- How did you become interested in making swords?
— When I had my first chance to work a forge— the smell of the coal, the light of the fire and the idea that I could forge my own sword— it was like finding myself in a story; like walking through a door and finding myself in Middle Earth. I was seventeen and I felt like I had a chance to be a character in a myth, I stepped through that door and I haven’t found the way out again.
- What’s the basic process you use for crafting swords? How is it related to traditional sword-making techniques?
—My process differs from the historical process in that I am doing almost every step of the making. Historically one person made the steel, another made the steel into market bars, a swordsmith forged the bars into a blade and hardened it, someone else polished it and so on. The tools have changed as well, but the process is similar.
I generally use pattern-welded steel I forge from layers of two complimentary types of carbon steel. I heat a billet of sandwiched layers in a forge and fuse them using a hand hammer and a hydraulic press. I manipulate the pattern created by this process by folding or twisting the resulting steel. I often make swords from three or more bars of pattern-welded steel creating a flowing arrangement of lines and loops in the center of the blade, and a separate more dense grain along the cutting edges. This mimics the sword blades that were made during the Iron Age in Europe.
I forge the blade from the pattern-welded steel and finish the shaping on a grinder. The blade is heated and quenched to make it hard, and I temper it to remove some of the stress from the hardening process. I polish the blade and etch it to bring out the pattern in the steel. Then I undergo the laborious process of making the hilt and scabbard, casting and carving, tooling leather, and shaping metal. By the time I’m done my fingers are cut and darkened with leather dies, but it’s worth it in the end. When I have all the pieces polished and darkened I assemble them into a finished sword and it becomes it’s own thing, ready to go out into the world, released from my imagination.
- What kinds of tools do you use for sword making?
— I use hand tools, hammers, files, and chisels. I also have a 25-ton hydraulic press for forging steel; this stands in for strikers (skilled helpers with long sledge hammers). I have a grinder, and a propane fueled forge, and I use lost wax casting equipment for some of my fittings. Traditionally a swordsmith would have used a charcoal forge and the grinder would have been water powered, otherwise the results of the tools are very similar to a historical shop.
- What is one piece of advice you’d give to sword-making beginners?
—There are a lot of things that can go wrong when you’re undertaking the many steps that add up to making a sword. Each time a blade breaks from being too hard, or a casting fails loosing weeks of work, or you crack the beautiful grip you spent a month carving, it’s a chance to learn. But it’s ok to cry a little before you go on.
- How do you decide on a name for the swords you make?
— I usually design swords completely on paper before I make them, and the design starts as a concept. This year I’m making a series of swords called ‘The Archeology of Dreams’. Each sword represents a hidden or forgotten god— dream figures from my imagination, or figures implied but never mentioned in myth and folktale. The first piece in this series is called ‘Dwine’, an old word that means ‘to dwindle’. Dwine is a mythical figure who grows as you diminish, a kind of god of aging. I’m working on another piece which is a death goddess called ‘Unbirth’ embodied in an anthropomorphic sword with the goddess incorporated into the hilt and blade design. The swords I make are stories told in metal, or they imply a story, therefore the names become very important for framing a narrative that is almost entirely imagined by the viewer as they look at the sword.
- How did your participation in the Arctic Fire challenges change your sword-making techniques, and/or your outlook on sword making as a whole?
—It was a very intense experience. Seven of us made a finished sword from raw materials in four days while being filmed. During the process of making a sword starting from iron ore we ran into several failures which we had to overcome to complete the sword in time. We did complete the sword in time, I don’t think any of us were sure that we would, it felt like a huge victory. As a solitary artist I have often become overwhelmed with making my work ‘perfect’ when at some point it just needs to be done and fit within certain performance and aesthetic parameters. Arctic Fire reminded me to enjoy the process and chaos of making things for a living.
- On your website, there’s an obvious connection to both art and writing. In what ways do you feel that writing and art are connected to the craft of sword making?
—Swordmaking can be a strict ‘Craft’, where an artisan creates functional weapons, and historically that’s mostly what it was, but my swordsmithing is a conceptual endeavor. I make power objects — artifacts imbued with myth and story. The art of creating swords for me is in using the object as a story telling device. I imply a story using texture and ornamentation. Writing has become an essential part of this process as I have to explain and interpret what I’m doing. Eventually the two things begin to feed each other so that the writing becomes it’s own art form.
- What techniques could aid modern swordsmiths in the assembly of an Iron Throne?
— Lacking a dragon, once we have the swords constructed, we’ll need several welding torches, or MIG welders to fuse the thousand swords together that make up the throne.
- How long would it take to construct an Iron Throne using modern (or traditional) techniques?
—The Iron Throne in the book is an immense construction built of hundreds of swords of the conquered enemies of the first Targaryen King. In his blog, George R.R. Martin has posted an image of how he imagines it, an immense leaning tower of swords, much bigger than the throne on the HBO series. http://grrm.livejournal.com/327569.html
Depending on their complexity each sword in the throne could take anywhere from 100 to 700 hours to produce, and given that some of the swords belonged to kings, they would be on the upper end of the production time scale. If the Iron Throne is made from 1000 swords, just to produce the swords would represent somewhere between 100,000 and 700,000 hours, that’s roughly between 11 and 80 years work time, if you don’t take breaks. Welding the throne together would be a job in itself, but once you had the swords, a good architectural blacksmith with a few assistants, a forge, and a MIG welder could assemble a throne in a few hundred hours work.
- Would the throne have to be assembled all at once in a giant forge, or would it have to be assembled piece-by-piece? If neither method would work, how do you suggest constructing it?
— First the smith would engineer a plan and draw it out, just like making a building, this is advanced chair construction after all. Then the smith and their assistants would bend each sword to fit the overall plan and finally the chair would be assembled piece by piece. Even if you had a dragon, I think this would be the best way to go about constructing the throne— assemble the pieces, then have the dragon breathe on them and fuse the thing together. There are some truly spectacular forges in industrial contexts, which, with the proper resources, you could use to fuse the throne. In the absence of a dragon, (or almost equally fantastical industrial equipment) you could weld the pieces with a MIG welder, and just say you have a dragon — having some dragon skulls in the dungeon should help make people believe you.