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Montag, 26. Mai 2014

Historical swords and cutlery in the Klingenmuseum Solingen-and the quest for the Brackersfelder Knopmetz

You all have read my post about the Knifemaker´s Fair in Solingen Klingenmuseum which I had the pleasure to visit this year again. And as usual a pleasure it was, meeting with old friends and browsing the aisles, apparently making new ones (Hi, Peter, this one´s for you, even if you already know!) and simply relishing in all the new projects by pros and amateurs alike.

But an even higher asset is the museum in itself, for there you can find properly documented and lovingly presented blades from Solingen and all over the world, from Luristan bronze and ancient Persian bronze axes through Celtic swords and long knives up to the medieval ages. The museum therefore is a must-see for anyone seriously interested in the study of blades in history.

I, for one, am still on the track of the so - called "Brackersfelder Knopmetz" (See another post), a short dagger or knife native to the region I live in which is said by many to have legendary metallurgical and artificial properties.

Thusly, I was impressed by the presence of those  knives. Left is a dagger that might as well have the looks of the "Knopmetz". How it actually looked, is still a mystery to me. I presume there were two varieties. One, referred to as the "Brackersfelders dehhen" in judicial documents and archives of stock of the time in question, would have been a dagger. For an example of the "Knopmetz", however, look here. The knife in question looks as if it were single-edged, has a "Knop" (pommel) and was often made with precious mountings. The "dehhen" presumeably was double-edged. The photo above shows a "Hauswehr" (home-defence) in the middle and a utility design very common in the North of Germany, albeit with very precious handle materials. The knife to the left is typical of the "Holbein" variety. If you compare it to the "Brackersfelders Knopmetz" in the article you can see several similarities. Crucial to the Knopmetz is therefore:

-a long, small, single-edged blade (whether the long ricasso is characteristical, remains to be examined)
-an ornamental crosspiece
-a pommel (hence the name)
-a special steel alloy which is due to the alloy resulting from the iron ore found in the mines around Breckerfeld, which I estimate as containing iron, a high carbon content, and manganese and silicium. This steel was said to have superior characteristics, to an extent that there was a legal affair in 1490 concerning the faking of the Breckerfeld sigil marker on steel that actually came from the Siegerland region. It is quite obviously stated in the documents in the city archive of Breckerfeld that the Siegerland steel (which was renowned in the entire known world in 1490 for its quality) was inferior by far to the quality of steel smelted in Breckerfeld. Which leads me to the question, what would a bladesmith regard as superior in 1490?

I guess there are two facets of the question. A steel that was at the same time taking a good temper as well as retaining a high amount of flexibility was rare, but since the excellent experimental replica of the Ulfberht swords we can quite safely assume that while the crucible steel smelting process might not be commonplace in the medieval ages, there might have been smiths still knowing the how - to in 1490. Many Frankish swords have been suspected to be made from crucible steel. Refined crucible steel is one way to achieve a blade that is taking a high temper as well as maintaining an amazing amount of flexibility. Having had the privilege to work with historical (pre-1920) tool steel, I can say the mechanical properties are quite amazing and maybe even up to par with the famed Wootz or the Russian or Turmenian Pulad. My theory now is that the Brackersfelders Knopmetz actually was made from a variety of steel that was similar to Wootz. It could be, since Breckerfeld was a Hanse community then, and the Hanse traded throughout Europe and, over small factories in Russia, maybe even from Asia, that the technology was transferred from Russia, if it were not known in the region in the first place. You can find quartzite in the vicinity of Breckerfeld, this might have been used as a cooling medium, and, in the process, added Silicium to the alloy. The iron ore found seems to be often "contaminated" with Manganese, which, when smelted and refined, would make for a steel with properties similar to modern 1.2842 or spring steel. There´s still much to investigate, and there´s a goopd thing!
Eloquent short sword from 1600.
A disc-pommel dagger with a triangular blade.
The blade in good condition.
To the right is a Renaissance sword, a so - called "Cinquedea" or "Ox tongue" for the width of the blade, originally an Italian weapon.
A most eloquent example of a Rondel or "ear dagger", presumeably used in a reverse handle grip with the thumb resting between the two pommel discs.
An unusual example of the "Grosses Messer", a sword popular with German mercenaries throughout the medieval age.
Rapier, "Katzbalger" short sword and left-hand dagger.
Above you can see a utility peasant knife, made from massive steel. Knives like these were cheap and tough and ideally suited for hard working on a farm.
With the strengthening of civilian culture there was also a movement towards table culture. A set of table cutlery from the 17th century.
17th century table cutlery. A royal decree demanded that knives for table use had blunted tips.
Table knives since look this way.
Although here you can see a fine example of a personal wayfarer´s traveling set.

