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Christopher Price

Knifemaker Interview Series, a biography workshop

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Ductus... I think I'll be pondering that for a very long time, Mr. Johnson. Thank you.

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Ductus... I think I'll be pondering that for a very long time, Mr. Johnson. Thank you.

 

Christopher,

Glad you got something out of that long ramble.

Yes, that kind of organic irregularity is something very difficult to achieve without first knowing the ideal shape intimately and intuitively.

I´d love to reach that level. It is something to strive for. I think I have a tendency to correct things a little too much. It is hard to leave it be and do just enough.

 

It is also a lot about attitude. I am beginning to see how important that is after the workshop at Owen´s hammer in. It is like knowing something theoretically, but then seeing it for real.

 

Another moment of light was several years ago during my blacksmith training. We were paired up between students to study tool marks and surfaces. I worked together with a guest student from japan: Ikko Yokoyama. One of us was holding the hot cut chisel and the other struck with the sledge hammer. To see how Ikko placed the tool on the workpiece with effortless grace and precision, without hesitation or haste but a complete focus on detail and overall pattern at the same time was awesome. I was floored. The thing was how easy it seemed. It was all flow. Beauty, rythm and simplicity.

She once told me that you are the same person when you peal a potato in the kitchen and when you work in the smithy. It is the same task. I have been thinking about that ever since. To peal a potato and pattern weld a sword blank with the same awareness and effortless dedication is quite something to aspire for.

Edited by peter johnsson

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Peter,and everyone else following this thread-i apologise for disrupting the flow of this interview.But this is what i'm finding out about this book.It's a publication of the Academy of Science of the USSR,number 32 in an endless series of archeological research.It is very scholarly,and seems to me a goldmine of information(i'm extremely uninformed,so it may not mean much).It is very methodical,starting with the smelting process,going for pages into the construction of the smelting ovens,the chemistry of the reaction,the prep.and the enrichment of the ore,the quantity/quality of fuel,all the minutae,and,subsequently,the carburising of steel in smelting,very detailed description of making steel in the blacksmith's forge, and the blister-like steel making(no crucible steel-russians didn't do that till later).Russians didn't think much about the cutting up into the actual artifacts,so,the analisys of the objects(blades,mainly)is listed as follows:microstructural,macrostructural,x-ray,spectral,hardness and microhardness(using Rc/ball method,device called "Diritest"(?),diamond cone/loading 100g,measurements in Vickers scale).All testing done on sections,some objects sectioned several times.Chronologically it covers 9th to the first half of the 13th century(pre-mongol).I'm just trying to give a general picture here,hope it's not too confusing.

Ideologically it may be biased(Stalin is still alive),the point seems to be that the Russians did everything without the help of the decadent West(though they were Swedish citizens then,i seem to remember),the book seems to be more ready to aknowledge the help from the East,quoting Al-Biruni,et c.In general,the bibliography is impressive(to me,maybe an old hat to all of youse).

The only english version of this is M.W.Thomson's"Novgorod the Great:Excavations at the Medieval City Directed by A.V.Artsikhovsky and B.A.Kolchin",London"Evelyn,Adams & Mackay,1967.A friend in England who've seen it says that it's a too-brief synapsis,no pictures(this has some).Altogether some 150 artifacts are covered,but only some of these are swords,knives,and spears,many other tools involved(axes!).

This book is fairly obscure,only 19 copies in the world's libraries,but some people do have it,Tonu,in Estonia,who suggested it to me,for example.I have a Xerox copy made for me by a friend in John Hopkins U.,if you speak russian,can just do the same.If not,and this is indeed worth a damn,i'd be glad to translate it,and post it as i do,would be fun-especially the Stalin quotes!

Here's a couple of pictures.The lines through the blades indicate the section material tested.Anything else i can possibly look up,please,just let me know.Best regards,Jake.

P.S.The book covers not just Novgorod,but pretty much the eastern Europe,and does a fair job of correlating stuff to other cultures and literary sources ...not sure what else i could mention...let me know,if anything.

2016.JPG

2015.JPG

2014.JPG

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Wow ,This one got Legs,

Peter ,

I noticed during your Visit here that you have a place for "sword" in the language that you use that is not connected to its function and Job as a "sword" .

