Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My Final Project: Part I

Well, I'm making something called a schmalsax. "Schmal" means "narrow" in German, and "sax" (sometimes "seax" in English, after the Anglo-Saxon) is a knife carried by, apparently, most men during the so-called "Germanic Migration" beginning around the 4th century, and seeing use through the Caroligian Empire of the Franks and into the Viking age. It is where the tribal kingdom of the Saxons got their name, and still lives on in the northwestern German province of Sachsen.

Archaeological examples range far and wide in size, shape, quality, construction, decoration, and pretty much everything else. A few criteria are agreed upon, however, and those are these: the sax is an instrument of war, not a tool, and it was usually shorter than a sword but no less important. Many Frankish graves, like that of Clovis of the Merovingian dynasty (ancestor of Charlemagne), feature both a sword and a sax, indicating that a man of import would carry both, equally decorated. They are mentioned in Norse myth; one hero, Grettir the Strong, prefers his sax to his sword.

I made a narrow example called by some the "schmalsax" from a file, a piece of high-carbon steel, hardened, which I annealed to soften for working. I forged the tip and kept the blade a uniform width, only beveling one side on the sharpest edge of the anvil I could find. It took maybe four hours of hammering to get the blade-blank shape you see below:

This, above and below, is the view I assumed regularly, as checking the straightness of the edges and the uniform tapers is absolutely paramount when forging a blade. Mine had a very gradual but steady distal taper and little or no profile taper until the tip.

I drew a line from the center of the tang at the shoulders (where the tang and the blade meet) to the tip of the blade, and intended to use it as a general guideline for my bevel.

I assumed this position often as well, checking for the uniformity of my bevels from the belt grinder. Grinding took probably half as long again as forging, and I used belts of increasing grit, beginning with 60 and going up to 400.

The idea was to grind out the hammer-marks I accidentally made when forging, but in the end I had to keep some to keep from grinding the blade too thin.

I cannot say that this process is without spirituality; later that night I took the blade with me on a walk in the fields and sat with it stuck in the ground to absorb the atmosphere in its presence, and to pay homage to the earth from whence my material came.

Coming soon: handle design and heat-treat!

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