Jobst Brand in the Alps.
See an inspiring celebration of his life in photos.
The theory and practice of derailleur chain tensioners, vertical dropouts, horizontal dropouts, slotted frame ends and Rohloff OEM slider dropouts, with reference to power and braking torque resolution, and to suspended and unsuspended bicycles, with a critical path decision tree through the complications
Every drive chain wears over its service life. This wear is misnomered “stretch” because the visible effect is growth in the operating length of the chain. This increase must somehow be adjusted out in every bicycle transmission of whatever type. This article is about the technical ins and outs and aesthetics of “somehow”, to serious cyclists a matter of importance third only to sex and hydration.
ONLY TWO CHOICES, REALLY
On a derailleur-equipped bicycle, with more than one chainring and most likely many sprockets in the rear cluster, the chain tensioner, a spring-loaded arm, does what it says on the tin, adjusts the chain for wear (“stretch”), and it does it automatically. It is a well-understood, proven system, albeit crude in conception; it has the additional advantage of offering flex for the varying chainline between different sized front and rear cogs at different distances from the
centreline of the bike.
On a fixie, single-speed or internal hub bicycle there is a fixed, hopefully straight chainline because there is only one cogged ring on the bottom bracket axle and one cogged ring on the wheel axle, but chain wear over the chain’s service life must still be allowed for, and in this case too a chain tensioner is simple to design and execute with widely available components in a wide range of qualities and prices.
However, with a fixie, a single-speed or an internal hub gearbox, there are several advantages over the derailleur system — which are lost by the installation of a spring tensioner. The advantages lost in what we generically call “single-speed bicycles” include the “clean appearance” of a simple chain between two cogs without appendages, easy adjustment and service, cleanliness, longer service life of the chain and all other transmission parts, a very long list. Perhaps the greatest loss brought about by the thoughtless, reflex fitting of the chain tensioner is the important ability in all but the crudest bicycles of fitting a full chain case with its own advantages in attracting a wider class of rider and putting the bike to a wider class of service, or in intensifying the other advantages of doing away with the chain tensioner.
A SERIOUS COMPLICATION
When you replace the ugly, dirty, imprecise, wear-inducing derailleur system and its chain tensioner with a tidy, self-contained, longlasting hub gearbox, you don’t want the gearbox to turn around in the frame. So, whatever design you put in the place of the chain tensioner must not only provide adjustable drive length (the centre to centre distance between the bottom bracket axle and the rear wheel axle), but must react torque for the drive power.
Regardless of which transmission system you choose, disc brake torque too must be reacted and ditto the torque of the very effective roller brakes available as an integral fitting with Shimano hub gearboxes (Nexus, Alfine).
SOFT TAIL: CHAIN TENSION ON REAR SUSPENSION BIKES
Rear suspension on bicycles are perforce swing arm systems. There are only two possibilities:
In one type the swing arm contains only the rear wheel, with the swivel before the bottom bracket on the forward part of the frame, in which case a chain tensioner is inevitable whatever the transmission type preferred.
When the swing arm contains both the rear wheel and the bottom bracket, with the swivel to the main frame placed forward of the bottom bracket, the swing arm forms a rigid brace as on the tradional diamond frame, and all the other chain tension possibilities canvassed below open up.
ADAPTING A DERAILLEUR BICYCLE TO BE A FIXIE, SINGLE-SPEED OR INTERNAL HUB GEARBOX BICYCLE
First we’ll look at the most difficult installations, in which a traditional derailleur-equipped bicycle is turned into a fixie, a single-speed or a hub gearbox bike. The thorough Germans have of course thought the matter through exhaustively, and Bernd Rohloff supplies kits of his hugely admired Rohloff Speedhub for every configuration of frame imaginable. This is the opening page of Rohloff’s Speedhub Finder, which purports to simplify a complicated decision tree:
You can play with this decision tree but basically, unless you have horizontal dropouts 25mm or longer (illustration B), to fit a Rohloff, you will need either a chain tensioner (illustrations A, C D, E) or a custom frame or at least custom frame ends brazed/welded on (illustrations F and G).
“Frame ends” is the proper name for rear dropouts that don’t drop out… I don’t know what front dropouts with lawyers’ lips, which don’t drop out easily either, are called. Long horizontal slots that open rearwards are called “track ends”, if you want to be fancy. Stick to “dropouts” and you can’t go wrong.
I have long horizontal slots on bikes fitted with Shimano hub gearboxes and, together with tug nuts, and in conjunction with serated axle locknuts which chew up the aluminium frame ends, they work a treat. My Rohloff hub gearbox is fitted to the full katootie OEM slider dropouts on a custom frame, so I cannot say from personal experience how well the adaptations of the Rohloff to standard derailleur frames work, but they appear to work for tens of thousands of riders and mud pluggers.
CUSTOM FRAMES FOR FIXIES, SINGLE-SPEEDERS AND HUB GEARBOX BICYCLES: BACK TO TWO CHOICES
So, if you’re resigned to having a derailleur frame altered, or to buying a dedicated frame for your fixie, single-speed or hub-gearbox bicycle, what choices do you have for adjusting chain tension? A chain tensioner is possible but we’re assuming that you’re taking a more expensive route because you’ve already ruled out the crude, ugly, dirty chain tensioner.
Again, there are only two choices, an adjustable bottom bracket, and some kind of movable dropout.
THE ECCENTRIC BOTTOM BRACKET
An EBB is a bottom bracket set off-centre (ex-centrically — English is not always intuitive!) in an aluminium plug sized to fit inside the bottom bracket shell. The bottom bracket shell may be larger than standard, so the plug is bigger than a standard bottom bracket and will then take a standard bottom bracket. Or the bottom bracket shell may be a standard bottom bracket diameter, in which case a smaller than standard bottom bracket is required to fit the plug; this is a uncommon option.
