Friday, November 19, 2010

chickadees and fire

As I consider the rumpled clouds, (white, gray, blue) a clump of five chickadees whirs up to the barren rose bush I'm standing next to. They rush about from branch to branch yelling chick-a-dee-dee-dee. I go in the house and come back with my camera. They wait for me and continue their frenetic display, they seem curious, inquisitive, or maybe they are telling me to leave their rose bush alone. I love the little chickadees and wisht at them.

The weather is turning colder; flurries are forecast. The landscape is bare, shriven of leaves and coloured in a bruised pallet of purples and browns with hints of green lingering here and there. I start the day in darkness and before I have shut the forge down it is dark again, winter will begin soon.

This week I have been putting my head down and muscling through a bunch of heavy forging and grinding. By the end of today I'll have four billets of over 600 layers and ten nine layer billets all ready to be drawn out into strands for constructing pattern welded sword blades. It's an interesting process at the beginning of making a sword. Although it is brutish work, it's very important to keep track of making sure every billet is perfectly welded, or it will come back to haunt me weeks later with inclusions and ruined blades. I'm building the steely foundations of the next several months of work. I enjoy the hardness of this work, it is a nice balance to the delicate tedium of polishing steel and carving intricate patterns that will come later.

The wind rattles poplar and honeysuckle leaves about on the ground by the smithy door, a billet heats to glowing yellow in the forge, there's work to be done.

A thirteen layer billet cut up and stacked, ready to be re-welded into a sixty two layer billet.
A sixty two layer billet ready to be drawn out.
Drawing a billet out on the hydrolic press.
Cutting the sixty two layer billet up.
Sixty two layer billet stacked and ready to re-weld.
The billet is precariously stacked and heating up in the forge.
310 layer billet forge welded.
Two 310 layer billets stacked on top of each other and ready to be welded.
620 layer billet ready to be consolidated and drawn out.
620 layer billet after I've made sure it's welded and drawn it out a bit. I will wait to draw it out into a long strand until next week.

Billets loitering.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Forge

The wind is up, rain pelts relentlessly, and I am finishing the autumn's work and starting my winter projects. Over the last year I've been focusing on honing my drawing and painting skills, alongside my work as a swordsmith and sculptor. The act of painting an idea is a much more fluid process for me than forging, carving and casting. It starts out with a seed and then slowly progresses, until suddenly after a day of engrossed painting, I realize it's done. It's an interesting and healthy counter point to the obsessive process of bringing a sword from the folds of my dreams into the world of edges and balance and polish. The artifact of the dream is always a compromise, always a point where I realize reality has set into the object and there is no more I can do.
I've just finished a self portrait titled "The Forge". The flaming smith who forges the phantasm of dream stuff into ordered reality in the grove of my imagination.

"Helvegr" is another single edged Norwegian Viking sword I've finished recently. I love the acute bog grass like blades on these swords and the fact that they are rarely represented in contemporary depictions of the Viking Age. I made a pattern welded sword in this style last winter called Vidirhrafn - Willow Raven.

Now I go back to the forge to start fire welding a pile of nineteen billets, which I will forge out into strands for making pattern welded swords from. Some of them will be folded to high layer strands that will shimmer and refract light like figured wood once they are polished; some will be left at nine layers of contrasting steel which I can twist and manipulate to form bold patterns down the fuller of the sword blades. This will be the steel for all of next years work. I have ten nine layer strands fire welded and ready to draw out.

Forging is an opportunity to touch the place where the body and the mind connect in a visceral way. There is no place for language here, only the instinct that comes from familiarity with a process and material. In order to successfully fire weld the layers of steel, you have to communicate with the steel on a molecular level through controlled heat and force. It's a funny process, some days if you hold your nose wrong nothing will weld; success in forge welding seems to have to do with calmness.

Late autumn swirls outside, bare purplish branches dance and sway in the cutting wind. It is a good time to be in shelter by a fire. Frost softened pumpkins slump into withered jelly by the doorstep, and the nights come early, before the days work is done.