Sword skills

For­mer Ben­tonville teacher re­turns to show stu­dents cast­ing.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - DAVE PEROZEK

CAVE SPRINGS — Greg Wen­der­ski re­al­ized kids love swords. It oc­curred to him a pro­gram de­vel­oped around how to make a sword might be pop­u­lar.

Wen­der­ski, who calls him­self the Sword Cast­ing Guy, is a mid­dle school sci­ence teacher from Austin, Texas, and a for­mer Ben­tonville teacher. He re­turned to North­west Ar­kan­sas this week to teach three fourhour classes — one Fri­day, two to­day — on de­sign­ing and mak­ing a sword, all for a home-school­ing group.

About 15 stu­dents, most of them boys of el­e­men­tary and mid­dle school age, met for Fri­day’s class at Part­ners Lake.

The kids started by pick­ing a piece of wood cut into the shape of a Bronze Age sword. After sand­ing the pieces down, they made molds of the swords through a del­i­cate process that in­volved pack­ing them in a cast­ing box filled with a

spe­cial kind of sand.

Then Wen­der­ski melted alu­minum — mak­ing sure the kids kept at least 10 feet away — and poured it into the boxes.

The edges of the swords made in Wen­der­ski’s classes aren’t sharp­ened to a cut­ting edge. Wen­der­ski also told the kids he didn’t want to see them fight­ing with the swords; for those tempted to do so, he pro­vided a bucket full of foam swords.

Wen­der­ski taught at Ben­tonville’s Old High Mid­dle School from 2007 to 2010 be­fore mov­ing to Texas. He got into sword cast­ing about five years ago.

“I was teach­ing mid­dle school sci­ence down the hall from a teacher who was teach­ing an­cient civ­i­liza­tions,” he said. “She got re­ally into the an­cient Greeks and taught about how the Greeks fought, their strate­gies, what their ar­ma­ments were like. I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to show kids how they made weapons dur­ing the Bronze Age.”

Wen­der­ski al­ready had a back­ground in weld­ing and black­smithing. For a few years he would demon­strate the sword-mak­ing process in school once a year.

“Fi­nally it oc­curred to me, they’d all love to have their own swords, so I should just make some more cast­ing boxes and do this as a class,” he said. “So I’ve been do­ing that for about two years.”

He’s tak­ing a sab­bat­i­cal from reg­u­lar school this year to teach sword cast­ing classes full-time. This week­end’s classes in Cave Springs rep­re­sent his first job out­side Texas, he said.

Cassie Smith is di­rec­tor of the So­cial Homeschool­ers Net­work of North­west Ar­kan­sas. More than 400 kids are counted among the net­work’s mem­bers.

Smith saw Wen­der­ski’s posts on Face­book. She con­tacted him and told him her group was in­ter­ested in his classes.

“We got three classes full of kids,” Smith said, adding her 12-year-old son was ex­cited about it.

“I found there’s a lot of homeschool­ers who wind up in this class be­cause their par­ents are used to seek­ing out ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties in the com­mu­nity,” Wen­der­ski said. “So that’s a real log­i­cal

group for me to work with.”

Wen­der­ski used to work at sum­mer camps where kids of­ten were al­lowed to make some­thing out of scraps of wood. In­vari­ably, they wanted to make swords, he said.

“They’re like, ‘Can we make swords?’ And usu­ally the an­swer is no, you can’t make swords. But I thought, if they’re drawn to that, let’s just meet them where they’re at. Let’s do that,” he said.

Daniel Howell of Ben­tonville was at Fri­day’s class with his 9-year-old son, James Howell. Daniel Howell as­sisted his son in the sword-mak­ing process.

“He’s a very hands-on learner,” Daniel Howell said. “This is a great op­por­tu­nity for him to ac­tu­ally build some­thing and walk away with it.”

James said he had fun and learned a lot from the class.

“I liked mak­ing swords be­cause I got to hang out with my dad all day,” James said. “I got to eat with him and I had fun and made some mem­o­ries.”

Andy Cooper of Fayet­teville and his 7-year-old son, An­drew, both made a sword. Cooper said Wen­der­ski’s class was pro­fes­sion­ally done, but in a re­laxed set­ting. He noted Wen­der­ski’s skills as a teacher.

“I no­tice how he con­nects, and he an­tic­i­pates ques­tions kids might have about what he’s do­ing and why he’s do­ing it,” Cooper said.

Wen­der­ski, wear­ing a T-shirt that read “Keep calm and cast a sword,” mixed some his­tory into his ex­pla­na­tion of the sword cast­ing process. Dur­ing the Bronze Age, peo­ple would use clay in­stead of sand to make the sword mold, he said.

“One of the things I re­ally love about this is there’s a lot of con­nec­tion to his­tory,” he said.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF

Greg Wen­der­ski, sword cast­ing in­struc­tor, re­moves Fri­day a fin­ished cast alu­minum sword from its mold in sand.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF

Avery Bat­son (left) smooths sand Fri­day while Jack­son Elling­ton (right) places his wooden sword in his box of sand to cre­ate a mold for a metal sword.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF

James Howell, 9, shows Fri­day his fin­ished alu­minum sword while stand­ing with his dad, Daniel Howell.

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