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Freitag, 17. Oktober 2014

Of ancient trees and rugged trails-and of the difference between joy and fun

 Some time ago I felt burned out again. Now most of the stuff I do is rewarding work and I don´t mind a bit of a fight, but it has been a long time since I last had a plain old ride into the old hills. It´s a simple case of "don´t know what you´ve got until it´s gone"itis. I maybe could manage to ride more often, what with a scheduled ride by my own club, but I have lost somewhat the contact to the "scene". Mountainbike riding has always been a case of technical fascination for me, but that was not all there was. Mountainbike riding also had been competitive for me, and I rode a share of races in my life, some of them very hard ones, most of them fun, but that wasn´t all there was either. I´d like to call it a trail I have been on for 29 years now. I have seen very unusual places and rode trails you cannot ride anymore, like the Passo Pasubio at Lago di Garda, or some that people now think of as challenging with a 6" freeride bike with a rigid bike and toeclips, like the Dalco trail. I rode down ski slopes in winter when there were no fatbikes in sight, I rode the 1992 Kaprun downhill worldcup race (did not qualify, to be true). But that was never all that was there. There always was something more to it. It was a bit like the VVA  poem, which influenced me quite a lot:

"Scream with force into the driving wind-
And listen to the echoes in your mind"

(Victor Vincente of America)

I could rant on endlessly about "flow experiences in forest environments" and have written long essays about the coherence between flow, ch´i, satori, eucharist and Awen, but that´s not my topic now. 

In the mountainbike scene, as everywhere else, it´s more often than not just about shiny parts and fancy clothing. Riding skills are an issue, but not as important, and if you hone your riding skills, you do it to be able to keep up in a culture of constantly pushing the envelope to an extreme degree. Now I am all for some big air and technical trails, but fact is, three out of five mountainbikers build illegal trails now. They can´t tell a spruce from an oak, and it is most disgusting to see they do not even care. They want their fun. Now. They don´t want to go the extra length to fight for legal trails (and I can even understand why that is so, with the authorities just doing nothing but prohibiting an otherwise ecologically sensible activity). Those who already have legal trails carelessly endanger it by careless behaviour or let others run wild with a spade on their legal courses. 

The woods is what counts to me, and having the privilege to be out there. A tree is a living thing, and while you might have a reason to cut down one or two, you´d better have a good one in my book. Trees assure our survival. No trees or green life, no life at all. This equation is dead simple, and without considering it, mankind will be simply dead. I personally am one of those crazy head-in-the-clouds tree huggers. Ah yes, I cut a stick from a blackthorn hedge or the like. But I know where and when and what to do so that the tree does not die and even profits by it. I am not enfuriated because illegal trail building is against the law of human society. I detest it because most of them do not know what they do, and their understanding is superficial at best, and I hate their utter ignorance of their lack of understanding and their aggressive stand towards remaining ignorant. 

Now I love a good jump as much as anyone else, and love to ride trails I cannot ride in the first. Why can´t I then just embrace their endeavour and forsake that treehugger blahblah (this is a quote)?

Because there are trails in abundance. Lots of trails in the periphery of my home are so challenging, that even with a modern all - mountain fullsuspended bike, few would ride them first-time. There are switchbacks with stairs so ragged, roots and stones so gnarly, that even a modern bike can be put to its limits. The culprit is, they do not start in your quarter, you have to venture beyond suburbia to find them. To do that, you have to take time and power to get out there. Few want this. They are accustomed to get everything, NOW! CHEAP! And they are many, and they are weak, but there is strength in ignorance and numbers, alas, the story of my life.
And thusly, for a long time now, I have admitted defeat. I have long forsaken reading their shiny magazines and take part in their craze of novelty mania where nothing´s as old as the bike of last month, and last year´s models are the ones you can buy this year in summer. And when I last took part in the club ride, I noticed two things: I could no longer partake in their conversations, and their communication was strange for me, for they are cyborg zombies in that they are always in a frenzy to communicate at the same time on facebook, what´s app, twitter and personally (in this priority order). And, when I partook, they gladly refused their responsibility and put it on my shoulders. As much I love to work with kids, try guiding a tour with but one kid constantly using his smartphone whith one hand while trying to speed down a gnarly downhill, and having not enough skill for two hands, and you know there´s a problem.

So, I dimissed riding with others altogether, and, wanting to be left alone, left my bike at home also, because it´s a bummer if you want to watch wildstock and have to tread carefully through the thicket and carry a bike on your back. And riding off trails is not an option for me.