And another ensemble of sabres and "Grosse Messer".

As I might have illustrated, if you are interested in historical developments of arms and cutlery alike, this is the place;-).

Visit this museum, it´s well worth it;-)...

Supper in the woods and a new sheath

 The noise outside was driving me mad, and I was in desperate need for some green, so I packed my gear and my supper and made for a place in the woods behind my "home" sheltered from the noise of the highway, the plane traffic, the road and the railway station, the yelping, shrieking, yelling and crying of Ritalin-drugged kids and drunks waiting for the bus. Funny, how calm this wood actually is, even if the highway runs through it. I took a deep breath, poured myself a cuppa and took my snack board and one of my favourite knives. Had some leftover steak from BBQing and some real bread, and just relished in great food and tea and silence.
 In case you ask, the blade is 90 mm x 3mm of my own San- Mai damascus (60 layers of 1.2842 toolsteel and rebar with a cutting core of 1.2842, brass fittings, tang peened over amd a chunky, comfy stag antler handle. It´s one of my favourite snack and kitchen and carving knives. I had a sheath for it, which I had bought, but it did not fit too well, so I finally got to business the other day and made a sheath for it, nothing fancy, really, but tanned and tempered with dragon´s blood (daemonoropos draco) concoction, wet-formed and then hot-dragonblooded and beeswaxed;-).
 On my way home I got myself some spruce sprouts for schnapps,tea and syrup. I like to use it as a concoction against the flu and the like, the schnapps is also good for the digestion;-). To make the syrup you need:

3 handful of spruce sprouts
1 cup wood honey
1 natural lemon
sugar if you are so inclined, or more honey

Put one layer of spruce sprouts in a jar. Thoroughly wash the lemon. Make thin lemon slices and put them atop the spruce sprouts. Cover with honey. Add another layer of spruce, and lemon slices, cover with honey, and so forth. Add a thick layer of sugar to keep off the air. Put on the lid. Let it rest for a week in the sun. Pass through a sieve. Carefully heat the syrup to at least 75° Celcius and pour it in a vaccum lid, put the lid on and set it upside down for aan hour. Heat in a bain-marie again. Done;-).


1 handful of spruce sprouts
1 cup wood honey
1 l Vodka

Cover the sprouts with honey, let it rest for a week. Cover with Vodka, let it rest for 6 weeks. Pass through a sieve. Nasdarowje!;-)

For tea, take 5-10 spruce sprouts, pour with 0,3 l of boiling water. Sweeten with honey if you feel so inclined. It´s also delicious with a twig of sage and hederacea glechoma.

Úlenfang es baren;-)-úlenfang is born

 Nu es et sao wiet: De Úlenfang es baren. Un ek hebb lang simulaiert, bu ek dat dingen namen sull. Was et béo-chaoineadh? Ne, dat kan ik nümmes utspreken, met dise snaaksche spraoke Gälsch, un denne maakt de Wickerske;-) wider ökel van mi.. Sao bin ek to de sprake van mine hiäme kommen un nenn dat dingen nu Úlenfang. Nu kan man fraogen, bat dat allt sull, un seggen: Bat dem ein sine Úl es dem annern sine nachtegall. Hat dat aber allt auk en vordel: Goldemaar het mik dat eisen gebben un kan mik darbi auk verstaon;-), un dan kan hiä auk op platt den Namn verstaon.