Chain length adjustment is achieved by rotating the plug in the bottom bracket shell so that the bottom bracket axle comes to rest nearer to or further from the rear axle as required. A special peg tool (a pin wrench) is required but it is usually combined with another tool useful in a touring kit so that excessive weight is not added.
The plug is fixed in the bottom bracket in a variety of ways, the most common being by pointed- or rounded-end bolts entering the soft aluminium some short way, which have the disadvantage that eventually they ruin the EBB by wearing grooves in the aluminium plug and then will no longer hold it in position.
An alternative is splitting the bottom bracket shell at a pair of lips that bolt together and clamp the EBB in place, a method hated by many frame designers as compromising the strength of the frame at a critical concentration of loads. You take your pick and pay the consequences.
The Bushnell EBB does not require a split shell; it is fixed in position by turning a screw which expands the eccentric within the bicycle’s bottom bracket shell. There are also external bearing EBB, such as the Trickstuff Excentriker or the Phil, which screw into standard bottom brackets but whose adjustment is external; they use modern cranks with integrated axles. Most of these “special” EBB have the disadvantage that they’re priced for plutocrats.
Note that the aficionados of the EBB who use hub gearboxes (and that’s almost all of them) must still design and construct a special dropout for torque reactions, or make do with a kludgy arm, so the EBB choice isn’t necessarily the cheaper construction option (though it is often presented as such). Furthermore, replacements of inevitably ruined EBB (for those who choose the cheap option of fixing the EBB by dimpling bolts) could over time make it a more expensive option than sliders. But for most designers cost appears to be an afterthought in this choice, an extra justification, as many have a visceral dislike of the only alternative to an EBB, some kind of slotted frame end in which the axle can slide.
COMMUTER AND UTILITY BIKE SLIDER DROPOUTS
Slotted horizontal dropouts, long familiar from hub gearbox practice on Dutch-style city, commuter and continental holiday bikes, are slider dropouts, open at one end.
The axle is retained by friction between the axle nut, often with a serrated mating face, and the frame material, usually but not invariably assisted by an adjustable tugnut. For torque control, flanged washers fit over flats on the axle.
Adjustment is by loosening the axle nuts and the tugnut screws (often wing nuts or other finger-operable fasteners), sliding the axle until the chain reaches the required tension, and then locking all four fasteners.
The horizontal open slot has worked well for decades on tens of millions of installations. However, with anything more complicated than a simple rim-braked bike, it soon becomes complicated, though Shimano managed to integrate their rear roller brake with only a single extra bolt on the torque reaction arm braced to the chainstay to be undone-retightened for chain adjustment. Disc brakes are also possible but more complicated.
Long horizontal slots also allow beautifully clean installations without any unsightly dangly bits like chain tensioners when a standard hub-gearbox frame is converted into a fixie or a single-speeder.
THE ROHLOFF OEM DROPOUT FOR FAST, POWERFUL, COMPLICATED AND SPORTING BIKES WITH HUB GEARBOXES
Though the open-ended horizontal slot beloved of Continental commuters works well within its limits, which is basically for bikes with 300% or so range in their hub gearboxes, and for fixie and singlespeed conversions, the Rohloff, with 526% range, that is torque multiplication, is altogether a different kettle of fish. A serrated nut, especially on the sort of steel frame often used for Rohloff installations (rather than the aluminium common on Dutch city bikes), and a pressed steel tugnut in an open slot is a recipe for high maintenance and frequent breakages, and very likely painful incidents (which is what we sensitively prefer to “accidents”). The Rohloff concept is anyway high quality and low maintenance, so tugnuts and open slots, such obvious choices for an internal gear hub, were also obviously out.
Bernd Rohloff solved the conundrum by designing his own frame end and dropout to suit the particular strengths and needs of his gearbox, adapted his designs for every possible application, and then put the designs in the public domain so that today you can buy a frame with frame ends to his design, suitable for socalled “Rohloff OEM dropouts” made by a variety of manufacturers in a variety of decorative patterns.
The Rohloff slider frame ends consist on each side of two closed slots in a line at a shallow angle to true horizontal, in the same way that traditional open “horizontal” slots are at a slight angle to horizontal.
The dropouts are two entirely separate machined aluminium plates. The plates are tapped to accept two M6 bolts, one through each slider slot. Dropout plate and frame are further located to each other by a precisely machined tongue and groove system.
The dropout has a long vertical slot that does double duty as a torque reactor by holding both the axle and a rectangular stud the width of the slot, protruding from the gearbox. The non-driveside dropout can be shaped with or without ears for a disc brake caliper, which then moves in correct relation with the axle.
Custom frames often have additional strengthening triangulation between the chain- and seat-stays if a disc brake is intended, or even just in case a disc brake is added later, because that is so easy.
To adjust chain length with the Rohloff slider frame ends, both slider bolts on each side are undone, the wheel is slid to the desired chain tension, and all four bolts are tightened. This takes less than a minute, much, much faster than resetting an EBB or the somewhat fiddly open horizontal slot system with tugnuts. However, large movements may require rim brakes to be adjusted to suit, and if the bike is assembled to fine tolerances, other adjustments may need to be made. It’s never happened to me, and my bike is constructed to 1mm clearances between moving parts, but it is theoretically possible.
There no reason that less puissant gearboxes cannot be hung on Rohloff sliders, or a fixie or a single speeder rear axle.
WHICH IS BEST?
Many bicycle designers really hate one or another aspect of every one of these systems.
The chain tensioner is an aesthetic bicycle killer, the devil’s work.
Nor do I much like the idea of the expensive eccentric bottom bracket being a consumable part, but then I’m proud of having developed a virtually zero-service, near-zero-replacement bike, which is not everybody’s ideal.
Of course I dislike like the possibility of cascading adjustments flowing from a chain tension adjustment in the horizontal slot or the Rohloff slider systems, but it has never happened to me on my several bikes with these systems.