But the memories of times gone by keep coming, and while many of them circle around great rides with friends I have lost now to the grey maggot machine, more memories circle around mountains I had seen and trails I´d ridden. Not all of them fond, but many. Most revolve around the feeling of flow, of feeling with the heart of the buzzard gliding beside the trail when I flew down the hill, just 2 m away. This were the most exilarating moments to me, when I felt one with the law of the universe, when I felt there is a deity and I was part of it. And my bike was a vehicle to it. It enabled me to feel the flight of the buzzard beside me, and it took me places I had never seen were it not for those 11 tubes of metal, rubber and chains.

I realized that this is a good thing and a good reason to ride. It helps me strive to be a better and more whole human being. It helps me keep my sanity in an insane world. I know I am relatively slow at the moment, with my profound lack of training, but it does not matter. There´s noone to compete with, and noone to pass my skill on. Noone will understand these feelings, but that does not matter either. I will write about them no less. 

Those were my thoughts just when I got out of my flat. And the trail called with mighty voices never to be heard.
 Into the darken woods. To be true, my ride started with a long transit along a bike lane, but it is the most comfortable way to get to where I wanted, a beautiful valley leading up to the mountaintops I have so long forsaken. The weather forecastz had been quite awful, but that did not keep me out of the woods. When I heard the little creek murmur and sing, I simply had to stop and listen. Otherwise, all was silent, and not a soul was onm the way. But the creek sang its song silently.
 And I recognized how trees sink their roots into the rich, dark soil, with the odour of autumn rising up. And a thought occurred to me. How come, so did I contemplate, that in the season of decay the earth smells rich and strong and nourishing as if you could feed on the scent alone? It was as if the green life grows stronger in the autumn, as if the light we humans cannot see anymore, ver-iugos, the power that is above the yoke, thrives in the decay, but not in sickness and rotting, but in the cycles of life and death, of hunt and feast.
 Thus sang the creek and the fallen trees,
 thus sang the mist arising.
 I set down my trusty bike, and climbed down to the water.
 And listened to the song of spirits in the glistening trickle, eerie, but still loud enough for ears that can listen.

 Gently, leaves rustled, and still the trees stood green and thriving, but in a gentle breeze they fell and danced.

 Then it was time to rise, and mount my bike. I was pleased with the new tires I recently bought, for my old ones were bald as baby heads. For those interested in things like that, I now ride Maxxis Minions, and I am very content with the traction they provide in muddy conditions. You can slam into a berm full-tilt and still don´t kiss the dirt, and that´s a thing. I have to do some thorough bike service soon (when I can afford it), but overall, I am very pleased with the bike I build a good year ago. It´s something when you ride a lot in foul conditions and the cables and drivetrain and bearings don´t falter a bit. So, no reason to buy anything new, eh? If it were not for those nagging wishes at the back of my brain and the thought of trying to go for it once again. At least there are decent races with proper courses now, like the Enduro series and the like. But then I am 42 now and everyone, so they say, has to suffer his midlife crisis at that age. I am tempted to not have one, just to prove them wrong, but then, where´s the harm? Perhaps I´ll get me one, just for the experience;-). Does anyone know where to get ´em cheap?

Then it was quite a bit of climbing for me, but before I noticed, I was on top of the hill.
 And looked across some scenic vistas
 It sometimes pays off to have your head in the clouds and many bitter and sweet and weird thoughts in your head. That way you don´t realize you have to climb and the hurting in your legs;-). I took no pictures of the singletrails I rode. Nothing to brag about, but flowing enough, and it´s funny-if all runs great and you feel great, you have little to tell, and I had few thoughts descending, just feelings, and feelings I cannot tell anyone intelligently of. It is a kind of windshield-wiper effect as I like to call it. Your mind just goes blank, and to me, this is a sort of kathartic effect, for, hey, someone who writes stuff like this post, certainly thinks too much.;-).
 I then rode the trail down to the river Volme, and it was unchanged, even if the last time I was here was years ago, constantly flowing and never the same;-).
 On the singletrail I came across this oak, which presumeably was struck by lightning, and soot-blackened was its stem. And yet, there they sprouted, violently, fresh green leaves, yes, still green in spite of the late time in this year, where everything seems to have gone mad. And I daresay it will become stronger by the damage the fire had done, straining its roots ever stronger into the rocky soil, maybe ravaged by the storm, maybe struck by lightning, but standing still with its branches and stem dancing with the wind.
 My trail led on, and I daresay my trail leads on, a trail I have ridden countless times in my life, ever changing, never the same, often fiercely uphill and smoothly, flowingly, inspite of gnarled rocks and roots, down.
 Over hills and far away, as I did countless times before, and yet, it was still different.
 And I came by my old friend, the Priorlinde, an ancient (1000+ years old) linden tree. Often have I spent hours of starlit nights under its mighty branches, in winter, spring and summer. I have kissed girls under it and grieved for them under its branches, I have laughed and cried and hugged it and danced under the stars and the moon under it. It maybe old, but I am very glad it still sprouts.
 On and on the trail led me, up a steep incline I had never managed to ride the years before, and down a hill with more memories still, but I rode it in the present. It started to rain, a light drizzle, and I was feeling exhausted, but there were some miles still to come. Then, suddenly, or so it seemed, I came across this hut beside the fireroad, and since the rain went from drizzle to downpour, I just used the opportunity to just do some more stumpsitting and have a cuppa tea.

