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Christopher Price

Knifemaker Interview Series, a biography workshop

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Peter,

I had guessed that swords must have been in your life from an early age ,those minatures are cool ,very well proportioned I really like the battle axe (A giant Dime sounds about there ,as far as a bladesmiths pension goes!!).

You showed some of your current work, at what point did you realise/decide that making swords for a living was going to be your profession/calling. Were there any influential people ,happenings or swords that made a difference in the process of becoming a sword smit . When did you Make your first "Real" sword as oposed to sword like object .

Edited by owen bush

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Production has been small these last couple of years. I have become father of two little daughters and the past year was mostly spent taking care of them. Moving to a new workshop also slowed things down.

Now I am looking forward to get started again. A year away from work puts a perspective on things.

 

I attach some examples of what I´ve brought to the knife maker show in Solingen that last couple of years. This pretty much shows the character of what I´ve been doing lately.

Beautiful work as always Peter...now if we could just get you to make some steel......

 

Ric

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It was not until after I had completed a four year training in decorative ironwork that I gradually saw that my calling was to be a sword smith. I had thought that I would combine design and craft in making tools, furniture and art.

Granted, I had been fascinated by swords since a tender age and I had already started to build a small collection of sword documentations. Swords were part of dreams, both daydreaming and while sleeping. But no one in his right mind takes eight years of art studies to become a sword smith. I was pretty convinced about that.

Making swords was never OK, during my studies or previous professional years. Professors, fellow students and colleagues (with one or two exceptions) never saw why one would want to learn how to make a sword. The Sword was a pathetic cliché and not something worthy to waste creative energy on. At best it could only be a replica, and as such it did not involve anything that was in the spirit of an artistic mindset. Making swords could simply not be taken seriously and it would probably have dire moral consequences if you decide to make one.

 

Finishing a MA in graphic design and illustration (back in -89) the final project was The Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll. I illustrated the poem and printed a little book with hand set type, binding 200 copies by hand. I also wanted to show there was something real to fantasy: I wanted to "bring back" souvenirs from Carroll´s land of wonderful nonsense. I "stuffed" a Borogove (a strange bird mentioned in the text) and I made the Vorpal sword the hero uses to kill the Jabberwocky with. The Vorpal sword was ground from spring steel, not hardened but it was as real as I could make a sword with the knowledge and resources at hand. To me it was immensely satisfying to make the sword come true, bringing it out of a litteral, symbolical role and giving it physical form. To me this was an important statement, but my fellow students and my professors did wonder...

 

Ten years later (-99) I find myself completing a four year education in decorative ironwork. I had spent all evenings and weekends leanring as much as I could about heat treatment of steel (this was not something that was regarded with much interest in the course otherwise) and forging blades (knives and swords).

My teachers in these matters were those I could learn from on the internet. I found Don Fogg´s site sometime halfway through the education (about 96-97?) and was instantly empowered and enthused. I knew his work from many years before, pouring over Knife magazines, but the internet brought wisdom, experience and knowledge at hand in a way that was very powerful. Daryl Meier was also encouraging to me at an early stage through discussion sites. There are others as well, but these two gentlemen were important providers in helping to establishing a base of knowledege but also as a kind of professional role models. Learning how to keep at the craft is as important as any skills you get in heat treating or forging. No, more important. To keep striving, finding the good path is not always easy. Loosing heart or driving yourself too hard can be damaging and even bring and end to your life as a smith. To me it has been very important to see those who have found a good path to follow. It is incredibly inspiring and encouraging.

Over the years I´ve been very lucky to meet qualified craftsmen that have tought me things and inspired me in fundamental ways: Roman Landes, Jean-José Tritz, Ralf Hoffmann, Ichiro Matsuba, Howard Clark, Randal Graham, Ric Furrer, Ric Barret, Jürgen Steinau and Anders Högström. And now recently at Owen´s hammerin the number of brothers i the craft was multiplied. Meeting Jake Powning was like seeing a long lost brother.

 

I made four swords (real ones based on studies of originals) during this period of basic training (-85 – -89)and the final project became the study and reconstruction of a historical sword: the sword of Svante Nilsson Sture. He was the Regent of Sweden in the early 16th C and was buried with a rather special fighting sword.

I documented the original and worked to do a reconstruction as it would have looked when new.

This project did change the direction of my life, even if I did not fully understand it at the time. The process of documenting and analyzing an original and then strive to bring about as many of the observations as possible in a re-making of the sword proved to be a rewarding process. You get more questions than answers, but who would want it to be otherwise?

 

Emerging from the training I set up a workshop together with two other smiths. As I began my career as smith I found to my surprise that customers turned to me, not to make garden furniture or decorative work, but swords.

 

The sword of Svante Nilsson Sture was a stepping stone in may ways. I wanted to understand how the medieval craftsman might have thought about the task of designing a sword. He would have had a different perspective, but there must have been some structure to the process. More or less based on tradition and influenced more or less by individual genius.

