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Upcoming projects:
Building a Frame Saw
Forging a Copper Kettle
Making a pair of leather work boots
Forging and Fletching a Bodkin
Flocking a drawer interior

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

October Skies

There are, I firmly believe, those points in everyone's life however old or young, that serve as a clear defining point. In my youth, I had the unfortunate reasoning to see everything for its value in resilience.  Ignorance, I would call it now. I was fascinated with the ancient worlds that we once lived in yet inexplicably removed myself from the human aspect of it. When I travelled to Romania some years ago, I went to extraordinary efforts to take pictures that did not have people in them, whether the crumbling ruins of a fortress or a church celebrating its 1,000 year anniversary. Yet later when I was perusing them I found that they seemed hollow. How can there be culture without people? One of the photos that lingers in my mind the most is a shepherd and his flock, migrating across the countryside. I cannot say why it has had such a profound impact on me, but in the years since that singular memory has remained stronger than any others.

Nate Runals watching over the hearth 
furnace at Scott's Hammer In
In the years since, I have slowly come to an understanding with myself and how I view the world. As a craftsman, it is the process of creation that brings about the greatest satisfaction, the ability to use my hands to turn the raw, ruggedness of the earth into a tool or a representation of the wild scenes from my imagination. However, as I delved deeper into the culture of what it means to be a craftsman, I realized that it is the people that keep me there. With enough other commitments to fill two full time jobs, I find that it is difficult to get into the shop as often as I would like, yet there is a sense of camaraderie and fellowship in the spirit of craftsmen that I have found nowhere else. Sharing in the knowledge and company of such like minded people is strengthening, invigorating, instilling with a sense that what you are doing is fundamentally right.

When I first entered into the craft of bladesmithing, I had only the vast expanse of electronic knowledge to expose myself to, but it was more than simply the cold reflection of an illuminated computer screen. On the other side, there were people there who were, once, in the same place as I.  From the first days of trying to absorb everything I possibly could, I was met with warm welcome and encouragement at both my successes and failures, something that become so disparagingly rare in this age, especially when it is so easy for people to assume a mask of anonymity and shell of defence behind the gateways of the internet and social media.

Eli with his patternwelded saxat Fire & Brimstone

It was at Ashokan two years ago that I first met fellow craftsmen in person, not only of blades but all sorts. The amount I learned there in the span of three days was staggering compared to the previous months on my own. More than that, I for the first time began to experience the organisation of craftsmen as something more than simply a virtual network. In the following spring, I had the good fortune to catch the close of Baltimore Knife and Sword Co.'s annual Fire and Brimstone hammer in, and then a month later Scott Roushof Big Rock Forge's hammer in up in northern Wisconsin. This year  I attended Ashokan's hammer in for a second time, and through the past year of travelling I was shocked at how natural it felt to be around the men and women of similar pursuit, despite my own meagre skills.

Sign hanging outside the door to the once Mad Dwarf 
Workshop, now David's own Cedarlore Forge

Come the first weekend in October, I was afforded an opportunity to which I am extremely grateful. David DelaGardelle of Cedarlore Forge hosted a small gathering in his shop in Indiana. The country there is spectacular, and the company was the best I have shared.  Although I was unable to bring any work of my own,  watching and helping in the work of some of the great craftsmen who inspired me to stop sitting around and dreaming of smithing and actually taking up a hammer.  It was that weekend, perhaps more than any other I have lived and may live for some time yet, that spoke to me in ways beyond describing. The company, the shop, the land, the pure, good natured brotherhood left me with a profound and deepened appreciation not only for the craft, but how I viewed my own life and what I intend to become. When I wrote on the nature of possession and inspired by my work, by my tools, by the knowledge that either I put the time to craft my own steel, my own hammer or forge or bow or boots, or that someone else out there did the same. I want to be driven by my surroundings, the very walls around me, to do better, to delve deeper into the culture of my ancestors and the process they went through hundreds of years ago. And it is in the good company of the people I met at Dave's that I have come to understand that there is so much beyond the present and the self and all that there is we see and perceive.  These words likely do not convey easily the message I intend, however I left that weekend feeling enlightened in every sense of the word.

the materialistic movement this age is tending towards, I only touched on the surface of something I intend to write more on at a later time once I have deepened my own understanding of what I see in the world around. At its core, however, I see the world as it begins to lose its significance in the small details. I want to be on the other side pushing back.

It was near the end of the month when I travelled to Oakland, California for the Axe 'n Sæx hammer in hosted by Alchemy Metalworks. Since the beginning of the year I had been looking forward to his immense gathering of some of the most talented craftsmen and genuine people I have ever met. From the far corners of the world and near, a weekend devoted to the furthering and understanding of the Saxon roots of the craft in all aspects brought a long trip from one coast to the other filled with anticipation.

