I call them step sets because they illustrate the step-by-step sequence of a project. I’ve also heard them called story bars or story sticks.
It seems akin to how some teachers help children make a somewhat complicated line drawing by breaking it down into a series of smaller elements the child has already mastered. Step sets have a key place in teaching beginners step-by-step planning. I believe the sooner a student learns to forge with precision the better. It is encouraging to see intention become product.
This deconstruct, analyze, form test pieces process is also a powerful tool for defining how a complicated project can be evaluated for bidding.
Forging step sets helps me maintain the discipline of record keeping and for doing work in well defined and precisely ordered sequence. It helps me keep track of the parent stock and each forming operation and it it is often the easiest way to explain to an assistant exactly what needs to be done and what the standard will be. I archive quite a few of these on wall hooks in the studio while others are stored in the project box with the other tools and jigs that go with that job.
Oftentimes I document a job with a series of digital images, especially if it is a one time thing. But, being three dimensional objects, the information captured in a step set surpassed the photograph. In my chess set board pieces the knight is the most complicated piece and a step set has been almost essential in recording the creative process.
Last week I made about twenty blow poker fireplace tools. It is a small functional item which has sold well for me for several years, usually in the fall and winter. Anytime I find myself making a thing again and again I start devising special tools and jigs to speed up that process. To do this with the blow pokers probably added three or four hours to the project this week but will save more than that going forward. Creating a step set for the poker tip was one part of that work. It’s kind of like saying, “The jobs not done until the paperwork is finished.”