Other medieval arts and crafts did use patterns and systems in creation. This is something essential to the medieval mindset. There is a harmonious structure that bear witness to the presence of Gods Hand in Creation. Regardless of your religious beliefs, the sword was made in a world where proportion and harmony had a meaning beyond being merely pleasing to the eye.

From ancient times geometry was used as a tool of design and the medieval artisans were no strangers to these methods.

Working from the perspcetive of a graphical designer (a modern equivalent of the medieval scribe, still using very much the same skill set for layout and composition) I wanted to "compose" a sword according to the hallowed principle of the Golden Section (very often used in art as a design tool). You may also apply proportions based on the Fibbonacci (a 13th C mathematician) series of numbers : they gravitate towards the Golden Section as fractions. The number series runs: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55.... You add the two previous numbers to get the next one.

As fractions they go: 1/2, 2/3, 3/5 5/8 and so on. The higher pair of numbers you combine, the closer you get to the number Phi: 1.618.....

Phi is the proportion of the Golden Section. A very special relationship between two forms, sizes, lengths, weights...

 

I decided to build a design based on a module that was varied according to the Fibbonacci series of numbers.

Drawing a line for the blade length, I divided it into 8 parts. I now had a module to work with. Taking the same module in three, gave me the length of the hilt, and two time the module gave me the width of the guard. Now it seemed to me that the basic module could be divided in two to give me a measure for blade width and possible also the dimension for the pommel.

Seeing the proportions emerging on the paper in front of me gave me goose bumps: It was the sword of Svante Nillson Sture!

I went back to the documentation checking the measurements and saw that a module of 1/8th of the blade length was 10.5 cm. The width of the guard is a bit uncertain as it is bent on the original, but probably around 20.5 cm (2 x 10.5 = 21), hilt and pommel together is 31.4 cm (3 x 10.5 = 31.5), blade width is 5.2 cm at the base (10.5/2= 5,25) and pommel is 5.3 cm in diameter and 5.3 cm high.

 

There are many ways to apply the principle of the Golden Section. It does not *automatically* lead to better swords, but it provides a perspective and a correlation that I think is useful. The proportions of the golden section are commonly to be found in surviving swords. Some are close in a few aspects, other follow these proportions to a high degree applied both in overall shape and small details. To me it has proven to be a dependabe design tool in that it allows a contemporary maker to put on "spectacles" so that you can approach the process with medieval eyes. I do think it helps me making better swords, but that is a matter of how they are applied: in the same way as a well made and functional tool helps you arrive to results in a smoother way. To learn how to apply the principle of he golden section in sword design, I think the best thing is to study historical originals.

There are two jugs of knowledge we blade smiths drink from. One is filled with steels, heat treat, hammer work, grinding and finishing techniques. The other bucket is filled with geometry, design and function. Both I think are equally important.

 

And Ric:

Yes, I really want to start making my own steel!

I will take up your invitation to visit at some time when I´m in Wisconsin.

B)

Jabberwocky262.jpg

P1010003.jpg

Edited by peter johnsson

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I lack the words to express the depth of my gratitude for having a chance to hear your,Peter,as well as others,thoughts on metalworking.It truly is a great priviledge.Thank you.

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Peter, could you elaborate just a little bit on what material the Svante Nilsson Sture Sword would have been made of in antiquity? As you examined and handled the original, what sort of metallurgy was in use at that time? Also, having read the Albion description of your work, your version includes cast pommel and guard... was the original of forged ferrous material, or do you think it was similarly cast from some copper alloy?

 

 

 

 

Let me just say, your work is incredible. I'm blown away, and I thank you for your contribution to our discussion here. This thread continues to exceed my every expectation.

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I would like to continue on from somthing Christopher just mentioned .

Peter,

You work both as a bladesmith and also as a designer for Albion swords ,how do these Roles compliment each other ,and do you find any clashes trying to represent both your own work and be the Design face of albion ?

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Peter, could you elaborate just a little bit on what material the Svante Nilsson Sture Sword would have been made of in antiquity? As you examined and handled the original, what sort of metallurgy was in use at that time? Also, having read the Albion description of your work, your version includes cast pommel and guard... was the original of forged ferrous material, or do you think it was similarly cast from some copper alloy?

 

 

 

 

Let me just say, your work is incredible. I'm blown away, and I thank you for your contribution to our discussion here. This thread continues to exceed my every expectation.

 

 

Christopher,

 

Thanks!

 

We (a friend of mine, Patrik Djurfeldt and I studied the sword together initially) got x-ray done of the whole sword. It showed most clearly where there was solid steel surviving and where most had gone to rust. Interestingly there was no way telling on the surface how deep the rust had gone. A lesson to learn! It would have been rather embarrassing to have the sword snapping in two while handling it!

 

We did not, however get a slice cut out of the blade to get an analysis of the structure or composition of the steel.

