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Christopher Price

Knifemaker Interview Series, a biography workshop

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Just prior to my taking up the hammer, I was at a campout in north Idaho. They had a blacksmith there, making his trinkets, and I completely lost track of time - I was supposed to be making sure boys got to their respective stations, but I probably spent 2 solid hours watching this guy work. Thankfully nobody got lost and it wasn't an issue.

 

 

My smithing time right now has to fall behind regular work, and the demands of my family and various committments. Because of that, I rarely take orders for specific work, and refuse deposits utterly - I might have a piece done in a week, it might take me months, depending on how life goes. That makes it really hard to take someone into the shop on a regular basis. That said, I've made time now for 4 different youth, to come over once a week and work on a knife. I'll forge the really tricky parts, show them the basics with a couple hits for the other stuff, and then let them have at it. I point, they hit... we spend some time up front talking about design, so that what they get is what they envision, or at least something close to it. We talk about how to do the handle for it, and they usually shop for their own material. I'll show them the grinder, and supervise their work (unless they're older, and I can trust them enough to walk away for a few minutes). I'll help them glue everything up, then I sharpen it for them and do the buff myself (that's too dangerous for a first-timer, in my opinion) and send them on their way. It's been greatly satisfying, and I like to think I'm a good teacher, having worked with Scouts for 20 years now. I haven't the shop space for more than one at a time, though, and with school schedules, sports, and everything else kids have to juggle, I rarely have them climbing over each other for shop time - I'll finish one, then another will pipe up that they'd like the opportunity. At the moment I'm without student, which is fine - I have enough work to do without the distraction.

 

I've never really thought about an apprentice. I would be concerned that they know enough to actually be of help, in which case there's probably not much I can teach them. I don't mind sharing an anvil with a colleague, but that middle-ground is something I've not even mentally explored, to be honest. I'm a connisouir of solitude, so the idea of always having someone around me like that would make me prefer a press or power hammer, to a striker or 3rd hand, in most cases.

 

 

 

I think an ideal arrangement for me, would be to give back much in the way I've learned, and be able to host a regular meeting of interested craftsmen. Not really a big 50+ person hammer-in, but maybe a monthly gathering of 4-6, where we pick a technique to talk about, have a demo, and then open the forge for practice while I sit there and comment on what I see like the wise old man. That'll have to wait, I think, because my shop and yard aren't really set up for it, and there aren't that many people who'd jump at the invite just yet around here. Washington D.C. is a busy place, with busy people, and few have the drive to dedicate much time to this kind of craft, and nobody I know close-by has their own forge. It's a goal, though, to look forward to in the future... I'm open to the idea.

Edited by Christopher Price

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Regarding your work, do you approach a piece differently if it is for a commission vs. a personal project? I've been curious about this, and since I have not yet had the opportunity to do a commission myself, I don't have the experience.

Do you find that there is a conflict between demand and what you enjoy most making? If that did not make sense, I'll try that again. Do you find that the pieces you are/have been commissioned to make are usually the style you prefer? Or, do you just take commissions based on your personal interest in the project?

What I'm getting at here is how is the balance between recreational and professional smithing? When you first began your professional career, did you see changes in your work or attitude towards it? Also, what are your experiences balancing work and family and smithing?

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Commissions are different than personal work, because you're trying to fill someone else's expectations, and if you don't know them well or have had a face-to-face conversation, your idea and their idea may differ enough to make someone unhappy.

 

 

I take commissions that I think I can do, even if it stretches me a bit. The recent W1 disaster is a good example - a long piece of that chemistry is out of my experience, and I'm learning lots of new stuff in heat treating from it, even though it means extra work for me. I have two Civil-war era pieces people are asking for, and they both seem straightforward enough, though it forces me to do some research in order to deliver a faithful representation of the original work. That turns me on, the act of learning about something that wasn't on my radar, and seeing if I can do it well enough to satisfy a paying customer.

 

 

 

For my own work, I'd like to be doing the level of work that Own is up to, full-on nordic antique stuff - and explore that space more fully. Spears, axes, knives, swords... even some household ironwork, would be cool. My "master set" would include not only a full kit of war gear done in traditional style, but the hand-made tools to make them - smelt my iron and steel, forge my hammer and stump anvil, chisels, hand-cut files, tongs, and shears. That would be a satisfying collection worthy of the level I'd like to be at someday.

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I guess I didn't really answer your question.

 

Concerning the balance between shop time and everything else, the answer is "it depends". With money on the line, there's more motivation to get out there and get it done. But even that shifts, depending on several factors - how my day at work has gone, how the kids are doing, and my clarity of thought - there's no use going out to the shop if I'm just going to screw up whatever I touch because I had a bad day, am unfocused, tired, and distracted. It's one of the fears I have treating this as an apprenticeship to retirement and going full-time someday - I won't have that luxury, and will need to find a way to make it work no matter how I'm feeling.

