Friday, April 26, 2013

Artifacts of the Present

Tune in and watch the build on May 28-31 for daily live broadcasts between 10AM and 2PM Alaska Standard Time (2PM -- 6PM EST, 6PM -- 10PM GMT)  Artic Fire 2013

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Dwine - Broadseax

Dwine - intransigent verb \ˈdwīn\

: to waste or pine away: languish

- Merriam-Webster Dictionary


Between the words in old sagas, between the rhyming meters, I sense a presence—the words not said, the gods not named. I imagine these characters, the unspoken ones. One of them is called Dwine. In the world of mythology there is balance, what is lost in one place is found somewhere else. As the warrior diminishes, something else grows. His name is like the sound of bare branches in the wind. The second half of life is his domain. The force and wrath and strength of the young, that drains away as time passes goes somewhere. It goes into Dwine.

Germanic peoples during the migration period carried elaborate swords with pattern welded blades and bright ornamented scabbards and hilts. They also carried big knives, which grew larger over the period. These were brutal unlovely things; the blades had a strange looking humped back with a straight edge. Archeologists call this family of knives seaxes, after the Germanic word for 'knife'.


Swords embody a world of stories, of dragon slayers, leaders, and noblemen whose ancestors are gods and kings. The knife has a different story and like the gods I imagine, it is untold. It's an implied story, unlovely as the blades themselves. The characters are common folk, not descended from kings, yet their story is older. The seax cut hearth wood and slave-taker, it protected crops not castle walls. The gnarled-handed people who held these knives called on names that weren't recorded.



I forged the blade for this Seax as a demonstration at a smith's moot called CanIron VIII with help striking from my friend and fellow swordsmith Jeff Helmes.

The blade is constructed from five strands, the four spine strands are nine twisted layers each and the edge bar is 700 layers of folded steel.


I've been exploring seax hilts on paper for years. It's a challenging form to design with few examples of intact hilts. Petr Floriánek has been doing allot of work in exploring ancient Germanic aesthetics, especially as it relates to the seax. His work has inspired me to look deeper into this form.

I decided to follow my sense of the grimness of these blades. I chose oak for the grip and leather for the sheath. Oak has commonness; it's the wood of the spade handle, the door lintel. It's a peasant wood with roots in the oldest myths. It’s the wood of Thor and Taranus and Zeus— lightning gods and unpredictable protectors.


Blank faces look out from the ferules, turning away from the centerline of the knife to be clothed in expression along the edge and spine, where the blade speaks its knife language.

The sheath is woven with dream creatures, neither man nor beast, twisting in and out of sense.



The grip is carved from oak with skeletal beaked serpents.



I carve the fittings from wax and cast them into bronze.



Finally I assemble the parts, capture the light they reflected yesterday and collect words together, try to describe what I was doing, what the grim faces mean, but this story is not told in words.

blade - 32 cm / 12 3/4"

hilt - 24.2 cm / 9 3/8"

blade width - 4.5 cm / 1 3/4"

overall length - 56.2 cm / 22 1/8"


"One look in his eye

everyone denies

ever having met him."

-Tom Waits

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Birds Know

Winter is long. Snow, then snow on snow, darkness, cold, breathing the stale air of indoors too long— it wears you down after five months.

I begin to yearn for spring in February. I remember living in southern Ireland, how February brought in early spring— if the sun was out and you stood in the right building lee out of the wind you could feel it swelling your heart. But here February is the middle. Winter storms come like waves, wind tears trees down. Snow over all, damping sound, tracking through houses. On long nights when the sky is clear and the moon is pregnant with light, she lays it down across the whiteness.

Winter is a cold beauty. With the skill of a storyteller she holds spring back until the last, until you are desperate for it. And then one day winter lets go, just like that, no fanfare, no howling, just a vernal wind.

The birds know, they sing and flit in clumps, wingtips nearly touching. The blackbirds make short calls as if their voices have rusted over the winter and they grate and resist being used. Sparrows the colour of brown grass sing songs that I know from my earliest memories to mean spring. The ravens have a lookout in a tall spruce by my house and she calls a coarse warning and flies when I step outside, other black shapes lift and wing away.  Ice lets go its hold on the bank and bobs downriver almost invisible.

The hills fold into cloud, edges gone, the misty forest edge beckons me. Cows let out from their barn jump and gallop, cavorting in the dank warmth of early spring— It’s not really warm, but it’s warm enough.

Everyone knows it, spring has come, not on a designated day, but winter beggars can’t begrudge it. I feel winter’s bars loose on my chest as I walk to my shop, along the mud-rutted lane. Puddles reflect silver.



On my work bench I have fresh bronzes. I cast them yesterday, pouring the fulgent orange liquid into molds, then quenching them in water. I put my hand in the water which growls and screams as the hot investment boils into it. I pull out treasure— it filtered through my dreams onto paper then was carved in wax and now this solid undeniable thing. It will almost certainly outlive me and my children— someday some far human might find it clasping rotted leather and wonder who made it.


I’m almost to the chancy stage where I take all the disparate parts I have constructed, steel blade, leather sheath bronze parts, and put them together to make one thing.


Winter dreams, folded under her blanket of brown grass and swamp weed.

Spring cracks an eye— dog wood blushes blood red, snow pulls back to the edges of things, backs into corners, seeing it’s imminent demise. The swamp is already green.