There have been some analysis made of medieval sword blades, but not so often and not to the same depth as work done on pattern welded blades of earlier times. Pattern welding always draws more eyes than a humble non-patterned steel blade ;)

 

One thing that I was clear about was that my reconstruction could not include a study of the metallurgy of the sword. I had to base my understanding of that aspect from work done by others on other swords. Nor did I have access to home made steel that might (or might not) have had the same composition and character as the steel used for the original.

Tests done on high medieval swords seems to indicate that a variety of methods were used to get hardened edges. Different methods of reforging steel into itself to refine it, mixing different grades in "chaotic" structures or neat layers, welded on edges on cores of different construction, or even carburizing wrought iron (although I am not convinced about this last one!).

There was no telling for sure what method had been used for the Sword of Svante Nilsson Sture. The X-rays showed a blade than looked homogenous (with some strange large grain structure, that I that was an effect of rust). There was an interesting element though: a slag inclusion, a long strand running the whole length or of the blade in a nearly straight line from base to shortly before the point. If anything this indicated that a single length of prepared steel had been forged into the blade shape. It did not look like a complex welded together structure had been used to construct the blade billet. But I cannot tell for certain.

At this time there was a production of high quality steel in the region of Steyermark in central Europe. This steel was used by the armourers and blade smiths in the workshops of Emperor Maximilian, who was a great patron of our craft. Analysis of armours made in these workshops show interesting things: the steel was of an unusually clean and homogenous nature and a good carbon content (I think the ore had a natural alloying of manganese and was very low in phosphorus and suphur). The craftsmen developed a method of heat treating armour that involved full quenching followed by tempering, much like we do today (earlier it was common to use slack quenching techniques). A R Williams (author of "The Knight and the Blast Furnace") who did this study argues that a similar heat treatment would have been used in blade making.

My favourite theory is that the sword of Svante Nilsson Sture was given to him by the Danish king when he was knighted (a rare thing in Sweden at this time) and that the Danish king had been given the sword as a kind of boasting gift from the Emperor: who had the means to give away weapons that other princes in Europe would be hard pressed to buy for money (as he owned the best steel and the best craftsmen of the time).

 

My ambition with the study of this sword was not to duplicate any original metallurgy or methods of manufacture. Without any means to get steel of correct qualities or any possibility to cut into the original to see the construction or structure, the best I could do was some educated guesses. What I could know something about was dimensions, shape, proportions, balance and the like. That was the focus of my study.

The challenge for me was in getting the dimensions of my sword to match as exactly as possible those dimensions I could make out from the original. I wanted my reconstruction to be within less than a millimeter of what I could make out from the original. The final blade was the second attempt, the guard was made three times and the pommel (the most difficult part of this sword to get right as it turned out) I re-made four or five times.

I forged the blade to shape with a diamond cross section, leaving the concave bevels to be ground on a specially made contact wheel of the exact diameter. The guard was forged just as you would any guard. The challenge was to get the both S-curve and the trumpeting of the arms right at the same time.

The pommel was made from a turned cone of steel and shaped by filing. I could not forge this part, as the shape was elusive (as well as very complex!) I get the impression that the pommel on the original was made by a combination of free forging, die forging and filing/chiseling.

 

So to clarify: I do not cast any components for the swords I make. I forge guards and to some degree the pommels, and use grinding to adjust the shape, but mostly files.

I am going to start using casting as part of my production (there is a vacuum casting equipment in the smithy, waiting to be put into use!), but that will be used in lost wax techniques working with bronze, silver and maybe gold.

 

The swords made by Albion use investment cast components (steel or bronze) for guards and pommels. This is so that I can carve by hand the components in machinist wax, making sure they get the character of shape that the originals have (a very important aspect!). The Albion version of this sword is something else than my first hand made study. In some ways the Albion production version is closer as I had opportunity to document the sword another two times since I made my first study. Some elements in the shape of the blade and hilt components are more spot on than I knew to do at the time I made my first study. The production version swords are hand built from cast parts and a machined blade blank. All parts need handwork to bring to final shape and every sword is built as a single object on custom order. It is a serial production but with elements of custom work.

 

This is still different in nature from what I do in my own smithy.

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I would like to continue on from somthing Christopher just mentioned .

Peter,

You work both as a bladesmith and also as a designer for Albion swords ,how do these Roles compliment each other ,and do you find any clashes trying to represent both your own work and be the Design face of albion ?

 

Owen,

thanks, this is something that is quite central to my work.

The documentation work I do on originals is a way to get a feeling for what the sword was at different places and times in history. It is a study of what makes a sword a sword.

This can be used as basis for exact reconstructions of individual swords, or as a reference for swords made in the same style or tradition as a group or family of swords. These can be made as objects produced in a series or as individual handcrafted objects. The sword I make myself in my smithy and the one that is produced by albion, both build on the same theories in design and function. Both are based on the same observations.

 

By developing designs for Albion, that produces limited series, I have the opportunity to see how even very small adjustments to a blade blank can alter the heft and dynamic aspects of a sword when it has been finally ground to shape and mounted with a hilt.