 

 

I suffer the artist's curse, I guess, in that my best work is only done when the muse descends upon me. It might come in the form of music, something I've read that day, a drawing I doodled, or a wistful desire that just needs to come out into physical form. Weather plays a part, too, like right now the shop is 30 degrees and there's ice in the slack tub. Not exactly ideal work conditions, a frozen anvil, and cold joints. Summer here can be pretty harsh too, and I've come out of the shop drenched in sweat, stepping into a 98 degree day with 90% humidity, and felt cool and refreshed. Ideal smithing time is not a year-round proposition with my setup, so that tends to blunt my enthusiasm sometimes when I'm not driven to work on something.

 

 

 

Then there was the time I took a day off of work, called in sick, and drove up to Baltimore Knife & Sword just to use the power hammer for 3 hours. That felt great, but can't be done very often for obvious reasons. Got a lot of work done, though. Which leads me to my last point, that if I had power tooling available in the form of press or large hammer, I would get a lot more work done. Facing a large bar by hand these days is a little discouraging, and takes some effort to overcome and work on it anyway. Still, even working by hand, I can get the blade done in less time than it takes to do all the other stuff - guard, handle, finish work - used to be the other way around. I'm happy about that. On a good day, with appropriate-sized stock, I can do a simple knife from start to finish in 8 to 10 hours, and that feels really good.

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Tying that last bit together, I have two questions.

 

First, with the balance between the hot work and the fit and finish, do you approach a blade looking forward to one more or less than the other? A lot of people, at least that I have met and know next to nothing about bladesmithing, see it more in the forge and less doing the rest. Crafting a knife, sword, whatever, from start to finish encompasses all sorts of skills that might not immediately come to mind, which was very daunting when I first started. Did you have any background in applied arts before making blades? And now that you are looking at work like the Hoard, which requires a lot more finishing than a run of the mill, say, hunting knife, do you find that your focus has shifted in that direction, honing that other skill set?

 

Making that more relevant, where do you see your work in ten years? What do you ultimately hope to achieve as a bladesmith? Do you envision a legacy in your work, whether in museums or beyond? In essence, expanding more on this, although it says a lot already

 

making a modern version of the old thing a museum might want alongside the original, where the only difference is age and weathering, but materials and morphology is accurate to the original work as much as possible.

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Interesting questions.

 

Like most bladesmiths, I have come to hate slotting guards. I'm not a fan of the plunge cut. I would like to compete with some of the really fancy embellishment out there, but have neither the time nor machining skills it takes to do some of that stuff. I will likely never get into making high-end folders, because that's milling work, not forging and hand-fitting, and I want to make things that cannot possibly have come off a CNC machine. The subtle curves, compound geometries leading to the edge, and that hand-fit feel, that a machine simply can't do... that is what I'd like my work to be known for, above all things.

 

 

Beyond a basic level of tinkering, I had no "applied arts" skills leading into this. I learned to use a mig welder in a muffler shop I worked in one year, I learned woodwork from middle school shop class and a lifetime of whittling. Precision fit and finish is still something of a challenge for me, and while I think I do okay, it's not perfect by any means.

 

But, neither was the ancient stuff. It didn't need to be, and nobody thought less of it because it was off center a couple millimeters, or had a little swoop to it, or wasn't perfectly symetrical. We have come to expect these things with factory precision and mass production, but they are not always the tell-tale of quality. While I'm comfortable with that notion, it takes some work to educate the customer base looking for reproduction work. They're easier than the modern knife people who don't understand why a hand-made knife might have a little gap here or there, if everything didn't turn out just perfect.

 

I don't see the work of blade furniture to be a distraction from the overall piece, and I welcome the challenge (though this hoard filligree stuff is killing me) because there are still things in forging that elude me, or challenge me enough to keep it interesting and balanced. I can forge a plain piece of steel easy enough, but forge-welding still has it's bad days, smelting is always an adventure, and Heat Treatment is that holy grail that I seek to the end of my days, trying to nail the perfect grain size, temper, and finish. It'll never get old or easy, I think, barring a move to industrial-precision tooling like computer-controlled salt pots. Maybe someday - but it seems like it takes the challenge out of it, and is further away from the ancient methods I think are important to carry forward, especially with the repro work. A salt-quenched seax just doesn't sound right, and you wouldn't get that interesting "viking hamon" on some pieces of shallow-hardening simple steel.

 

In ten years, I hope to have a lot better control of my welding, heat treat, and have some more dedicated tooling to crank up the efficiency of my time spent in the shop. Time and money prevent those kinds of investments right now, but they're essential for a full-time smith, and in 20 years (or maybe less) I need to have my act together and be able to turn out quality material and work as fast as possible without compromising the approach I need to take for a given piece. A bill-paying piece of damascus shouldn't take me very long to put out on a press or hammer, while a viking spear should take longer and be finished at least by hand to get the shapes right. I hope by then I know all the shortcuts I need to stay profitably, and still have the experimental side going strong.