What are your thoughts on the strong emotional and Psychological responses,pictures and feelings that a sword inspires in us all .

The Mind imagery of the sword is so strong ,as are the symbols of smithing.

I think that the company here would apreciate hearing your views of how swords as symbols have such a strong place in our (or more particularly YOUR !) minds emotions and hearts .

I certainly noticed that you and Jake had a language for your work that I fell I have not developed yet (the feelings are there just not the words) .

 

It would seem obvious to me that the making of swords has more in it than the well crafted reproduction of exact measurments ,that there is more than just corect process and Material choice .

There is a book called "Like Water for chocolate" in which the heroine (who is a passionate cook) affects the people who eat her food dependant on the way she is feeling ,if she is angry they vomit wildly and when she is aroused her sister evaporates all the water in a shower and is wisked off by a soldier (her lover) on a horse!!

That is a little extreme but I like the analogy ,Do you notice presence of the Maker in any of the old swords you see or in your own work .I have encountered work that is definatly more than the sum of its parts .

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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.

 

When handling original swords of the migration and Viking periods, I’ve had glimpses of their ‘presence’ – even with the clean lines of the sword eroded away with a significant portion of the mass, what is left can have that purposeful dynamic balance that speaks to its functional form & skilled fabrication. Here’s hoping a few of your swords can make it though the next millennium with some of that intact! B)

I just ran across this quote from Al Kindi, writing ~1000 years ago, seems appropriate somehow… he used “ancient” for ‘good’ and “modern” for bad, explaining it like this in Hoyland’s new translation:

“The ancientness of swords is not related to time…the ancient among swords…is related to nobility… So to whatever there pertains qualities of nobility, then it is ancient no matter in what age it was manufactured.”

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Jake,

That seems to be a document with valuable information. I am really interested to learn more about it!

Thanks for posting.

:)

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Jeff,

 

That quote from Al Kindi is really very interesting!

The notion of "Ancientness" being something apart from age shows how a relatively modern object could be elevated to the status of ancient relic during the medieval period. An example is the two 12th or 13th C swords of Saint Maurice in Wienna and Turino (a christian roman military saint of the 4th C).

That might relate to a completely different process of thought and faith, however.

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Wow ,This one got Legs,

Peter ,

I noticed during your Visit here that you have a place for "sword" in the language that you use that is not connected to its function and Job as a "sword" .

What are your thoughts on the strong emotional and Psychological responses,pictures and feelings that a sword inspires in us all .

The Mind imagery of the sword is so strong ,as are the symbols of smithing.

I think that the company here would apreciate hearing your views of how swords as symbols have such a strong place in our (or more particularly YOUR !) minds emotions and hearts .

I certainly noticed that you and Jake had a language for your work that I fell I have not developed yet (the feelings are there just not the words) .

 

It would seem obvious to me that the making of swords has more in it than the well crafted reproduction of exact measurments ,that there is more than just corect process and Material choice .

There is a book called "Like Water for chocolate" in which the heroine (who is a passionate cook) affects the people who eat her food dependant on the way she is feeling ,if she is angry they vomit wildly and when she is aroused her sister evaporates all the water in a shower and is wisked off by a soldier (her lover) on a horse!!

That is a little extreme but I like the analogy ,Do you notice presence of the Maker in any of the old swords you see or in your own work .I have encountered work that is definatly more than the sum of its parts .

 

Owen, I think I know what you speak of.

The sword is a special object in many ways. It is an object of Power (as Don pointed out during the hammer in). The sword is an ancient artifact that has followed mankind trough millennia. It is one of our most important archetypes. It has become a manifestation of human nature: our capability of creation and destruction. It is very much about the meeting of opposites. It express the paradox of fundamental moral dilemmas.

 

The sword i central to many myths and is an attribute to heroes and villains. It shows how challenge and conflict can bring out both the best and worst in our nature.

 

The trail of the sword though the ages is about transformation. It changes shape to adapt to new conditions and it also transforms society around it. To study swords is to learn about transformation: how to turn a heavy bar of steel into a responsive agile weapon, how to bring about transformation inside the steel by heating and cooling. The making of a sword is something that demands a degree of patience and dedication. To learn how to do it, we must ourselves go through a process of transformation. It is almost a kind of alchemy like that.