Un borümmes de Úle? Kan ik iu ein döneken vertellen. Als ik nu latse mandag in steingarten was om mid de bekloppten dat Flitzepeed - Training te maken, hebb ik de Uhu saien in de wand, un hiät hiä ein bussard in de klaven! Un ik will ennit un nümmes kenn mid deze klaven maken... un de kneip es en dorstig lemmel, sao vil kann ek seggen. Maot ik nog ne Úl binnen tellichen, dann es et daon.

Translation: Now it´s done: Úlenfang is born. And long have I thought how I should name that thingy. Was it béo chaoineadh? Now, that, I cannot pronounce, with this funny language Gaelic;-), and then the magic trolll will make fun of me again;-). Thus I took the language of my home and have taken to call it Úlenfang (Owl´s fang). Now you ask, what the fuss is about that name, and say: One man´s owl is the other´s nightingale. But there´s one advantage (in the bargain): Goldemar had given me the iron, and while he can understand me ;-), now he can understand the language, too.

And why the owl? There is a story. When I was at the rock garden last Monday, I saw the eagle owl nesting there, and it had a bussard in its claws! And while I would not want to make any further acquaintance with these claws, this knive has a thirsty blade, that much I can safely say (it already cut me twice..). Now I still have to do the owl carving in the handle, and it is done.

Note: This is the language native to my homeland, which dates back to the old saxon language and is still spoken in many villages of the Sauerland region. By the way, the "Sauer" in the name has nothing to do with being sour, but with *Dhiudha, Theudo->People, reduced to "Siuer- / Suer - land", i.e. the "land of the people". Some have the theory that by the "people" the "niflungar" / "Nibelungen" are meant, the "little folk" native of the region, dwarfs and elves of a very ambivalent character. There are many tales giving them credit as skilled and stealthy helpers of blacksmiths, but also warning of the imminent danger in having contact with them. If you have ever stood atop a Sauerland mountain after the rain and you see the mists arise from the green hills around you, you can feel their presence still. They live in the deep woods, their plants are oak, holly and yew, deer and fox and hare, owl and raven do not shun their step.

Concerning the language again, if you look closely you will notice many similarities to modern English, and the similarities are even more obvious when you compare it to Anglo - Saxon (the language e.g. of the Béowulf epic poem of the early medieval ages). vertellen->to tell maaken->to make was->was and so forth. It also shares many characteristics with the Dutch language.

Now to business: Blade is ancient crucible steel I found in the woods, as you can see it shows a pattern and a strange hamón. Blade is 12 cm long and has a distal taper from 8 mm to the tip.
 The tang is riveted against a flower out of mokume gane that has to be polished and etched still. When I filed it, file dust gathered in the epoxy leftover around the tang, and, following an impulse, I put some more on.
Here you can see the taper of the blade. The handle is reindeer antler.

It´s still a work in progress, and I am taking my time with it. It has a kind of spiritual aspect as well making it. It is for me as well as for the Niflungar, for I have changed sides long ago;-).

Mittwoch, 7. Mai 2014

Solingen Knifemaker´s Fair 2014-II- meeting old friends and opening leaden boxes.

 There was a lot to see at Solingen this year. I had already lost Willi, but was quite confident where to find him-for outside, in the beautiful yard of the museum, overshadowed by majestic old trees it was where Achim, Norbert, Gunnar and our old master and tutor, Matthias Zwissler, had their booth.
 So outside I went, and there was some smithing going on as well, and by the great grandmaster of Germany, Fred Schmalz, in the bargain. Mr. Schmalz is well over 65 years old, and is still going stronger than ever, and you can feel he is fed by the fire . There was a lot of tech talk going on, on a very high level, and you could learn a lot about bladesmithing and making damascus by simply standing there and looking. Also, it kindled the flame in myself again.
 But there had been enough morale;-) off to the feeding! I had some sandwiches, some meat balls, a lot of coffee... and whom did I meet at the coffee  booth? Willi, of course, for the blood level in his caffeine was rising and he had to do something against it. Then some cake and a goulash soup, and I was feeling human again... we met Rolf, and Stefan, and a lot of folks from Münster Knifemaking Club, sat under an old tree, had some great food and enjoyed a chat, some weird jokes and Rolf poked me in the ribs with his knife;-) perfect.
 Then we were off to Achim´s booth. Achim has but an email-adress, but I daresay he is one of the most accomplished knifesmiths and metallurgists in Germany, maybe in Europe, but he is very down-to-earth. Here is a batoning test with one of his more simple knives. Here you can find something that is frankly insane from a metzallurgical point of view and requires a lot of knowledge: Stainless Pulad.