 

 

 

Any legacy I imagine for myself is tied to a "living history" concept. Be it museums, or periodic demonstrations at craft fairs, or a strong student following, I hope to bring the past alive through my work, let people see just what it took to make such things in antiquity, and appreciate that element of hand-craftsmanship we seem so far divorced from in our mass consumption culture.

 

Getting there is half the battle, though, and Jeff Pringle and I started using a term a couple years ago, the "Price of Knowledge", any time it became clear that the next step in learning something was to buy a $150 book, or an authentic Viking antique (in his case, grinding into them), or a week spent crushing charcoal just so, or worse... not crushing it just so and spending days getting a furnace ready and doing a burn, only to find that the bloom is small and your ore isn't full cooked because it fell through too fast because your charcoal was too big and you have to do it all over again to get the result you want. We can spill our guts online, we can show someone everything we know, and we can write all the books we want... and some shortcuts will allow a good student to take their craft to the next level without so much personal sacrifice. But some things simply must be done for one's self to be truly understood, and owned, and I hope to be able to, in the end, own my skills no matter how much help I've gotten over the years. I cannot let this chance go by without saying a huge Thank You to everyone who's mentored me over the years, shared their little bits of knowledge, and hard-earned wisdom, hopefully to save me from making too many of the same mistakes on my own path. I might have given it all up if not for this exceptionally generous community. Even the secrets, and there are some, come out slowly if you show yourself to be serious, and take new knowledge seriously and with humility and honorable intent.

 

Now if I can just get that Organarium made for 30-gauge wire.... :ph34r:

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Wow, very profound thinking. It's hearing thoughts like these that really get the mind going. Thank you for all the time and consideration you have put into answering all my questions, this has been enlightening to say the least.

Before I pass the torch back, I have one last set of questions to ask.

 

Has this journey of smithing changed your outlook on things- the world, history, life in general? If so, how? Reading through the older interviews, I have seen the similarity in them that they all share a common thought about the people of the craft in their openness and willingness to help others. Do you feel that your own experiences share this?

 

And finally, what advice would you give beginners? Advice that you wish you would have gotten when you first took up the hammer, or something that you learned years later.

 

With any other closing thoughts you might have, I would like to thank you again for taking the seat and letting us get to know a little better.

 

 

John

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Thanks for asking me to play. It never occurred to me when I started this, that I'd be on this side of the table. It's been fun. And i do have a "next victim" lined up.

 

 

 

Spending the time in the shop to make something has shown me, in no uncertain terms, just how artificial much of our 1st-world life is. Our money, our things, and even sometimes our values (exhibit a, reality television) are all less "real" to me now, than before. I find myself surrounded by people who are happy to just play along in the "go to work" game, never create, never show the spark of imagination... and I come here and am instantly surrounded by brilliant levels of creativity and the means to transform it from a thought to a tangible object. A metaphysical challenge out there is to realize that nothing is so real as a dream - it is unchanging, and everything else is corruptable by time. This corps of gentlemen has found a way to make dreams pop out into real life, and I'm proud to be part of that community.

 

 

I've always felt strongly about the building up of a community, however you define its boundaries. To give back, to teach, to share, as long as it is constructive and moves us all forwards, I'm all for it. Some of us choose to try and make money at this and it can get in the way of the collegial atmosphere sometimes, especially when hard-earned knowledge means a competitive edge for a while. I've nothing against that, either, as long as it doesn't turn to mean-spiritedness... we all have our path to walk, and simply copying someone else's is usually not appropriate. Like I said earlier, I would love to be part of a regular community of smiths all sharing and learning from one another. Maybe someday that will come into being, I hope so.

 

 

 

 

To beginners, I would suggest that they try not to be overwhelmed by it all. The craft of bladesmithing is full of eddys and coves that are chock-full of detail and it's easy to feel lost in it all. Don't expect to become an expert overnight, but rather choose one element and practice it until you have a good understanding of the fundamentals, and then move on to the next thing... building incrementally until you have a solid "tool kit" of knowledge that you know how to apply to steel. Then your work will flourish in a way that just making the shape, or following the motions of heat treat, or taking shortcuts on finishing will never allow. Don't give up when you get frustrated, and don't be too cheap with your tools and steel, because quality isn't as expensive as failure, and a good basic knife won't have more than $10 in materials and sanding belts, power, and fuel, by the time it's done.

 

 

Watch as many experienced smiths work, too, as you can. Everyone works a little differently, and you'll pick up things from one person that you wouldn't from another. Get a lot of different perspectives, and find the parts that work for you and resonate with your reason for doing them. Do not be afraid to ask even the dumbest sounding questions, again and again from different people to see what the range of answers might be.

 

 

 

 

Again, I just want to reiterate how grateful I am to be part of this community, how thankful I am for the mentorship I've gotten from some really kind and knowledgeable people, and how touched I am that I'm hitting that mid-level where people care about what I have to say. If this is as good as it gets, I'm happy with it, though I have goals to meet and challenges to conquer.