 

One aspect of all this that I find especially fascinating is that the sword need to be a true weapon if it is to fulfill its symbolic value. But also, a sword that does not in some way also relate to the realm of myth will not demand our interest or inspire awe. Both the physical world and the inner world of fantasy and ideas are intrinsic parts of the sword. A challenge is to find the balance between reality and myth in any sword that is made. For me, I find it beneficial to relate to the sword in any of its many shapes through out history, but it need not necessarily be an exact replica or even look like an original sword. I do think that it on some level there is a need to share with or relate to something of the tradition of the craft of the sword if the blade is to truly come alive. To me learning to make swords by documenting originals is something more than merely "getting things right", it is a way to relate to the tradition of sword making. By doing this, I hope to absorb something that goes beyond dimensions and specifics of data. I am not sure what. There is something I feel about swords that I can only express by making a sword. That is what I am *really* interested in finding out about and learn to express in richer and more fundamental ways.

Holding a good sword from a past century is an experience like music or dance. It exists in time and through time. It is about motion and rythm as much as it is about proportions and shape.

 

There has been moments when the craftsmen who left us this legacy, has felt very close. Sometimes I get the feeling that the original owner just left the room. Gripping the hilt is almost like shaking hands with someone. A lingering of a presence. This is all very much a romantic idea, I know, but to me it is about trying to absorb as much as possible. A way to relate to these objects on more levels than the visual and physical. I do not believe in new age mysticism. I am rather pragmatic and sceptic by nature. Working with swords is the closest I can get to a magic understanding of how the world comes together. It all happens through a flow of gradual transformation.

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Peter,

It has Been a pleasure to interview you ,it is not often that one gets a chance to learn from someone who is as passionate and deeply knowledgable as your self.

As a last question ,

What are you working on now, design wise and personaly, where do you see your own work heading?

 

I'll look forward to when we next meet in the real world .

 

Your turn to pick another smith to interview .

 

thanks for your insights,

 

Owen

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Peter,

It has Been a pleasure to interview you ,it is not often that one gets a chance to learn from someone who is as passionate and deeply knowledgable as your self.

As a last question ,

What are you working on now, design wise and personaly, where do you see your own work heading?

 

I'll look forward to when we next meet in the real world .

 

Your turn to pick another smith to interview .

 

thanks for your insights,

 

Owen

 

 

Thanks Owen and thanks to every one else who have taken part in this session.

It´s been a pleasure.

 

Presently I feel like standing in a gateway of sorts. Perhaps a new landscape is on the other side. Staying home with the kids and spending time reestablishing the new workshop has put a perspective on the craft.

I am interested in exploring new materials. I want to work with pattern welding and wootz. Perhaps I´ll try making my own steel. I am curious to see what working with hamons might bring. In the new workshop there is a vacuum casting machine, that I look forward using to work with lost wax casting of silver and bronze. I enjoy sculpting, but has not found a way/opportunity to include that in my work before.

 

There are several themes for the making of swords that could be rewarding. The "Vorpal sword" can be made in numerous ways and styles. That is something to explore further.

Another theme is "Xiphos": a word in greek for the short straight double edged sword of the hoplites. It is put together of two words. Xi, meaning "going through" or "penetrating" and Phos, meaning "light". Penetrating Light is a good theme name for a series of swords I think.

I do not mean to make these theme swords like historic reconstructions. They will be contemporary, or perhaps rather I will strive to make them "time less" swords. It would be interesting to explore the possible expressions of materials and shapes without any preconceptions of style or period. A sword can be based on observations of functional aspects of original sword types, but be completely free in how the shape is expressed in materials, surfaces and color.

Pattern welded steel and wootz can likewise be explored with an eye for non traditional expressions.

For me this is an exiting new path to follow.

 

Over the weekend I will be away with the family to London. It is a family vacation, and much looked forward to. Dinosaurs, gem stones and Egyptian sculpture is on my daughters wish list. I can´t say I object to that. :)

 

Perhaps the next man in the hot seat will be in place after the weekend?