A blade blank from the CNC mill is the pre shaped blade that may be compared to the blade as forged and possibly filed. Using a milling machine is the only way to be able to keep the variables to a minimum without using highly skilled labour (a smith of this skill level would never want to work in a production setting, and the milling machine will always be faster) The milled blade blank has most of the distribution of mass, with, thickness and cross section already defined. It is shaped in preparation for heat treat. After heat treat the edges can be fully defined (by hand grinding) and the geometry of the blade fine tuned. The task is to develop a blade blank that has the correct amount of material still left, so that heat treat process and final grinding will bring it to the final sharp and functional sword. It is not that different from the situation with a hand forged sword, except that it has to be done with absolute consistent results and to a much lower cost.

I could never see the effects of the fine tuning we do during development of Albion blades on the blades I make in my smithy. I never produce blades that are identical except for one or two features. Seeing how such adjustments effect the performance and balance of finished swords of different type is a boon for me as custom maker: I get to see what matters in the shape of the blade, and how you can vary it to express other characteristics. When I compare the result with the swords I have documented, I see what makes a design compare fully to what an original would have been like in that aspect, and what makes the sword deviate from the originals. This is powerful, as it shows me not just what the dimensions of a specific sword matters for the design, but how patterns or proportions of shape effects the sword. It is possible to make out design patterns, or design concepts if you like.

Since 2001 I have developed some 60+ swords that are in production. Each of these has gone through a developing phase involving adjustments to some degree.

So I would say that this solution has really been a great help for me in the study of the sword.

It has actually made me look for things in originals that I would otherwise be unaware of.

 

The only minor complication is that sometimes people confuse what I do as sword smith and what my task is as designer. I sometimes get customers asking me to do customizations of Albion produced swords (something that I never do), or very rarely confusing the nature of the unique single hand made word and that of a design that is produced by others in numbers ranging from 100 to 1000.

This does not happen very often.

 

I draw a strict line between my workshop and the workshop of Albion. I never use components that have been designed by me, but manufactured by Albion. Nor do I work myself on the swords that Albion produce. With Albion I limit my input to research, design and consultation in various ways.

In my own workshop I get to work with those projects that does not lend themselves well for production. I can follow other trails and see how the craft can be applied today in the study of the sword.

To me that is a very exiting possibility.

 

Another benefit in this situation, is that I can stress two important aspects of the craft, that are quite distinct from each other, but easily are confused: the Hands On aspect and the Minds On aspect. They overlap, of course, but are skills that can also be developed individually.

When you hear talk about the quality of a sword, the word "Hand forged" is very often used as an argument to stress its authenticity. This may be a sign of quality, may also not be. It may make it more authentic, but not automatically so. It depends of what you mean with authenticity and how you gauge quality.

Sometimes there is a romantic notion of the forging part of the making of a sword that is so strong that is blots out all other aspects that are needed for the sword to fulfill its role. The image of the dark age lone smith in his hut in the deep shadowy germanic forest evokes our imagination. The making of the dragon slaying blade and all that; the mill stone cleaver. We want that to be real somehow, and in our search for this we get tempted to do things that were never part of sword making, or overlooking crucial aspects, misinterpreting and rejecting them as modern concepts. We make up a fantasy "tradition", rather than re-discovering and building on the real tradition.

As smiths we tend to sing the praise of the skill of the ancient masters at the same time as we stress how primitive their tools were and how they lacked understanding of modern metallurgy. This romantic idea hides the fact that they were very capable craftsmen who had *exactly* the tools (of the hand and the mind) they needed to do their work in a professional way. Their tools were sometimes very similar to the ones we use today, and at other times different. I am not sure my belt grinder is better than the grinding wheels used in the 15th and 16th C in the Solingen region. It is powered by an electrical motor and has exchangeable wheels, but if could have access to a fully equipped grinding shop of 16th C type, I would surely be as effective and exact as I could ever hope to be with my "primitive" 21st C KMG belt grinder. Or more.

The biggest difference would be that I need a tool that I as a single craftsman can adjust for my needs, while work in historical times was divided between a number of experts doing limited and well defined parts of the process.

 

Something that is very commonly overlooked is the importance of shape and proportion (=design aspect of the sword). The ancient craftsmen did not only have the tools and resources they needed, they also had the understanding they needed. Thier ideas were most certainly expressed in a different way that how we talk about materials and methods. We can be quite sure they had an effective way of making themselves understood to each other. They would have had systems of thought about both the "hands on" part of the work as well as the "minds on" part. For the ancient blade smith it was equally important to understand his materials and methods as it was to know the importance of shape and dimensions.

If I make a sword of home smelted steel and pattern weld this into an awesome blade, chances are that I end up with a painstakingly crafted and stunningly beautiful bar of steel that has very little in common with a blade from the 6th C. If I misjudge the thickness, degree of distal taper or the shape of the cross section, the weight could be way of and the heft, or dynamic balance, might be like the difference between a crowbar to that of a nimble and perfectly weighted weapon. Shape is absolutely critical for the performance of a sword. Even simply varying the convexity of the edge bevel or the depth of the fuller less than a millimeter can have effects on how the sword handles, and so in how effective it is as a fighting weapon.