 

If anyone else has something they'd like to ask, now's the time. I'll introduce our next member later tonight.

 

Thank you.

Edited by Christopher Price

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Thanks for your intriguing saga Chris. Really good advice in the last post.

 

Jim

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Thank you.

 

 

 

Our next guest is none other than Niko Hynninen, from Finland. I expect it'll take a little longer to get through given the time difference.

 

Thank you, Niko, for being willing to help out here.

 

 

 

First let me start by saying I've been deeply intrigued by your work, your approach, and your culture. My grandmother came from Finland, and it's a place I've always wanted to visit. Can you tell us a little bit, first about what it means to be Suomi, and how you see that making you different from what is largely an American forum?

 

How did you come to be a smith, how long have you been at it, and how would you describe your current work?

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Thank you Chistopher. :lol:

 

I consider this as honour to be joined to this group of interviewed craftsmen of this forum. I truly try out my best answering your questions, even this is my very first one and not even Finnish..even so it makes this even more exiting and fun.

This will be interesting in deed and all ready Chis is putting me in hard spot the very first question, its not the easiest one, what it mean to be Fin ( sorry Chis it toked liberty to interpretation word Suomi in this as Fin )

I gave this serious thought during norm day and even broken it to pieces its not that simple at all. But here we go.

 

I could talk about history of Fin´s and Finland and language that’s sound odd ( those how have heard Fins talk do know what I mean ), Fin life now days, culture that we have…But I don’t think it’s the idea how I would see it, I would approach this bit different ways. Of course I´m proud of my language,sauna,vasta (birch branch bundle that is use in sauna to beat your skin ) salmiakki ( salty liquorice ( ammonium chloride :ph34r: ) but..

 

To me it´s about nature that is provided as it is here. Land that has varying landscape and they all show different era . At spring as snow and ice starts to melt and form small streams and rivers, very first spots of dirt popping out of snow and spring sun makes first blooms rise. As child it was most fun to make Dams and bust them open letting water make channels in dirt and snow. When summer finally wins and all those lakes are free from icy covers, free water glitters at day light and midsummer sun light the sky whole day 24 hours. When fall comes and nature shrinks and all that beauty must decay and die in its earthy grave, seen mist rise from still warm lakes and those small streams and rives that flow so full of energy are perished I find fall in my heart having special place..its surrounded by mystique. Winter follows and shuts all in its freezing hand. Snow wraps the trees in its white jacket and holds it firmly, even the infinite energy of sun doesn't help. Waiting game starts but finally the spring comes again and cycle may continue.

Some times I find my self just looking pieces of stone, bog, water stream or how wind moves grass fields, that’s the nice moment, time disappears. I can freely walk in woods, drink coffee from my wooden cup, sit still at top of tree trunk, eat berry´s straight form earth or even take a nap under the tree.

 

So I think I could consolidate this all in one word, freedom.

 

I know this might sound bit odd description

 

There is very little that I could say that makes me different than you back there , Our roots are not that far actually they are even closer than we think, like you said your grandmother was from Finland. There might be some difference idiom that shows at this forum. The very basic tools that is still used are just like they were 100-300 years ago as hand graft. Our famous tool Puukko is really good example of this simple desing. Simplicity of any tool or object is most interesting feature of it, it´s really “hard” to make simple puukko. If we think its just blade of puukko, wooden handle and sheath + wooden linen it´s not much at all, trick is to make this all in harmony so there is no individual element in it that jumps as one. “Easier” is to make puukko that has it all, shape if it whill shrink under all and its hard to find.

 

I do consider my self relentless and I will work hard to get results..bit of workaholic. This is good and its bad thing, I tend to burn candle at its both ends. Bad side is that its not easy to get necessary distance to any of your wok, similar as you can´t see the trees from forest. The good side in this is that learning from your work is most rewarding. To me in person this forum has bean like truly the gate way to new interesting word. I feel like I´m new member in 40 years old fish tank and by own skills and work find friends and real good friends I have find here, some I have even had opportunity to meet. :lol:

 

As long as I remember I needed to do wild experiments and work whit my hands. I recently find my old drawings and one shows two figures forging, parents said that I was 5 years, so that had to be interesting to me. 1980 I hit the schools and just that time all blacksmith work was bit of shame in Fin…if you owned some you hid it so nobody did see it. Lots of fold just took all that stuff and recycle it. At 13 years of age I for my first blade and now days I remember the shape it was pater knife but as early iron-age Akinakes-dagger. But that time my mother did not liked my enthusiastic ways and I did not saw it sens :( It took long time to find this graft agane but 2002 I made my own summer forge near my parents summer cottage. It was old red brick building that was used to dry grain. No electricity and come to think of it..not much at all just walls, roof and chimney but there I make forge and used 12 v car battery to get coals glow. It was overwhelming feeling even it was not much it feat great. I took some courses that city provided but it was not enough. Very same time my interest in making my own iron and steel start to grow. I tried to find some help here in Finland but it was it was not that good. No info but I did get answers like “ its way too difficult you to even try out, you need to measure this, that, these you need to measure too ….list goes one “

 

He made one mistake during this quite short phone call ; “ you cant do it, its way too hard “ He had not idea how much that motivated me to do my first smelt 2006 and I have continued it ever sens.

