Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Last night at the Shed

It had to happen eventually, but through some poetically unjust happenstance, REI recently announced plans to build a store in the Analucia building, thereby ousting The Shed and all its steel-fingered denizens. I climbed there tonight, purely out of nostalgia, and savored a slow, statically climbed ascent of Standard Crimp. It might have been my last—at least, until Phil finds a new place for the wall.

Justin Willet: winemaker and shed-regular.

Jake Novotny, crushing.

My lovely wife, crushing

After climbing—and a day of forging some cap-rail—I was pretty beat, so I snagged some takeout, and for good measure, a boutique Belgian Ale from my favorite purveyor of alcoholic esoterica: San Roque Liquor. Since Dan and I have plans to brew a Dubbel in the next couple of weeks, I thought I'd try some dark Belgian Ales of note, just to raise the bar for our attempt. Perhaps the bar has been elevated too high, because this beer was stupid delicious.

Behold, the Trappistes Rochefort #10, 11.3% of lively malt aromas coupled with darkly ripened berries on the nose, and a sultry, molasses flavor that belies the smooth, ridiculously drinkable character of this ale. Entirely worth the price of admission.

Mary and I are sprinting for the finish line this season. She has massive amounts of work to accomplish before Christmas, and while she typically works till 11 p.m. every night, her spirits are auspiciously high. We are both heading to Indiana for Christmas, and I'm sure she'll catch up on sleep and relaxation, as well as continue her quest to watch every episode of Bewitched. I am buried in work as well, and have no idea how to accomplish it all before the holiday. Tomorrow, after 56 fluid ounces of coffee, I will forge my brains out for eight hours. Talk to me afterwards and I'll give you a more accurate progress report.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Proceeding Apace

I've never been one to bemoan my age or give in to teenage nostalgia, so as I sip coffee while writing this entry, having JUST turned 29 on the 14th of November, I proudly proclaim my getting-up-there-ness. Thirty approaches, inexorably. What to do but take a gratuitous picture on the Eastside of the Sierra? In this picture, I am fresh off a slew of razor-sharp 5.11s at the Alabama Hills, having just attempted to burn out my fingers after a stellar weekend of Whitney Portal trad adventures. I succeeded.

I haven't updated this blog in a while, so here's the rundown:

1) I discovered Roller Derby. Santa Barbara has a team, much to my glee. Not merely a kinky tussle between angry vixens, Derby portrays the strange—but impressive—side of manic competition, a la roller-skate-clad thirty-somethings. It's actually a viciously entertaining sport. Here's me raising the emblem of soused Americana to the sky. This is only the second Bud Lite I've ever had. Ugh.

2) Work in the smithy continues at a mad pace. I'm currently immersed in a stainless steel railing project. Pictures soon to follow. I will also be forging an "old Spanish" railing for a residence on the Riviera. For those of you who don't know me, I have a long-standing distaste for what has been described as Spanish Revival, or Spanish Renaissance. In Santa Barbara, metalwork typically defers to the tried-and-tasteless motif of boring scrollwork painted with black paint. This railing, while fairly typical in design, will tout some pretty cool forged construction, thus making it cool. I should be starting on it later this week.

3) Dale is getting big.

4) I had my birthday in Yosemite. My camera ran out of batteries, but I got on a five-pitch horror-show climb near Serenity Crack (character-building), and did a cool boulder problem called the Bachar Cracker. I also checked out Cedar Eater, a fifty-foot long off-width boulder problem. The latter was sadistically entertaining, and my ankles and calves still hurt (nevermind...).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Another BBQ

A few months ago, a man walked in to my shop, interrupted my welding, and stated that he wanted a barbecue. In my line of work, if a custom request is not amended by particularities, then said project becomes more of a creative liability than a creative license. I need—and the customer appreciates—a more explicit projection of what they are paying for. So I drew a picture in my journal, showed the client, and he went for it. What emerged was a fairly angular, sturdy, and bitchin' flame bucket.

From the front, it's really just a State Park BBQ on steroids; no moving parts, no machinery, just a box on feet.

Front detailing.

Banding of banding.

We're firing this puppy up on Friday. Be there.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Yosemite, Sans Rope

For the first time in my climbing career, I drove the five-plus hours to Yosemite Valley with the intention of NOT roping up, but bouldering. This goes against much of the tradly fibers in my hand-taped being, but I'm happy to say that I can finally commiserate with the punk-ass kids at the bouldering gym. In summary: the bouldering of Yosemite Valley is so superlatively good as to warrant a wholesale yard-sale of your cams.