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Owen, Peter, thank you both so very much. This has been our longest interview, I think, and certainly opens many doors in my own mind. From Ductus, the Vorpal blade, and the notion of connecting with smiths of old... there's a lot to chew on here. I know I speak for everyone when I say this has been a fun, educational, and inspiring read.

 

Can't wait to see who you pick, Peter. I'll be looking forward to it next week!

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Now it is my privilege to invite a new victim for the interview!

Over a number of years I have benefitted from the insights and knowledge of this man. I have heard him being mentioned with respect by curators of museums and archaeolometallurgists I have met through out my own pilgrimages. Among fellow blade smiths he is known and respected for his keen understanding of metallurgy. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you: Ric Furrer!

 

There are a few themes that I´d like to return to during this session: the study of metallurgy and how it effect ones work, the influence of past and present craftsmen, how ones personal and professional life may balance out and where you find your inspiration and challenges.

 

But first I would like to ask you Ric, to please please begin by telling a little about your past and present?

Can you see any specific projects that have been mile stones in your progression, or has it rather been new fields of study that have marked your development?

Edited by peter johnsson

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Good Call Peter ,

I was Hoping it would be Ric (he was the other person I would have liked to have interviewd),He has a deep and very Real understanding of metal and the working of it .

I look forward to this .

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Hello Peter and all,

 

Thank you for the opportunity to mislead and misguide, er I mean, inform and describe....

 

Its about noon now and I have a bit more work to do yet before the sun sets...I am in the process of drilling mounting holes to hold down the 3B Nazel that will be moved into place Wednesday......and I am a bit stressed about it at the moment. For various reasons I have owned this machine for years, but only now setting it in place.

http://www.bladesmithsforum.com/index.php?sh...7&hl=Furrer

 

I will post some this evening.

 

Ric

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Me too, I nearly asked him myself. :D

 

He made my short list too, and not just because he's kinda short... :lol:

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Wow. Nice hammer.

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Background:

Just a little background on me and from whence I came:

It all started with a girl, well young woman, I met when at college some 19 or so years ago. I had always had in interest in martial arts and swords and when I went to the Univ of Wisconsin-Madison to pursue a teaching degree in History

I found out about a group called the Society for Creative Anachronism (actually it was a Sergeant in charge of me in the Army Reserves who gave me the details about the SCA, but ...). After a year or so a young lady took a shine to me and we began dating.

She took me home to meet her parents and I met her Father while he was forearm deep inside a deer he was cleaning,we shook hands and I wiped the blood and gore off on my pants. Over dinner I talked about all the things I thought I wanted to do with my life and one of those was that I wished to forge a sword. He mentioned that years earlier he had bought out a blacksmith shop that had closed and that "if I learned how" I could use the equipment. Several months later he introduced me to Paul Marx who was a blacksmith instructor at a local Technical College. I enrolled in the evening classes the next semester and went to the Univ during the day and butchered metal in the evenings. I showed absolutely no aptitude for forging, but for some reason Paul took me under his wing and over the next three years I got a bit better. In the Summers I would gather equipment at farm auctions and from other smiths and was allowed to put up a small work space in my Girl friend's parents outbuilding. I remember taking the bus out there to forge at night...no lights, no electricity and bitter cold.

Well time passed and upgraded the shop...I GOT A LIGHT BULB!...and altered my focus at the Univ toward metalworking history and technology.

 

My girlfriend went back to school and graduated two years later with a masters in Information Technology and she found a children's librarian position in Florida..so we moved....I got a job in an architectural Iron shop in Ft. Lauderdale and for three years that was all fine and dandy. I learned quite a bit in that job and got to work with some large hammers doing production work forging and such..they had many light bulbs.

For various reasons we decided the leave Florida and the girlfriend, now my wife Beth (well, she was always Beth, but the wife part was new) looked for librarian work nationwide...the idea was that I could find a shop to work in or form my own company, but it was really hard to build a library. We ended up in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin and as luck would have it there were no blacksmith shops to work in so I began my own company...well company is perhaps a strong word..I had a garage and a few tools and tried not to think too hard about the full shop I left in Florida.

