Bushfire Forge Damascus Course Report

This report is well overdue as I went on this course during the summer, but better late than never!

I went to South London to learn how to pattern weld steel under the excellent tutelage of Owen Bush. We had learnt how to do the weld by the end of the first of the three days, and the rest of the time was spent practising the method and increasing the layer count of the billet. This sounds somewhat repetitive, but honestly the work needed constant concentration and attention to ensure that everything was optimised to give a good weld. Not for Mr Bush of course, he was welding things with a devil-may-care ease, but the rest of us really sweated to get our billets!

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One of the most exciting bits for me was exploring Owens hundreds of metalworking tools and getting to use the power hammer on the higher layer count section of the blade. I have always wanted to use one and I was not disappointed, its quite a beast! It saved a huge amount of elbow grease though, we welded our first billet by hand with the hammer and the second on the power hammer, and it increased the welding and folding speed about tenfold. I now desperately want one!

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Here are some shots of my finished blade blank. I forged it out into a rough seax shape to maximise the amount of material in the finished blade, as I want a meaty shortsword style seax. The body of the blade is random pattern damascus but I have sadly forgotten what the layer count was, but I think it was in the region of 200 layers. On the final blade, the hammer blows create a wood-grain effect that I have always loved to see in steel, even though it is the easiest pattern to make. The nasty scaly bits of the billet are in fact nasty scale, as this is straight from the forge with only a section cleaned and etched so that we could all bask in the glory of our efforts ;).

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The spine of the blade has a chevron pattern created by twisting a stacked billet at welding heat to form a spiral within the steel, and the cutting it in two and aligning it so as to create the pattern. I found this incredibly hard to do, I think I was being impatient during the heating, and the billet sheared three times whilst I was twisting it. Not a big deal but it meant I had to make the spine a little thinner to compensate.

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Here is the billet lined up with my apprentice seax, they are of a size but the forged one is about twice as thick at the moment which means that I can really play with the taper when I grind it to finish. Here’s hoping that the welds don’t crack when I quench it! (No, seriously, cross your fingers for me!).

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Finished Buckler

I finished the buckler I had been working on a while ago and took a picture of it in its glorious, unbattered state:

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I have since used it in about 20 historical fencing bouts as well as innumerable relaxed sparring encounters, and it has held up very well. Far better than the previous all metal incarnation as thicker steel for the central boss worked well. The leather rim is doing surprisingly well, only showing a few nicks and scratches despite the fact that my regular sparring partner loves his longsword. I think that I have pretty much perfected my Secret Leather Hardening process (every leatherworker I meet has one!). Here it is after considerable punishment:

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The beautiful yet fragile blue oxide coating has been pretty battered but I actually quite like the silver accents that have emerged. The leather on the front is almost untouched. On the back things look considerably more ragged. As I had to have it finished for an event, I of course only put it together the day before and as I was finishing the handle at home I realised that I had left all my leather and string at work! The only thing I could find round the house was some knitting wool which was lovely on the hand but didn’t survive for long. I need to revisit it with a tooled leather grip at some point…

Whilst rereading the previous post, I realised I hadn’t taken any photos of the fittings which was a pity as I spent a bit of time making them more period appropriate.

Firstly I hand engraved flowers around each of the rivets. It takes a little while to do with a hand graving chisel, but as Daggerandbrush noted in the comments it really does enhance the look of the whole shield when viewed close up:

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Floral motifs were extremely popular on historical weapons, and I think the entire buckler was going that way so I decided to continue with the vegetable look on the handle. The main element of this was forming and chiselling a leaf on one end of the handle, the other end forms a belt hook and needed to be bent over after riveting so I kept it simple with a little punchwork on the top:

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As a final detail, I decided not to use modern washers under the rivets as they really do stand out on an otherwise handmade object. Mine were cut, chiselled and punched out of a sheet of steel and as such are all different. Not because I am lazy and couldn’t be bothered to measure, its because its historically accurate ;). The square shape was common at the time as it is much easier to make and works just as well:

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So all in all I’m very happy about how it turned out, now I really want to make one of these:

So many projects….!