Whereas I’ve been shaping metallic for many years, I had by no means
deliberately drawn a razor sharp edge onto a chunk of metallic for the needs
of constructing artwork. I’ve sharpened cutlery in a utilitarian context, however by no means in
a means 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 method
over a few years, and over 1000’s of knives. Some can draw an edge onto a
blade standing at a guide grinder in just some minutes utilizing some hard-earned
muscle reminiscence. I nonetheless, don’t have this ability (but!) so regardless of my lengthy
profession in metalworking; I needed to compensate for inexperience with the usage of a
gradual, however tried and true, knife sharpening jig. It produced nice outcomes, however
was time consuming. It’s one thing that may probably change however gradual 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 far more snug.
All of my sculptures are constructed round some novel meeting technique or engineering idea that I can specific in a visually attention-grabbing means, 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 drive for the blades in every slot.
The screws are accessed from the other aspect of the
vessel, by reaching via 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 show the idea. (under)
As you possibly can see within the video, I additionally made some enjoyable
gadgets 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.