 

At 2007 I thought that I really need more info and more practice so I send forms to hands and crafts school and there I psend next all most 3 years. School was really generous and one teacher even boosted and was interested ideas and my projects. Did learn a lots but mostly by experimenting and reading lots and lots of books about metallurgy, even it was really hard. All this did give me base to learn how iron and steel behaves and what is its phase, different temps…its so complex in many levels.

 

My current work is moving in wrong way, this means that I cant do as much as I wanted to do. I need to get back to work after the school even this was not my original plan. But money is money and not even a single nail can be forge if you just don’t have forge. This is realy hard for me and it eats me time to time quite bad. There is now way that I will surrender and stop looking my own forge . Even things look bit dark at moment I can visit school all most any time and its really good deal, have to pay ofcourse but I will do that whit smile. Also find some university folk that are interested my projects and help whit some tools they have, its really nice chance.

 

So even my situation is not the best its not the end of it…I have smelting / melting site and I push my self deeper in steel making and soon as spring is near I start smelting and melting steel various methods. There is certain excitement and Im really hoping early spring to come. There is 4 m2 of charcoal and 5 t of ore waiting, new tatara furnace and wootz furnace ready to make steel.

In general however my current work and projects are Wootz steel orientated, I really feel that patterns that I keep hunting are close but I still need to push this bit further. In this same steel I try to get names for different patterns there is and look if there is certain similarity. Like modern pattern weld pattern, everybody knows twist,random… if there is similarity in pattern it would show that they are not random. This is only side project since its not easy to get much data from pattern and its not easy to interp those.

There is one sword project that I would like to get moving, but I need to get forge time from school first.

 

 

Sepät.JPG

 

me at about 5 years

 

 

 

BR

 

Niko

Edited by Niko Hynninen

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I understand the problem of not having enough time or money to chase your hobby as much as you'd like. It sounds like the school there is a good arrangement, that saves you from having to equip your own shop completely.

 

You mention that much of your time now is spent making steel, looking for patterns, and trying to understand the process. Is there a specific goal in this, a type of blade you want to be able to make perfectly, that motivates you, or are you just searching for knowledge because you find it interesting alone?

 

Also, I will ask, what is your favorite type of knife to make right now? Do you enjoy forging Pukko, or so you prefer something else? Does it not matter right now?

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I think an ideal arrangement for me, would be to give back much in the way I've learned, and be able to host a regular meeting of interested craftsmen. Not really a big 50+ person hammer-in, but maybe a monthly gathering of 4-6, where we pick a technique to talk about, have a demo, and then open the forge for practice while I sit there and comment on what I see like the wise old man. That'll have to wait, I think, because my shop and yard aren't really set up for it, and there aren't that many people who'd jump at the invite just yet around here. Washington D.C. is a busy place, with busy people, and few have the drive to dedicate much time to this kind of craft, and nobody I know close-by has their own forge. It's a goal, though, to look forward to in the future... I'm open to the idea.

 

All we need to do is arrange a time on a weekend at the BGOP shop, Chris. Doesn't matter if your membership has expired; mine is still active. And I probably know a couple guys who'd jump at the invite.

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Chris

 

I try to take this just as small bump along my journey, can´t think it too much. There have to solution for all this and I have strong feeling that all will work out just fine. School has good arrangements that’s for sure, the funny side of this all is that I have all most all the tools that I would need to but forge up and running…what I do need is building ;)

 

I have given thought about this journey of mine and does it have goal. Wootz I find really different than Japanese methods all in one. There is variety of differences in proses of making it and in steel and how to proses continues after raw material is ready, so I do think that this will go along quite some time.

However I find it really motivating to run melt of wootz steel, look trough the safety googles when molten slag moves like fine sand at bottom of the forest spring, lowering the test rod trough the molten surface and run it cross to feel is metal fully liquid, sometimes if slag is thick it moves along the test rod and molten steel can be seen.

 

I remember the first time I saw this and how it reflex´s light, have to say that there is similar view to be find. Forging of ingot is some what time consuming but the tens of it all keep mind focused so even its bit stressing its interesting to notice how ingot starts to move and turns bar. Quite some time ago I did get some fine Wootz oriented books and in those some of the beauty full swords like Tuwars, Shamshirs they all had Amaising watering pattern of wootz steel and I then know that this is the point I must aim at.

If journey would be just searching it would turn quite fast unsatisfied and dull one, I try find the very end of origin of this and dose it involve some items that books don’t tell us. How far this craft went and how many peoplle actually had skills to make it and use it as they wanted, laying sword pattern they wanted. So most interesting and challenging I would have to say long Wootz swords and the fact that pattern would be reproducible all most the same and any time.