 

Slowly the business grew, as did the family...I now have two boys..four years and six months and I am Mr. Mom during the day and am trying to set up the new shop and keep work going out the door evenings and weekends. Beth has the steady income and insurance so it is best to have her at full time and let me finish things as I can. There is an old joke "What do you call a single blacksmith?.......homeless".

 

 

The Old Work:

With my interest in history it is not surprising that I like the old work. There is a mythos, a folklore, surrounding it which we can not capture with or own hands even if we can replicate the techniques. While at the Univ I began to look closely at the old work and the written accounts of how the items were constructed..the material, the cultural identity and its construction techniques. It was my goal to reproduce with traditional techniques three important artifacts..a Japanese Katana, a Persian Shamshir in wootz and a Chinese Shang period ritual vessel (bronze)......that was some 15 years ago now and I have done the swords, but not the bronze...maybe at some point in the next 15 years I will rectify that. Along the way my interests have broadened from time to time to other cultures and for a time I was enthralled with pattern-welding as an art form..this led me to seek out other craftsmen and I am happy to say friendships with some true pioneers of the modern art, but always..in some deep recess of my hind brain was a the quiet, but incessant longing for the old ways....the time before the light bulb.

I had done my first ore smelt in the early 1990's and learned a lot...mostly that if you are going to spend a week gathering ore and breaking big rocks into little rocks it may be a good idea to find smaller rocks to begin with...and that roasting was a good idea. I combed through books and articles and found little of real "use"...this was before the internet or instructional DVD's and blacksmith gatherings did not really contain the same information as now. If you wanted to do something "new" then it was pretty much you to make all the mistakes till there was nothing left but success..or something that looked like success. In many subtle ways it is good that one knows of others who are doing the same form of work. I think that knowing that others are doing something sort of implies a form of "permission" to do the same...it rams home the idea that it is possible and since its possible one can go ahead and do it as well....but you need to have the fortitude (or stupidity) to put labor towards a project that is far more likely to fail then succeed. But such is life I think.

 

Current Work:

Due to my training I consider myself more of a blacksmith than a knifemaker. In truth I actually do not really like knives; I do like swords, but more from an historical, technological and craft perspective than anything else. I do, however, love the steel. It is my current intent to have all but a few of my blades made from steel I manufacture....either open reduction like with a bloomery or closed like with crucible steels. I will still do some modern steel pattern-welding for projects, but less and less of this will appear in my personal work. I have developed some pattern-welding skills over the past decades and it is foolish to turn my back on them, not to mention the concept of "feeding the dog" (paying bills) so I will do limited runs of "damascus" steel for sale and have a few ideas for things I believe to be truly new in scope and complexity which I would like to explore later this year.

 

In the past I have lacked a real focus, but this has allowed me the opportunity to try many techniques and explore things which do not have an instant payback. I try to allow time and funds to explore a technique or concepts without worry of if it will generate money in return....not good business, but....there it is. The flip side of that is that occasionally the play time or self education does bring a return and when in comes back it brings friends.

 

Ric

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Ric, thank you for this beginning.

Interesting to hear about your interest in steel and steel making for its own sake.

 

I can very well understand how you feel about that beautiful hammer. I have owned a Bêché 100 kilo hammer for several years, but only now got it in place when moving to the new shop. It still needs some slight tweaking, but it runs smoothly and pounds steel with more authority than I´ve been used to with the small Jupiter in the old shop. This thing with hammers is almost as charged as wooing a woman you are desperately in love with, but not know if you may hope to have a lasting relationship with.

...At least for me, but then I am a hopeless romantic <:-/

 

You have tried different methods of steel making. Is there one method you prefer aver any other, and if so, why? It would be interesting to hear if you see any specific qualities in the steel depending on how it is made, how it lends itself to shaping, heat treating or possibly aesthetic qualities. What does you own steel allow you to do, that commercial steel won´t (not counting the sheer pleasure of making the steel in the first place)?

 

Have your work with steel making changed the way you see blades?

Edited by peter johnsson

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You have tried different methods of steel making. Is there one method you prefer aver any other, and if so, why? It would be interesting to hear if you see any specific qualities in the steel depending on how it is made, how it lends itself to shaping, heat treating or possibly aesthetic qualities. What does you own steel allow you to do, that commercial steel won´t (not counting the sheer pleasure of making the steel in the first place)?