Well, not really. I will never do that.

But Mary, Jake, and I had a blast pebble-wrestling on the warmish weekend of September 11th, and lest you think we forewent crack climbing altogether, we managed to find some exceptional solitary suffering on problems like Deliverance, a heinous roof finger-crack, and Cedar's Crack, an overhanging offwidth crack that offers quality harumph-ing for forty feet, then spits you off with a burly top-out. I snagged Cedar's Crack on my second go. Deliverance, however, is going to take multiple visits and a tolerance of pain that I have yet to obtain.

Contemplating the top-out (which you can't see) above me.

After a day of Valley activities (including negotiating swarms of late-summer tourists), we went back to Bass Lake and putzed around on the Lewis Creek boulders (equivalent of SB's Painted Cave in terms of convenience and concentration), then enjoyed the bro-tastic scene that is Bass Lake swimming. The Willow Creek waterslide was in good form:

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

From Bratislava to Santa Barbara

I give you Geza Kummer, the man whose initials are imprinted on most of my hammers, swages, and sundry blacksmithing tools. After expatriating from his native Bratislava, this wry, scrappy, and chain-smoking Eastern European built one of the most successful blacksmithing and ornamental iron businesses in Santa Barbara, circa 1980's and 1990's. If you have seen classically honed metalwork around town, it's probably his. When he went out of business about five years ago, Dan and I bought most of his tools for a pittance, partly because Geza wanted to retire and move on, but I like to think this old-world badass actually liked Dan and I.

Well, he just might have.

While I was forging components for the Morley Wine rack (piece in progress; more photos to follow), Geza strutted in to our shop, aglow with goodwill—as his weathered features would allow. One thing you should know about Geza: he hates Communists. Most people my age barely retain a distant ire for Communism. We of the late-twenties mostly remember Communists as the bumbly, nasally-voiced bad guys from Rambo movies, or, at worst, an anachronistic regime of boring, gray buildings and propaganda posters. Russia, as an axis of evil, no longer presides over our worst fears as a nation. When Geza lived in Bratislava, however, Communism was omnipresent and hardly benign. I won't relate his stories, but he still drops vengeful comments about "the Russians" in normal conversation. For all the Russians reading this, I apologize; being Russian does not a Communist make.

Anyway, this guy may look small, but he could probably break my anvil in half, and then put a cig out on his tongue.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The September Sessions

My garage wall hurts my fingers right.

I credit any semblance of climbing fitness I currently possess to this diminutive clapboard with holds.

Meat, Grandiose.

I don't mean to belittle your barbecue set-up, but correct me if I'm wrong about the following:

Last August, during the height of cook-out season, you couldn't help but notice your bro-neighbor's Weber grill, and the obscenely huge slab of Tri-tip wallowing in redolent death. Skewered onions and peppers, adjacent to the meat on a separate bi-fold rack for purposes of temperature control, adorned the tri-tip as a savory obituary. And bro, with barbed-wire bicep tatoos, acted as pallbearer.

How decadent, how delicious, you thought.

I'll buy my own grill, you thought.

Later that night, crosslegged on your couch and tongue salivating with anticipation, you perused Craigslist with a vengeance. A week later, you fired up your little $25 hibachi and seared some carne. That grill is still sitting on your porch, perched like a defunct android from Star Wars, squat, rusting, and splattered with grease. It's a good grill. Really.

But this one is better.

Dan and I designed and built a barbecue grill that evokes the aesthetic of 1800's mining equipment. And, keeping with anachronism, we coated the whole thing with bacon fat to both season and protect the metal. No joke. I walked next door to the Paradise Cafe and asked the cook (he was a bit perplexed) if he had copious amounts of bacon fat. He did.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Leviticus, 5.12d

Allow me to rhapsodize a bit:

Over the last ten years, I've accrued a massive catalogue of fond memories in the Santa Barbara foothills, and if nostalgia isn't a mix of sweat, blood, and manic enthusiasm, then I don't know what it is. No matter what the circumstance, the acrid stench of California Bay and the roasted-sweet wafts of Central Coast sandstone throttle my attention at a nostrils notice. Seven Falls canyon was one of my first hiking experiences in Santa Barbara, and while the well-worn passages of this popular frat-boy den conjure scoffing amongst longtime locals, I still gape at the beauty of Mission Canyon, threading its way below the rugged spine of Cathedral Peak.