 So many things are there I could tell you. How I sat there in silence, listening to the jewel - like raindrops fall from the roof, how the solitude and silence soothed my heart, until it was time to get on the long ride home. How the solemn feeling of the sombre woods in the rain was a bit countercorrected by the feeling of cold and wet sneaking up your arse;-) to be precise.
But all this will not hit the nail on its head, so to say. I think there is a difference in experiences like this to the plain old fun ride. And one might argue it has something to do with me being depressive, and in some cases, this would be right. But I have long thought about it. A ride like this is not cool or extreme and does not kick anyone´s ass, and certainly not mine. It was just a leisurely ride in silence and solitude, with deep experiences. I have taken friends on leisurely rides like this, by the way, and it was not five hours into the ride that they cried for home, but that´s not the culprit either. There were just so many things to see, wonderful things, weird things and wild impressions, that I had to think about it. Why do I like rides like this? They  are not what I´d call fun. Funrides are rides where you laugh your head off after chasing your buddies down a trail that could kill you. That´s fun. This ride wasn´t a fun ride, and it has been quite some time that I went on a fun ride.

But the simple pleasure of not only seeing all those wonderful things, but becoming a part of it, was a pleasure that far transcends the concept of fun. I see the necessity of fun rides, too, and I have to do some more in the future. But even more important to me would be to try to integrate both. They say a man can´t have both, but why not? "If the farmer can´t swim, it´s always the bathing trunks" is not an option.


The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
(J.R.R Tolkien: The Road Goes Ever On, in: Lord Of the Rings)
With eager tires, I might add. It´s not the bike, nor its components, but a chance that´s far bigger than just the next stupefaction by adrenaline. Adrenaline and endorphine are great to experience, but if you just serve them, there´s something wrong. They are your hormons after all, and they have to serve you, not the other way round. The same goes for your bike. If it serves you, great, you might even give it a name, in earnest or mockery. But if you are servant to your bike, or worse yet, the industry, you will never ride onwards on the path.

But of course I have found a resolve, for if you have no fun in life, it´s entirely your own fault. And I know this full well, even if I have ranted about the effect the behaviour of others had on my life, but this was meant to be purely descriptive, and my decisions have been made by me long ago.

I have found out on this ride that I just need this trail. It is a part of my spirituality, and has made me what I am, and to reach the next crossroads, I must RIDE on. Not just walk, or talk, that much rhyme shall be allowed;-). So have to pay a bit more attention to my bike, that- alas!- has been a bit neglected in the past, and have a bit more rides like this and to find out more about that delicate line between joy and fun. And I want to put a bit of blacksmithing into my mountainbike riding. I have some ideas, but they are not ripe enough to spill them yet. Quite certainly there´s a jig and a TIG-welder involved;-).

And so I see new hills with new uphills and more downhills ahead, and I look forward to them.

Donnerstag, 16. Oktober 2014

Brief Review of an Elite Force folder-my new Mountainbike riding folder

First and foremostly let me say this: I cannot understand why customers dig knives that are called "Elite Force", "Spec Ops", "Extrema Ratio" (as if ultima ratio weren´t enough), "Taliban takedown" or whatnot. Those names are often associated with "romantic" (even though this kind of romanticism completely eludes me) associations of sneaking up on sentinels or what everyday people regard as a typical foot soldier´s everyday routine. The term "tactical" also demands more explanation for me. While I see that intercontinental assault missiles might have a tactical application in modern warfare, I somehow fail to see why knives are considered as "tactical" weapons. Of course, a back-up application might be the background for this naming, but then, if you have to use a knife as a weapon, you are in a situation where most everything has gone so seriously awry that you might instead also use it to kill yourself. And, talking to many soldiers, and even having made some knives for operators, you learn soon they have used it mostly for bragging, opening boxes, tin cans and persenning, cutting rope and wood and eating.

No sneaking up on sentinels, see? No felony stop, see? (Why the way, what kind of felony? Simulating masturbation in public;-)?)

But then I ride my mountainbike quite often. In the mud, and the rain, and snow and hailstorm and summer and winter. In the cold and the heat and in the woods, across sticks and stones. The conditions make bait out of natural materials in no time. Also, while wearing a fixed-blade-knife can be done, it´s not comfortable, and in case you slam head first down a drop and land on your hip, there are many things I´d prefer to having a fixed blade in your thigh. So, a folder it is. A long time now I have carried a trusty EKA Swede 90, and there´s no harm with that, but, wooden scales, chain grit, mud, sweat and the like don´t go well together, and I have to make a new handle for it.