So, recognizing that all these systems are compromises, I’m happy with the Rohloff-designed slotted frame ends and “OEM” dropouts as the least evil, and in any event vastly superior to derailleurs and an accompanying chain tensioner.
Your mileage may vary!
Copyright text and images © Andre Jute 2015. This text may be freely reproduced on not-for-profit sites as long as it is complete and unaltered, including all the links, illustrations, and this copyright notice. Commercial, print, broadcast, other use, contact the author.
Tom Ritchey, for the innocent and the new bicyclists, is a famous and exceedingly influential designer of bicycles and components who played a major part in the development of the mountain bike. But in his fond and illuminating obituary of Jobst Brandt, a major influence on him as on so many designers and components and riding styles, Ritchey lifts the curtain on the days before mountain bikes when these hard men rode the Northern Californian mountains on narrow-tyred road bikes, setting a meme that still survives today in America, for instance in the insistence of many Americans on commuting on road (racing) bikes. For more click here or on the photo.
The illustration is from Richey’s obituary of Jobst Brand, where all the photos are © Jobst Brandt and Ray Hosler.
Andre Jute: Dawn on the Ruined Castle at the Ford of Innishannon
Oil on canvas, 8x6in, 2015
Click the photo to see a larger version.
Gorse on the Left,
Gorse on Right.
Into the Moat of Thorns
Rides the Cyclist.
(with apologies to Alfred, Lord Tennyson)
The Coca-Cola Zero Bikes share scheme in Cork, Galway and Limerick is interesting. These photos are from one bike point in Cork between the central bus station and Merchant’s Quay, a convenient central position.
The scheme works by subscribing to an annual €10 membership for your city, which gets you a card that releases the bike of your choice from its locking post.There is also a €3 three-day membership. The first half hour is free, then there are reasonable rates, but after several hours the rates rise steeply. If you keep the bike longer than 24 hours they charge your card the lost bike deposit of €150, which is only to be expected.
For the technically competent, there’s a lot of interest: Nexus dynamo hub, Nuvinci continuously variable stepless hub gearbox, completely enclosed roller brakes, excellent lamps, coat/skirt guards as usually seen only on good Dutch city bikes, a rotary bell, coiled coded cable lock for when you have to leave the bike temporarily. The only thing these simply but completely furnished bikes don’t have is a mirror, which I find indispensible in traffic.
For the technophobic, it is an equally appealing bike: one you can get on and ride without having to fight derailleurs or get your clothes dirty. It is a bike for the millions of people who haven’t cycled since they were children, or perhaps ever. And it is cheap enough, and the bike points are near enough in the centre of the city, to use the bikes all the time.
A helmet is not required. Special bicycling clothes arenot necessary. You can ride this bike in a suit or an evening dress. Riding along the quays, looking at the architechture so typical of a northern mercantile seaport, you could mistake Cork for Rotterdam…
A couple of nearby bus drivers tell me the bicycles are very popular, and the riders are no bother to the buses because there are bike lanes everywhere. We have a giggle about the incompetent placing of some of the bike lanes. Situation normal…
I think I’ll make up a party of pedal pals to try out those bikes.
Many artists have stalkers, now that the internet has enabled the spite of those vicious enough to take out their own lack of talent and enterprise on strangers. But one of the advantages of being an artist is that all experience is grist to the mill, and the mill grinds income, so here is a particularly worthless stalker turned into a painting in my Rorschach series.
Portrait of the netstalker Peter Howard aka Little Howie, corruption bursting from every pore, his inner child screaming to be let out. One in a series of Rorschach Paintings by André Jute. Monotone oil on canvas, 6x8in, signed and dated. From left to right: Complete painting; detail of The Child Peter Screaming To Be Let Out; two superimposed positioning details, the upper one of the child screaming, the lower of the mother and child; Peter’s Mother Leading Him in Prayer; and a highlight of the three-quarters portrait hiding in the fullface portrait.
There are more subliminals, what I call “juju details”, for those who want to search them out, so here are some larger versions.
Portrait of the netstalker Peter Howard aka Little Howie, corruption bursting from every pore, his inner child screaming to be let out. One in a series of Rorschach Paintings by André Jute. Monotone oil on canvas, 6x8in, signed and dated.
Still, no-one is unadulterated evil, through and through. Everyone was a child, more or less innocent, once. And most mothers try to inculcate decency in their offspring, though not all succeed.
Note in the black and white version, at the left, that it is a full face portrait. On the right is The Child Peter Screaming To Be Let Out.
Above, Peter’s Mother Leading Him in Prayer.
Oil is a marvellously plastic medium both figuratively and metaphorically in what the practised painter can layer with it. But, looking for my M. Graham oils, the first wooden paintcase I picked up held my Winsor & Newton oil bars, which are thick columns of pigment stiffened with wax for direct application, beloved of graffitologists only next to spray cans. (Oil bars were first invented by Sennelier for Pablo Picasso, a noted iconoclast…) It struck me that what stalkers do is slash graffiti across the face of the beloved object, so this would be an appropriate medium. Of course, oil bar on a canvas only six by eight inches isn’t an ideal medium, unless one makes a lateral mental hop. I found the “soft” narrow-blade palette knives Franco Pastrello invented in conjunction with the artisans of RGM at Maniago the ideal tool for getting tiny detail with a stiff medium on a small canvas, and aided their good work with the misnomered “colour shapers”, silicon-tipped tools clay sculptors use. Here you can see that the full face portrait as well incorporates a three quarters portrait of a toothless old man, which is how I imagine this particular stalker.
Text and images copyright © Andre Jute 2015
The test was aborted at 3562km on 26 April 2015 when the Bafang QSWXK front motor on my bike gave up the ghost and was replaced by a Bafang BBS01 mid-motor (on which the 38T Surly chainring couldn’t be made to fit), the new motor in a new test receiving its own brand new KMCX8 chain.
