Another ‘staying sane in lockdown’ blog post

What are you doing to keep your sanity these days? We are just coming out of our third lockdown… (only two more lockdowns now until Christmas.) Restaurants can have patio seating, but still no indoor seating. Stores can now have limited numbers of people inside. So it’s a little better now, and most people have had their first vaccine shot – so things are looking up and maybe we are getting to the end of it. (I’m trying hard not to think of the new variants coming out. Eyes shut, ears covered, and I’m humming ‘nah,nah,nah,nah…’ to myself).

As those who have been following my blog will know, a favorite theme I’ve mine over the last 15 months is “staying sane in quarantine.” It’s about the various hobbies and other things I do to keep my sanity. I’m writing novels, of course. And blogging, which I find relaxing. And I’ve taken up cooking: I learned to bake apple turnovers a couple weeks ago, from scratch! I even made the pastry.

And I continue to do metal work. I forged this pair of fire pit tongs last week, for moving burning logs around.

Fire pit tongs forged from a truck leaf spring

I forged these tongs from the leaf spring of an F150 pickup truck. My wife came up with the idea one night while sitting around a campfire with the grandkids a couple weeks ago. We were roasting hotdogs and making s’mores, and my wife was struggling to rearrange some burning logs, when she said to me: “You know honey, we probably don’t need anymore homemade forged knives, as awesome as they are. The 87 you made, which are now filling up our kitchen drawers, are likely sufficient for our needs for the foreseeable future. But if you really feel like forging, we could use some fire pit tongs.”

I took the hint and had fun making them.

Having a pair of fire pit tongs made from a pickup truck is pretty awesome, not to mention manly. The ends of the tongs come together so they can be used to pickup small burning sticks and coals, as well as large logs.

We’ve all been doing different things to cope as best we can. I love to write, and I can write for hours at a time and not notice the time go by. But after sitting all day with the laptop, I enjoy getting out to the shop and hammering on hot metal.

For some interesting hobby ideas, visit my other website michaelmanto.com where I go into great detail on this fun hobby.

Thanks for stopping by to visit my blog. Stay safe, and above all, stay sane!

Staying Sane in Quarantine

The Writer

We just got through a period of roughly 3 months of almost complete lockdown in which we were barely able to leave the house. Recently things have gotten better. In my province, Ontario, they’ve allowed restaurants to re-open, and just last week I sat inside a restaurant for the first time in 4 months. But we still need to be careful, and medical authorities are already warning of a second wave. We might be subject to another lockdown come the fall or winter.

Knowing how to maintain your sanity has become a vital new life-skill in 2020, and not everyone is coping so well.

How do you stay sane while in quarantine during a pandemic? I’ve kept my sanity with hobbies, two of my favorites being: writing novels and making knives.

This is a knife I forged from steel cable, using deer antler, brass and leather for the handle.

As much as I love the creative process of writing, it has one serious drawback: it involves sitting down at a laptop, which is essentially what I do for a living all day long. I’m a Project Manager at a large financial services company, in which I spend most of my day on the phone with my laptop in virtual meetings. It had always been a dream of mine to write a novel, and I’ve spent the last fourteen years getting up between 4 and 5 AM to put in a couple of hours writing before going to work. People look at me like I’m crazy, but that’s what you have to do if you’re serious about writing. It’s worth it and I feel really proud of my writing. To-date I’ve completed 7 full length novels.

And I’m glad I’m pursuing that dream, but I also needed to find something that got me on my feet, is physical and hands-on and kept me in shape (more-or-less). Gym memberships never worked for me, even before Covid-19 made them unwise. I’ve tried them several times and I’ve always found it too boring to keep up, and they are not a viable option during a pandemic.

What I needed was something physical that wouldn’t bore me to death, and keep me interested enough to stand and use my muscles for hours. So in the summer of 2016 I started another hobby – knife making.

I forge them by hand from raw hunks of high carbon steel. It seems to be working. One hot Saturday in the summer, I rolled my forge and anvil out into the backyard under a shade tree and spent the entire day forging.

I was in complete bliss, and lost almost 10 pounds. It was in that moment that I realized I’d found something that holds my interest enough to keep me physically active for hours at a time.

I didn’t want to spend a lot of money, so I made my own forge out of an old barbeque I found abandoned at the side of the road. For an anvil I use an old piece of railroad track that was given to me. Some good files and a couple of heavy hammers, and that’s basically all you need to get started.

The knife I made pictured below won’t win any prizes for beauty, but I had a lot of fun forging it.

I forged this knife from a car leaf spring. A piece of the leaf spring it came from is shown above it. The handle wood is from an old horse yoke that was left on the wall of our den by the previous owner when we moved into our house.

It’s important to have interesting hobbies when you are stuck at home self-isolating. Forging steel may not be your thing, but you could try baking bread. Take up cooking. Learn to sow and make masks. Take up carpentry. Start blogging or write that novel you’ve always wanted to. All these things have become huge since the pandemic. In my area stores can’t keep flour in stock because of the numbers of people who’ve taken up baking. I see that as a very positive thing. Stay safe and above all, stay sane!

Hobbies In Quarantine

Can’t go out. Going to the grocery store feels like I’m putting my life at risk. I can’t just watch Netflix or be on Facebook all the time. They’re about to outlaw going for walks, and in Toronto they are now handing out $7500 fines for going to the park…not that we should anyway.

In times such as these hobbies are important. People are learning to sew and are making face masks. People are learning to bake for themselves in huge numbers. There is something very comforting in homemade bread and buns. If there is one good thing that comes out of this crisis – and I think there will be many good things, actually – is that people are re-learning how to make and bake and do things for themselves. The kind of things our grandparents always did for themselves, but we’ve found it easier to just go shopping instead.

That’s changing now, since shopping for anything but necessities has been cancelled, and the necessities are getting hard to find.

Keeping yourself occupied with hands-on, practical things is important to maintaining ones sanity while in isolation. I’ve been learning to work with leather and make knife sheaths. I’ve also been learning to make knives.

Here’s a sample of what I’ve been making. Made from bulk, raw materials, not from a kit. I ground and polished the blade down from a bar of high-carbon tool steel. Solid brass bolsters are set off nicely by the black micarta handles, secured with brass pins to the tang. I hand-stitched the leather sheath.

Now, some of you may be wondering why, as a writer, I’m talking about making knives as a pass-time instead of writing. Shouldn’t I be using that extra time to get that next, long over-due, Jack Winters sequel finished? When loyal fans are patiently awaiting the next sequel, why am I fooling around making a knife? Good question. But here’s the thing. I spend all day in front of a laptop writing and sometimes it feels like, well – work. So I need a fun diversion that is also physical, hands-on and gets me off my bottom and on my feet. Otherwise I’m going to get fat and out-of-shape, suffer health complications, and then I’d never get the next Jack Winters sequel finished!

Staying healthy and fit is very important to surviving a crisis.

Thanks for visiting. Keep sane, and stay healthy!

Handmade camp knife

Okay, this is has nothing to do with my latest novel, but it’s still fun. I made the blade from 01 tool steel and used brass for the bolster. I grind and polish the pieces by hand using a belt sander and files. When I’ve finished shaping the knife, I heat treat it in a small forge. Heat treating the steel after the knife is shaped makes the steel really hard so it will keep a tough edge when sharpened. After the heat treat I cut out the handles from slabs of micarta and attach them using brass pins. Then I give the steel blade and handle material all a final polish by hand using a very fine grit sandpaper. I finished this last week.

When I get stumped on a plot point or where to go with a character, it helps me clear my mind by going out to the shop and making a knife.

Camp knife with brass bolster