So I considered a new folder. It should have a stainless steel blade of a good but bargain steel, a good length, a nail nick to make it legal, synthetic scales and a clip to keep it where I put it and not puncture my groins in case of a fall. I came across this heebie-jeebie-tactical-elite-force-goobalabaa did I already mention tactical?... knife. I utterly detest its appearance and its name, but there´s no denying the fact that it´s a good and bargain knife. It is of Chinese provenience, of course. The blade´s 95 mm long and 4 mm thick with a slight hollow grind that locks by a liner. In the spine of the handle there´s a gut hook (It is tauted as a rescue knife). First thing I did was removing the thumb opener and adjusting the bearing so that you cannot open it with just one hand anymore. I am a good Mammonist, and I have learned my sermons well: Thou shalt not use one-hand-opening knives, for they are the essence of Evil...;-). Can´t say I am too fond of the gut hook, I have never needed one, and the glass breaker at the handle´s end´s also a bit of a mystery to me, but, hey, every social group needs its mythology, and rescueing people out of burning cars is not a bad dream to have.

The knife normally costs 39,90€. The blade came out of the box hair-splittingly sharp. The liner´s adjustment leaved something to be desired, but this was cured with a turn of the bearing adjustment screw and a bit of oil. After this, the liner locked the blade just as it should, with enough room for wear. The blade was so sharp it cuts curves into free-hanging newspaper. Cutting through was a compromise of course, with a spine thickness of 4mm, and a hollow grind that is set at one half of the blade, but, hey, this is what you expect from a heavy duty folder. And it can take a beating. In the pocket it rides tip-down, which is reassuring if you ride hard. It is not really light, but gives a very sturdy feel in the hand. The bearing adjustment screw is a big bonus, in that it can be adjusted with either Torx or flat screwdriver (even with a coin!). It has neither lateral nor axial play, and the beefy liners (on both sides) make for a stiff construction even when prying. After chopping dried ivy in the garden, the edge needed ten strokes with the strop to be hair-splittingly sharp again, but still shaved.

Do I like it? I do, with the noted limitations. I would suggest changing the gut hook for a Philipps head screwdriver or a bit holding device (or a corkscrew;-) ). I would add a  stonewash finish to the blade to keep it attractive for a longer period of time.

It´s an ugly knife with a ridiculous name, but it gets the job done, and that´s more than anyone could wish for in a knife for abusing. If you need a knife like this, buy it.

New and baaadass Seax;-)

 During our recent hammer - In I forged a blade out of ancient spring steel I found in the woods, the same I forged the recent integral from. I tried again the hollow-forging technique that gives a good compromise between strength and cutting prowess. I look at it this way: Many bushcraft knives, and even famed ones like the Ray Mears design have a great ability when whittling or doing surface cutting, but tend to be not so good when you actually have to cut through something. This is due to a Scandi grind that does not even reach the first third of the blade and therefore acts more like a wedge than a knife. I am personally very fond of a kitchen knife of Syrian provenience in my possession, which has a blade that is at the thickest 1,3 mm in the spine, AND has a convex bevel. It is made of Wootz steel which means you can actually chop antler with it with no harm to the blade and to a lot of things I would not do to a veritable production bushcraft knife. Better knives for cutting through things are the Puukko variety, including the bush prowler by Ilkka Seikku

This led me to some deeper and weirder thoughts. The strength of a blade lies in the thickness, of course, and the edge geometry, for sure, but in production knives, this is often due to liability issues or production requirements. Hand forging, when done right, is a thermomechanical grain refinement, resulting in a tougher steel structure. If you then take a steel suitable for the task do not mess up the heat treatment you end up having a very high potential in a blade. Now I have long obstained from hollow grinds, even if I like them for the cutting feel they induce, but always was a bit suspicious because there is a profound lack of material where you want it most in a "tough" knife. But I am talking production knives, mostly out of 440C or similar steels here. Stainless steel now has comparatively coarse  grain structures (when compared to high carbon steels with no alloying or tool steels like 1.2442, 1.2842 or the famed 1095 or 15N20 steels) due to the chromium carbides which are relatively big, and most production knives with a hollow grind are laser-cut and ground into shape, not forged, to day. Normally, this would not be a problem at all, but I am talking extreme use and a hollow grind here. If you dress a rabbit once a year and use it for snacking and light whittling tasks you can be more than glad with a 440C production knife. But, when forging, I like to push my personal envelope a bit. So I took this steel which consists of iron and carbon (0,75%-0,95% estimated), and which has seen a hundred years of cold-working until seeing another 50 years of lying in summer and winter temperatures from 40 to -20° Celsius, and was very scrutinous about my temperature window and the heat treating and forged it hollow over the horn of the anvil (Blimey, have to make a tool for that!;-)). The blade is selectively tempered. The spine is a brutal 6mm thick, but that´s about it, it radically tapers to 2,5 mm and then to 1,5 mm in the middle, becoming a moderate 2mm above the edge. The edge then is set high to make a wider grind line (messed it up a bit, I must admit), and the angle is just 20°. I estimate the hardness at about 60-62 degrees Rockwell, gradually fading towards the spine (three quench lines). The tang is almost as wide as the blade at the transition towards the handle, tapering to 5 mm with just the last cm of it being filed down to draw the butt-cap in, the handle is elk antler because it has no marrow which might compromise stability. To compensate for the lack of material at the transition, the handle is wider at the bolster and a ferrule out of copper is fitted. It is glued with a dual-compound glue that hardens up to 370 N / mm² tensile strength. Only then is the butt cap glued on and the tang peened over. 