Just a reminder. The purpose of the test was to run a KMC X8 chain 4506km on the factory lube, inside a Hebie Chainglider, with a Surly stainless steel chainring and the normal Rohloff sprocket at the rear. The 4506km was set as a target by the previous chain, also KMC X8, running in a Utopia Country chaincase (similar to the Chainglider), but with Oil of Rohloff added every 500 or 1000km, reaching 4506km before visible “stretch” was found (less than 0.5mm). The ulterior, overall motive of the test was not to save a few Euro on chains but as a step towards a near-zero maintenance bike.
The KMC X8 chain ran on the factory lube inside the Hebie Chainglider together with a Surly 38T stainless steel chainring and a 16T Rohloff OEM sprocket, without any other lube being added at any time, or any cleaning being performed, for 3562km before the test was aborted, as described above. During this time the wear on the chain, measured as “stretch”, was less than 0.75mm, eyeballed on the rough gauge as around 0.5mm. There is no doubt in my mind that the KMC X8 would have made 4506km by the time it required replacement at 0.75mm “stretch”.
However, I’m happy to replace chains, the cheapest component in my transmission, at the first sign of measureable wear, which is around 0.5mm, so in that sense the factory lube fell short of the same chain under roughly the same circumstances serviced with Oil of Rohloff, 3562km to 4506km.
No excessive wear of the Surly stainless steel chainring or the Rohloff sprocket was observed. In fact, there is no wear observable. (This is very unlike my previous installations of Shimano Nexus transmissions, in which in around a 1000m/1600km I would use up a chain, a sprocket and a crankset because the chainring was in unit with the crank.)
The late, great Sheldon Brown once said that the factory lube was good for 700 miles. In my two experiments the factory lube plus Oil of Rohloff chain went 944km further than the factory-lube only chain. That, if scaled up to the full 0.75mm wear, is pretty close to Sheldon’s 700 miles!
Now, I know, some of you think that 3500km and 4500km on a chain isn’t much chop, the mileage of a wrecker. But I’m over the moon with these mileages. Considering that previously I rarely got over a thousand miles (1600km) out of a chain, two and three times that distance per chain is exceptional.
I’m very happy to declare these two experiments, 8068km altogether, a success.
They have confirmed my belief that the only enclosed chaincase that I can in good conscience recommend is the Hebie Chainglider, that KMC makes high commendable chains, and that Oil of Rohloff is the light chain oil of choice. I suspect that another thing they indicate is that a precision chainline is worth setting up with repayment for the effort in extra chain mileage.
With thanks to all who helped with advice, and to everyone for their patience in waiting for these results.
This is Andre Jute signing off with only slightly oily hands.
Paypal has sent out notice of an Amendment to their User Agreement (1) that will grab without recompense the copyright of any “content” sold through Paypal.
I’m not a lawyer but a contract I drew up for my Australian publishers was for many years recommended by the British Society of Authors and used on both sides of the Atlantic, and the chapter in my textbook WRITING A THRILLER (A&C Black, London, St Martin’s Press, NY, translations into Spanish, Italian, French, etc, still in print after a generation) was never once queried. So, if the Paypal amendment answers to plain English and means what it says, it’s an unprecedented rights grab.
If the “content” that Paypal intends to claim rights over is just the promotional copy and graphics in the advertisements of sellers, one can understand that Paypal’s lawyers want to cover their ass and avoid a nuisance suit.
But Paypal isn’t just claiming rights over specific promotional material, it is claiming rights over the very bread on the table of millions of writers and painters and photographers. Not only will Paypal not pay for the use of this copyright material, there is absolutely nothing in the agreement to stop them selling someone’s copyright product for profit.
Worse, the agreement that gives Paypal every artist’s life comes into effect automatically on 1 July 2015 unless you explicitly opt out. “You do not need to do anything to accept the changes as they will automatically come into effect on the above date.”
The “content” that Paypal will claim rights over includes the text and images, the very product and livelihood of artists.
Suppose you’re a novelist. Of course you post a sample chapter to your netsite where you also have Paypal buttons. That’s “content”. It now belongs to Paypal to publish wherever they please. The rest of the novel and even the characters now belong to Paypal: that’s the parenthetical “including of works derived from it”. No serious publisher will want a series when you’ve given a gorilla with clout like Paypal a licence to interfere in the market at will. Amazon went into TV and film production; what’s to stop Paypal following them? With your intellectual property as Paypal’s capital.
Suppose you’re a painter. You show a photograph of an artwork for sale. Normally you either reserve reproduction rights in the art to yourself, the artist, or it goes explicitly, contractually to the buyer. These reproduction rights, which include all photographs, including the one published with a Paypal button next to it, are often more valuable than the physical painting on the wall. But, because you posted the photo to Paypal as an advertisement, Paypal can republish the photo at any time, or sell it to the greetings card industry and pocket that income. Check it out: it says nowhere in Paypal’s agreement that Paypal can’t do this.
The risk is total if you’re a photographer, because control of the photograph and all its reproductions is your very product, directly the bread on your table. If Paypal has a perpetual free right to publish the photo, why should a stock company want to license it from you? For that matter, would you want a stock supplier to use Paypal when you know that every photograph they show (and how will they license the photographs to graphic designers if they don’t show them?) automatically belongs to Paypal as well?
This is a grotesque case of lawyers covering their ass by throwing in the kitchen sink, without ever stopping to consider whether they shouldn’t first put their minds in gear.
Paypal appears to know there’s something wrong. They say: “Should you decide you do not wish to accept them you can notify us before the above date to close your account (https://www.paypal.com/uk/cgi-bin/?&cmd=_close-account) immediately without incurring any additional charges.”