Host Jim Austin annealing a demo piece of koftgari

Jake Powning working on knotwork
on a sheath
I was able to meet many of the people who I knew as the kindhearted, quirky and otherwise upstanding gentlemen (and gentlewomen ) with an affinity for hot metal, meats, and mead.  From the history of the sæx, from which the Saxons received their name, the knotwork patterns and their evolution across the centuries, the retelling of the old epics, demonstrations in leatherwork and carving and forging axes and sæxes, making wootz, history and hilarity, the days were so packed with unique experiences and an understanding of the roots we all share, I still look back to that weekend in a daze of memory.

Petr Florianek carving a piece of reindeer antler
Jim Austin welding the eye of a Dane axe
Niels Provos and Ric Furrer with Niels' Serpent Sword
Again here, I look back and see the second half of the two weekends so close together that I see them as one continuation of the other, with the same reference and awe as when I returned from Indiana four weeks prior. The fellowship anew and old alike renewed, the appreciation for the skill and passion of those good men and women who, when seen together represent one of the most gracious, inspirational, and all around upstanding group of people I have ever known, I can only think that I started down this path for a reason. As I continue to grow and develop my own skills and appreciation for the world around me, I know in my heart I would still be the same naive wander I was of my youth without a regard for what truly brings meaning to life. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013


Etching patterns (not damascus) into blades/other things has long been on my list of things to try, and I finally found a moment to give it a try with mixed success. The basic process can be done a number of ways, all involving an etchant and a resist. The resist marks where the pattern will be by leaving the steel bare wherever you want to achieve depth. Everywhere else is then covered with something, ranging from vinyl stencils, toner, wax, and in this case, electrical tape. For the etchant, I used salt water and electricity.

First, I had to find something to etch. I decided it was the perfect opportunity for a blade that broke before tempering that was once destined to become a new design for a kitchen knife. After a little (a lot) or re-profiling, I came out with a passable straight razor of an atypical shape, due to the previous proportions.

I left the surface rough, around 220 grit from the belt sander. I find that the tape adheres better to a rougher surface, and the etch takes better. Covering the entire face to be etched with hardware store variety electrical tape, I proceeded to sketch a thorny knotwork pattern onto it and cut it as carefully as possible with an xacto knife. The above is the result of the first step. It is not much, more for proof of concept than anything else.

Next, I went to the recycling and pulled a bottle, cut the top off, and filled it with salt and water. Mix in the salt until it does not dissolve any more, and then add a little more. Heating it helps the process somewhat. I then gathered the remainder of my materials. At this point, I had
-Salt water
-12 Volt Battery charger

As shown above, the red (+) lead of the battery charger is clamped to the blade, and the black (-) lead is holding a salt water soaked Q-tip.

I will take a moment to talk about the battery charger. This was the biggest unknown for what I was doing. Before trying to find one, I was not entirely certain what it would look like or where I would find one. Oddly enough, they were with the 12v batteries. Specifically, the car batteries and the like for other motor operations like dirt bikes, motorcycles, and large toys. There were quite a few to choose from, and this happened to be the cheapest (at my local big box store). I would not recommend anything with automatic shutoff or 'intelligent' auto selection of voltage/current. They simply do not work as well, as the thing you are 'charging' is not a battery. Those safety precautions designed to prevent people from electrocuting themselves or burning out the starters causes it to be less effective when completing the circuit with a piece of steel. Shorting it, actually.

When it comes time to actually etch the piece, clamp the wet q-tip in the black lead and touch it to the exposed metal. Do NOT touch the lead itself to the metal, as it will spark and short and likely cause some sort of electrical fire. It is not that difficult to avoid.

Almost immediately, the salt water will begin to bubble and turn to steam, leaving the steel dark and discoloured with a slime around the tape. That is not caused by the tape melting or burning, simply part of the process. However, I would advise against breathing it in if all possible and doing this somewhere with good ventilation.

It is important to be as uniform as possible in where you contact the metal. For larger designs, always keep the q-tip moving. Re-wet as often as necessary; dry, it will not do anything. The salt water carries the current to the steel and when electrified is quite corrosive.

You may come to the point that nothing happens any longer. That is likely because either you need to use a new q-tip or just wipe off the surface of the pattern. Be careful, as it may lift the resist. I was able to run it under the kitchen sink to clean it with no issues.

The depth and detail of the pattern is determined by the amount of time you etch it. For this experiment, I etched it for a total of around 15 minutes, spreading it as evenly as possible over the entire pattern.

Then simply peel off the resist, and there is the pattern. I had tangible depth to this, which was the idea, as I still have to sand the blade and finish it. A few observations. First, the line where the blade hardened and did not was very distinct in that the softer metal was brighter. In the picture, you can almost see it in the leftmost part. In person, it is almost white. Second, the lines where the layers of tape overlap will create a small etch line that needs to be ground out. Similarly, where the pieces of tape (if you are using that) that are not held too strongly will try and lift off the steel. Just be careful not to drag the q-tip into the ends of the tape, but rather with them so you are not pushing on them.

I will continue to experiment with depth and uniformity of the etch, as well as post-etch finishing of the relief. More updates to come soon perhaps.