Shape is so important that you can make blades out of materials we consider substandard today (like bronze, phosphoric iron or barely steely iron) and yet end up with effective fighting tools. (Perhaps this was a bad example, since even a blade made from bronze can have pretty respectable capabilities in cutting!)

It is easy to confuse authentic materials and methods with authentic shape and function. Shape & function, Materials and Methods are all separate fields of study.

The sword is especially tricky in that the image of the sword is so strong. It is like looking directly into the sun. We get blinded for the facts by the power of the myth. Everyone knows what a sword is and what it looks like, and yet the true nature of the sword is so varied and elusive. It is both more and less than our expectations. Holding one of these fabulous objects in your hand is a mixture of fundamental surprise and recognition at the same time.

One of our challenges today is to pool our observations so that we may benefit from each others studies. It is a task that is impossible for any single individual to encompass.

But we love to try, don´t we? :P

Edited by peter johnsson

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Peter,i can't resist asking this,(please disregard if inappropriate in this interview format).Seems to me that your degree of dedication and passion for swordmaking would have an inesteemable value for the academic research into the many archeometallurgy and related fields.And vice versa,the mutual benefits seem obvious.Do you collaborate much with the academia,or is there an unspoken PR problem similar to the disdain for the swordsmithing by the blacksmithing oligarchy?Do you(and several others on this site whose commitment to the Way is so thorogh) recieve much support in your quest from the academia,or the private interest and collectors are what sustains you?Respectfully,Jake.

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I do have a couple more questions for peter but I am off to a knife show in Sweden till monday and I'll so if it is Ok it'll have to wait till then .

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Thanks for the thoughts, Peter.

 

I'm firing off some museum-bound letters today. ;)

Edited by J.Arthur Loose

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The next interview is always up to the person just under the microscope. I think we all have people we want to hear from, but part of the joy of this is finding the unexpected. Frankly, Peter was unknown to me before this, and I find myself much richer for having read his words, and viewed his work. The next smith on the list is completely up to Peter, and his choice reflects not only the potential of the interviewee, but also the view that he holds of others in this craft.

 

There is much to be learned in this thread, both spelled out and otherwise. I'm just thrilled it's gone so well.

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Peter,i can't resist asking this,(please disregard if inappropriate in this interview format).Seems to me that your degree of dedication and passion for swordmaking would have an inesteemable value for the academic research into the many archeometallurgy and related fields.And vice versa,the mutual benefits seem obvious.Do you collaborate much with the academia,or is there an unspoken PR problem similar to the disdain for the swordsmithing by the blacksmithing oligarchy?Do you(and several others on this site whose commitment to the Way is so thorogh) recieve much support in your quest from the academia,or the private interest and collectors are what sustains you?Respectfully,Jake.

 

Collaboration can be in the form of commissions for reconstructions of archaeological finds.

During such a process there can be an exchange of ideas that is very fruitful.

Over the years we´ve had a unofficial and informal series of seminars at the Uppsala University collection of archeological finds. Eva Hjärtner-Holdar, Kristina Risberg (both archaeolometallurgists), some archaeology students and I have met to brainstorm on early iron production, finds, manufacturing techniques and concepts of quality. This has been both inspiring and enlightening for me.

 

Sometimes I am contacted by archaeologists who work on an excavation or a PHd. They might want a reconstruction made or simply a reaction from a blade smith on a theory they have. Sometimes this leads to a cooperation of some kind. But I am not really on the academia radar as a recognized and credited scholar. I´ve received no grants to fund research. Nor have I authored any works that rate among academia. I am not attached to any university.

 

When I get access to originals, it is a combination of luck, personal chemistry and perseverance. A letter of introduction signed by a museum curator also helps ;-)

Sometimes when I visit museums there is a clear message from curators that the craft of making swords is suspicious at best. Sometimes I am met with enthusiasm and real interest. You can never really tell in advance what, if any, results a visit to a museum will bring.

There are those curators who have been very supportive to me over the years, and for the I am very grateful. Without them giving generously of their time, it would be impossible for me to do what I do.

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Thanks for the thoughts, Peter.

 

I'm firing off some museum-bound letters today. ;)

 

 

You are most welcome!

Arthur, what museums are you going to contact, if I may ask?

Any specific swords you are planning to document?

As you do these great pattern welded blades, perhaps you´d find a visit to Copenhagen and the National Museum there worthwhile? The roman blades in the finds from the bog sacrifices are incredible! Sometimes very advanced pattern welding and generally very high quality in the workmanship.

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Peter,

 

I'm going to start locally, and see if I can establish a relationship with the Higgins: http://www.higgins.org

 

It's about three hours away and their collection is said to be second only to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, which I will also try.

 

The Higgins, for example, has pieces such as this:

 

http://users.wpi.edu/~jforgeng/CollectionI...act.pl?anum=576

 

The Met, I expect, would be more difficult to approach, and I've been waiting until I had a better body of work before trying, which might be now. I've been visiting this sword since 1990 or so!

