Updated: Oct 29, 2019
Hammering steel was a sobering experience.
How difficult could it be? People have been forging knives for centuries. Surely technology has modernized and I wouldn't be using a coal fired forge and bellows like a village blacksmith of days gone by. No, I was attending a bladesmithing school accredited by the American Bladesmith Society which, I assumed, would have modern day equipment for the modern day knifemaker. Well the truth is that what was considered cutting edge technology in the 1500's is pretty much what is considered cutting edge technology today. Almost everything is the same. Bladesmiths still use an anvil and hammers. They still use a forge to super heat the metal. And the knives are still ground and shaped by hand. The only exception is the forges are now fired with gas and the grinding wheels are electrified.
“I think you won the ugly knife contest.”
It wasn't an auspicious beginning. My instructor made it look effortless but the reality of forging a knife by hand takes skill, and brawn, and patience, and a thorough understanding of metallurgy. I was in short supply on all fronts. After hours of toiling over the forge using unfamiliar tools while blistering my hands and giving my shoulder a serious workout, I had created something resembling a knife. Not pretty and certainly not functional, but it was a blade none-the-less, made by hand utilizing a centuries old process that I was totally unprepared. In fact, my instructor said I had won the ugly knife contest.
The challenges of that first knife ignited a passion that still burns to this day. It became my mission to educate myself and learn as much as I could about what it takes to be a bladesmith. I have learned that the skills are built with every knife you make and the knowledge is gained through collaboration, research, trial and error, and literal blood, sweat, and tears. I still have that ugly knife, Knife Number One, and it serves as a reminder of how far I have come and how far I have yet to go.