Smidets Dag 2015

This September 12 marked the first annual Smidets Dag (Blacksmithing Day) at Gränsfors Bruk. It was a gathering of blacksmiths and enthusiasts from around Sweden, with exhibitions and a forging competition. Other activities included axe throwing, folk music, and tasty food, all set against the backdrop of the presses making quality Gränsfors axes.

My uncle Ted drove up for the day from the Stockholm area, and documented his experience in a wonderful video. It is a fantastic view of the day and the place through his eyes. Thanks Ted!

The rules of the competition were simple: 2 hours to forge whatever you want, no machines allowed. And you could have one person helping you. I was recruited by Fredrik during his round, and we made a dragon candle holder. (The picture below is not the one we made during the competition — I didn’t get a picture of that one — but is one Fredrik just finished for a customer. Of course every piece is unique, but it is close enough to give an idea of what it looked like.) The second round I worked by myself, and made a ram’s head fire poker.

The competition was a fun time of working alongside smiths from all over, and there were eight competitors in total. In the next years hopefully there will be many more, and an international crowd is only a few years away. If you find yourself in Sweden the first weekend of September, it is a not to be missed event.

It is when we gather together and share our passions that we find the greatest fulfillment and joy. This was just such a day, with great camaraderie, beautiful work, lots of sweat, and big smiles. I hope to see you there next year!

Damascus

Damascus is a city in Syria, but it has lent its name to a unique type of metal. For hundreds of years, a superior steel came into Europe through Damascus, and it was coveted by warriors everywhere. The vikings traveled far south and east to trade for this steel, the best steel for weapons. No one knew how it was made, only that is came from the east somewhere, and was traded, and sometimes forged, in the city of Damascus. Because of its rarity, and especially when the supply began to dry up, European smiths tried their best to replicate damascus. The telltale clue of this steel was a faint, wavy pattern just visible on the surface.

A knife Fredrik made. 1792 layers

A knife Fredrik made. 1792 layers

From this pattern, smiths began experimenting with welding different steels together, folding and twisting and folding again. Researchers now suspect that the damascus steel of the middle ages and Renaissance was a different thing entirely, but a tradition was born. Now damascus is synonymous with pattern-welded steel. This process involves taking two or more types of steel, forge welding them together, and drawing out before folding and welding again. By etching in acid at the very end, the different types of steel are revealed in their patterns. The world of making damascus is a rabbit hole that smiths can lose themselves down. There are more patterns than any one person can imagine, and in many ways it is a great test and showcase of a smith’s skills.

The past two weeks have been full of damascus. It began with a weekend course for the Swedish company Damasteel, which makes pre-fabricated damascus for knife makers and other metalworkers. The company came for a weekend of team building, and celebrating their 20th anniversary as a company. We made axes from their steel, in an intense and exciting two days.

The axe we made as an example for the course.

The axe we made as an example for the course.

Then we had one day off before diving into the five day damascus course at Gränsfors Bruk. We had eight enthusiastic and ambitious students who hammered their way through the week with great energy. We found out together how making damascus requires concentration at every step along the way, and one botched step can ruin hours (or days) of work. These high stakes make the end result all the more satisfying, however, and they all had big smiles on their faces at the end of the week.

The products of our week

The products of our week

A Damasteel axe Fredrik made to experiment with the material

A Damasteel axe Fredrik made to experiment with the material

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My trial with Damasteel

My trial with Damasteel

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My first trial of a full steel handle of this type of design

My first trial of a full steel handle of this type of design

A woman's knife I made during the course

A woman’s knife I made during the course

And a trial of a different pattern

And an experiment with a different pattern

This one is made by grinding away parallel lines then hammering flat

This one is made by grinding parallel grooves in the billet, then hammering flat

Keep strong and productive, and enjoy every second that passes!

Welcoming September

Much has happened in the past weeks since my last blog post. If I were to write about it all I would be here all day…so pictures are going to tell the tale this time. Some highlights include: visiting Per Alnaeus, a wonderful blacksmith a little south of here; stacking the winter’s firewood; forging some items for the gift shop at Gränsfors; and recently, completing the 8 day tool making course at Gränsfors.

I am settling in more and more here, although the moment I start to get comfortable, something wonderful comes along and reminds me that this is a special place. One such moment was this last Saturday evening, when we were enjoying a sauna after teaching for the day. As we sat on the dock after the first plunge in the lake, the full moon came up over the water, heavy and yellow, crisp around the edges. As we sat watching, the lights of candles and fires appeared all around the lake, twinkling like our own constellation of orange, terrestrial stars. It was Ljusnatt, a celebration of the end of the summer and the coming darkness. There is such a peacefulness here, a warmth of character and quiet in the air. Each day seems better than the last.

The future is still a mystery, but that is just as it should be. Be well and stay happy!

A good picture of Fredrik, my teacher here

A good picture of Fredrik, my teacher here

Fredrik's house, where I am living

Fredrik’s house, where I am living. It was built in 1896

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Some of Per’s work

Detail of a damascus blade that Per made

Detail of a damascus blade that Per made

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Tea light candle holders that I helped Fredrik with for the gift shop

Napkin rings I forged, also for the gift shop

Napkin rings I forged, also for the gift shop

Some posts we made to hold a rope barrier around the axe throwing area. Yes, those are axes welded together to make the bases!

Some posts we made to hold a rope barrier around the axe throwing area at Gränsfors. Yes, those are axes welded together to make the bases!

Full steel and laminated knife I made during the course

Full steel and laminated knife I made during the course

A small hatchet I made in my free time, between sledging for the students

A small hatchet I made in my free time, in between sledging for the students

A skäggyxa, or bearded axe that I helped Fredrik make. Don't worry, I can't really pronounce it either

A skäggyxa, or bearded axe that I helped Fredrik make. Don’t worry, I can’t really pronounce it either

And of course Leia, the princess of the household. She is 10 months old

And of course Leia, the princess of the household. She is 10 months old