 

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ho/06/eue/ho_55.46.1.htm

 

You're right, my main focus would be more pattern welding... I have pics of some of those gladii you mention, and was surprised to discover them when researching a gladius I was making. The Kulturhistorisk Museum in Norway was great and I had meant to try and write them ahead of my last visit, but I was so insanely busy before the trip it never got done. Return visits overseas are a must. At the Ashokan conference a few years back I got to handle three or four Viking / Migration swords that a collector brought. The beautiful moment was discovering one 8-bar pattern welded core with two bars that should have been twisted in opposite directions which were instead twisted the same direction, throwing the pattern off. The sword had obviously been used and cared for regardless.

 

You are correct when you say that one must see these things personally, so thanks for the motivational speeches. ;)

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Peter,

 

I'm going to start locally, and see if I can establish a relationship with the Higgins: http://www.higgins.org

 

It's about three hours away and their collection is said to be second only to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, which I will also try.

 

The Higgins, for example, has pieces such as this:

 

http://users.wpi.edu/~jforgeng/CollectionI...act.pl?anum=576

 

The Met, I expect, would be more difficult to approach, and I've been waiting until I had a better body of work before trying, which might be now. I've been visiting this sword since 1990 or so!

 

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ho/06/eue/ho_55.46.1.htm

 

You're right, my main focus would be more pattern welding... I have pics of some of those gladii you mention, and was surprised to discover them when researching a gladius I was making. The Kulturhistorisk Museum in Norway was great and I had meant to try and write them ahead of my last visit, but I was so insanely busy before the trip it never got done. Return visits overseas are a must. At the Ashokan conference a few years back I got to handle three or four Viking / Migration swords that a collector brought. The beautiful moment was discovering one 8-bar pattern welded core with two bars that should have been twisted in opposite directions which were instead twisted the same direction, throwing the pattern off. The sword had obviously been used and cared for regardless.

 

You are correct when you say that one must see these things personally, so thanks for the motivational speeches. ;)

 

 

Arthur,

 

That Viking is spectacular :)

If you had to pick one or two things as most striking, inspiring or beneficial looking at (and possible holding) originals, what would that be?

(I know I may be breaking the interview pattern here, but it would be nice to hear your input on this to get a little exchange and perspective).

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Well, being able to hold this one was very moving, and I still owe Kevin Cashen for inviting me to the private viewing at Ashokan 2000. It is the previously mentioned piece with the wrong twist:

 

http://www.vikingsword.com/vmuseum/vml1.html

 

The very nice collection of single-edged blades at the Kulturhistorisk Museum in Oslo was great for pattern-welding details:

 

http://www.jloose.com/siteimages/langseax.jpg

 

Other than that, seeing the Sutton Hoo sword and Scott Lankton's reproduction together at the British Museum was a really nice moment. I was first inspired to make blades by my college professor Tim McCreight, who handed me an article about Lankton's efforts back in '89 or '90.

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Collaboration can be in the form of commissions for reconstructions of archaeological finds.

During such a process there can be an exchange of ideas that is very fruitful.

Over the years we´ve had a unofficial and informal series of seminars at the Uppsala University collection of archeological finds. Eva Hjärtner-Holdar, Kristina Risberg (both archaeolometallurgists), some archaeology students and I have met to brainstorm on early iron production, finds, manufacturing techniques and concepts of quality. This has been both inspiring and enlightening for me.

 

Sometimes I am contacted by archaeologists who work on an excavation or a PHd. They might want a reconstruction made or simply a reaction from a blade smith on a theory they have. Sometimes this leads to a cooperation of some kind. But I am not really on the academia radar as a recognized and credited scholar. I´ve received no grants to fund research. Nor have I authored any works that rate among academia. I am not attached to any university.

 

When I get access to originals, it is a combination of luck, personal chemistry and perseverance. A letter of introduction signed by a museum curator also helps ;-)

Sometimes when I visit museums there is a clear message from curators that the craft of making swords is suspicious at best. Sometimes I am met with enthusiasm and real interest. You can never really tell in advance what, if any, results a visit to a museum will bring.

There are those curators who have been very supportive to me over the years, and for the I am very grateful. Without them giving generously of their time, it would be impossible for me to do what I do.

Peter,thanks so much.I'm both greatfull for the info,and relieved that i did not overstep the bounds in asking that.If my opinion has any relevance,i see this as a regretfull state of things,any lack of collaborative effort is a sad loss to both sides.I'd say that the loss is mostly theirs,as you seem to be able to reach some incredible levels in theory and practice both.I greatly admire your work,and wish you the absolute best.Sincerely,Jake.

