Midsummer

Summer has brought with it a wonderful busyness, so that I have been focusing absolutely on the work and life before me. It has also meant that I spent about three weeks without even turning on my computer, let alone writing a blog post. So now I will do my best to get caught up…

I have traced a reverse path of human history, going from a sedentary lifestyle back to a semi-nomadic time. I began May with a trip to Stroud, in Gloucestershire. I was hosted by a dear family friend, Sibylle, who introduced me formally to the public footpaths of England. Although I have walked about a small amount, taking the time to explore the reaches of the paths was a giant leap in my awareness of the countryside. (For those who are unfamiliar, in England there are myriad footpaths crisscrossing the landscape, passing through a cow field, slipping by a garden, winding through a forest, all open to the public.) Besides walking through the landscape, I also had the fortune of meeting many lovely people in and around Stroud, a welcome change in my mostly solitary lifestyle the past few months. My encounters with new friends, and visits to inspiring places like Ruskin Mill College and the ASHA Centre, opened whole new dimensions of possibility for me, in just two short weeks.

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One of the walks near Stroud

From Stroud, I made my way across the country to catch a plane to Bologna, Italy. My brother Neal and his family were staying in the hills outside the city, and I spent four days with them. From the first meal on the evening I arrived, I passed the time in a state of constant fullness. That is, even though the mealtimes kept coming (as they do), and we kept eating (as one does), I was never really hungry. This was because I was inevitably still full from the last delicious meal where I had gorged myself. There was so much succulent flavor that my mouth is still watering to think of it. Aside from the food, it was a deeply inspiring and invigorating stay. It is difficult to put into simple words the absolute happiness of seeing those dear to me after many months. Throughout the simple daily activities, each moment was etched in shining crystal detail, to be remembered and cherished.

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A new coffee maker from Italy. Break time in the forge just got better.

Once I made my way back to the caravan, the work resumed in earnest. Between making stock for the year and working on some commission work of my own, we were getting all the details sorted for the upcoming axe making courses. (The benefit of this is I got many new upgrades – a shower curtain even arrived for the outdoor shower!) On top of this, Alex had three consecutive weekends of festivals, some just selling and others with demonstrations as well. I helped out for three days at River Cottage, a beautiful farm and cookery school founded by the chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstal. It was another wonderful opportunity to meet new people, do some demos in the field, and be a part of an event with thousands of happy vacationers enjoying the summery air.

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Pocket bottle openers I made for Alex

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A black stainless steel bottle opener.

When Fredrik and Simon arrived, everything kicked into gear. After twelve days of axe making with thirteen students, everyone was tired but satisfied. Bringing some of the techniques from Sweden and Gränsfors to England created a fantastic blend of forging. Not only was the metal forged into some nice axes, but also new friendships were created through our work.

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One of a set of four candlesticks I made for a customer, each 1.2m tall.

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Detail of the legs.

Now I am back in Sweden, relishing in the beautiful feeling of summer in Hälsingland. I feel only excitement and anticipation for the future, with many of adventures and experiences to come. Stay well and happy in the moments of each day!

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A Blacksmith Makes His Own Tools, and Exercise Equipment

It is official: spring is in full swing! Here in Somerset that means intermittent bouts of drizzle and stunning sunshine. Inside everyone there is a joy, that feeling of barely contained excitement that leaks out in grins and a sparkle in the eye. My work boots have had several days off as I work on outdoor projects barefoot. Our shop squirrel, Thor, has had several baby squirrelets…obviously we should have named her Sif. We installed a propane-heated outdoor shower, a huge luxury in my little homestead here. I put up the tomahawk target, and subsequently lost all free time to axe-throwing.

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My travels brought me to visiting a few more blacksmiths. Certainly one of the highlights was a day with Jim Horrobin, one of the godfathers of British blacksmithing. He sent such a shock of inspiration through me that I have been buzzing ever since. Not only has he spent a lifetime creating an influential body of work, but now that he is retired he is still active, experimenting with new materials and ideas. Being around him gave me a new interest in such experimentation, as well as the feeling that anything is possible with enough dedication.

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One of my experiments: a folded crucifix. It is unfolded from a single piece, a wonderful little puzzle.

