FORG­ING AHEAD

THE ROAD TO SMITHING YOUR OWN BLADES

Knives Illustrated - - Expert’s Corner - STORY BY GOR­DON MEEHL, PHO­TOS BY HELM EN­TER­PRISES AND VE­GAS FORGE

We’ve all felt it. Whether it was last month or decades ago, in our less grounded youth, we’ve all felt the in­nate, al­most preter­nat­u­ral drive to ren­der raw ma­te­ri­als into some­thing with a pur­pose­ful de­sign. Some say it’s that drive to make tools and weapons that makes us uniquely hu­man. I say what makes us truly hu­man is not our drive to make weapons, but the ro­man­tic vi­sion that these weapons are ca­pa­ble of hold­ing inside them the best qual­i­ties of hu­man­ity. It’s that vi­sion that stirs many lovers of the sharp­ened edge to be­gin learn­ing the time­less art of blade­smithing. In the fol­low­ing story, you’ll get an in­tro­duc­tion to this art.

The Art of Smithing

You now know that a blade­smith forges, but what steps de­fine the forg­ing process? The alchemy of chang­ing a raw piece of steal into a qual­ity blade, while a straight­for­ward and time­less process, is not some­thing that is mas­tered the first time out of the gate. Ev­ery blade cre­ated since the be­gin­ning of recorded his­tory fol­lows the same ba­sic process of heat­ing, shap­ing, hard­en­ing, grind­ing, pol­ish­ing and fin­ish­ing. The dif­fi­culty comes in de­vel­op­ing the judg­ment to know how much heat, the fi­nesse to know how hard to swing the ham­mer and the skill to grind off just enough to make that per­fect blade.

Build­ing Your Forge

There are two choices: solid fuel or gas forges. Each has its own sell­ing points and can eas­ily be built with plans found on sev­eral web­sites. A solid fuel forge is noth­ing more than a hole in which the solid fuel, usu­ally coal, can burn very hot and sus­tain that heat while work­ing the metal.

The ad­van­tage of a solid fuel forge is that it’s cheap to build and ma­te­ri­als are read­ily avail­able. A dis­ad­van­tage to us­ing a solid fuel forge is that in ad­di­tion to tend­ing to the forg­ing and shap­ing of your blade, you also have to tend to the fire, mak­ing sure it stays hot enough to heat up the metal. The other op­tion is a gas forge. Though a lit­tle more com­pli­cated to build than a solid fuel forge, gas forges, when in­su­lated prop­erly, eas­ily achieve and main­tain tem­per­a­ture. Very lit­tle ef­fort is re­quired to keep the forge go­ing. Though a lit­tle more ex­pen­sive than a solid fuel forge, the gas forge al­lows

“THE ALCHEMY OF CHANG­ING A RAW PIECE OF STEAL INTO A QUAL­ITY BLADE … IS NOT SOME­THING THAT IS MAS­TERED THE FIRST TIME OUT OF THE GATE.”

the new blade­smith to con­cen­trate on form­ing a blade and not tend­ing to the qual­ity, con­sis­tency and strength of a fire.

The Tools

As for the other tools such as tongs, anvils and ham­mers, the choices are end­less. Choos­ing an anvil and ham­mer is a per­sonal en­deavor. In se­lect­ing an anvil, the heav­ier the bet­ter. Some say 50 pounds is a min­i­mum, but you’re bet­ter off with at least 100 pounds—al­though 200 pounds will serve you even bet­ter. Given the weight of the anvil, a strong base goes with­out say­ing. As far as ham­mers, a cheap hand sledge, engi­neer’s ham­mer, ball pein, or cross pein (black­smith’s ham­mer) should work to start with, un­til ex­pe­ri­ence tells you what you pre­fer. A sharp an­gle on a ham­mer face is go­ing to leave a lot of marks in the piece that is be­ing forged. Add to that some files for shap­ing, as well as for sharp­en­ing, and you’re on your way.

A Re­ward­ing and Ful­fill­ing En­deavor

Mov­ing through the world of blade­smithing is a very re­ward­ing and ful­fill­ing en­deavor. As you walk along your own path, it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber to be re­cep­tive to stay­ing on the learn­ing curve. Com­mit your­self to the process of learn­ing; you can’t be great from the start, but you have to start to be great. Lastly, the most im­por­tant part of blade­smithing. HAVE FUN. If it’s not fun, why do it? KI

Above: Chang­ing a raw piece of steal into a qual­i­ty­blade takes time. Ev­ery blade cre­ated fol­lows the same ba­sic process of heat­ing, shap­ing, hard­en­ing, grind­ing, pol­ish­ing and fin­ish­ing. Here, take a close—and hot—look at the forg­ing process.

Above: If you take this ca­reer path, ex­pert James Helms rec­om­mends at­tend­ing a black­smiths meet­ing, be­cause it would be an in­valu­able learn­ing tool. Bot­tom: As you be­come more ex­pe­ri­enced, more so­phis­ti­cated equip­ment can help you work on more chal­leng­ing projects. Here James Helms uses Gunnhilda, his 1,000-pound power ham­mer, to draw out a re­curve bush sword.

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