No additional charges — that’s real generous!
Now Paypal will claim that all this is being done to protect them against chancers bringing frivolous law suits, and against sellers using stolen copyright materials. If that is so, then Paypal should say so in their agreement. Instead Paypal simply grabs everyone’s rights, and takes a bullying “like it or fuck off” attitude about it.
Next Paypal will claim that they are a huge, honorable institution, in the money markets, and have no intention of trading in your copyrights. Yeah, right, ten years ago Jeff Bezos couldn’t even dream of entering the movie business.
Any institution is only as honest as the men in the boardroom. Copyright is an artist’s pension. Do you want to entrust the comfort of your old age to some unknown person, perhaps not even born yet, who will then be in charge of Paypal, and perhaps has dreams of being in the “moom pitcher bidness” with the rights, unpaid for and nothing due, of your copyright as his earnest money? Or have the owners of Paypal sell out to new owners whose primary interest is “monetizing all these copyrights the old management just sat on”?
I didn’t think so.
Copyright © 2015 Andre Jute
No Paypal buttons anywhere! Free for republication as long as the piece is complete and includes the copyright notice and this permission.
(1) Here is the text from Paypal being discussed above:
Amendment to the PayPal User Agreement.
- Intellectual Property
“When providing us with content or posting content (in each case for publication, whether on- or off-line) using the Services, you grant the PayPal Group a non-exclusive, worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, sublicensable (through multiple tiers) right to exercise any and all copyright, publicity, trademarks, database rights and intellectual property rights you have in the content, in any media known now or in the future. Further, to the fullest extent permitted under applicable law, you waive your moral rights and promise not to assert such rights against the PayPal Group, its sublicensees or assignees. You represent and warrant that none of the following infringe any intellectual property right: your provision of content to us, your posting of content using the Services, and the PayPal Group’s use of such content (including of works derived from it) in connection with the Services.”
“Speed limits are definitely a good thing for the British, the Americans and other dangerous drivers.”
Read the whole fascinating, highly charged interview, in which you can check out Dakota’s idea of driving slowly on the autobahn in her Bentley Mulsanne Speed, and her list of who doesn’t need speed limits.
ON BEING CHEATED BY
THE SOCIETY FOR ALL ARTISTS
by Andre Jute aka Brassed Off
It was only a pencil sharpener, albeit a specialist sharpener for sketch artists and obsessives who must have a fine long point. Being cheated about it is bad enough, but what made it worse is that it is just too small an item to return for the total cost of Euro 7.99 including postage. It costs me more than that to write a letter. Instead I wrote this review on Amazon.
The KUM Automatic Long Point Pencil & Lead Sharpener is worth five stars. The sharpener I received is worth one star because it isn’t the sharpener described in the advertisement on Amazon.
This statement on Amazon, in the advertisement by the seller, The Society For All Artists, is an outright lie: “Includes … Two lead pointers for 2mm and 3.2mm lead holders…” The headline over the advertisement is an outright lie: “…& Lead Sharpener”.
The sharpener The Society For All Artists sent is the cheaper model with no lead pointers. Nor can the sharpeners for the lead pointers be retrofitted as there are no holes to put the leads through in the casing, only two neat circular ridges where the holes should have been if the The Society For All Artists hadn’t cheated me.
Let me stress: my disappointment and disgust is with the The Society For All Artists for false advertising, and with Amazon for permitting it. The sharpener itself — those parts of it I received — works really well and would have received five stars, or perhaps I might have been tempted to remove half a star because the space for shavings is rather small and must be emptied inconveniently often.
There are two models of the KUM Automatic Long Point Pencil Sharpener. One, the AS2M, includes separate pointers for 2mm and 3.15mm leads; these are definitely worth having as they are better pointers than you can buy elsewhere, if you can even find any (I have a dedicated KUM pointer for 5.6mm leads and, though pricey, it is wonderful). The other model, the plain AS2, does not have the pointers. Both models have two spare blades in a slot behind the shavings catcher to fit the floating two-hole long point mechanism. The “Automatic” in the name refers to a clever auto-stop feature built into the design of the sharpener. KUM sharpeners are made in Germany and are clearly very fine German engineering.
The Society For All Artists advertised the KUM AS2M with the lead pointers, then fraudulently supplied the AS2 without the lead pointers.
For making really fine long points, there really is no alternative to the KUM Automatic Long Point Pencil & Lead Sharpener except a surgeon’s scalpel and a sanding board, which are much clumsier to carry into the field. I just wish I wasn’t cheated out of the Lead Sharpener part of the sharpener.
One star for a dishonest, disappointing transaction with The Society For All Artists on Amazon.
Buggins’ Turn is a farcical screenplay that reads like it has come out of the 1970s. I seriously could envision the forty-years-ago Dudley Moore (R.I.P.) or Peter Sellers (also R.I.P.) and Dyan Cannon in this one. Buggins is a mild-mannered, clueless nebbish who gets pushed around endlessly and has little control of his fate till the love of a woman begins to break through his timidity.
Buggins is up against a mega-corporation run by Lord and Lady Amazon. As one might expect with farce, Lord Amazon is way shorter than his wife, a riff that is coincidentally also found in some of the Shrek movies. I read the presence of a company called Amazon as an unsubtle play upon Jeff Bezos’ company.
Buggins’ allies are Celia (the woman I mentioned) a bumbling agent named Allan Allin (I may have botched the spelling) and Bloody Raztoz Razzamatazz, a nihilistic, dreadlocked Caribbean rap artist. Also featured are a hateful neighbor with an aggressive male dog named Lassie, a street urchin, the crackpot owners of a dictaphone store, and a number of villainous business types. Hell’s Angels make an extended appearance, with somewhat of the comic intensity of the motorcycle gang in Every Which Way You Can.
I can definitely see this type of plot and action getting filmed in the 1970s; I saw many films of this type as a child. I think that Buggins’ Turn is however really more of a quick, amusing read than a viable script at this point, for which purpose I used it this morning while waiting in a room.
See more books by Andre Jute.
See Matt Posner’s books.
This watercolour, made in my big new sketchbook, is a sketch for an oil that, if it happens, will probably have to be at least 20x30in to support the details. There’s a house right on the tideline near Rosscarbery, down the road here in Ireland, which haunts my memory. A photograph published by the American designer and writer Kathleen Valentine of a similarly placed house near Gloucester, Massachusetts, reminded me strongly of it. This painting is a mental synthesis of the two images.
Today’s ride: 21km across the hills nestling in a loop of the river between where I live on the River Bandon and Kilmacsimon Quay at the tip of the upper estuary.
The photo is of a restful lane providing a shortcut home via Ballylangley, from nearer Innishannon, also on the river.
You can’t ride home along the river because right by Innishannon there is a short section of narrow road without hard shoulders and very fast, impatient commuter traffic.
More about my bicycles and adventures on them.
The second transmission on my Utopia Kranich at 3500km, with the KMC X8-93 chain inside still on the factory lube. There has been no extra lube of any kind. There has been no service or cleaning of any kind. Notice how clean everything is inside the Chainglider. It looks like this setup will make the target of 4605km set by the previous KMC chain, which operated inside a different sort of enclosed chaincase, and which was oiled every 500km with a few drops of Oil of Rohloff.
More about my bicycles and adventures on them.
As I pointed out the other day when I described the genesis and construction of my Unsewn, Unstapled Sliding Quarter-Imperial 100% Cotton Embossed Leather Multimedia Sketchbook, most sketchbooks you can buy are rubbish by lowest common denominator makers for lowest common denominator consumer units.
The Greek watercolorist Marialena Sarris says it is no accident that so many artists take the time to make their own custom sketchbooks. She’s right. That is certainly my experience. At the right is a very small selection of the sketchbooks, custom-made and bought, that I use. The two alrounders in sight are both my custom concoctions. The paper in bought books is always too lightweight and of too low a quality to satisfy for long, and in the few books which have first class paper, the binding is a barrier to employing the book satisfactorily.
These problems multiply themselves when the poor bewildered artist wants a multimedia sketchbook in which to work with both wet and dry media.
But if you think finding a white sketchbook is a pain, try finding a tinted paper (never mind a book!) that won’t disintegrate, or, if it remains together, buckle, then curl up and die, the moment it you bring a wet brush near it.
Ironically, one of the better colored papers available is the lightweight (160gsm) pastel paper from Canson, Mi Teintes, not because it loves water so much but because somehow, after buckling quite frighteningly at the application of water, it can be pressed acceptably flat again.
Even more ironically, the only good watercolour paper commonly available in tints is the student grade non-cotton Bockingford paper. Though Bockingford is archival and highly regarded well beyond academia, the tints are aimed at printing wedding invitations and stationary for genteel ladies, and too limp by far for my sort of slash and dash work with high strong colors.
So what can you do if you must absolutely have tinted paper of a certain quality, in my case 300gr 100% cotton in at least two finishes, NOT and Hot Press?
It ain’t rocket science. You can tint your preferred paper with an absolute minimum of equipment, all of which you probably saw the last time you were in your bathroom and your kitchen. The tinting materials are probably standing on your kitchen shelves too.
Your tinting substance must bond with the cotton paper, or whatever paper you’re tinting, and once dry must not wash out. It must not be acid, because acid destroys the paper rather shortly; vinegar and lemon are not wanted. It must not rot in the paper; pink mayonnaise won’t do it! It must not cause the paper to yellow over time. It must dissolve in water, or mix with it, or otherwise color the water so as to tint the paper, because the water will be your medium to carry the tint into the paper. The most common sunstance found in most kitchens which meets all these requirement is tea. Spices, used for cooking, may also work, but if you’re helping yourself in a kitchen that is not your domain, you’d better ask your better half before you grab the saffron or turmeric because many spices are pricey and difficult to get.
For tools you need a basin or bowl or tray a bit bigger than the paper you want to tint because you need to soak the paper in the colored water, another flat tray to dry a sheet of paper in, and a new kitchen sponge, and away you go. For the drying part, a clean, smooth, flat table or kitchen counter will do as well. You don’t need a stretching board: the weight of the paper and the water in it will flatten it very effectively against a smooth surface.
You gotta get the right tea, of course, especially if you’re a man, otherwise you won’t sound like an expert. I suppose that even Earl Grey, whose still paler bergamot cousin Lady Grey I drink with extra lime and honey, will tint paper a delicate yellow, or something.
But I already knew I wanted a dusty tan, strong but not too dark, for working on with sepia ink and a special, very beautiful amber ink I made for washes with the sepia, oil pencils but especially sanguine oil, earth-based water colors — everything you would use for that faux vintage look, both wet and dry. For this the right tea is the commando’s favorite, Red Bush, which I drink when I can’t be bothered to make a pot of something fancier.
The advantage of tea is that the tint is easily adjustable. I put two Red Bush teabags (Lidl house brand, whatever that is) in a half liter of hot water in a glass jug so I could check the color. White plastic also works. After a while I adjusted the color to slightly redder by adding an infusion of cherry tea that I was brewing up separately because I found it in a cupboard and wanted to see whether it was indeed a red tea. (It is brownish with a red cast; it might tint paper a dusty pink if I ever need a dusty pink…) You can probably also use green Chinese tea but I didn’t find any and it was too late to call the takeaway to deliver some. I went with what I had.
I worked in my bathroom because it has a full-length bath to contain the mess. Depending on how good your relationship with the housekeeper is, you might want to start work on quarter-sheets and leave the mess-making size of full imperial sheets (22.30in) until you have learned how to handle the wet paper without spraying tea-stained drops everywhere.