 

 

This is good question Chris.

 

The traditional Fin puukko is still one of my favorite ones, its simplicity and history as an tool. Some time ago I forge and give one wootz puukko blade to friend of mine how helped me, I hope he has made it and uses it as puukko should be used.Even puukko is close to my cultural heritage as Fin, these materials Wootz and Tamahagane have given closer chance to try out different cultural approach to my forgings.

 

Niko

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What I find amazing, is that beyond the 3 years you describe in crafts school, you seem largely self-taught. From years of reading your posts, it sounds like you generally work alone, don't have other smiths to learn from or teach to, or even partner with very much. Yet you seem to turn out really excellent work, and the scale of your smelting and very large blooms suggests you're not really alone in all this. Do you have helpers, or other people who like to forge, but don't participate on this forum (making them invisible to us)? Or are you really a lone man in all this?

 

Which brings me to another question... you mentioned that smithing was frowned upon for some time in Finland. Given the importance of Pukko, I'm surprised by this. Can you tell us more why that was, why working with one's hands and hot iron was a bad thing to anybody? Is it reserved for a certain class of person, of which your family didn't think themselves, or were crafts just unpopular for other reasons? From over here, it seems like Finland, and all of Scandinavia really, has a rich heritage in hand crafts, carving, textiles, and of course knifemaking.

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Man are these good questions. I love hearing about history and heritage, especially in this region.

Truly fascinating.

 

John

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Chris.

 

I do not consider my self as self-taught since it would be totally wrong me to say that. I have had amazing group of friends all over the word exchanging information douring years, lots of them are from this forum members like Don Fogg, Greg Thomas Obach, Lee Sauder, Skip Williams, Owen Bush, Ric Furrer, Howard Clark,Jake Powning, Peter Johansson, Jeff Pringle, You, Mike Blue….and list goes at least a mile. All these guys here and also those how´s name I did not mentioned have given me lots and influenced my journey and how much I have learned from all. All of you have bean there whit me during my melts and smelts, and that’s a truth. I will all ways be grateful and cherish this in my heart, thank you all. :lol:

 

I do work alone, it doesn't mean that I´m totally alone, there is some realy good bladesmith friends and we do get together time to time, Finland is not big but distances are long and we don’t see that often. That’s shame since when we do see we have lots to talk about and forging doesn´t go frwd at all :lol: About last smelt I asked my school mate to help me out since it was bit bigger project to work whit and I thank him for that it was huge help.

 

So its not was not easy to start what I have done, this is cultural thing I think and smiths they didn’t wanto share anything at one time. Don’t actually have any idea why this was this hard, and why it was not shared more openly. All this influenced me and I had to figure out these things from book and from internet. This forum open my eyes sense things in here where totally different, open and friendly I´d say. Idea and how to do was freely shared and it was valued for receiving part. I have seen this chanced during years but still in here certain issues are quite hidden.

 

I think that my enthusiasm in iron and steel making doesn´t touch blacksmiths or bladesmiths not even close to that what it is in this forum. I remember the gathering that blacksmiths arrange, I made demo how I make waffle stack of tamahagane and cover it with paper + clay. There was lots of old blacksmiths and bladesmith too and during demo I heard many of them saying “ that will never work, ha did you know that you can get steel and iron from local shop and it cheap. I think I don’t have to say how bad it made me feel…There was no single smith that come over and asked single question or show interest to this. It could be that this why I mostly do like work alone in here. However I do like work whit group of people those share the interest in iron and steel making and related subjects of it like blades, swords, knives, blades, forgewelding, patterns…. B)

 

About steel and iron making its bit different here, there is still some guys, maby 2 how make iron and have made nice blooms. Process that they use are different, some are University experimental archeology, own design / or base to literature the stack furnace and box furnace´s . I have one Plan for making collaboration project is under the way but funding is slowing down at moment. I think that biggest reason for this is the amount of work, it doesn't come easy and there is lots to prep and at end some iron and steel is created. Fist size bloom that is dense and forgeable is really big thing, but what I have hear and read it has been last smelt. Even I will do my stuff whit heart and soul I´m not uniq or spesial in anyway, I just can´t yield is there is bad smelt or melt, blade, puukko or any other project that I was making…some may say that this is the Fin madness.

 

I think smithing in general was not that frowned, but the art and deco that smiths did was not that much appreciated. There could be several reasons but I think that one could have been that people did saw it as old and ugly piece of art and didn’t want to show it. Puukko was different I think, it was a tool so it didn’t has same feeling as art or deco had. Unpopularity may reflect time and how society chanced, its similar as we think that old folk had wooden boxes and wooden table ware, children had toys that were wood…new time, new toys, and new material displaced all old and old junk needed to get rid of. Now day things are just opposite and hand crafts and highly appreciated, there is lots of deco, old tools for the crafts and art like wood working, hide making, musical instrument making, forging, wool making….many more. I think there is time zone in every nations history that old junk needs to replaced by modern and innovative ideas, those are the dark times for all craftsmen, heritage, history and future.