 I have, by the way, peened it over in a very unprofessional way which qualifies aas gross abuse. Positioning the tip of the blade at a right angle to the grain of dried and knotted heather wood, I hit the tang with a ball peen. I then levered the tip out, and it was only slightly bent, not broken. I hit it with the peen to straighten it up. I then thought alas, it´s too soft and tried the tip with a file. It slid off, taking off but marginal shavings. This steel is awesome, and I hope I can find some more! I the tried to slam it against the vise to provoque breaking off what wanted to break off after this, but it didn´t, even after this degree of abuse. SORCERY!;-)
 The shape of the handle and the blade looked awkward at first, but it´s growing on me fast. The tapered handle makes for a secure grip, and the blade has a balance that makes you want to whittle and cut.
I have chopped antler with it and carved funny curves out of freehanging newspaper afterwards, opened tin cans, made the sheath with just this one knife, and cut thin pieces of salami, onions, cheese, apples, and fresh bread. I whittled with it, pryed with it, dug with it for roots, and it does it all. I guess I have created a monster;-). It´s not eloquent, and many people would not like the raw appearance, but to me it has a history and it performs better than many of my knives and certainly better than most production knives I own. I guess, mission accomplished, so off to the toolmaking with me;-)

Mittwoch, 8. Oktober 2014

Dirty BSTD in a sheath;-)

 This is the knife I made fast and dirty from ancient spring steel, with hammer, tongs, anvil, fire, oil and a diamond hone. No electric grinder or drill, no filing. The blade is made from ancient spring steel I found in the woods with an estimated carbon content of 0,75-0,90% and not much more, the handle is from an old chandelier.
 The tang is burned through, then glued in, the tang peened over a brass disc (which will see some filing, okay, I know I´m sloppy;-))
 The integral is forged 100% to fit with the help of a nail device. The blade has a hollow taper towards the edge which fades into a convex "grind" towards the edge, all hammer-forged.
I have tested it thoroughly already. It cuts iron rods and yet is sharp enough to slice curvatures into freehanging newspaper. It chops antler and still shaves afterwards. Due to the forged hollow it is extremely slicey, but since it is forged, not ground, it is actually even tougher than a flat grinded knife. I made a sheath for it with loops for vertical and horizontal carry, which did not turn out too well, because when temepering the leather the front loop got to hot and crinkled, meaning it also shrank a bit. My favourite 5 cm belt only fits through it with an effort now, but no harm done.

I guess it is soon to become one of my favourite heavy-task bushcraft knives...

Great Hammer-In with my weirdo friends;-)

 Some good week ago we met at the smithy again for a hammer-In. Olaf had called, Burkhard, Tim and Peter, Kai and Nick came to the smithy to do some smithing and BBQing afterwards. Nick did his first knifemaking tutorial with a Scandinavian iron-age loop-handle design he had never forged himself... very ambitious and a bit over the top, if you ask me, but he did very well. And since Tim thoroughly enjoyed himself, no harm done really. I tutored a bit besides, but only homoeopathically, and we all left with smiles...
 Olaf, Kai and Burkhardt having a chat. I forged a warhammer together with Olaf, and he really seemed to like it. And, bro, you brought too much! For Olaf brought a right truckload of good ol´steel, including some damascus and would not hear me decline it... So, lot of thanks to you. Olaf is one of the nicest guy I have met in the last years, in spite of his somewhat rustic appearance and a lot of "Huscarl" talk.. just a friend you like to have around. It was a right pleasure to work together, have some nice chats and sip a coffee.
 Kai wasn´t too lazy, either. He forged this leaf - handle knife. Spring steel. He is absolutely into leaves to date and makes huge progress in the moment.
 Those are his most recent works, three tongs he forged... blimey!;-)
This was Nick´s and Tim´s achievement, and I really like the fact that it was a genuine team effort.
 We lit the fire for the BBQ quite soon.
 This, by the way, is Marie, Burkhardts doggie, real cute, if you ask me, in spite of her complete ignorance of sharp and hot metal. She even caught some sparks without so much of further notice....