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This talk of proportions and the medieval eye reminds me of an internet conversation about historic fit and finish some of us participated in a while back, which touched on the troubles of looking at swords from a modern knifemaker’s perspective. You seem to have taken a more direct route to the sword, which is great. One thing I’ve noticed as my study of the original swords has gotten more close is a tendency to keep the modern measuring devices put away after I’ve measured and drawn the artifact, that forces the careful observation which helps me connect with the sword I’m making, and those artists of 1000 years ago who inspire me (I guess if the golden mean is spectacles for the medieval eye this is more like blinders :blink: ). Our world is so full of laser-cut injection-molded artificial regularity it is no wonder we’ve lost our sense of proportion, it’s hard to find in all this clutter! ^_^

Since that medieval eye is one of my main interests in this art, I wonder if you could share any other revelations/trivia/wild theories about our fore-forgers that have occurred to you while handling their work, and how those ideas have influenced the creation of your own work?

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This talk of proportions and the medieval eye reminds me of an internet conversation about historic fit and finish some of us participated in a while back, which touched on the troubles of looking at swords from a modern knifemaker’s perspective. You seem to have taken a more direct route to the sword, which is great. One thing I’ve noticed as my study of the original swords has gotten more close is a tendency to keep the modern measuring devices put away after I’ve measured and drawn the artifact, that forces the careful observation which helps me connect with the sword I’m making, and those artists of 1000 years ago who inspire me (I guess if the golden mean is spectacles for the medieval eye this is more like blinders :blink: ). Our world is so full of laser-cut injection-molded artificial regularity it is no wonder we’ve lost our sense of proportion, it’s hard to find in all this clutter! ^_^

Since that medieval eye is one of my main interests in this art, I wonder if you could share any other revelations/trivia/wild theories about our fore-forgers that have occurred to you while handling their work, and how those ideas have influenced the creation of your own work?

 

Jeff,

That is a good one!

It is possible to analyze a sword from the bronze age and find design solutions through the use of the golden section. I do not think that the golden section was a concept for craftsmen of that age.

It could have been a conscious concept for medieval or renaissance blade smiths or cutlers. But it is difficult to know for certain.

Still it is there to see. It is an aspect of the craft for us to use to our best understanding.

 

I suspect there has been some kind of "rules" or concepts of shape and proportion involved in the crafting of objects in all times. It is just impossible to tell how they were formulated: how the master communicated it to his apprentices.

 

If a craftsman or artist cares about harmony of form and proportion and dedicates time and care to develop his awareness of/ or feel for this, his work tend to gravitate towards proportions of the golden section naturally. Our sensibilities seems to be attuned to this harmony and seek it out in perception and expression.

 

An ancient smith would not have used a pocket calculator or a calipers to check the proportions of his work. He might well have used some kind of fixed or adjustable measuring tools however. Measuring tools can be made so that they automatically give you the next higher or lower dimension according to the golden section, or any other harmonic proportion you want. An X-shaped compass where the length of the legs on each side of the fulcrum compares as 5 to 8 for example.

You might also make a set of fixed notches of proportionally increasing width cut out of a plate.

When I document swords I look for these proportions and I find them. Perhaps it is because I look for them? Are they really there to begin with? You tend to get the answers you look for. To me it does not really matter. To me it is a way to relate to the objects in a way that I think is natural, or in harmony with the spirit of how I think they were originally made. This is my understanding of how it comes together. It is not about being right about something.

 

A professor in composition who was very keen of the importance of developing an awareness of the use of proportion in design also stressed the fact that you need to "forget" the theory to some degree to be able to put it to meaningful use. Or else the result tend to be rigid and lifeless.

A matter of internalizing the ideas. Letting them simmer in your subconscious and flavour any idea or object that comes out.

Until ideas of proportions become a natural way of looking at things, they will indeed be like blinders. It is like learning to draw. All kids learns do it intuitively and will gradually develop more advanced skills. If you later in life enter art school, the theory of it all might well be overwhelming and at first seem like an obstacle rather than a help.

 

Methods of the use of proportions is just like any other tool in the smithy. Some times a new technique takes a little time to get use to. I think it is helpful to change between intuitive and conscious mode in working. I like to follow the flow as I forge, but at times I step back and check what I just did, or work out the different possibilities of proportions in the half formed blade blank. The making of a sword might start years before forging actually begin. Ideas seek their form in sketch books. The blade can be forged in the mind many times before steel is first heated. This is how many of us work, I suspect. Theories of proportions is merely an aide in developing these ideas before you start working, but also a tool to analyze that itch in the back of your head as the object emerges and you cant really put your finger on what is right or wrong in the shape.

 

I do not know how work was organized in detail in medieval workshops, but from what I´ve understood it was often divided in stages, and different craftsmen. Sword blades were often made in a production situation where many blades were made to a pattern, or a more or less defined model. I think it is reasonable to assume they made pre blanks (like the Sunobe of the japanese sword), before the shaping of the blade was begun. The pre-shape is defined in size and the final blade will still have much of this basic proportion in its shape. Final balance of the sword is pretty much defined already in the pre blank. If you work like this with specifications and measurements, you will tend to think in proportions. These ideas will influence your work on a fundamental level. There is a method to it, and this method is a vital part of the craft. It will influence both the mind of the craftsman and the character of the object. For us blade smiths today, it might be less obvious as most blades we make will be unique single objects and not part of a delivery of bulk.

