This is the skeleton so far for a Ducati fairing I'm doing. I'll have the sheet metal hammered out by tomorrow. Then I can finish and final mount the fairing/ headlight mount/ computer mount. The whole bike is getting blacked out...
It’s Sunday morning on September 11th, 2011. I’m sitting in my apartment in Brooklyn with a cup of coffee, thinking about what we all experienced 10 years ago today. Getting angry, getting anxious...sad, all the emotions of that day come washing back over me. I think about how amazed I still am at the way the people of this city, and this incredible country, came together as one to help each other stand up, rebuild our lives and move ahead.
As these memories return, I look out my window in the direction where the World Trade Center once stood. Each year, on the anniversary of 9-11, they set up huge spot lights that send two bright beams straight up into the sky representing the location of the towers. I never thought about it until now, but those lights remind us exactly where the towers stood, viewed from any part of the city, so we never forget. Never forget the attacks, but also, never forget the physical presence of those buildings that were representational of the strength of this great country, and part of the identity of this incredible city.
As most of us involved with motorcycles and machines that go fast tend to push the limits of ourselves and the world around us, I always feel like goodbye’s, no matter how casual, are important. Important because you never know when that may be the last thing you say to someone. Ironically, we would never consider someone with a desk job at the World Trade Center to have a “high risk lifestyle”, but ten years ago, that all changed. Ten years ago, a few thousand people walked out their doors that morning on their way to work with a peck on the cheek or a wave from a window, and didn’t think anything of it. When my wife walked out the door this morning, to go to a job in Manhattan, I kissed her and told her goodbye... then asked her to come back. I felt like I had left something undone or incomplete. I kissed her again and held her for an extra few seconds, before saying goodbye.
I don’t get paranoid and weepy when days like this roll around, it’s just another day like any other. Work needs to be done, life needs to be lived...to the fullest. High alert...low alert, anniversary or not. I’ve always felt this way and try never to dwell on the past, or let anything slow me down. Days like today do stand, though, as reminders of the friends and family we love and have loved, and to appreciate them.
Kiss your wife, hug your kids, shake your friend’s hand and pet your dog. They’ll appreciate it.
As I write this, my daughter is asking me to read her a story. I still have tons of work to do today, but taking time for a story is much more important right now...
Occasionally, someone will call the shop inquiring about “twisted downtube” frames, or a customer I’m building a bike for may ask if I’ll make one for the project. As much as I continue to enjoy forging and twisting steel, and have ventured even deeper into the dark arts of Blacksmithing, I no longer make twisted downtube frames. After many years of making twisted downtube motorcycle frames, before and after the passing of Larry, I feel that that design is very specific to Larry, and a certain moment-in-time, so I want to do something different.
I had a customer come to me to build him a bike, and he wanted many of the traditional details he had come to know over the years. He liked the twisted elements, but was open to any new ideas too. This was an opportunity to explore other ways of treating the frame to give it a new look. What I decided was to make a single down tube section by braiding steel tubing and working the braided section into his frame that was under construction in the jig.
I had the engine and tranny cradle already prepped on the frame table with the back bone and neck in place. I had an image in my mind of what I thought the braid should look like, but didn’t decide how to do it till I lit the torch. After cutting my 3 sections of tubing, I lined them up vertically in the vise and started heating. I chose tubing, instead of solid rod, for the superior structural rigidity, but had to be extremely careful not to kink or collapse the tubing. As with any forging process, decorative or practical, timing is everything. I had to decide, in the first few minutes, how I was going to start my bends, then continue with that pattern all the way to the top without stopping. Basically like braiding hair, but upside down.
After the braided section was complete, I corrected any straightness issues, and planned how to merge it with the mainframe. At the neck, one leg rolled back into the gusset while the other two wrapped the neck like a choker. At the bottom, all three legs swirled around the frame tubes engaging solidly.
Once the assembly was complete, I TIG welded the entire braided section with Silicon Bronze to fully engage every intersection. Initially I had TIG welded all the joints with steel rod, but in the end, I really wanted that honey-dipped, brazed look that seeps into all the seams. On steel, I prefer using the Silicon Bronze to achieve this, instead of brazing, for a cleaner more controllable result.
After days and days of sanding and shaping every joint, I had the frame brass plated, then I oxidized it to a dark patina. This process gives great contrast to the finish when it’s re-polished.
I love obsessive details and experimentation, but this is something I don’t plan on doing every day. It’s a challenge, though, to work steel like taffy and still create a stable platform upon which to build a motorbike...
I've been experimenting on some Damascus I'm using for knife projects with different acids to bring up the patterns. You see, when I'm grinding blades, any patterning from the folded steels disappears and I'm left with a smooth surface. Many years ago, when craftsmen first folded and forged different steels purely to improve it's functional properties, this would have been fine. But today, with the availability of superior alloys, the use of Damascus is primarily for aesthetic reasons. With this in mind, I needed to find the best way to bring out the patterns created by the forging of dissimilar metals. I've been trying a few mixtures with varied results. I tried Sulphuric acid (battery acid), Muriatic acid (swimming pool), and for these pieces, I used Ferric Chloride (copper etch mordant).
The near side steel pictured is a blend of 1085, 15-n-20 (nickel) and L6. The far side piece is just 1095 and 15-n-20. After a 40 minute bath in Ferric Chloride I got good texture and color. The other acids gave varying results of depth and color, but the Ferric seemed to give the most definition. With future use and cleanings the color will continue to change, so I find it more important to achieve a good surface texture that will become more rich and beautiful over time. The color contrast can be maintained on a show piece that gets no use, but that's not what I do. And neither do you. The natural oxidation, resulting from years of use, is where the true beauty of these pieces will come from. But for now, this is looking pretty kick ass. More to follow...
A fellow leather worker, Mario Burkardt from Switzerland, was visiting my shop over the Holidays. I was admiring this handmade Damascus miniature of a leather working knife he was wearing, and without a second thought, he generously gave it to me as a gift. I appreciated it very much and have been wearing it ever since. Thanks again Mario....