Friday, December 24, 2010

spark in the darkness

The year dims down towards its last gasp. Black mornings slowly merge into short days, but the work pace doesn't slacken. Some mornings I am starting the forge at six thirty and working in a bubble of light like a craft in an ocean of darkness. The open door gapes like a mouth into the early morning black, then the delicate deep blue emergence of proto-day. I twist the strands. Late one day I manage to light my forehead and eyebrows on fire with a 'wumf' of flame, I beat them out and don't receive any burns just more manageable eyebrows, and a shiny forehead.
Twisting the strands is surprisingly challenging. I always discount this step as an easy part of the process, but by not preparing a mental space for the work I leave myself open to being caught off guard by it. The twisting and straightening is a full weeks work. Once the strands are twisted and I straighten them and make sure the patterns match, I cut the tips off at an angle and forge them around so that when they are joined they will form a Gothic arch shape. Then I tie them together with iron wire and forge weld them.
When the core strands are welded together I bend the 600 layer edge billets around them and tie that in place with iron wire. Now I am ready to forge weld the whole composite sword blade, this will establish the final pattern in the steel and is the crucial weld. Once the billets are all welded together it is time to consolidate the welds and draw them out to the proper length and outline.
A nine layer strand in the vise ready to twist the next section.

A twisted section

Three strands twisted and ready to be straightened.

Two sets of matching core strands after straightening.

The strand tips cut off at an angle and ready to be forged into half of a Gothic arch.

two strands with the tips forged round so the pattern will follow the edge strand as it curves around the sword tip.

The core strands tied together with wire and ready to be forge welded.
Forge welding the core strands.
Two become one.
I consolidate each weld and give it a chance to mature by reheating it and lightly forging it again.

This core billet is ready to be cleaned up and have the edge billet wrapped around it.

I surface grind and then flat grind the surface of the edge strand that will be touching the core billet, this helps make sure I get a perfect fusion between the two when I forge weld them together.

The edge strand wrapped around the core.

Four composite billets ready for the forge.

First sword heating up to around 2200 degrees Fahrenheit. Successfully forge welding the tip where it wraps around the core billet is the most challenging part of this process.

The edge billet is forge welded in place, the pattern is set. Soon this will be a sword blade, but for now the forge welding is done, yuletide awaits.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Snow-Mist and Forging Strands

Late November brings snowstorms; the field behind my forge turns white and grey, obscured by pencil lines of snow. Ground freezes and propane is sluggish and recalcitrant in the mornings.

Then as the month turns, it becomes warmer, snow turns to mist, the ground thaws. Creatures come out of their dens and sniff the air. When it is not overcast, intense light covers the land in honey colours as the westering sun sinks into fuming spruce forest.

I am over half way through forging 158 lbs of steel from billets into long strands. It's challenging work, physically grueling, the edge billets grow to over six feet in length making it very difficult to get them in and out of the forge, and they get hot, burning my hands. Once I have drawn them out into long strands and straitened them, I can see hints of the pattern showing through the fire scale. The nine layer center billets are easier to forge out, but I have to be constantly aware that as I'm drawing them out I am also consolidating the welds. It's important to keep the steel at welding heat, this means keeping it in the forge for as long as it takes for it to be glowing yellow white. While I wait I draw and write on my anvil, forge and fume hood, eventually I realize having a sketchbook in the forge would be a good idea. Drawing wile I wait for steel to heat up keeps me creatively engaged, and I bring the fresh energy it gives me back into forging the steel out which can become daunting with a big project like this.

I wear a forced air fume hood like an astronaut, it keeps me from getting woozy from too much carbon monoxide and borax dust.

Five hundred and eighty five layer billet being drawn out into a strand.
I use a 25 ton hydrolic press for this work, each billet weighs approximately 20lbs and is around 2200 degrees Fahrenheit when it comes out of the forge.

straitening a long edge strand.

a nine layer center strand in the forge, you can see the layers.

If you look closely you can see the pattern in one of the high layer edge strands.

two edge strands drawn out and ready to be straitened.

The edge strands are over six feet long, the late sun is coming in the shop door and blinding me.

If you look closely through the forge door, sometimes you see strange things... in this case a copy of an Alan Lee painting of dwarves pinned to the far wall!

Over half of the billets drawn out into strands. Next week I will finish drawing out the nine layer billets, and start constructing composite pattern welded sword blades.