Students, swords mix in class
Former Bentonville teacher returns to teach kids casting skills
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.
Greg Wenderski, sword casting instructor, removes Friday a finished cast aluminum sword from its mold in sand.
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.
James Howell, 9, shows Friday his finished aluminum sword while standing with his dad, Daniel Howell.