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Mittwoch, 27. Februar 2013

A children´s birthday party- and the birth of a shaman´s damascus knife from fire and ice and song;-)

 Volker called the other day and asked if I´d come to work on Saturday, so I saddled my steed and rode through the snowstorm to Witten.
 When I arrived, the snowfall subsided, and we could light up the forge.
 Soon the kids arrived, some really great children celebrating! It shows in the kids if the parents are not half-mad;-). We certainly had fun working with them, even if it was cold. here Volker greets the kids and explains what we will be about.
 Then it was party on... even if licce Kevin does not look the part, he enjoyed himself making his first own knife. We made the knives from mild steel. I am not quite comfortable about that, mind you...;-) but I work-hardened the edge some by coldforging. So, the knives were a bit more useful than being utter crap, and the kids used them even for whittling some sticks that were left over from fire building.
 Since it was that cold, we lit up another fire for warmth. Cozy, huh?;-)
 Then, suddenly, the kids were all gone, and I set to work on another project of my own. I forged a spatula and inlaid a piece of 1.2842. Here you can see the first three layers of the billet. I folded it some, and got 24 layers, forged it square, did some torsion on the billet, folded it unto itself, then welded another layer of 1.2842 into the middle for cutting prowess. Did not work as well as last time, and I messed up the direction. In the meantime, it was snowing hard again, my muscles were sore and my back was aching, but a thought occured to me. It was like a song that was hard to describe, but I thought: This is the raven´s song! No clue what and why, but this is what I thought.
 A very peculiar atmosphere it was, the roaring forge, the red-hot metal, and the snowstorm blowing and howling. It was hard to work under these circumstances, but I was grateful to be able to experience something most people do not even deem possible. You do not need grand words for it. It was just snow and a forge, and Volker providing me with coffee and cake;-) (Thanks again, bro!). Now and then I paused to take a swig of water, to have a cake and coffee, to chat with Volker and to collect my thoughts and concentration, and then continued to forge the billet into a Hadseax shape, but alas, a portion of the tip had a deep dent in it, don´t know why. So I normalized the blade and ground that part away. Cheating, I know, but what should I do? Then I put a coarse grind on the blade and tempered it.
 Then I said goodbye and thankyou to Volker and rode home over snowy trails in the darkness. It was another peculiar experience: The soft powder snow, just high enough to be fun to ride in and low enough to offer plenty of traction, the glittering snowflakes in the light of my headlamp, the howling wind in the vent holes of my helmet... and, apart from the sound of some ducks and geese, and the rustling of little animals in the underbrush, utter and complete silence.
 At home, I did some finer grinding and some etching with vinegar, citric acid and salt solution... and realized I messed up the pattern... this is the "bad" side of the blade...
 ...and then I realized the other side looks like a bird´s head, a raven in fact. Can´t make heads nor tails out of that, but that´s okay with me.;-) I never said I wasn´t superstitious, did I?;-).

And YES, THAT IS A WELDING FLAW to the right*grml*ggg*, but it´s just on one side, and this blade will quite certainly see not a big deal of abuse, so I kept it as is.
 And since it has two faces anyway, I made a stag antler handle carved with a triquetta and a "valknut" on one side...
 ... and a raven head on the other.
And as it now has two raven heads, I found the val-knot only appropriate;-). I find this is a nice example of how inspiration works. You do something, and it may be even something going severely awry. And word leads you from word to word, and work leads you from work to work...;-)

Mittwoch, 20. Februar 2013

More Sokyra hatchets from the Ukranian Hutsul region

 Those are some fine examples of Hutsul hatchets I found on the web. I am really, really fond of the craftsmanship and the beautiful lines of these tools in general.

Huzulen mit Bartkas singen Weihnachten carol
I have linked the photos to the original sites. The proprietors of the publishing rights can contact me if there are any problems.

Most interesting is the picture above of Hutsul gentlemen singing Chrismas carols with their axes raised. The hatchet seems to be of a huge cultural significance in this culture. Here is a link about some aspects of their culture.

