After 5 years of having 5 less than great hammers and the same number of tongs, something shifted for me. The focus changed from the end product, to investing in myself. And that partly means better tools.
Whenever I decide to do something, it seems to be with an extreme case of monomania. Often I won’t know why, I just follow an instinct I have.
This year I accumulated seventy-five hammers, every single one unique and most of them rare. I found some tongs too, but hammers really got my interest sparked for some reason. From my perspective, changing hammers for different tasks is somewhat like changing lenses in my eye. Some are for finer detail, others to change the landscape fast. I often say that when in the zone, you forge with your eye, as the hammer has just become a reflex, a tool to achieve an aim.
But there is more to hammers, than meets the eye.
People’s initial reaction to a hammer collector is the question- “Why hammers then?” Well, aside from it being the King of tools, there are many reasons, and my reasons may be very different from most hammer collector’s.
Firstly I don’t collect modern hammers, or factory made, stamped hammers. My preference is for hand made, very old hammers. Hammers that effort and care has gone into the making of.
In every smithy, even today, there is one hammer that is that smith’s number one. Usually it is something compact, not oversized, a weight that can be worked with day after day, hour after hour. To quote Master Blacksmith Uri Hofi, “The average full time blacksmith swings a hammer 20 to 30 thousand times, a day. This is a killing profession.” A lifetime’s worth of intent and work passes through these hammers.
After years of Blacksmithing, noticing a good hammer becomes an instinct. I search for those number ones, the favourites, of blacksmiths long gone. For me they embody the wisdom and energy (mana) of Blacksmiths from bygone days, the “favourite” they used throughout all their endeavours becoming encrypted on a vibrational level, for that memory bank and legacy of heritage to be won by the individual skilled enough.
Whilst working long hours in a place filled with tools that are saturated with the deeds of many smiths before me, I often feel their energies bring me luck and guidance in the tasks I face in my own work. Being self taught, I never completed an apprenticeship. I sometimes feel like I am serving an apprenticeship to ghosts. My belief is that there is no more fitting a purpose for old tools than keeping the craft alive. I only hope that my collection finds a similar fate when I am gone.
*Some quotes in this entry attributed to my friend and wordsmith, Ash.
Sword Forging has been an ongoing learning process.
A Sword is revered by many smiths as the Master level creation of the craft, and I can now appreciate why. There are many secrets in the creating of a good sword. Sword forging is an activity that once undertaken should be married up with with meditations, research and exploration. From imagination, to reification, manifestation, nascent, transformation, evaluation and finally completion.
The metal chosen for the project is the primary decision. My Swords so far have been forged from EN9 medium carbon, high in manganese steel (used by the British Army for their cavalry sabres). It has great toughness capabilities, with enough carbon to give it the cutting edge required without compromising the blade. A high carbon steel or tool steel may sound great, but ultimately they are too hard and therefore brittle to be used for swords without some mixture of other steels via pattern welding.
The heat treatment is crucial, and can give you quite varying toughness and hardness levels depending on the method and temperatures. So the metallurgy of the steel is not the only factor.
There are 4 stages to heat treatment;
Annealing is done prior to forging, the blade is heated and then left to cool very slowly under coals. This draws carbon out of the steel and leaves it less brittle for forging. This is only necessary with higher carbon steels like old files or rasps, or if the project is going through some very stressful forging or work hardening.
Normalising is heating up the blade then letting it cool in the air. This is usually done after forging a blade, and is repeated three times. Normalising realigns the internal structure of the steel, reduces grain size (by grain I mean the crystalline internal structure of the steel), and allows any stresses created whilst forging to be erased. It also prevents metal memory, i.e. the steel returning to a prior inclination or curve when quenched. If a blade is forged on only one side, it follows that it will be unevenly compacted in it’s internal structure and therefore will warp once quenched. Normalising reduces this risk.