 

They have started to revive old heritage techniques and ancient techniques, we now have even school for that, Hide, stone/flint, bronze age castings, bows, textiles various eras and material, wood work by ancient methods, dying whit natural colors…

 

We do have strong need to get all this old stuff to next generations and try not to make these same mistakes that were made at some point, otherwise all will be lost and somebody need to made the whole journey ones agane.

 

 

Niko

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I remember the gathering that blacksmiths arrange, I made demo how I make waffle stack of tamahagane and cover it with paper + clay. There was lots of old blacksmiths and bladesmith too and during demo I heard many of them saying " that will never work, ha did you know that you can get steel and iron from local shop and it cheap. I think I don't have to say how bad it made me feel…There was no single smith that come over and asked single question or show interest to this. It could be that this why I mostly do like work alone in here.

 

I know exactly how you feel, and have had an almost identical experience or two in my time. It is very frustrating when your enthusiasm is not shared by people you thought were your peers, and I can perfectly understand your decision to march forward to your own drumbeat. I think it speaks highly of your motivation and dedication as a craftsman not to be too discouraged when hitting this kind of obstacle, too, and for me at least, deepens my respect for your work.

 

I can only think of a few more questions for you, then I'll ask you to find someone else to interview. I need to say again how much I appreciate the excellent responses in English, which is not as easy for you.

 

I don't think I've ever read about what you do for a living, when you're not making iron or steel. Could you tell us a little bit about your profession, and if it has anything to do with your hobbies? Or are they totally separate?

 

I also can't figure out what part of Finland you're from, though I thought it was outside Helsinki at one point. Is your home remote, or in the city? Does that affect how you work at all (too much noise for neighbors, or are you surrounded by woods and lakes?) and does it contribute to the long distances between other smiths?

 

And, finally, if it's not too much trouble, can you tell us about your first knife you made, and what you learned from it in the process?

 

Thank you.

 

- Chris

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Hi Chris.

 

Thanks, I do know there is amount of typos and flaws in my writing but I do hope it doesn't effect too much and my thought are understand right way, it´s truly challenge to turn ideas to English but I like this.

 

I could tell several reasons why I haven’t said my profession out loud, it has been more or less tensional . I all most could made a pet that 99% chance is that I´m one of the kind one this forum what comes to occupation / profession. However is not that secret or mystery so I could take this one the table now, after all this is interview :lol:

 

It was -98 when I decide to learn new occupation, so I entered to the Health & Care school and through the testing I graduated as Paramedic 2,5 years later. Before and during school I had idea that I want to be Autopsy technician, so sense school had not teaching for this I needed to find Hospital or department that would took me in and learn from work + later study bit more in this, so now I have been Autopsy technician in Department of forensic science at Oulu University all most 12 years. My work is more or less hand craft , if this term can be used, but I work whit knifes and other instruments daily basis and my knifes are not the small ones you can see at TV series.

I have noticed here and other forums too that wound mechanism and course of death are given thoughts in historical aspect like Viking grave findings and bog people. I think we don’t need to go too deep in this, so just say that seen what different weapons used in different way do the human body, it must have been quite nasty time to live at old world when swords were used, the lucky ones they did die straight there feet but the others they did not had that luxury and privilege.

 

This job needs something to balance and this is the one for me, also this is one reason why this craft started to interest me even more now days. So even this is hobby I take this extremely seriously and if I do get things in order I will do lots more forging than this job. Work is just a work, you get paid and living out of it, but it has that dark side too. I have said to many people related to other things in life that, some certain things in life like job it chances you forever. I have used metaphor saying, In life there is doors that one goes through, there is however some doors that as soon as you walk through those you can´t just go back and think how it feels to stand front of that door whit out doing through.

 

So now I live in North of Finland sens my work is there, this is quite big city but my luck I do live outside the city. Its place where I cant do much, only small things like etch, grid by hand, polish, some wood work + leather work, there is bladesmith friend of mine about 50km away and time to time I can forge in his garage forge, that’s nice. I live near sea and surrounding woods that are really nice to hike and spend time. So I have lots of time to read, I have found lots of good journals and books and those have been really good sense I have had time to setback and look at big picture of wootz and tamahagane making. New ideas and thought just spring out, these I try to find in steels that I have all ready, how this pattern was made, what tools they might have been using, what materials they use to make things, I find this interesting too.

 

My first knife was that paper knife that I mentioned earlier, same that my mother did make disappear :D But my first puukko I made in my summer forge, that I made near to my parents summer cottage. I was really eager to do it as nice I just could, so I added In it all sorts of ideas, this was not as good idea if I think it now.