It is a highland Carpathian ethnia, and I find their attire reminds one a bit of some Saami attires... have to do some research on that. In any case, there seems to be a living axe cult in Ukrania, and I suppose the roots of it might go back to the bronze age. I will do some research on that, promise;-)

As one example might serve this Aunjetitzer hatchet:
Die Nackenkammaxt aus dem Hort von Naumburg Gesamtansicht [Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte Halle]

Or this one found in Poland:
 Die Schafthalsaxt von Freyburg OT Zscheiplitz  [31]

Another one from Brachwitz, Poland:
Die Schafthalsaxt von Brachwitz Gesamtansicht [31]

Those are several examples for beautiful axeheads from the copper- and bronze age. The morphology of these axes bear a striking resemblance to some modern examples. I will keep you informed on my progress on the research!

Dienstag, 19. Februar 2013

In the smithy: More info on the Ciupaga-and my first own damascus since 10 years!

 On Saturday I rode to Witten to meet with Volker and to do some forging. Volker wasn´t too well, having problems with his hip bones and the rigors of blacksmithing for a long time. But he kept going nonetheless. I wish him all the best and hope he´ll be well.
We had a coffee, and I took a stroll around the museum to give you some input on the Ciupaga / Fokos / Sokyra / Bartka / Steigerstock / Fahrstock. Here is a pic of some miner in traditional representation attire and an unusual example of a Fahrstock, in that it has a hammer´s head!
 A pick was also in use, as shown in this painting.
 Here it is a hammer´s head again. This is an attire in use in the Witten / Bochum region.
 Then I lit up forge and made myself "Her Grace Sokyra". C 60, forged from an old hammerhead, tempered selectively to a springy temper.
 After that, I brought out the Borax, some mild steel and 1.2842 and simply got on with making damascus. I was focused hard, so nop pics of the process, but I´ve got an advice: If you want to get started with making damascus, try out this combination of steels, it welds great. Farther down you´ll read another little rant you all love on fancy steels and steel sorcery;-).
 The billet with the tip already forged. I forged 27 layers, then turned it on the other side to achieve a "Masame" pattern, and welded another layer of 1.2842 into the middle. With so few layers, you get little carbon diffusion, so you might end up having a layer with too little carbon content to achieve a decent temper, so you´d better do a San Mai construction. I forged it into a straight back utility blade. I love the Roselli knives, but hate the short tang;-), so I forged a longer one to be peened over. The  hindmost half of the tang is made from the billet handle, and it´s mild steel.
 The blade.
 Every time I realized my concentration was fading, I had a break. I took a drink of water, had a coffee with Volker (Thanks to the guy for providing a steady flow of Java;-)), and all went well.
 Then there was a torch hike scheduled and I did a damascus demo for the people, and even got some applause!
 The fruits of my labour;-).
 At home I fitted a stag antler handle with brass mountings to it, and I tested it. Hard.
 And it does what my spring steel knives do, with a lateral flexibility of some 20 degrees (fixed it in a vice and bent it), springy. I slammed it edge first on the tempered axle of my vice by accident. There was a dent, but a flexible one, that could be removed with some strokes of the strop. You can´t ask for more from a knife! In fact, it´s already more than most people would ever ask from a knife...

So, here´s the promised rant: Mild steel and 1.2842 certainly are no wonder steels. Few if any damascus smiths bother to use those qualities, and I admit I was sceptical at first when I learnt from Jens Nettlich that he uses them. But it´s a bit like using spring steel. Many steel wizerds sneer at this common man´s steel, but what counts to me is that it works, and works well. The combination is a cinch to weld, even with dirty coke and a less-than-optimal forge, it was so easy I could not believe it! The knife keeps a good edge, is flexible to boot, and takes a hardness (at the edge) of 60 HRC with a very conservative heat treating. It also sharpens well and the edge is flexible to be stropped to new from a severe beating. 
 I made the spine some 3.8 mm thick.
 This is a detail in riverso...
...and on the quart side.

I hope that I can practice these skills some more, to be able to process iron ore one day. Of course, I will also try to weld some more problematic steels, but as a user, this combination is hard to beat. I really, really love this knife, having used it some on bacon and wood;-) and iron nails and rawhide. It will become my personal EDC.

Donnerstag, 14. Februar 2013

I want a Ciupaga! - Interesting Information on a traditional Eastern European tool

Willi ([edit]: Willy, Willi was his father*ggg*) has one. He made it himself, and it serves him well as a support.

But only but recently I came across some info on it, and BOY, is it interesting! I am speaking of the Polish, Ukranian, Carpathian Ciupaga, Fokos or "Her Grace Sokyra", the walking axe. I came across this blog:
with a load of interesting input.