Back at the workshop, Alex and I have been preparing for some axe making courses this June. Fredrik and Simon will be flying over from Gränsfors Bruk to lead a two day and a five day course. Between getting the workshop built up to accommodate a larger class size, making axe tools, and general enthusing, the upcoming event is never far from our minds. It should be a great time of collaboration, sharing of ideas and interests, and the obligatory sweat and blood.

 

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These tools, called drifts in English and don in Swedish, are for shaping the eye of an axe.

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Forged fullers with foraged shafts. Say that 5 times fast!

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A set of tools I refurbished and converted to wood handles.

 

The other projects will have to speak through their images and captions:

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My homemade exercise equipment: fully adjustable dumbbells with 1kg plates I can add or remove.

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I undertook a nailmaking challenge. This is the reject pile. Unfortunately the good nails were not as numerous.

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A seax, a traditional Saxon blade design. Another experiment of form and function.

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More blades for the Ritter Brothers Collection. Neal has made some beautiful handles for my previous knives, which can be viewed on the Laughing Coyote Project Facebook page

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My latest axe. Made from solid EN45 steel.

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I made the handle from scratch, out of wood harvested from the apple orchard next door.

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It is important to have a good lunch!

 

 

 

A Farewell to Winter

There is a singular feeling of whispered joy in the air. It is both a memory of times that came before, and the expectation of life to come. It is the feeling of spring, and I love it.

(Last week I got the opportunity to see my reflection in a mirror. Aside from the dirty coal black of my hands, my skin has an odd white glow like some of those fish that live in deep ocean trenches. I am looking forward to feeling the sun again!)

My days have been filled with such variety and depth of work that the time has whizzed by. In the last month I have been busy working with Alex, as well as taking time to visit several other smiths in Devon. My forging ranged from production work (100 hooks, 50 woodstove handles), to axe making (a throwing tomahawk), to flint and steel strikers, to helping fabricate rocket stoves for refugees in France, to making bodkins and bowl-carving adzes, to producing components for an outdoor railing, and visiting a 600 year old house to make a model for a spiral stair railing. Whew!

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My tomahawk.

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This design was made by folding a strap of mild steel around for the eye, inserting a tool steel cutting edge, and forge welding the whole lot together.

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The flint strikers I am making for Alex.

On my travels I worked with Jon Snow of Windy Smithy for four days, where I dipped my toe into the world of steel fabricating. It was challenging and precise work, and very valuable to my education as a blacksmith. Our task was to make 14 wood burning cook stoves for refugees in France. I mostly helped with grinding, cutting, and bending, but also chipped in with some nonessential welding. For hot work in the forge I got my first experience of forging out stainless steel, and began a dozen or so poppies for the Ypres WWI memorial later this year.

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Some of the rocket stoves getting ready to ship out.

The next stop was the woods of Dave Budd. Dave is a dedicated tool maker who forges in an off the grid workshop in a patch of woodland not far from Dartmoor. I helped out with some basketry tools and started some adzes, alongside many good discussions and lessons in a variety of topics. Camping in the woods alongside the resident roe deer and myriad other creatures as the moon waxed towards full was a beautifully peaceful time.

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Dave’s workshop in the woods.

My path then led me to Rob Hills’ workshop near Newton Abbott. Rob is a fantastic architectural and artist blacksmith, who takes on many different styles of project. I was amazed at the scale of what he produces working alone, and was glad of the opportunity to help him out for a day. He led me on my first foray into Dartmoor, a ruggedly beautiful area that holds on to some of the wildness of medieval Britain, at least in my imagination. Because there are now so many people on this small island, it is rare to find an expanse that is sparsely populated, at least this far south. It was the openness and emptiness that put me in mind of earlier times, and set my spirit searching.

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My neighbors one morning.

As I look ahead, there is another full month of travel on the horizon. My next trip will bring me a little further north, with new sights and sounds and adventures. And of course a healthy portion of the unknown. I wish the best of growing life and exciting opportunities to all who read this, and may the joy of spring fill your hearts.

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Some women’s knives.

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Flux spoons for the workshop.

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End detail.

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My most recent stab at tong making.