First pour the tea concentrate in the soaking bowl or basin or tray or whatever. You need just enough to float a sheet of paper. Add water to your concentrate to get the right amount of water, or the right depth of colour. My actual tinting solution was more the color in the photograph below than the one above.
In diluting the colour with water, you should keep in mind that a 300gsm sheet will have to lie in the water at least 20 minutes to be thorough soaked so it will dry flat, and a 630gsm sheet of paper had better be in there a minimum of one hour. These factors influence how dark a mixture you want to start with.
You may wish to experiment first with a small offcut of paper and a stopwatch. I didn’t bother with poncey nonsense like that.
Put the sheet of paper in the soaking dish. Use the sponge rather than your fingers to push it so water washes over it. Now leave it alone. Don’t fiddle with it or you’ll put fingermarks on it.
Depending on the strength of your mixture and the tint you want, you may wish to leave the paper in the tinting solution longer than the minimum time to soak its particular thickness thoroughly, as required for flattening it again. However, you should not leave it in the water so long that it disintegrates, or that sizing is altogether washed out, or that the surface is destroyed. Forty minutes to an hour may well be a maximum for most weights papers if you are not to run the risk of losing all the sizing in the paper, and thus alter its handling qualities, perhaps adversely.
When the paper has taken on the tint you want, take it out by the edges between the pads of your fingertips. Try not to put nailmarks into the paper; be sure to take off rings; best to use tongs such as you can buy at photographic stores for darkroom use to handle the paper.
Wave the paper very gently so that the water rolls off it, then place it flat on the drying tray or table. Press it gently, rather than wiping it, with the sponge. Resist the temptation to lift up a corner to see; the back of the sheet is definitely the same color as the front. Don’t put it in front of a heater. I left my entire apparatus in the bathroom, which is generally a warm room, but the bath is at least eight feet from the heater.
The paper should be dry in about 24 hours. You know it is dry when a corner pops loose from the tray or table and raises itself only a little way. A dry sheet will slide on the surface of the tray easily.
You can now reuse the tinting water for the next sheet. Different base papers (Arches Aquarelle, Fabriano Artistico, Saunders Waterford) are different colors and will tint differently not only according to their base colors but according to the manufaturing treatment, especially the various applications of sizing (in the vat so it goes inside, on the surface, both), and even within brands between the different-textured surfaces of the paper, Hot Press or NOT.
The paper shown below, as bought and tinted, is Fabriano Artistico 100% cotton 300gr. The soaking time was the full two hours, and the surface of the paper is bit rougher than when I started. I like this particular tint very much, especially considering that I had something very much like it in mind when I bought the sepia ink I want to use on it, and made the amber ink I will use for shading.
The surface is still good for pen and wash work, but for the next sheet, in order to get the near enough the same appealing tint without even the minor chance of damage we have established with our first run, I will add more concentrate of tea tint, and make the soaking exposure shorter.
I have stopwatches and timers, of course, no fewer than four to hand as I write this: in my flying watch on my arm, in my iPhone in my pocket, in the Mac on which I write this, and in my diving watch in a wooden box on my desk because I’m fitting a new rubber strap to it in hope of a summer.
But in this rough and ready tinting method, I don’t even try for a perfectly consistent tint across the several pages I make. If I like the tint, it is right, regardless of whether it precisely matches any page I made previously on a color meter, which I haven’t even taken from the drawer. It is enough that the tint, whatever it is, is even across the quarter-sheet.
Pot luck and good luck suits me just fine. Try it, you too might like it.
There are three parts to this article:
Tinting your own Art Paper with — wait for it! — Tea (you are on this part)
With thanks to Marialena Sarris for research and lots of constructive tips.
Copyright © 2015 Andre Jute
Andre Jute: Translucent Pondlife, 2013, Lavis by Ink, A5
Sure, I know snakes don’t have eyelashes.
But I’m rational when I do engineering; painting is what I do for fun.
Alitogata wrote:Though I didn’t get exactly how you made it I think that it is perfect! ( and now I’m jealous and I want one of the same).
Here’s a simplified description:
There are four components required to construct this sliding book:
1. Signatures of your preferred paper. The signatures are not sewn, stapled or glued, just folded spreads tipped in. Their height controls all the other measurements. You may also want some thin paper for protection interleaves.
2. A signature holder. I used hollow plastic strips from a magazine holder; they look like an elongated 0. You can make your own from a strip of stiff cardboard or plastic with slits or holes to guide a string for each signature. The string goes right over the paper, with about 5mm space top and bottom, not through the paper. The signature holder also is loose: it “floats” on the inner cover. The signatures are not any way attached to each other. The operation of this book depends on their independence.
3. An inner cover cut to the full height of the space inside the strings, i.e. taller than your signatures. This is used for both vertical positioning control and as a slider mechanism to let the book lie flat. It is fed through under all the strings but on top of the string holder. It is not fixed to anything at all. It is helpful if this inner cover is smooth card or film, but flexible. I in fact use two cards, one for the front and one for the back, overlapping at the signature holder, not fixed to each other, for extra-smooth operation, but a single sheet of card will probably do you.
4. An outer cover, slightly larger than the inner cover. This must on the inside have either a fixed flap on each side inside which the inner cover can slide, or a vertical strip under which the inner cover can slide. This sliding space must be the same height as the total height inside the strings on the signature holder, closely matched to the inner cover. The flap is good also for lateral control, but I found it unnecessary if the materials for the book are chosen right. Vertical control is essential, so match the height of the slide closely to the height of the inner cover. Nothing at all in the book is firmly attached to the cover by glue, sewing or staples.
5. Optional for those who want a hard cover. Two separate stiffeners to slide between the outer and inner covers, one at the front and one at the back.