Quenching or hardening is immersing the hot steel in liquid. Many different temperatures and liquids can be used to obtain different results. Some tool steels harden in air. Hardening is very stressful to the steel, it forces it to change dramatically in grain size, becoming martensite. A hardened piece of steel can be as brittle as glass.
Finally, tempering is reheating the steel after quenching, to much lower temperatures, to reduce the grain size of the steel, thus removing hardness, and adding toughness. Toughness is the ability to withstand punishment. Different blades need different levels of toughness. Small knives need far less toughness than a longsword, for example. As they are going to receive less force and stress in their intended use.
The point of balance, distribution of weight, design shape and purpose are the obvious points to keep in mind. If a sword is too blade heavy i.e. the point of balance is too far up from the cross guard, it can become what is known as a “wrist breaker” when you swing it, the follow through of the weight bending your wrist to an uncomfortable angle. Or, if the sword is too heavy in the pommel, the blade can be harder to control, and can move more than you intended it to, due to the counterweight action of an over heavy pommel.
Weight distribution can be influenced by several factors, the length and size of the blade, fullering (A fuller’s purpose is to extend the obtainable length, and therefore reach of the sword, without adding to the weight), and taper, both in blade shape and distal taper (the thickness of the metal becoming less as it travels toward the point). Weight distribution gives a sword a sense of purpose in the hand, it gives it the balance required to manoeuvre it well and respond quickly to opportunities or incoming attacks. It makes a sword feel alive, and responsive to your will.
More important than all of these factors is harmonic balance, or vibrational tuning. Long discounted as a myth, harmonic balancing defines whether the blade will be a good sword, or a bad sword. Harmonic balancing is tuning the sword so that vibrations are not sent directly into your hand when striking a target. This is achieved by altering the distribution of mass along the sword, either by refining taper, pommel weight, cross guard shape, or other attributes which affect the mass, like the type of blade bevels employed. There are two points on any given sword where the blade flex crosses over when struck. These are called vibrational nodes. One is in the blade itself, the other is in the handle. These are the points where the sword vibrations cross over, creating an area that seems to not vibrate when struck. It is important that the lower handle node be where your hand will grip. The upper node, located in the blade, often called the “sweet spot” is the part that will vibrate the least when striking. This does not mean that it will provide the best cut however. The tip of the sword carries more momentum when swung, and gives you more reach, so the upper vibrational node is less important than the node located around the handle area. A badly tuned sword’s handle will send vibrations directly into your hand, damaging the handle over time, and is also not pleasant to use.
Thank you for reading.
*Some quotes in this entry attributed to my friend and wordsmith, Ash.
Watching the shapes in the fire one night, and thinking about the magic I sense when creating things, it ocurred to me that the magic is just like the fire,
when the metal is being forged, and the shapes manifest, that’s when I feel the magic.
But it is fleeting like fire, and changes in nature, to be imbued in steel. A memory remains, like ash on the ground, you can tell fire was there once.
Crom was the chief Pagan deity of Ireland before the arrival of Saint Patrick. He has been lost to history and little is known about him. Researching him was an interesting task, with different sources having wildly differing accounts of his origins.
I dedicated my first attempt at Bronze casting to creating an Amulet of him. Having no kiln to fire the clay mould, I resorted to oven baking it. The resulting cast was very rough and pitted where the clay had burned, but in a way, turned out better than something perfect. Crom was a bent, burned and crooked God, so it seemed worthy.
After piecing together the more reliable facts about Crom, I wrote this half riddle to tell the story of the Amulet;
Bearer of the wheat sheaf, Bringer of harvest,
Crooked one, Bent one,
Giver of the plough, Feast giver, Cultivator,
Burned one, Burned as I fall,…
through the fire and smoke
of the Samhain blazes into the underworld of Winter.
I am ruler of the elements, I live in the Earth, Bowed one of the mound,
Owner of a baleful light, A Possessor and Conserver,
I am Dubh, I am Cruach,
What is my name?”
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