Fill your days with life, not your life with days

“Fill your days with life, not your life with days.” This was written on a sign I saw in a hunting cabin here in the woods. In the peaceful forest, filled with birds and mammals, large and small, sitting near a lazy fire, the words had a special impact on me.

Although I’m not sure I set a stunning example of this quote, the days have been quite full lately. Last month Fredrik, his brother Tobbe, and myself visited our friend Simon, a blacksmith who lives in Switzerland. The character of the landscape was frighteningly dramatic, with razor mountains set against soft Hobbiton hills. We ate an excess of good cheese, visited some incredible smithies, and met many nice new people.

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Fredrik, Simon, and Tobbe. And a castle.

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Two weeks ago was the celebration of Valborg, where Swedes light bonfires to honor the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It was maybe a little optimistic, as there has been intermittent snow and consistent cold for most of May! Still, a little green is showing itself on the deciduous trees and in the brown fields, and the light is coming back in leaps and bounds.

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Fredrik and Leia enjoying the blaze.

I have been helping a friend who is working at an organic dairy near here, enjoying the change of pace and learning about the cows. The work is always changing, and some unexpected jobs tend to appear: According to European law, all herd animals must be kept with at least one companion animal. So when a neighbour of the farmer bought a horse, he asked if he could borrow a cow for the summer as a companion. So we took an old cow who is retired from milking, put her on a lead, and walked around the lake to the neighbour’s land. Lucky that this breed of cow, the Swedish fjällko, is very friendly and personable!

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Emmie, Sunne, Frenja, and Mats.

In the forge I have had a variety of projects, both helping Fredrik and on my own. Together we completed another chandelier for a customer, this one quite large.

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It was difficult to take a good photo in the shop. If I get a better one I’ll replace it!

Fredrik showed me the process again for making a tvåflikig skäggyxa, or at least his version of this old viking design. It was an exercise in extreme patience, fighting the urge to forge any single part too thin or too long before the other was completed. It was quite a challenge for me, so all the more satisfying when completed!

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Photo: Hannes Thelin

There is an old tradition among journeyman blacksmiths. They traveled from master to master, learning and spreading knowledge about forging. When they left a forge that they liked, they would make a nail and hammer it into a beam. Thus was born the “nail tree,” a place in each smithy where different nails from journeymen were stuck. If you arrived at a smithy where there were many nails, of good quality, it was a sign that this was a good master to learn from. If there were not many, or of poor workmanship, then maybe the journeyman would move on quickly.

Fredrik is starting a nail tree in his smithy, so we can keep this tradition alive. So he asked me to make a nail for him, something personal and symbolic of myself or where I am in life. A fun project!

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Experimenting with new ideas is also important for me, finding the balance between form and function:

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Lastly, some picture from a visit to a woman who competes with Siberian Huskies in international dogsled competitions. Always good to be around energetic dogs!

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Balance

There is a phenomenon that becomes more apparent to me every day as I meet new people and visit new places. The more small differences I notice between folks, the more general similarities knit us all together. We talk, eat, work, and enjoy life in different ways. But many of our goals, ideals, passions, and hopes are the same. Seems to me that there is a comforting brotherhood in our shared sensibilities, while our unique traditions keep things exciting. Perhaps this is an oversimplified view of the world, but in my book it is a good place to start.

Spring has begun in an entirely unexpected way here in Sweden. There is that special something in the air that I can never quite put into words, the absolute certainty that we are moving into a new season. But never before have I listened to the birds singing their spring songs with snow still carpeting the ground, or while I jumped into the hole in the frozen lake during the sauna. Once again I find my certainties of the world shaken, and my viewpoint shifting to accommodate a new possibility. Maybe not a life-changing shift, but a life-enhancing one certainly.

Back in the forge we are moving full speed ahead. With both a full load of projects now, and a growing list of future possibilities, there is not much chance that things will become dull around here. For me forging is so much about the path to get to a certain goal, the process. So in the pictures to come there is a glimpse into this aspect of our work here.

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Components laid out for a pair of hanging candleholders.

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And one of them finished. Making this hang straight was a brain twister for sure.

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Fredrik and I worked together on this one. It was nice to have him do most of the thinking!

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The importance of symmetry.

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Legs made for two stools.

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…and finished. These are for a farmer, who should feel right at home sitting on these seats.

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Finding the right shape for tomahawks. Many more of these to come…

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Two knives Fredrik made. Once again using the process to dictate the final shape.

I have been able to continue enriching my life with other experiences too. The sauna, long walks with the dog, playing some fiddle here and there. Last week I visited a particularly inspiring farm, where they raise heritage pigs and cows for meat. And there were piglets!

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About one month old.

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A brave little one just a couple days old!

And to top it all off, Leia (the family bloodhound) was joined by her brother for the past couple of weeks. After all the playing together, sometimes a dog has to sleep.

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Majesty

The world is changing. The earth is coming alive with minute shoots of green, the air has a new potency to it. Whether this should be happening in mid-February is hard to say, and the beautiful sunny days have a sinister quality to them. Still, the birds are happy, and so are we.

I have felt a slow deceleration in the forge. Between running out of coal, several windy days, and preparation for the future, I have been spending less time pounding iron. Still, I am pleased to keep the thread alive, and have completed some exciting projects.

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The handle end of a fire poker.

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And the handle itself, an experimental “half Rubiks” twist.

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Seeking to find beauty in simplicity.

Knifemaking has been a substantial part of my work, and I’ve been focusing on laminated blades. This is the process of taking a high carbon core and forge welding mild steel on the outside, creating a three-layer blade. It is simple enough, and adds just a bit more durability. As with any technique, there are some dos and do-nots, and it has been fun to explore these. Refining my handles has also been a main goal. This is my least favorite part of making a knife, so finding the patience and techniques to keep improving is an important, but challenging task.

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The border between the steels

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And a handle, out of purpleheart wood.

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Another laminated blade, with a hidden tang. I burnt this one into its handle, a new process for me.

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And a sheath I made, the first informed leatherwork I’ve done. Many thanks to my friend Kevin Schilke for all his help on this one.

In between the forging there have been numerous lovely experiences. One highlight was baking kardemummabullar (Swedish Cardamom Buns) for New Year’s Eve. Yum! They made me think longingly of Sweden – just in time! In a little more than a week I head back, and I couldn’t be more excited. Many more adventures to come, I’m sure.

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As I approach my final days in this landscape, I am struck by the majesty of the world. The skies which are forever changing, an unimaginably huge expanse. The mountains which seem to grow in stature every day, their snowy peaks newly chiseled against the crisp air. The red tail hawk keeping a weather eye out for a meal from the top of the cottonwood tree. There are too many facets of this world to really appreciate, too many stories to ever grow tired of listening.

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(Lyra, the newest addition to the farm)