"Marie, dein Liebster ist ein Tier...";-)

Some of the stuff Olaf brought... I love those ancient hatchets, the smaller one presumeably out of three layer laminate!

Then, all of a sudden, it was dark, and we were hungry. I had prepared my trademark champigNOMMs;-) with a guacamole / Obazda sour cream stuffing, two good beef entrecotes, four pork chops, Nick had four pork chops, bread, salad, and the others contributed their part until we had way too much food. But we were hungry, did I mention?

 We sat and ate and chatted the night away.
 At 12 pm we added the next layer, and ate and talked some more.
Then, well into the night, we packed up, and I rode home on the deserted bike lane all stuffed and with the warm feeling of a great day in great company. Life can be great.

Donnerstag, 25. September 2014

Some eye candy by Erich

 Erich, the father of my lovely magic troll, recently disappeared. He was sought desperately, until strange sounds from the cellar indicated there was something going on there. Turns out Erich got the knifemaking bug bad;-). I am NOT TO BE MADE RESPONSIBLE FOR THAT!;-) Above is a Lauri puukko blade with Goldfield and beech wood.
Below is a silver steel blade by myself as a wgittling knife for his girlfriend, As you can see, it´s selectively tempered. Beech wood with brass mountings. Sweet!

Montag, 22. September 2014

Forging virtually around the clock;-) a weekend with great people and some catastrophes as spice

 Unrest got the bug bad;-) and thus he sent me a SMS how it would be to do a hammer-In on Friday. We had planned it beforehand to do some barbecueing also. I had organized the event and asked Volker if it would be possible, and it turned out it even was REALLY okay, so we met at 2 pm and lit up forge. Nick was there, Kathrin, Michael, Nele, Volker and myself, and we set up the forge and anvils in a circle (thanks, Nick!). Nele and Michael wanted to make their first knives, and Nick wanted a maximal EDC, meaning a knife at maximum legal blade length out of spring steel. Unfortunately, things were not so good that day and he suffered from some mishaps. Bro, don´t be upset, it happens to all of us! Michael insisted upon  forging his blade all by himself, and I was like "ouch, this might not turn out too well", but I was really impressed. He had to take his time, but this was also the key to his success. He really contemplated every step, and if he was not sure, he asked me. I also was impressed by his girlfriend. In her case, I helped a bit more, but let her do the crucial parts, filing the shape and the bevel and the tang part, and of course a lot of hammer work. We also came across a new technique and forged a hollow-to-convex bevel on the blade, in the case of her blade a bit wayward still, but it turned out so well that I might use this technique on more future knives for bushcraft knife. It certainly makes the knife very slicey without sacrificing lateral strength and edge stability. We did the bevel with what was to hand, but I guess I´ll make myself a tool for it in the future. Then Volker came by and asked me if I could do a children´s birthday party the next day. As usual he had forgotten he had an invitation to a marriage also and also forgot to notify me a bit earlier. We had beforehand appointed that he would notify me a week beforehand if there were any work on schedule, for I try to earn my money with several jobs and have to organize each and every work I do with much flexibility, but as usual he did not manage to keep this appointment. I told him again why this drives me mad, he of course was just one step short of crawling on his belly before me and licking my boots clean, I told him again that I did not want his remorse but a perspective and respect through a tiny bit of reliability. He is a good guy, but someone seems to have beaten him up throughout his entire life. Sometimes he reminds me - no offence meant - a lot of Gollum from LOTR. Nothing gained with getting furious, I simply returned to the good work and the great atmosphere.
 Nele filing the tang. We then annealed it some more, and then Michael prepared a piece of wood by using only a hand axe, we drilled a small hole for the tang and then burned it in to achieve a fit. Then we unmounted the block, ground it to shape, tempered the blade and sharpened it and glued it in.
 Nele not sure what to do next*ggg*. Kathrin lined up to forge a fork and did very well until she suffered some mishap too. But she simply carried on, and when one tip of the fork burned away she simply made an awl out of it.

 I could not resist photographing Michael´s rag T-Shirt. I like the fact that he uses it as a rag T-shirt, for it´s the crew shirt of Zee Aylienz Bike Race my club once organized. Michael was not too fond of some developments (on which we are 100% agreed) of the club I once founded blah blah. Now many people identify themselves very much with this club, which is a good thing, but the bad thing is that they act the Gestapo with people who have broader interests than just bike racing and bike racing alone and thusly do not buy in to their uniform attire mania. Michael also had suffered some verbal abuse from those little dictators, and I find it delicious that he now wears the shirt for doing actual work.;-). I also contemplated that club a bit. Many of them think mountainbiking gives them freedom. And while individual transport offroad really does, the way they do it doesn´t. Mountainbiking can be a great vehicle for individual "rewilding". It can take you places, it can give you a better connection to the woods and your own body. It is a great way to experience flow and therefore a step ladder to feeling flow in forest environments and reconnecting with nature by this. Racing also is a good thing for that, if you know where to start and where to end.