Blade was 0,8% carbon steel that I forge in charcoal fire, it was terribly hard work and I even thought that this is not working at all. My hammer didn’t go where I tried to and blade looked more like spatula than blade of puukko. Whit files I manage to fix bad parts of it and made sort of heat treatment to it, I used some oil that I was not sure what it was. My hands were hurting even hammer was only 1kg, im not sure how long it toked put it was long time. Front bolster I wanted to make mokume, copper and brass…I had seen some pics and read some text how it was made. So I made sort of stack and used wire to get it stay together, I had od idea that mokume needs to fold, so I fold it and used borax too..it was mess but whit files I find ok´is material. Handle I made piece of rowan wood, it´s simple and slim but fist in hand really good, even blade is short is works good this is sense you get lots of force to blade it self. Sheath Ha haa.. ^_^ I had seen pautting tech in some journal and wanted to make all kind of shapes, but manage to make this od looking belt. Colors of sheath are traditional, I think its from certain region of Finland and same colors are seen in some coat of arms, these colors are used a lot.

 

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ty+Âp+Âyt+ñ 017.JPG

 

Learning point in this was really huge, forging was not easy at first, nothing is. I find that simple issues now like setting fire to in forge where realy difficult at that time, same was whit tending the fire and try not to burn steel in there. I wanted to do lots, thought was that I have not time and need to do everything fast, it was not good. Its like you need to learn first to walk to learn how to run. The whole lesson looking back to it now was that you still need to believe in your ideas and try out all things but at same time not push too hard, trying to find and asking as much as its now days possible. From there to here, my journeys highlight s have been finding my ways to wootz, tamahagane and winning gold at puukko competition whit puukko that I forge out of my own steel.

 

DSCN8873.jpg

 

Fin puukko.jpg

 

 

Thank you Chris, you have asked me some really interesting questions in this interview, I hope that my response has been even close to what you had in mind. I do hope that forum members do get deeper idea how I am and what I am. If ones wants to ask some thing before I drop nets in sea and try to find next person to interview.

 

I´m continuing my long never ending journey through the path of steel and iron my fire keeps burning and it will not diminish

 

 

Thanks Chris it was realy fun :lol:

Edited by Niko Hynninen

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Thank you, Niko, I enjoyed picking your brain. My grandmother and her family came from Kiuruvesi, by the way. Julius Svard was my great-grandfather.

 

 

It's no surprise you won the award for that Pukko, it is fantastic, and celebrates what you described as a minimalist approach, keeping it simple, but very elegant... and using your own steel just makes it special.

 

And if nobody has said it lately, you have a fantastic beard. I'm jealous.

 

 

 

Thank you for playing, and we look forward to finding out who's next.

Edited by Christopher Price

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Thank you Niko, that was interesting!

 

I know what you mean about the doors you can't go back through. I did a bit of CSI-type forensic anthropology in graduate school. Yet another reason to prefer archaeology: our "case subjects" don't have any soft tissue left. :lol:

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Hi Guys.

 

Thank´s :D

 

I need some time to get ansvers those how I asked to participate, but soon

as I have one to interview we start.

 

Its been fun ride.

 

Niko

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Hi all.

 

 

I was really happy when my good friend Greg Thomas Obach agreed to this interview, so here we go.

There is some time differens though.

 

 

Hi Greg :)

 

Tell us how you got into forging, did you find steel or did it lure you in to depths of it, did it promised that it will behave nice, yield under the hammer. What was the first forge and tools that you used, was there somebody to guide you?

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Hi Niko

 

i've always been a day dreamer, and its very difficult imagine one particular point in my life that has lead me directly to a relationship with fire and iron. It was after highschool that i visited a friend that i had lost contact with over several years. He was in his fenced backyard, infront of a small tripod brakepot forge, heating iron redhot and hammering it into leaves and branches. Black coal, green smoke, loud ringing anvil, i watched for hours with awe and interest. It was a long awaited revelation for me, and it became the beginning, both a dream and curse. I truly feel that with iron and fire i can create whatever i desire, and anything becomes possible with skill and knowledge.

 

Iron has been both a curse and a blessing, for some people it will be waiting at the cross roads, to make sure you don't stray off the path. I know from much experience that if i look away, i will be back before the fire in time.

 

What is it? the fire, Iron, and Smith relationship.. Some kind of arcane covenant ! Some may think i'm crazy for saying that but others will know exactly, all too well what it is (very difficult to put in words )

 

it becomes apart of you, you cannot escape it, after awhile you will not want anything but it .... kinda like a dark voodoo or somethin

- at least how i see it ... and i'm trying to keep this tame, as i feel it is a spiritual bond

 

 

where i live, there are no others that forge iron ! Except for the rare encounter with my friend, i learned everything from sitting infront of the fire, books, or from the wonderful information on the internet. I've never been able to afford taking a course, and i travel as well as a Tasmanian devil in a wooden crate

 

My first forge was a brake pot forge that i made from a transport truck drum. I burned charcoal at first, then fine Black coal when i could get my hands on it. The coal was a dream come true, and it alway has a special place in my heart. Coal cut the chains that bind, and i became a believer in this fire B)

 

 

Greg

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