I think that the master craftsmen had picked up ideas of shape and proportion during their training. Perhaps some masters were schooled much like the artisans who made paintings, sculpture or architecture: arts where the definitions of proportion was crucial. I can imagine that masters of different trades met after work in the clubs, guilds and religious brotherhoods, comparing ideas and discussing both practical and theoretical aspects of their various trades.

Perhaps theories of proportion (and their symbolical and religious significance) were closely guarded secrets that were only shared with those who had proved themselves worthy? Perhaps the full "mystery" was only shared between the masters?

I am sure other craftsmen were not as theoretically schooled, but still worked in a world where you knew what was a good shape/design and what resulted in clumsy blades.

 

One thing that is very striking in medieval craft, is how symmetry and proportion is often suggested but rarely exactly adhered to. This can be mistaken for incompetence or sloppy work.

Rather I think it is the sign of a highly trained mind and eye working at a certain speed (you need to meet production goals after all!). In calligraphy there is a term for it: Ductus. It is when skill has reached a level so that knowledge of the form of every letter shape is so ingrained that the text can be written with speed and thereby achieving a quality of energy and force. Writing scribed like this has a dancing quality to it. There is rythm and life jumping of the page. It is the meeting between overall obvious order and irregularity of detail that creates a very special quality. It draws us in and compels the mind to fill in the blank or complete the line.

This is very much the nature of medieval craft. It seems to spring to existence from an unstoppable will to be. The objects bear witness to very fertile minds and skilled hands. Medieval art can be playful and very profound at the same time. Nonsense and deep truth sit easily side by side. What at first come across as mere decoration, might in fact be a clue to deeper meaning. It is very rich like this. I think this is a result of much internalized knowledge. Ideas from very diverse fields and experiences. The object is a result of all this: proportions is a means in ordering the different aspects of the object in a shape that both intuitively and intellectually speaks to us.

 

This is all very inspiring I think.

It is also a level of quality that will demand a professional life time to come to terms with.

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Peter said:

Nonsense and deep truth sit easily side by side. What at first come across as mere decoration, might in fact be a clue to deeper meaning.

 

Very insightful and well spoken, my friend ! As is your work. If any of you ever get the chance to handle a sword that Peter made himself, it is a memorable experience. I had the pleasure of cutting mats with one of his blades once. Sure wish I could talk the guy that owns it, out of that sword. Not much chance though, I am afraid. :(

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Peter,thanks again.I'm finding everything you have to say extremely valid,and most enlightning.Others here do a much better job of asking you intelligent questions that we all so enjoy your answers to,but a very brief one:Have you ever come across the old Soviet archeological publication series,specifically "The black metallurgy and the metalworking in ancient Rus(sia:my translation),by Kolchin and Artsikhovsky?.It's a book describing in detail(serious detail,includind the weld sequence,composition of iron/steel,microphotography of the grain,et c.)all the thousands artifacts that they dug up in Novgorod,in the 40-ies and 50-ies.Someone on this forun,Tonn,has first alerted me of it's existence,and just today i finally recieved a copy.It's quite amazing,and though Wilson published a synapsis in England in the 60-ies,it doesn't do it anything like justice.(i don't think that a translation exists).So just wondering if you,and people as involved in historical metallurgy as you,are aware of it.

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Peter,thanks again.I'm finding everything you have to say extremely valid,and most enlightning.Others here do a much better job of asking you intelligent questions that we all so enjoy your answers to,but a very brief one:Have you ever come across the old Soviet archeological publication series,specifically "The black metallurgy and the metalworking in ancient Rus(sia:my translation),by Kolchin and Artsikhovsky?.It's a book describing in detail(serious detail,includind the weld sequence,composition of iron/steel,microphotography of the grain,et c.)all the thousands artifacts that they dug up in Novgorod,in the 40-ies and 50-ies.Someone on this forun,Tonn,has first alerted me of it's existence,and just today i finally recieved a copy.It's quite amazing,and though Wilson published a synapsis in England in the 60-ies,it doesn't do it anything like justice.(i don't think that a translation exists).So just wondering if you,and people as involved in historical metallurgy as you,are aware of it.

 

Hey Jake,

 

I was not aware of this publication, but I would love to acquire it. Sounds fashinating! This would focus metallurgy of the raft culture in the meeting of scandinavian and slav people, right? Thanks for pointing it out!

Presently I am interested in early eastern and steppe metallurgy. I would love to learn more about the transition between china to europe via the steppe peoples. There is a lot of interesting stuff going on, but without the proper publications I can´t do more than guess and fret.

The blade making of the Khazars is intriguing, what little I´ve seen. I love the early forms of the sabre and I am very interested to learn more about early use of crucible steel.

Even books not published in english would be interesting provided there are illustrations.. Pretty much like a kid that cannot read pouring over books he cannot fully understand :rolleyes:

Edited by peter johnsson

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