But many mountainbikers buy in to a product subscription by starting their riding. You need at least four bikes to cater for all those generated needs you read about in fancy penny-dreadful high-gloss magazines, plus all the latest clothing and riding gear paraphernalia. You need to buy a freerider, an enduro, a CC-bike, a fun hardtail, a 29", a 27,5" and whatnot in both hardtail and full suspension configurations. You need to ride in the Alps, in the USA, all the bikeparks and trailparks and urbanparks and skateparks and where and when and whatnot, meaning you have to spend a lot of money to even get started.

But it is about life, and freedom isn´t free. Meaning you either join the ratrace to consume and  throw away and therefore have a job that burns you out (every second person in Germany suffers from psychological problems and mostly burn-out depression), meaning no freedom whatsoever just to achieve what you believe is freedom, or you go for it and rewild yourself meaning a hard life with plenty enemies and some really strange friends foraging for your food, working hard making things and ride your bike out into the woods as a vehicle to get more roots, fruit and mushrooms in one turn making for less hard work. For fun, too, for noone says you can´t have fun even when working hard.

This is where blacksmithing and mountainbiking coincides. It is not just a "hobby" in my book, but a method to actually shape your life even in this strange world. Want to go bushcrafting but have no money to buy all the fancy goods? F***ing make them! Can´t afford a fancy car or even the train ticked, but there´s a bike in your cellar sitting behind those garbage bags? F***ing pump up the tyres and USE! IT! Is your drivtrain skipping? REPAIR! IT! You ain´t fit enough? RIDE! Go to the grocery store, ride foraging, practice stunt riding, have fun, but simply pull the plug of this insane society by using your brain more instead of storing it at Big Brother´s place in the almighty web.

The same goes for blacksmithing. Can´t afford a fancy forge? Oh, please, give me a break, in Nepal they forge with a hole in the ground and a grocery plastic bag for a bellows. Ron Hood showed long time ago that you can make a forge even in the wilderness, and I made my first damascus with a hole in the ground and a vacuum cleaner.

Michael is a guy who understands this, and he attacks the fetish of some goofbrains by wearing a T-shirt like it was just that: A T-shirt.;-) I like that very much.