On one of my early sojourns up Seven Falls (just months after I bought my first harness and pair of shoes), I noticed a steep crack adorned by bolts. I was callow enough to jump on the route—proud from a recent 5.10a redpoint at Gibraltar—and begin what soon became a spirited exercise in physical futility. I was young, ego-engorged, and routinely successful at most endeavors in my sheltered world of collegiate meanderings. Leviticus began the beat-down that would simultaneously wrench my perspective aright, and plant seeds of belief that maybe, just maybe I could climb something hard some day. Years passed, I climbed all over the Western United States, failed on some routes, succeeded on others, battled disappointment, wrestled with motivation, fell out of climbing, and, inexorably, fell back in to it. Somewhere along the way, past the endless drivel of grade-debates, climbing magazine fodder, and self-imposed limitations that overly esoteric subcultures sometimes engender, I realized that—for me—climbing is wonderfully pure, and can be distilled in to three truths:

1) Climbing is hard
2) Climbing is fun
3) Climbing is fun when hard

Forget silly numbers and letters. Leviticus, the route that shut me down years ago, taught me that I sucked and then inspired me to not suck, was still there and, well, waiting. What the hell? It's a rock. It has holds. Why shouldn't I climb the shit out of it ? With the scouting help of Bernd Zeugswetter, my partner in local route-exploring and a truly gifted climber (not to mention the nicest guy for 300 miles in all directions), I re-approached Leviticus. After one or two short sessions, I unlocked the bottom crux, and with a mere torque of my pinky, thrutch of my shoulder, and an obscene, gravelly yell, I had one clean top-rope under my belt. In my opinion, if you can top-rope a route once, you can lead it. Thus, I decided that no matter how desperate my top-rope attempt felt, I would lead Leviticus as soon as possible.

Redpoint day included Justin Willet, Mr. burl himself, and belayer extraordinaire; Jake Novotny, a spirited and friggin' strong climber from Tahoe who perfectly embodies the unhindered spirit of someone new to climbing; and Robb Klassen, a supremely talented photographer—and, incidentally, barista at my favorite coffee shop. On the approach, Sunday afternoon heat seared our stroll up Tunnel Trail. The light, soon to be waning, fought tooth and nails in arrogant oranges, yellows, and sallow-white. As we descended in to Mission Creek, I noted every stone with perfect recall, and couldn't help but indulge myself the moment. What could be better than climbing a stunning route at the best time of day with a crowd of supportive friends? As I write this, I'm tempted to even more dire levels of saccharine, but I will stop here.

As far as the blow-by-blow?

Not much to tell. Really. It was over before it began, even though it really began ten years ago.

Jake takes a burn on top-rope.

Walking out. Damn good day.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

New Coffee Table: A Little Deco, A Lot Awesome

It can be yours for $1500, plus tax.

I'm rolling out furniture ideas these days. This has less with to do with my ability as a purveyor of metal wares, and more to do with a slight lull between jobs. The personal craft-picnic is over this week. Dan and I must attend to a bevy of clients and their respective desires, which run the gamut from interesting to tedium-incarnate. Lo, it is always thus.

This coffee table I made for my apartment vaunts some pretty cool joinery. Connecting metal to metal through means other than welding requires a lexicon of skills and imagination that I didn't possess just a few years ago. I've since experimented with forge welding (only a little), mortise-and-tenon, traditional riveting, tap-and-die, and upsetting—to name just a fascinating few. Blacksmiths have employed these techniques for centuries. I, on the other hand, am sorting through them relatively recently. Allow me to step back and reflect on my process. Early on in my metal career, I was drawn to the pure anachronism of blacksmithing. I wouldn't be a red-blooded American boy if I wasn't (Those red-blooded American girls reading this can relate just as easily, I'm sure. I don't mean to exclude; some of the most talented and visionary artist-blacksmiths out there are women. Some, even, are not American, but still, I assume, of red-blood. See Shelley Thomas:

