Friday, February 11, 2011

fire and ice

Snow falls on snow, then more snow falls.  Somewhere in the forested hills the bear sow and her cubs hibernate and the moose shifts about in his winter yard. It is snowshoe weather, too deep for skis.  I spent the day yesterday shoveling the snow from the roof of my shop.  Deep in their mazy hearts, trees scent spring and red buds emerge under the crushing silent white dunes. 

Work has been slow since the Yule holiday, a sickness in the family has changed the shape of my days, but the swords progress.  I consolidate the welds and forge the profile shapes into the blades.  Once they are forged I normalize them to relieve the stress in the blades from welding by heating the whole blade up in a long forge and then letting it cool.   

The next step is to establish the final shape of the blades on the grinder before I harden them. 

They are coming closer and closer to their final weight and proportion, and the hilt designs begin to bubble up in my imagination. Soon they will cross the invisible line between the potential and the real.  One can never call a blade a sword until it has survived being hardened. This is done by heating the blade up to the cadmium hued temperature where it’s molecules turn into a latent structure called austenite and then plunging it into a quenching solution, oil or water or liquid nitrate salts.  Cooling it from austenite very quickly causes the molecules in the steel to turn into a very hard crystalline structure called martensite. After they are hard, the blades will be tempered by bringing them up again to a mild heat and leaving them there for a period of time, this relieves the brittleness in the steel so that the swords are flexible but also hard.
When a blade is hardened it seems to change, it feels more alive somehow.  It quivers in a different way when moved quickly, and rings a long sustained note if tapped with a piece of metal.
But for now I am still grinding and shaping.  Storms blow through one after another changing the landscape of the snow; each day brings longer light and even among the snow world the smells of spruce and maple and birch begin to announce the slow waking of the northern spring.  


Fimbulmyrk said...

It´s a joy to read about your thoughts, and I envy the location of your shop, having had one like this myself and having been forced to move to an industrial suburb... but the passing of the seasons and the impressions will stay there for my life. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

The last photo is funny-is it Roquepertuse?;-)

Dave the Dead said...

You kept me waiting much too long for this update! I couldn't wait to click the link and learn about your progress.

Jake Powning said...

Thank you for the kind words Fimbulmyrk! Ha, Roquepertuse is pretty much what i was going for :)
sorry to keep you waiting Dave, I'm glad you like it!

John said...

I just found your blog the other day and have thoroughly enjoyed it.
Being a blade-smith of even moderate ability has been a dream of mine for a long time. The beauty and complexity of your work (I have enjoyed your website too) is breathtaking.
Thanks for rekindling my interest in the craft.

Luke Shearer said...

I always look forward to your blog updates. Can't wait to see the hilts!

Fimbulmyrk said...

Needless to say, I want to see the progress, especially on the long seax!

I like the message in the "Roquepertuse" photo, too... the realm of Hel in itself will fade, even death will melt to water again and give birth to spring... even if it maybe was not intended.

I like the tales of the steel even as much as the steel itself. It´s the true meaning of "rún iarann" (Auraceipt na n Éces) to me.

Can´t wait for the update, too!

Fimbulmyrk said...

Today I heard it, too. I cleaned the blade of a short Nessmuk blade under tap water, and as the water hit the steel, there was this faint, ringing sound. It was like a whip line somehow in itself. Is this the secret?

I got a clue what you meant. And I am fighting myself to try and have a go at a sword blade. Thanks for your thoughts even more so now.

Anonymous said...

I'm a huge fan! Glad I found your blog.
I enjoyed reading about your thoughts.
And I enjoyed the last picture immensely.
Snowskull Cavern, I will call it.