The knives he had on display were just plain beuatiful. It is quite a feature to make a Seax with a clean pattern like this. It is certainly not my style, for it is a bit too clean for my liking, and I prefer a more ornamental design. But I have seen him whacking this Seax into a rod of high-carbon steel with not so much of an afterthought and no damage to the blade.

 Top is a Persian javelin, a Leuku, and a dagger. The latter aappeals to me mostly because of the delicate pattern on the blade, but, again, the design´s not my piece of cake.
 This Wootz blade, however,
 just made me want to have it... Above is a big camp knife out of mono steel. What I like best is the versatility of this guy. He can do a lot of styles, and the quality of his blades is legendary.
 Another Seax by Achim.
 Next to Achim was Norbert, another Lord of Metal. And as we came by, he did THIS (Apologies again for messing up the perspective, I promise I will learn it some day):

MAD!!!! These are the results:

 Top is one of his kitchen knives. Below is a knife out of Pakistani damascus.
 Now, this is the "Amilas" test which is not considered very polite amongst bladesmiths, but plagiarism is not polite either;-) and I guess the point is made by this edge;-).
 Then there was a sabre demonstration going on. There were demos the whole day, from Iai-Do to Ken-Do, to Kyu-Do, European Martial Arts (Long sword, short sword and buckler, sabre, rapier, sword and shield), and, of course, the smelting by the guys and the forging by Fred Schmalz.
 They had an Aristotle furnace going...
 As well as a more traditional smelting furnace. To the left there´s Matthias who managed to take a day off from his strenueous life to come to Solingen, and I hope he will be well... but that´s another story and the internet is no place for it.

 This is how the air flow is achieved, just a simple garden hose does the job.
At the forge of Mr. Schmalz I came across a novel kind of flux (at least to me). He mixrd Borax with rust to provide a better cleaning effect on the metal´s surface and a metal reduction effect, as I guess.

So, the visit to the yard was certainly inspiring. Of course, when I went upstairs, my camera did decide my time was out, but I did not agree. I met with Mr. Fazekas, who had his great works of art on display, not much new, but great no less. At the booth of Wolf Borger I got some material to work with the newly-kindled fire..., 1.2842 steel and red G-10 fibre. I met with Gerhard Wieland, and Daniel Boll. But the most intensive encounter I have had since many years was yet to come at the booth of Peter Johnsson. Now Peter was herding ;-) the Arctic fire folks in 2013. Visit their website for the most interesting quest that has given the magic troll and myself quite something to think about for some months, and it turns out the troll was quite close to a winning guess... So I came across one of my biggest idols in the bladesmithing world, and before I knew it, we were hotly engaged in a most inspiring conversation about sword physics and medieval design theories. Peter has a most intriguing theory concerning the architectural design of medieval swords which I find both plausible and inspiring, even if I to date do not comprehend it completely still. Here he treats the proportional design of the Soborg sword, which can stand as an example for many others of the type, and he is currently doing statistical research on the proportions of swords from the early medieval age to high medieval times. What struck him as very peculiar is that the design principles of those artifacts where the same as those applied to medieval churches, cathedrals and cloisters, and bearing similarities to sacral architecture. He gave me a tour-de-force view of medieval architecture of swords and buildings alike, and in no time we were deeply engaged in a philosophical conversation. Now this all might not seem so peculiar, and I am personally accustomed to the feel of a well - made sword in my hand. But there was a bunch of friendly folks around also partaking in the conversation, amongst whom there was a girl. She was beautiful, but you could tell she was a bit withdrawn. Then Peter handed her one of his swords, a Gothic hand-and-a-half sword, one very similar to this one. At that moment it was as if a veil was removed from a shining light. Her eyes sparkled with fire, and Peter just said: "You feel it, do you?". It was beautiful, both to see the girl suddenly radiating, and Peter´s plain and simple reaction. Then we were again deeply engaged in some philosophical discussion, and soon we were nearing spiritual topics, as is not so far-off, considering his theory. Anyway, I saw at that moment something that is often quoted and seldom seen: That which we love to call "the power of the sword". I understood a whole lot of things in this moment, too many to explain in a humble post on a blog in the internet. I understood that there is a deity that is not easy to agnize, and I understood that there are methods to feel it. And that these methods are nothing new, but a secret jealously kept by keepers generally not apt to the task. And that the steel keeps the secret much better than any human master, but that there is a force behind the steel that is greater still. The design principles that Peter loves to relate to are just that: Design principles. But they serve a much bigger purpose. And, what I find most beautiful about this swordsmith is not that he makes great blades. There are others around doing that too. There were a great many lot of them on the Knifemaker´s fair, and a great many very great individuals and characters, too. But I have seen the locks of iron, copper and silver open in the way he talks about agnition, just a tiny bit, but it gave me a lot of hope.