For instance, "The skillful Woodsman manual", a treasury of woodcraft tradition in Carpathian culture. Not so technically, but rather culturally interesting.

And, a really great picture of the "Sokyra" or "Her grace Sokyra", which also played a central role in traditional "axe" dance.:

Visit the blog, it´s well worth it!

Coming to think about it, I still have a piece of metal for an axe head...;-)

Most interesting, however, is that in traditional German  miner´s attire there is a so-called "Fahrstock" or "Steigerstock" (miner´s stick) with a stylized or even functional axehead as a handle, of about the same size as the Ciupaga / Sokyra / Fokos and with quite a similar function. The axeheads are even now seldom available in good quality and mostly made from brass or bronze. At this site I found this carving of a "Bergmann" in the attire of the Erzgebirge region:
 The site is

Well worth a visit in itself, but off topic for now. The so-called "Westfälischer Häckel" (Westfalian hatchet, after the region I come from) is another version even closer to the Sokyra. In the Ruhr region, there was a massive immigration of Polish people working in the mines and connected industries, and their culture had a very thorough impression on the culture. So I guess the Ciupaga in this manner found a place in the mining culture of this country.

The same might hold true for the regions "Erzgebirge" and the "Mansfeld" region.

Also, in Bavaria, Austria, Switzerland and Northern Italy, there is a morphological variant, the "Sapie" or "Griesbeil", a woodfloating or -catching hook, sometimes with a hammer. From what I heard, it was often also mounted to a walking stick, and has a close connection to the Kuk ice-axe from WWI which was in use also in early European alpinism. This tool had a pick and shovel blade and a spike to aid in climbing. Rural versions often had a hatchet and pick blade to go with the spike.

All in all, this is a fascinating topic and you have certainly not seen the last of it!;-)

Mittwoch, 13. Februar 2013

The quest for the "Brackersfelder Knopmetz" - an iron hike

 Kai called the other day if I was in the mood for a hike and some looting and pillaging;-), and it turns out I was;-). So he fetched me by car and we drove out into the hills.
 By the road we found woodworking bum´s paradise....
 We were not exactly sure what wood this was, but it looked great for sure, and Kai took home a huge pile of it. I took a piece of dog rose wood (rosa canina). Then we made for the city of Breckerfeld to do a bimble on the historical trail too have a lookout if we could find signs of the old Hanse trail, ruins and geological info on the iron ore and the potential steel quality of the famed "Breckerfelder" iron ore.
 This certainly is no iron ore, but it hinted we were on the right path, for the red ochre in it hints of bog iron ore. At least in the find context of Breckerfeld it does. It was a bit tricky, for it had snowed and little was visible.
 The historical trail lies somewhat submerged in the underbrush, and it was quite difficult to follow. Here we paused to take a look at the creek, and there we found some first examples of bog iron ore.
 The trail lead into the thicket, and since it´s not quite fair to shy away animals in winter, we did not venture any farther.
 In the next creek we found this very interesting piece of ore. Its frontside was a rich rust-coloured red, and the backside was a quartz stone. Processing this ore would have meant that the resulting steel would have a silicium content. Silicium makes a steel more flexible while reducing the size of carbides. Nearby we found some more stones with a hint of Manganese. The secret of the Breckerfelder steel, provided this ore (of which I found several examples) was processed at a larger scale, would then be a very fine crystalline structure and material properties similar to 1.2842, O1 or common spring steel, depending on the contents. No wonder it became a legend in that time. A steel like this would have provided a high degree of flexibility and a fine edge.

[edit:]I also learned that Manganese might also be responsible for a Carbide-buildup which is characteristical for Wootz steel, which is famed for its edge-holding and flexibility properties!
 In the creek we found some beautiful ice crystals I simply want to share.
 We passed by the ancient cabin and this huge spruce, ancient and benevolent guided us farther into the valley.
 More bog iron ore and more ice crystals.

 See the greenish side of the left piece of ore-it´s mossy quartz.

 In the creek, life well prospers. I take those to be leeches and water worms. I know much too little about the fauna in creeks and want to learn more about them. Of course I put the stones back into the creek!
 Then we drove home. The next day I went there again. Forgot my camera, but this is what I found there:
 An ingot! I will try to forge a blade from it....

Watch this space, the quest has just begun!

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