Aah, the popular conception of the FORGE, replete with heat, hammers, and the anvil pinging its shuddering bell-toll across the anachronistic night. Most people expect to see blacksmiths at Renaissance Fairs, not mixing it up with modern designers, contractors, and discerning homeowners. However, Metal, viewed as art and industry, has a recentt aesthetic heritage. In the last one hundred years, metalworkers pioneered processes too breathtaking for the scope of this blog (If you want to have your bowels voided from pure awe, observe the following clip of industrial blacksmiths forging a giant ring: The minute, craft-based techniques that demand a hammer, anvil, and stout elbow still have pertinence, but I'm interested in the intersection of old-world burl and modern sleekness. To this end, I employ traditional joinery insofar as it furthers my design goals. I don't shun welding just to do so. I like the dynamism of straight lines, intersecting angles, and, tempering the two, curved, organic shapes. I want my current design work to be a retrieval of metal traditions from the last century, a potpourri of styles drawn from things as pedestrian as old shipping crates, and idioms as calculated as 1930's skyscraper design—all with a little "hair under the armpits", so to speak. Next month I might get in to Viking Art or something. But in the meantime, no curvy plant shapes or Spanish scrollwork for me—that is, not for my house.

Most of the table is simple in design, but I wanted a visually complex focal point on the ends.

Elegant taper to feet.

This span runs the length of the table. The pieces of the span intersect via four punched-and-drifted holes. A 3/8 bar driven through the respective holes secures them together. I like this detail.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

With the help of a Frenchman...

If you practice a trade anywhere in Santa Barbara—or California, for that matter—you have to understand and/or speak a certain measure of Spanish. Ostensibly, this fair state considers itself an English-speaking territory, but those of us who have hammered nails, tightened pipe-fittings, whitewashed walls, and listened to our co-workers Mariachi music on the radio know better: Spanish is here—nay, has ALWAYS been here—and will be here tomorrow, after the Taquerias close their steam-frosted doors for the night.

It came as a surprise, then, when I had to speak French while installing this last chandelier.

It turned out that our electrician, Eric, was from France. I asked him (in broken Francais), how many French Electricians worked in Santa Barbara. He said twenty-one. And thus, I thought, my chances of meeting French-folk, retrieving verb conjugations from my subconscious, and subtly brandishing casual, relaxed, vocabulary in their jaded faces increased by a factor of twenty-one. After my initial linguistic foray with Eric, in which I covered the basics—hello, what's up, yada yada—he asked,

— Ete-vous de Canadien?

— Pourquoi?

— Puisque vous faites accentuer un canadien.

Great, I thought. I just got admonished for having a Canadian accent when I speak French. I truly had not anticipated the catalogue of emotions that would accompany such an accusation. Eric, with a smile that MIGHT have had some "merde" in it said (in English):

— Ah well, we can't all be perfect.

Eric spent the rest of the afternoon brandishing his unadulterated French-ness, making quips about the City Building Inspector requiring a wine racks for residences (if, of course, you are French) and once, visible to all, greeting the designer, Dawn, with two neat kisses on the cheek. We of North American origin crossed our arms over our chests.

But my chandelier took the g√Ęteau (cake). The installation went flawlessly, the bulbs flashed to life in a corona of clear-filament glory, and everyone—even Eric—ooohed and aahed. In a word: bitchin'. Higher res' photos will follow, once the remodel is completed.

Friday, August 13, 2010

New work, no good names, still happy.

I'm starting to land on a design theme for my forged-metal furniture. I haven't discovered a completely unified look, and my ideas are still quite callow and exploratory, but I've noticed that I consistently enjoy the marriage of wood and metal, particularly when they convey a sort of old-world industrial look. I'm trying to come up with a name: Industrial-Modern; Weathered-Industrial; Abject-Rickety-Industrial-With-Character. I don't know. The latest installment of this "look" includes relatively simple lines in its shape, but suggests movement and a sort of internal kinetic sensibility. I call it the Slider-Bookshelf. Or, pending approval from trusted advisors, the Slidering-Industrio-Shelf.

It sits above my couch on a large, white, and fairly imposing wall. The shelf, which is a little over 50" long, nicely breaks up the space.

It's pretty dang sturdy.

The book-end bracket was great fun to make. The upright of the bookend begins with a textured flange then tapers abruptly down to a 3/8ish tenon, which then plunges through a punch-and-drifted piece of thicker material which makes up the base.

It holds books tightly in case the BIG ONE threatens to shake our drywall asunder.

The whole assembly tightens from below with the aid of a visually attractive (but functionally overkilled) twist-tab.

My end-table, however, is not a blood-relative of the shelf. With bronze banding, tapers, arcs, and a slightly formal organic treatment, this piece evokes something out of my Anglo-Saxon heritage—not turn-of-the-century machinery. I still love it. I'm hoping to make another one (or two) and sell it on spec. If you're reading this and you want your very own Anglo-Saxon end table, I'll make it for the screaming deal of $2,000. Check your piggy bank.