A lot has happened since I last updated this “About” page. We’ve moved. That ate up a huge portion of the last twelve months…packing, shifting a house and a company, unpacking. Organizing. Sort of. I’ll spend at least another year getting fully organized in the new location.
Right now Drake & I are in the process of rebuilding the GW workspace. When we moved, we set up a few cramped benches to speed the process of re-opening the company, of getting back on track with making and finishing all the small parts that we create or manipulate in-house. Manipulate is a great word, by the way, but one too often relegated to negative connotations (e.g., “the prince, a lumpy toad under the best of circumstances, manipulated the debutante princess of the neighboring kingdom). We can do better. According to Merriam-Webster, manipulate means, “to treat or operate with, or as if with, the hands or by mechanical means especially in a skillful manner.” Here’s your challenge of the day…find a way to use manipulate in a positive fashion when you’re sharing with someone the nature of what you do at the bench. You manipulate bamboo, thread, snake guide feet, finishes, etc.. Your skilled hands alter, adapt, create, and pass forward the objects you create from raw materials and component parts.
Anyway, in order to keep manipulating things here at Golden Witch, I need all my dedicated benches back up and running. That’s a bench for bezeling guides with sheet bezels (the traditional bezels most of you are familiar with). I need a bench dedicated to making wire bezels for grooved agates. There should be separate benches for both TIG pulse arc welders, for compressed gas (oxy-acetylene) welding, compressed gas (propane) soldering, and, soon, hydro-welding. In an ideal world, that’s five benches just for adhering bits and pieces with molten metal. The more benches that are arranged with a dedicated selection of tools and the accessories that allow those tools – and the operant hands – to work efficiently, the more smoothly GW runs. It’s best not to have to dig for any tools that are used regularly. It’s best to be able to keep an eye on the tools…even running dehumidifiers constantly, any unseen, untended, tools tend to oxidize…probably on account of the flux and the chemical oxidizers we use in the shop. Tools that are seen are tools that are maintained. Tools that are in easy reach – task specific, or dedicated, tools – are tools that wind up being used for their proper purpose. Hidden tools, where-did-I-put-that tools, even if they’re the best tool for a task, are often ignored if an at-hand tool can pull off a comparable task. There are always six ways to skin a cat. But one way, for any given maker, is the preferred way.
So, in the interest of getting back to a smoother operation, we are starting the process of assembling more benches, unpacking more tools, and ordering in more tools geared to the tasks at hand. Every three or four years, I bite the bullet and arrange a lease purchase that expands our shop capacity. Four years or so back that included our first TIG welder, the 20 ton hydraulic press, a rolling mill, and wire-bending tools. This year it’s a second TIG welder so that both Drake and I can run that tool without messing with each other’s settings; or I can set up for tacking bezels on one welder, while being set to run contiguous puddles to join larger parts – frame parts – on the other. We’re adding a dual torch (two operators, or two torch heads for different tasks a single operator might perform) hydro-welding set up. This tool uses electrolysis to break water molecules apart, then reforms those molecules when the torches ignite the collected hydrogen to form a super-hot, clean-burning flame that is extremely environmentally friendly. A green flame! And wait until you see pics of the flame in action, because it actually burns green. Beyond welding, we’re adding a heavy duty guillotine shear to form custom-width strips of bezel material. There will be a micro-motor rotary tool, of equivalent quality to those used by dentists and surgeons, which I understand will be the bees knees for grinding and polishing delicate parts. In our shop, that might be grinding and polishing the solder joins where bezelled agates are secured into the frames to make the join appear as a nearly seamless transition from frame to bezel, or it might be shaping and polishing the feet on our custom hook tenders. Last but not least for the current round of tool acquisition, we picked up a jeweler’s microscope that should extend the utility of my aging eyes another few decades; if I understand the microscope literature, I’ll be able to mount a camera to the microscope to take detailed process and product shots.
Why process shots? Because I know how limited I am. Drake is a very good craftsman, but his passion does not follow mine – he is a guitarist who plays lead for two bands when the country isn’t under lock down, and he would much rather be on stage, a modern, youthful incarnation of Jimmy Page, rather than hunched over a bench next to me. If teaching Drake everything isn’t going to propagate the information forward within the craft, then I really need to teach you how to make the parts that you buy from GW. I won’t be here forever. In order to share what I do, in enough detail that you can follow my lead up to a certain point, then take tackle craft forward in all the possible directions that your mind’s eye will guide you towards, I need to produce better how-to material. A portion of this material will be free on the website. Right now I’m working on a ramble that goes into pages and pages of detail sharing the methods I use – and alternate, often more affordable methods, i.e., peening hammers or vises rather than planishing hammers – to create the range of Dickerson Inspired Twisted Tenders that we sell. Some of the how-to material I create, though, I’ll have to sell. Sorry, but the brutal reality is this: I work to pay my way through life. I’m not quite sure how I’ll move forward with this project, but I’m gathering the tools to make it happen, to make something happen. In an ideal world, the final how-to bit I produce will be a treatise on making guides which I can issue right before I retire…perhaps alongside kits with agate donuts, fluted and unfluted, wire bezels, sheet bezels, framing wire, etc. And when will I retire? That is the question. And Covid-19 is mucking up the clarity of the answer.
For now, Golden Witch is not only moving forward, it is expanding operations to fill several voids in the rodmaking world. Before long we’ll be offering all, or nearly all, of our current range of agate & agatine rings, both sheet bezelled and wire bezelled, in the new hydro-welded frames. New, only in that that we haven’t offered in-house crafted frames of this sort except as more expensive custom items (and these frames were welded with compressed gasses, not hydrogen; the new hydro-welding outfit will offer a superior weld that can be produced at a moderately faster pace – that’s a great pair of benefits from one task-specific tool). The hydro-welded frame’s basic design will be eminently traditional, recognizable, but we’ll add a few twists to the process, a few variants of material and aesthetics for makers to choose from. That’s phase one, once the new tools are in the shop and each has its dedicated bench. Phase two will be bringing in an entire new range of agate rings. I sketched these rings out about two years ago – part of a proprietary project initiated by a large fiberglass rod company. They didn’t follow through on the project, and those sketches have been gnawing at me. I really want to make these guides. Now that one of our competitors has recently gone out of business, which has increased the volume of our guide sales, and increased the number of requests for guides we don’t currently offer, I’ve decided to move forward. The new rings, once the lapidary artist gets them cut, will be offered in more sizes than we currently offer…a full size run from quite small to quite large. These will be slightly more ornate than our current rings in terms of the cut, the physical shape of the stone rings. There will be distinct grades – I’ll hand cull the agate rings we receive into standard rings for nickel silver bezels, and some sort of higher tier or tiers which will receive precious metal bezels. The fanciest of these guides will be bezelled in gold and the weld seams joining the frame halves will feature slim gold lines on account of being welded with gold; these gold seams will be visible because the frames will be blued to create contrast. While still having a delicate appearance, these guides are being engineered to be the most durable we’ve ever created. The finest guides for the finest rods. Heirlooms to pass from generation to generation on the rods that you make. Guides worth harvesting and putting onto new bamboo rods two or three centuries from now when your talented heirs spec out your rods in an attempt to duplicate the action, the aesthetics, of a rod that finally gave up the ghost after three restorations and so many hundreds of hours on the water.
Assuming I can stay clear of this damn virus, these new guides should be available in the first sizes & stone colors, by fall of 2020.
There’s other, older, info over on the Golden Witch “About” page, which you can find here.