The Crankie

Before Christmas, my sister-in-law Gelsey and I embarked on a project. In a year when we didn’t really want more things as Christmas gifts, we decided on an experience instead. Going off her idea, we built our very own crankie.

Now I had never heard of a crankie before, but it quickly developed into an entire world of possibilities. A crankie is a sort of old-fashioned (I prefer traditional) storytelling device, kind of like a tv for those of us without electricity. You start with a long scroll of paper, and create images on it by painting or cutting out forms and gluing them on. This scroll gets rolled up on two cylinders and put in a box with a light source behind. By turning a crank on each cylinder, the paper is passed in front of the light, telling the story within. From the action of cranking comes its name, a crankie.

Folks often tell a story or sing a song to accompany the images, and we chose the music route. We (by which I mean Gelsey) found a perfect song, ripe with imagery. It the story of an incredibly strong pioneering woman in Appalachia, set to the striking shapenote song Fiduccia. It was the work of many days to plan, gather materials, sketch, draw, cut out figures, and build the box for it all to fit in. It was a sort of artistic cross-training, and although it had nothing to do with my usual work as a blacksmith, it was a refreshing break and revival of creativity.

I hope you enjoy the story, the light, and the music, which we present to you all in a relaxed and humble fashion. All the artwork, singing, and design is ours, although inspiration has come from many sources, near and far.

This is the story of Mrs. Whitmore:



The world is changing. The earth is coming alive with minute shoots of green, the air has a new potency to it. Whether this should be happening in mid-February is hard to say, and the beautiful sunny days have a sinister quality to them. Still, the birds are happy, and so are we.

I have felt a slow deceleration in the forge. Between running out of coal, several windy days, and preparation for the future, I have been spending less time pounding iron. Still, I am pleased to keep the thread alive, and have completed some exciting projects.


The handle end of a fire poker.


And the handle itself, an experimental “half Rubiks” twist.


Seeking to find beauty in simplicity.

Knifemaking has been a substantial part of my work, and I’ve been focusing on laminated blades. This is the process of taking a high carbon core and forge welding mild steel on the outside, creating a three-layer blade. It is simple enough, and adds just a bit more durability. As with any technique, there are some dos and do-nots, and it has been fun to explore these. Refining my handles has also been a main goal. This is my least favorite part of making a knife, so finding the patience and techniques to keep improving is an important, but challenging task.


The border between the steels


And a handle, out of purpleheart wood.


Another laminated blade, with a hidden tang. I burnt this one into its handle, a new process for me.


And a sheath I made, the first informed leatherwork I’ve done. Many thanks to my friend Kevin Schilke for all his help on this one.

In between the forging there have been numerous lovely experiences. One highlight was baking kardemummabullar (Swedish Cardamom Buns) for New Year’s Eve. Yum! They made me think longingly of Sweden – just in time! In a little more than a week I head back, and I couldn’t be more excited. Many more adventures to come, I’m sure.


As I approach my final days in this landscape, I am struck by the majesty of the world. The skies which are forever changing, an unimaginably huge expanse. The mountains which seem to grow in stature every day, their snowy peaks newly chiseled against the crisp air. The red tail hawk keeping a weather eye out for a meal from the top of the cottonwood tree. There are too many facets of this world to really appreciate, too many stories to ever grow tired of listening.


(Lyra, the newest addition to the farm)

The Journey Into Winter

As the weather finally turns colder, the feeling of winter has materialized for me. Through the challenge of windy days in the forge and frigid mornings getting started with work, I have struggled quite a bit. But I am starting to feel that this is actually really cool! The privilege to work with the world, and not insulated from it, is one I am grateful for. Although it reduces my productivity, I think I gain a greater feeling of belonging, of knowing just where my place is, or isn’t, among the remarkable workings in my corner of the world. A little esoteric sounding, I know, but with very real indicators in my life. Knowing the temperature, the timing of the sun, the moon, the direction of the wind, all these small pieces of the world that seem in fact to be the foundation of my experience as a human.


I had to warm up the anvil this morning with a block of hot steel. It was 14ºF (-10ºC). Brrrr! 



A pretty good view on my walk to work in the morning.

Even with some obstacles, I have felt pretty productive in the forge. It has been a curious sort of productivity – I am careful to let myself get distracted with new ideas and experiments. I am well aware that I am in a sort of grace period, when I am working because I choose to work, but without the expectation of making money. So, when something new strikes my fancy, it is go time!


Women’s knives, or Viking knives as we’ve been calling them here.


Grinding free hand is always a challenge, but it’s one I force myself to face. No jigs on this one!


Some more collaborations with my brother Neal. The handles were beautifully crafted by him out of wood and leather.


I have made a handful of knives recently, and my current obsession is with kitchen knives. Finding both an exciting approach from a design perspective as well as trying to achieve the ultimate kitchen tool is a challenge that I don’t think I’ll ever quite solve. But thanks to my work with Fredrik (and a love/hate relationship with the epoxy resin I use to attach the wooden handles), I’ve been trying to think outside the box a bit.


Single-piece, steel chef knife.


Yep, it’s done! Nothing to be added to this handle.

Besides knives, there have been a handful of other bits and pieces. I used some old and some new items to put together an offering for a winter fair in town. Not as much stock as I had imagined, but still good to have a reason for making things, other than the selfish urge to just forge.


I think often about why I do what I do. Recently I have decided that it is more important how I go about my life rather than what I fill it with. For me the small details are important, but for my impact on the world it is the intention that I bring to my work and my interactions that has power. I hope that I, and everyone else, can find a way to leave our marks on this world and our history in a way that leads us towards greater fulfillment and meaning in our lives. It doesn’t whether those marks are large or small, just that we leave them with a smile and a hope for the future.