Now I will not take up swordsmithing because of meeting with Peter Johnsson. I will not study the principles of sword design because of it. But what I realized is that I have never stopped on that way, and that it was there the whole time. And it isn´t about the tools or the weapons.

Who knows need not ask, who asks, will get no answer. But I opened a leaden casket to see the locks of iron, copper and silver undone. Those are my very own words, and readers of my blog know that. Peter found some very similar. I hope to stay in contact to him. Period.

There are many more impressions. I could tell you how we sat in the yard again, the Iaido  and Kyudo show with their meditational atmosphere, or the plain recreational violence;-) of European Martial arts. Of great food, of steel and chatting, of seeing new works not only by the masters, but also by my friends and aquaintances. Of how it was all a very friendly, peaceful meeting of educated, even academical people. But I can only suggest to get down here and pay this fair a visit. You´ll see a whole lot of weapons and a whole lot of peaceful atmosphere.


Fimbulmyrk in paradise-Of new acquaintances and meeting with friends

 So, this is just the beginning of a series of posts about one of the best times I have ever had at the Solingen Knife Fair, which took place this year on 3rd and 4th of May. Willi fetched me at a gas station near my home, and we drove out to Solingen. First it was some work to be done;-), for we bought some coal for Volker, at half the price he normally gets... talk about bargain! Then we were ready to let the fun begin.
 Off to the "Deutsches Klingenmuseum Solingen", a must-see for any knife- and swordhead. Quite apart from the expo, the museum hosts artifacts from the bronze age up to modern ages, and offers all there is to know about blades, be they big or small.
 We arrived early, so there was ample time to listen to the jibbering and jabbering of the guys and gals;-) waiting to be left in. There was quite the tech talk going on already, not all of which shone by competence, but that was no problem really. It was simply great to see how easy those owners of the essence of EVIL, a.k.a as knives socialize in a friendly manner. Typically the visitors were highly educated, middle-aged ladies and gentlemen with a medium to high social background. I do not want to comment on this any more, but I guess the point´s made, is it?
 One of the first booths I visited was the one of the Steigerwalds, a friendly couple offering all you need for knifemaking. Plus, they are just likeable people. We had but a brief chat this time, but I hope that we´ll meet again sometime soon.
 Leather punches ...
 ...and dye.
 Blades and pins...
 ..and raw handle material.
 This is interesting, in that this is a knife they now produce in a small series. It was the winner of a tactical pocket knife design contest by the German Messermagazin. Now it´s made by hand by Stefan, and I must say, even if it´s a bit tactical, I really like it. I just hope there will be a cheaper version sometime soon...;-)
 The booth next to the two was Peter Abel´s. Now Peter´s always a joy to meet, and we traded some jokes and had a chat, and, as usual, he gave me some valuable input on blacksmithing and bladesmithing.
 He makes some clean-looking blades out of unusually composed damascus and damasteel, and he has got a very distinctive style. And, this you can rely on, he knows his trade.
 Then suddenly Rainer loomed into my focus, gah!*ggg* Rainer is a knifemaker I always meet unexpectedly, and suddenly he stood before me.
 As usual, another nice chat was had, and he showed me his latest work, a knife with a Karesuandokniven blade. Turns out the missus was yelling at him, so he withdraw into his shop. Lad, if that´s what comes out if you have arguments with your wife, you should have more of them, just kidding of course;-).
 Then it was off to Pekka´s booth. Pekka Tuominen is a very accomplished knifemaker and a nice guy from Finland. Excuse the lousy photos! Pekka is the designer of the Spyderco Tuominen, and in the brief chat we had, I learned a whole world of knowledge about this traditional Finnish tool.
 But he had lots more on display than "just" Puukkos. I must say I fell in love with this seax. I simply find it insane, for it´s not etched, but polished to such an extremely high lustre that the pattern shows!
 He also showed me an article about a Finnish military knife he made a reproduction of. Visit his website, he´s also got a blog worth visiting!

The booth next to Pekka was occupied by Anssi Ruusuvuori, another Finnish mastersmith. I could not find a website, but an excellent article by Mr. Moshtaq Khorasani, who is in himself an authority concerning Persian swordmanship and an author of many books concerning the topic.

 Many traditional Puukos were on display, extremely well-made.
 Mammoth tooth handles with silver steel blades...
 Then it was back to Germany, and I had the privilege to meet with Kilian Kreutz, a young but very accomplished and formally educated master blacksmith. He makes very appealing knives out of a very special damascus. Out of barrells from the WW II V-Flak and tool steels he composes badass blades with flowing aesthetics, often inspired by the flow of work itself.
 Just my piece of cake, really. All of his blades were already sold at 11.30 am! That tells a story, does it? Anyway, Kilian is a nice, somewhat shy guy, and since he practically lives "next door", I look forward to visit him one day in his smithy.
 Then it was off to a guy I really looked forward to meeting:
 That crazy Finnish master:JT Palikkö;-). He had some great work on display again. I was enthused to see this small Khukhuri, and the Kopis / Yatagan style is a big hit with me, too.
 He can´t only do the big stuff, though. He also had some meticulously crafted hunting knives on display, too.
 But what impressed me most were his swords. First a somewhat fantasy interpretation of a hand-and-a-half sword.

And then he offered me the privilege to do a study of this "Katzbalger" from the 16th - 17th century, a style of hunting sword used by the "Landsknechte", soldiering in the 30-years war in Germany.

 I especially loved the work on the hand guard and pommel.
 That goes without words, does it? He also said that many originals had a hollow pommel to aid in balance. He did a lot of research on this sword, and I daresay a historical soldier would have been proud to own one.
 Nice Finnish, JT!*ggg* The blade was polished mirror bright and felt alive in your hand. There is an almost eucharistic feeling you get when you hold a well-made sword.
 The handle scales were made from reindeer antler with brass liners which I found very interesting. It gave the sword some Northern appeal without overdoing it.
 It was also an eye-opener looking at the sheaths of those swords, which were not in the least a second-thought item, but crafted with the same care as the blades. We traded some more jokes, chatted some, and then I was off to the next booth.
 There Maihkel Eklund had his works of art on display. This viking- style axe I found most impressive for the modern interpretation of viking-age iconography.
 Maihkel makes some very delicately engraved and gilded blades, certainly no users to baton through hardwood or do paint-stripping;-), but a delight for the eye.
 ...lost for words...
 I find it very remarkeable and it tells quite a story how diverse his style is.
 And, I simply like his friendly, laidback manner. Maihkel, it was but a brief visit, but I hope we meet again next year!
 Then it was off to the booth of Mr. Ladislav Santa. He makes great knives in Slovakia, and I already own one of his damascus knives like this. This is a more compact size, which was a novelty. They really come at bargain prices, at just 75€!
 I am also fond of this striker knife.
 Also in a set.

So, this is the first layer of Solingen... much more pics will come. Stay tuned!

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