 It was a productive day also for myself. I did some work on my damascus seax and fitted a handle on a concept seax knife I have in the making. In the middle is Nele´s new knife. Top to bottom: Damascus blade, 110x6mm, rebar and 1.2842, 60 layers, Mokume Gane bolster, reindeer antler and yew, spring steel blade, 110x3 mm or so, copper ferrule, oak wood handle, San Mai  blade out of crucible steel I found in the woods, ball bearing steel for  a middle layer (100Cr6) 110x3,8 mm, handle will be reindeer antler with a carving.
 Suddenly, or so it seemed, it went dark, and we were still out like maniacs grinding and filing and fitting. It was a very productive and inspiring atomsphere to me. Nick lit the BBQ fire, and the girls prepared some food (I had brought some mushrooms and a guacamole with a Bavarian spice to it;-), and they filled the ´shrooms with the stuff.
 From one of the pieces of spring steel where forging went wrong with Nick I demoed the technique for a blade. I offered it to him, but he declined, for he wanted to forge it himself. Bro, just keep on trying, and if I can be of assistance, ask me.
 Then a great day subsided into an even greater evening. Volker came by and joined us, and even if we have our arguments to date, we were glad he was there and enjoyed our company and food. And please do not get me wrong when I talk about the difficulties we have: He is a friend. Not a reliable one, but if you  want to be respected for what you are and not what you should be you have to do this to others in the first before you even have a right to make this claim. And it pays off. It was great to feast on great homemade food (Michael brought a delicious homemade loaf of bread, and everyone contributed to the feast). We talked and laughed a lot, drank our share and relished in the evening.
 Well into the night we sat and feasted and made plans.
 Then, at roundabout 2:30 am we parted. I rode home with a warm feeling and but a mild worry about the next day, for I covered some extra distance on the ride home due to some home-brewed beverages;-).
 When I arrived at the smithy with surprisingly no hangover and surprisingly early, I noticed something I had not noticed the day before. Over here wild strawberries are done at mid-summer. Victor now had planted some around the smithy. He loves wild strawberries, and even had planted some at the site of his old employer, the Freilichtmuseum Hagen. This is also where I got to know Volker and him in the first place, Volker working as a hand drill smith and Viktor doing a lot of blackmithing demos for the public. This is also where I got to know some other blacksmith readers of my blog may be acquainted with, Harald, whom I regard as an important tutor. A lot of my humble skills I learned by listening to him and forging with him. Now Viktor had taken this custom of planting strawberries with him when he left, and also planted those at the Bethaus. They still prosper in the lousy weather we currently have.
 I mean, strawberries blossoming in, wait, SEPTEMBER? Then I set up forge. I was prepared for utter chaos, but as it turend out it was even worse. Parallel to the children´s birthday party there also was a guided tour staged. The guide insisted to have the rack wagon you can see in the background. No problem if someone had informed me beforehand, but noone did. So, with the kids thronging for forging, I had to unmount the smithy, they made a big racket and an even bigger fuss in getting the thing out, so much in fact that I finally pushed them aside and rolled it out myself. Then Sylvia came and informed me I had to light and guard a BBQ fire at the same time as well as doing a demo for the guided tour. I solved it by starting an inferno of a fire in the grill, set it beside the forge and tutoring the guided tour how to light a fire without gasoline and explaining about the history of fossile fuel and charcoal while doing so and starting to forge with the kids at the same time relating the forging tutaorial to what I was telling to the guided tour kids. When they went on their merry way to molest other places;-), I continued with the kids alone. Then the guided tour came back, and demanded I´d instantly put the rack wagon back where it belonged. I said: "just put it there, I do not want to put the kids in danger..", and for a change, they put it before the smithy, out of harm´s way. They made a big fuss again and left. I was in the middle of saving the party when it began to drizzle. And to rain. And to hail. So I had to unmount the smithy again to save the wooden rackwagon. It was then that I realized Volker had prepared the floor of the shed for a concrete floor by putting on a layer of sand and mud, only that he did it badly, and the long time it has been waiting for the foretold concrete floor hasn´t helped its structural integrity, to be polite. So, BUMMER, the wheels stuck. With grunting and growling I managed to heave it onto my shoulder and, in the meantime being wet through, carry it across the swamp to put it under a roof, then I remounted the smithy, while the kids stood there with disbelief. I was thinking, "That´s it, I messed it up", but it turned out kids and parents alike were actually fond of me. The floor in the meantime looked as if some wild pigs on synthetic drugs had turned it over, and it did not help in the least that the kids used the funny creeks that were building up, for toy dam building. Anyway, I managed to make all the kids happy. But before they were off, Sylvia and her daughter came in the middle of some complex work with a kid that was a bit special, and she demanded that I close the restaurant and the museum, for they wanted to go home. I managed to stay calm and throw no hammer at them, and I am proud of that achievement;-), and managed to utter through gritted teeth :"Just give me the keys, I´ll take care of that...".

Suddenly I was alone, and while it was still raining and hailing cats, dogs, aand dinosaurs, I took a deep breath. In a rain break I managed to go up, close the restaurant and the museum and get me another coffee and a non-alcoholic beer (which I like to drink when forging, because it´s isotonic and does not consist out of sugars I cannot even pronounce). When I was about to pack up, it started to rain hard again, and I sat there on a stool with a hot coffee, and laughed, and laughed so hard I nearly spilled my java. So, caught under the shed`s roof with the floor slowly floating away, I simply took some ancient spring steel and forged myself a knife while waiting for the rain to cease.
 I forged it with an integral bolster using a nail device and tried the hollow bevel - forging technique from the day before, but driving it to a new level. After forging, the edge was just three-tenths of a millimetre thick at places. I just filed it down to a millimetre and then did a thorough annealing. It was beautifully calm in spite of the pounding rain, I carburized the blade a bit with antler filings while annealing and sat there listening and breathing, and taking a sip of beer from time to time..
 I then heated the tang cherry red and burned it through an antler handle. I removed the handle, filed it some, and then did a progressive edge quench.
The handle then was glued on and the tang peened over an eye-shaped brass disc.

All the while the rain and hail pounded down on the roof, I packed up, for it was getting dark. It was only when I put the forge back into the garage and had all the tools and gear packed into my backpack, that I realized I had a flat in the rear tire again. So it was unpacking the pack, for of course the spare tube was well down below, as was the tire pump.

I sighed, fixed the flat, closed the shop, straddled my steed and rode home through the rain. But when I was in the vicinity of Wetter, things cleared up and the stars came out piercingly bright. I was feeling content and I take pride into the fact that I live where many others can only just so survive. Maybe that I often sit with my arse in the mud, but then the stars shine brighter to me than they do to others. I am not successful, but passionate, and sometimes I have the feeling that I would not want to trade.

I feel alive, and that´s the best thing every living thing can say.

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