Friday, April 12, 2013

Golden Days of Oakland

Obviously, the months following my return from England were filled with exploration and excitement, testing the limits of what I had learned, and discovering a hundred new doors too be knocked upon.  It's always true that the more you learn, the more you realize you have far more to learn, and it's apparent to me every day, using my hands and mind at the same time.  Sometimes that can be intimidating, but it's comforting to know beyond any doubt that you'll never run out of things to learn.  There's just too much.

Well, I heat treated, ground, and polished what I had for blades.  The san-mai seax turned out alright; here it is on my sanding setup, un-etched, with the contrast visible in the reflecting light.  

A very new experiment came in the form of this large, almost bowie-style knife made of 1084.  I made this one to see if I could figure out how to forge a knife with an integral bolster, which I partially achieved.  It was, in my opinion, much to thin to count as a real bolster, but I became familiar with filing techniques and where I needed to hammer to make the bolster. 

However, the most interesting experiment this knife posed was the Japanese-style differential hardening.  The aesthetic/visual effect is called hamon, and is used to describe the visible line on the blade between the hard edge and the soft spine.  Before the blade is hardened in the quench, the spine is covered with clay, effectively insulating it and keeping the heat in as the blade cools down in the quench.  The slow cooling of the insulated spine is different from the rapid cooling of the edge, resulting in different steel crystal shapes on the molecular level.  That means a hard edge, soft spine, barely perceptible transition, but defined differentiation.  I'll definitely be making use of this technique in the future! 

Honestly, the below is a picture of some of Jim Austin's smelting alchemy that I do not understand whatsoever. 

I could, however, understand the chisel he made for a double groove with a raised middle. He made it for embellishing the soft mild-steel bodies of his peerless viking axes.  I tried it out on the trial piece.  Guess which grooves are mine!  [It's really truly actually the two on the right]

These were warm days filled with sun and sweat and excitement.  I shared many hours in daylight and in dark with Jim, Jeff, Nate Smith, Nina Heckman, Ryan Burkhart, Dan Hopper, and Anna Geyer with sun and stars above us and hard work and good fun around us.  Oakland how I do miss ye.  

Thursday, April 11, 2013


There are two people who I have had the strange experience of knowing only by way of the internet, seeing each other only in pictures and speaking only with written word.  This kind of relationship is somewhat unique to my generation; it's like having lots of pen-pals.  Nevertheless, the two individuals of which I speak continue to inspire me every time I hear the merest squeak out of them.  They are both glowing with whatever that unnameable thing is which draws me so deeply into this journey of time and hands, of the eternity of organic materials and what they share with those who affect change on them.

These two I speak of are Luke Shearer and Myles Mulkey.  They are not seasoned veterans of bladecraft but enthusiastic young artists whose already impressive work shows more than just potential for many years of thrilling exploration ahead, new things being said and fresh things being made, the breathing lungs of our community because of their individuality.  They are full to the brim with the light that stories and brushstrokes bring us, and are carrying it forward.

Here is a link to Luke's making of the blade:

They have chosen to re-create, in their own vision, what I find possibly one of the seaxiest of saxes.  It's a large, broken-back war seax in the most well-known Anglo-Saxon pattern, and speaks very much to what I feel the essence of the Germanic war knife is.  I gained a deep appreciation for this type of object during my time with Owen Bush, having seen him work lovingly on them in all stages of development.  They bespeak hardiness, mercilessness and strength, as well as refinement, pleasing lines, aesthetic foresight, and surprising lightness and wieldiness.  I sincerely hope this is a piece I someday am fortunate enough to hold.

A picture I took of Owen's rough-forged but well-established sense of what a sax "is" in shape, material, style, and process.

To me, this project stands as a beacon of potential for a new era of this strangely niche art we have come to occupy.  Their work embodies the spirit that's hard to describe but so easy to feel, of stories that mean things to us, however difficult it is to say exactly what it is that they mean.  In our effort to explain it we must search within ourselves and without, and the world that pervades. 

To read more on Luke's very articulate and well-thought-out approach to story-smithing, read any of his blog, but in particular this fascinating article where he speaks of the inextricable spirituality of his work:

To learn more about Myles' powerful and holistic approach to where he stands in the grander scheme of craft and time, and how that guides his hands and heart: