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Freitag, 5. Februar 2016

Oh the loot! ;-) Or: The adventure of steel processing

I went foraging for steel again in my local woods, and was stunned to find a treasure hoard again. As you say-one man´s trash is another one´s treasure. In this case it applies in the truest sense of the word. A lot of the steel I keep finding there is ancient crucible or extremely high carbon tool steel or saw steel. I found a chisel with a kind of octagonal shape, and having already processed one of those, I strongly suspect it is made of a very funny kind of steel. Spark analysis on the Sica blade showed dark-red, almost invisible sparks-but with bright-white sparks at the end, and, compared to file and spring steel, very funny shapes. Fact is, I can´t make heads nor tails out of it. Might be Tungsten in it or any such like, but what matters most to me is that the blade I forged from it keeps to a good temper with a very fine grain and a high amount of flexibility. So I look forward to the next.

Yeah, I know. I might not be that good with metallurgical theory. I make knives that have to work, and if I want to work with stainless or other stuff I should know my theory better. Yeah, I know, but DO I? Do I have to?

I have to admit that a lot of my tempering is done very intuitively. Of course, sometimes I get it wrong and have to do it all over again or worse yet, the knife breaks when testing. But, honestly, the last time I broke a knife is 3 years ago, and I have made a lot of them in the meantime, and the times when I get it wrong (with steel utterly unknown to me) I can count on three fingers.

I do not want to brag about my oh-so-extraterrestrial capabilities in bladesmithing, because I am not that good. What I want to say is, that it is possible. I forged a blade out of 440C intuitively and it stood up to some severe pounding while keeping an edge well. I daresay that´s what it´s all about. To be honest, I thrive on the adventure. There is something very archaic about bladesmithing and I find it more intelligible when you do it intuitively. It is like getting to know the NAME of iron. Not just the word, but what it really means, if that makes any sense. It is like I can tell you the word blue, but you have to feel it to know the blue sky on a warm summer´s day.

Patrick Rothfuss in his novel "The Wise Man´s Fear" (which I strongly recommend!) tells the story of a teacher of the arcane teaching "names". Not what we commonly think, but the actual names, not the sign, but the meaning, if you get my erm... meaning;-). He states that he will throw a stone at a given time with a given force and asks his pupils to calculate where the stone will fall down. Several well- educated people then start to make calculations, drawing diagrams and the like. When time is out, the teacher just opens the door and calls on a messenger boy, and without further notice, throws the stone. and the boy catches it on an instinct.

I know a lot of accomplished blade- and blacksmiths who make great knives, strictly according to the book of rules. Some make very durable knives, but some don´t.

And then I know several old Russian blacksmiths. One of them even could up until recently not read the newspaper or write his own name. He uses scrap steel, even rebar for his knives, and they are standing up to an abnormal degree of abuse with amazing edge-holding capacity. Viktor used rebar, too, and mild steel, and scrap and junk steel to amazing effect, too. They taught me one thing: That there IS the name of iron. You could put a piece of rust-pitted steel into their hands, and just by touching it they knew what to do. When asked, they failed to give a satisfying answer and just said that it had to be that way. Mielenko knew his numbers well, but was capable to tell the carbon content by the sound the steel made on the anvil, by weight and resistance alone. None of his knives, he told me, has ever failed.

I am a poet. A lunatic, if you so will, beloved of the moon. I tell a lot of crazy tales. Only on a secondary level am I a blacksmith, bladesmith or even bushcrafter. Might be it is like a kid once told me that in a different world or different time I´d be called a wizard. I like that, of course, but we live in 2016, and the world's not at all a place for wizards or warriors or even blacksmiths.

I have been on this path for a long, long time now. I know the wind and what lies therein. I know the sun and the moon and the stars and I love them. I love the earth and the trees. I listen to creeks and the murmur of the wind in the "soft, round tops of the pines and firs". They tell me of another world, a world of meaning, without signs, but names to be learned.

And with each piece of iron I find in the woods, I tell a new story, and learn the name of iron and fire. My knives are always more than just a blade and a "been there, done that", at least to me. It is not just a thing you covet and because you can´t afford it, you make it yourself. Their names are an armour I wear in the everyday mayhem of our world, even if their blades lie in my drawers. They are the gift of the woods, tormented by man and crooked and weird and powerful. Beyond the dream road through the wood of steel - lord of the forest makes love to his goddess; beautiful is the image of the moon in the water (to corrupt this famous Bujinkan meme;-)).

Every time when I go foraging for steel then, it is a kind of spiritual experience. It is an initiation as well as a lesson in humility. When you find, you find. If not, you find not. But if you do it according to the meaning of it all, chance is, you will find a treasure.


  1. Whew, Markus, you say so well what I too feel but cannot express as you do. Thank you for that. I too feel there is an intuitive level to smithing or any craft for that matter or musical instrument, etc. I love your scavenging stories because I too, as you know, am a scavenger at heart. Why is there so much random steel at that spot again? If you wrote about it before, I forgot.

  2. You know how to put things down, I have to give you that. Maybe I get to feel it too someday, but I'll have to do my basic course in april first.
    And it is about time Rothfuss comes with the next book in that series. Loved it!

  3. I think it's so neat that you can just take a walk in the woods and find good steel. You are blessed to live near that particular old mill site. Most of the steel you'd find in my area would be unusable low-carbon stuff.

  4. Thanks, folks, here: you can find more about the site.

    As for Pat, he simply is a perfectionist, I guess...and he´s got a lot going on with worldbuilders...


Now go on, discuss and rant and push my ego;-). As long as it´s a respectful message, every comment is welcome!

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