Wednesday, June 7, 2017

47th Birthday, Part 5: Blacksmithing


Dorath grinned. His eyes went to Taran's belt.  "You carry a fair blade," he said. "It will be mine."

"Dallben my master gave me this blade, the first that was truly mine and the first of my manhood.  The one I love girded it on me with her own hands. No, Dorath, I do not bargain with my sword."

Dorath threw back his head and laughed.

Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander

Update: After four weeks of blogging about how hard it was to find the school and how sweaty I was, I'm finally going to tell you about the actual blacksmithing part of blacksmithing class.

Quick Precis: Blacksmithing involves hitting things very hard.

The class I took was three hours a day for a week.  During that time, I created (in order) a hook to hang coats on, a letter opener, a spoon and a two-pronged fork.  Each day, the teacher demonstrated making each piece.

He also had these examples so you could see all the steps.
I grabbed a piece of metal and started hammering.

Note the sexy shoe covers.
 And hammering.

Note the sexy humpback.
 And hammering and hammering and...

At some point, I got the hook into a hook shape.  I had to twist it, but twisted it the wrong number of times, so the hook was on the wrong side.  I then twisted back, ending with this weird wave in the middle.
I meant to do that.
Next I had to brush the scale off.  Scale is a thin, flaky layer of impurities that works its way to the surface when you heat metal.  You have to brush it off while it's hot, so it's important to wear the eye shields.  You really don't want to get flakes of yellow-hot metal in your eyes.

After the scale is removed, you have to take it over to a bucket of vegetable oil and dip it in and take it out quickly.  That way, you bake in a protective layer of oil so it won't rust.  If you do it right, you pull out a flaming piece of metal that looks good on your blog.  If you do it wrong, if you drop it into the bucket, you have to bake it on the edge of your furnace, which looks bad on your blog.  Guess which I did.


At the end of the day, I ended up with this twisted, awkward, hook thingy you might put on a wall if you wanted to make sure nobody hung a coat in your house ever again.


On the positive side, I got to reenact a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark:
"You don't need that. I'll tell you everything."
"Oh, yes. I know you will."
Day two was a letter opener made from rebar.  Scary thing I learned about rebar: it can be made of anything as long as it has a minimum strength.  Most of it comes from foreign countries which accept our castoff lead, make the rebar, and send it back.  The reason we made letter openers instead of knives?  You didn't want lead in your food.

Anyway, my reason for taking a blacksmithing class was to make a sword.  As a letter opener was as close to a sword as I was going to get, I made mine a bit larger than my classmates'.

My cosplay: Captain Hammer from Dr. Horrible, fused with Leonardo from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, wearing Michaelangelo's headband, after forty years of  a sedentary lifestyle.
 Just kidding.  That was one the teachers did for fun.  Here's my letter opener.

 Fun quiz: What's this?


Is it the Loch Ness Monster?


No, it's the end of my letter opener (my camera can't focus that close up).  I made the metal too thin and it curled over.  Now I can open folded envelopes.

[Hevydd, the blacksmith's] eye fell on Taran's empty scabbard.  "Once, it would seem you bore a blade."

"Once I did," Taran answered. "But it is long gone, and now I journey weaponless."

"Then you shall make a sword," commanded Hevydd.

The blade he shaped seemed to him ugly, dinted, and scarred, without the fair proportions of the old one, and he would have cast it aside had not the smith ordered him to finish it.

He flung out a burly arm toward a wooden block in a corner of the forge. "Strike hard," Hevydd commanded.  "The flat, the edge, and the point."

Taran strode to the block and raised the sword.  Doing his best to shatter the ungraceful weapon, he brought it down with all his strength. The blade rang like a bell.  The block split in two.

"Now," said Hevydd quietly, "that's a blade worth bearing."

"It's not a noble weapon, and thus it suits me all the more," Taran laughed.

Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander


I spent the next two days making a spoon.  Spoons are wider on one end, so you have to do something called "upsetting."  ("And it's very upsetting," the teacher said.) You put the metal perpendicular to the anvil and hammer on the top to squish it down like hitting a nail.  It's a pretty complicated process to do right. Within a couple minutes you have to:
  1. Get the metal out of the furnace with big tongs.
  2. Switch to a pair of tiny tongs so you can hold it by the end.
  3. Dip it in water up to a very specific point so only the end is malleable.
  4. Switch back to the big tongs, holding it in the middle.
  5. Put it on the anvil and hammer the shit out of it.
  6. Adjust the shape of the end so it won't squish in the wrong direction next time.
When you finally get the metal to about the right thickness (about 20-30 repetitions), you hammer it perfectly flat with hours of careful work.  Or you just let the teacher hit it with the autohammer.  Guess which I did.


Then you shape it some more, quenching as you go.

Taking care not to drop it to the bottom of the very deep bucket of water.
Then you quench your hand because you weren't paying attention to how hot metal can be when it's not glowing.
Teacher: Leave it in there a long time. Sometimes there's still hot metal burning you from the inside.
Here's my finished spoon.
Works pretty well if you only eat a tiny amount of soup.
Meanwhile, figuring I had extra time (ha), I got to work making my son a dragon as a toy.

The teacher put in rivet in to hold the wings in place.
The final day we made the fork, which was cool because I got to latch it to the anvil and whack it with a fucking axe to split the two tines. I was falling behind (I still had to finish my spoon, dragon, and letter opener).  This was as far as I got with the fork.

A lost verse from The Mikado describes making convicted gluttons eat with this fork.
On the last day, the teacher (ignoring how poorly my work ended up) told me what I'd cover in Blacksmithing 2.  After Blacksmithing 2, I'd be able to take Bladesmithing .  After Bladesmithing, I could make a sword.

I really wanted to make a sword, but looking at my finished projects, I decided to stop.  Everything I made was lumpy, awkward, black and pitted.  Although, having a lumpy, black sword with a straight, shiny edge would be really cool.

Hmmmmm...

With a mocking laugh Dorath raised his weapon, and Taran saw the blade that once had been his own glint sharply as Dorath swung it down with all his strength.  Taran saw his death upon him and flung up his sword in a last attempt to ward against the blow.

The blades met with a grating, ringing clash.  Taran's weapon shuddered in his hand, the shock threw him to earth.  Yet his blade held.  The sword of Dorath shattered on it.

Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander

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