 

Have your work with steel making changed the way you see blades?

 

 

My favorite steel making technique alternates between open reduction in a tatara style and using the induction furnace at the University of Platteville. In the long term with modern methods in mind Induction is by far THE way to go...BUT its a tool I do not own. I should note that the manufacturing technique does turn out a different product.

The bloomery steel yields an inconsistent material which welds up well and produces a character in the weld that is impossible to duplicate through other methods. Often times, ore dependent, the steel has very low harden-ability and will take a hamon well...in fact it is often hard to make it hard if the grain size is small and I find that I need to grow the grain a bit to get harness. It does allow for some effects which I have not replicated in single steel blade from modern steel, but others are getting more success in that area than me.

Crucible steel allows for more control over the chemistry and once the gas pourocity issues and forging are solved it is a rather reliable way to produce custom steels....I have made many hundreds of pounds of crucible steel and wootz and am still learning...always will I expect.

With induction melting you put the crucible in the magnetic field, hit a button and come back in 15 minuted when its liquid....I have done many custom alloy steel using it in an attempt to work out some basic questions....I wish I had a better chemistry analysis system, but all in all it is very controllable. It is NOT really useful for replicating some old steels however, because it all goes liquid and many old steels never went liquid.....though there is plain evidence that a portion of the bloomery material does go liquid as it has solidification dendrites when you etch and look for them.

 

My views of historical steel change every now and then as new research comes out. A friend, Dr. Alan Williams of The Wallace Collection (along with Dr. David Edge also of the Wallace) and Dr. Paul Craddock of the British Museum have done extraordinary work in mapping steels and weaponry. Williams found that the famed "Ulfbrecht" pattern welded named blades in Europe may very well be made from crucible steel (not wootz mind you, but crucible steel) due to the utter lack of slags in the finished blades...very cool. I new paper this month in Gladius shows more crucible steel blades in India which were never intended to have the wootz pattern, but rather may have been made from direct intent or a failed wootz melt....many possibilities.

There area new reports out all the time on hardnesses and chemistry and furnaces/workshops from far flung parts of the world which force me to rethink techniques and applications of old techniques. My personal issues are such that I read only English and there are vast amounts of info in other languages which suffer from translation as the author is not a smith and the subtleties do not come across....or old myths continue to be propagated...assuming that the old writer actually saw or understood the process he is recording...which is always the first doubt.

In short the best way to know old steel is to dissect old blades..and I have done this to some in my collection...occasionally with a tear or two shed in the process...like when I cut a Wootz tulwar apart some years ago.

 

Ric

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In short the best way to know old steel is to dissect old blades..and I have done this to some in my collection...occasionally with a tear or two shed in the process...like when I cut a Wootz tulwar apart some years ago.

 

 

 

Yeah, but it had to be done. :)

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There area new reports out all the time on hardnesses and chemistry and furnaces/workshops from far flung parts of the world which force me to rethink techniques and applications of old techniques. My personal issues are such that I read only English and there are vast amounts of info in other languages which suffer from translation as the author is not a smith and the subtleties do not come across....or old myths continue to be propagated...assuming that the old writer actually saw or understood the process he is recording...which is always the first doubt.

 

 

Ric

Richard,i've been looking up some of the russian research into the steel making,much interesting stuff there,even came across your name,in regards to a sample that you've made for Ann Auerbach et al.I'm in touch with a few folks there,and am fluent in russian,if there's anything at all that i can help with,translation-wise,would only be too happy.Not that i'm much of a blacksmith,certainly not an innovator steel-maker,but may be able to translate coherently,without mixing up the technical terms.I've no idea of how much of all that info,and there's lots,'ve been translated.Thanks for the insights in the interview.Regards,Jake.

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Talking about wootz, I know you did a study trip to India together with a troupe of archaeometalurgists and scholars.

Toby Capwell told me about this trip when I visited the Wallace Collection and it was all I could do to keep a straight face repressing my urge to lie down on the floor pounding my fists in childish envy. :lol:

Would you like to share some impressions from this journey?

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