CONSTRUCTION OF PARTS
1. The inner cover is slid under the signature retainer strings on top of the string spacer, so hiding most of it.
2. The inner cover ends are slid into the flaps or strips on the outer cover. Position the signature retainer in the middle.
3. Insert each signature under a string so that the string lies in the fold. Arrange the signatures to lie half to the left and half to the right so that you can see the spine is position correctly.
4. Test the efficacy your choice of material textures and weights, and the punctilio of your construction. Close the book. Clasp it lightly by the spine, hold with opening end downwards and shake. Repeat for the ends. If the paper remains inside the book, and the edge is as even as you can expect with such thick deckled edge paper, you’re done. Your book will lie flat, hold it’s position by friction and weight of paper, close correctly, stay closed, and every spread will be indivually removable and used as an uninterupted spread by simply taking it out and putting it on top of its signature. Try it. Paint something.
5. Optional for those who want hard covers, two stiffeners to fit loosely (unglued, unsewn, unstapled, eh?) between the inner and outer covers at the front and the back. You should not stiffen the spine because the signature retainer needs to take on various attitudes to make this book work as intended. However, 300gsm paper even in a stack a few sheets thick is already pretty stiff, and when you have a block like my big book, stiffeners in the cover are superfluous.
There are three parts to this article:
Copyright © 2015 Andre Jute
Most bought sketchbooks are adequate only to the most undiscriminating sketchers. In almost all cases the paper just isn’t good enough, too thin or too weak to take much water or rubbing out or handling. In a few cases where the paper is good quality cotton, the book is so tightly sewn it won’t lie flat, or difficult to handle because it is ringbound on the short side (landscape format); always something unsatisfactory.
The solution is to make your own. I have several sketchbooks I’ve made myself in a variety of leather covers, in various sizes up to A5, roughly 8×6. Those are all intended to go outside with me and the smaller ones are routinely popped in my pockets in case I see something I want to sketch.
But for my desk I wanted something larger, say up to quarter imperial size, 15×11 inches. It would be useful if the same book handled 11×7.5in, octavo or one-eight imperial size, as I generally don’t have a lot of time and like finishing a sketch in one or at most two goes at it.
The large oxblood item is a custom-made Italian cover of embossed semi-soft leather, lined in silk for reasons that will soon become obvious. Open it measures 19in by 12.25in, edge to edge.
The next task after obtaining a suitable cover is to rip the 100% cotton paper and these are the tools I used: a blunted heavyweight stainless steel scalloped carving knife, bought at the charity shop for pennies, to give my sheets that vintage deckle edge; and a good quality bone folder, lying on the cover.
Note that there’s no ruler. The paper is used as its own measure. You simply fold the sheet lengthways in half, flatten the edge with two runs of the bone folder in opposite directions, then rip it along the fold with the knife. You can get a larger deckle by hold the paper down with the blade of the knife, one hand on the blade and using the other hand to tear the paper against the scallops on the knife, but this risks ruining the sheet if you don’t do it right; 300gsm paper can be amazingly obstructive, especially if you’re tearing it against the grain. Then fold one long strip to 2mm short of half, and the other to 4mm short of half, and rip again.
Once the paper is ripped to near enough quarter sheets of 15x11in, they are folded to 11×7.5in, and signatures of 4 folds, eight pages are made up, the shorter spreads going to the inside in decreasing order, so that the edge of the book can be relatively even. You can staple or sew the signatures into a book; search for instructions on the net. My method is different. I like sketchbooks where all pages lie flat, and where any page in a signature can be pulled out and put in the middle to use as a spread. That requires some innovative thinking.
My big sketchbook has no staples, no sewing, no glue, no pegs, no metal clasps, nothing. Instead all the signatures are hung on plastic strips from partwork covers (you could use twine strung on a piece of cardboard instead) and held together by the natural friction of cotton paper. It lies flat when open by the very slight slack in the plastic strips I used as retainers and by sliding against the silk lining of the casing. Note that, unlike in traditional bookbinding, there is no connection whatsoever between the signatures, nor between the signatures and the cover. The red card in the second photo above that appears to be a cover is instead a mechanism for fixing the book vertically by running through the plastic strips and the inside retainers of the leather cover at full height. There are separate front and rear cover cards and they overlap in the plastic strips but are not glued to each other, to the plastic strips, or to the cover. The whole affair slides with a little stiction, and that with the good design is enough to hold it together. Furthermore, it opens perfectly flat, at any page or spread, though this assembly method makes working across pages irrelevant because every sheet can be removed and used as a spread by simply putting it on top of the signature to which it belongs.
This particular version of my Sliding Quarter Imperial Multimedia Sketchbook was built with one sheet each of Fabriano Artistico NOT and Hot Press, and one sheet each of Saunders Waterford NOT and Hot Press, all of it 300gsm 100% cotton paper. I also had sheets of Arches NOT and HP standing by but the book was getting a bit thick already. Weight doesn’t matter too much in a tabletop sketchbook, but all the same it needs to be at least briefcase portable for big adventures, and mustn’t be so heavy that you contemplate moving it without enthusiasm.
It contains 16 spreads (counting one side only) of quarter imperial sheet size, or 32 sheets (counting one side only) of 11×7.5in. 32 sheets/64pp of 300gsm cotton paper makes a book that with covers is an inch thick at the opening end and thicker at the spine. Between the thick paper, the stiff card for vertical control, and the silk-lined leather cover, it still weighs less than the two pounds which was my target. That’s not excessive for such a large, thick, versatile book of novel construction.
All the paper will handle wet media like watercolours, pen and ink, etc, and the Hot Press papers will take considerable rubbing out and other handling in charcoal or pencil work. There are thin protective sheets at the back to be slipped between pages that shouldn’t rub, plus bond paper to soak up excess water should I decide to go wild with lavis.
There are three parts to this article:
Copyright © 2015 Andre Jute