Sunday, December 23, 2012

Maker's Mark

Hiding in the knotwork...


Hunting Knife

This knife was made as a Christmas gift for a local hunter, commissioned by his wife. The blade features a hamon, or quench line, showcasing the steel's differential hardening. The sheath is made from a single piece of leather folded around and stitched up the side. The handle is made from local maple with an antler bolster and is decorated with a Viking Age motif taken from a runestone from the Isle of Man. The carving is (to my mind at least) my best, cleanest work so far.

Specifications:

- File steel blade
- Antler and maple handle, lightly treated with "boat soup"
- 3.25" blade length
- 7.75" overall length
- Vegetable tanned, naturally dyed leather sheath




Monday, November 19, 2012

On Making Things

I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a craftsman/artist, and about what it means to make an object. A recent conversation with Petr Florianek sparked all this. He had been having conversations with Jake Powning and Peter Johnsson over the same topic. Regarding the objects that we make, he told me: "They are like knots on a string, something you can feel while running the string through your fingers."

I looked at this two ways. First is the way that I think Petr had not intended, which is that the string represents history and myth. The material objects that have been made throughout history are represented as knots on the string. The old masters took up the string and tied a knot for every object that they made. And we today tie new knots when we make a new object. But the string is not the same as it was back then. Maybe we've lost some objects to time and decay, maybe their knots unraveled. Maybe some objects have become so ingrained in our consciousness that we can't discern them anymore, maybe their knots have been pulled so tight that they feel no higher than the untied string. As modern craftsmen, we tie our own knots. So the string is like the legacy of material culture left to us by our ancestors.

The second way I looked at this is the way that I think Petr meant for me to understand it, which is that the string represents art, and being an artist. The knots are the products of our artistry, but the processes of making those products are represented as the straight sections. Whether tied or untied, the string is still art. Whether a crafted object or the processes behind its making, it's still art. He said that Peter Johnsson has said that both the objects themselves and the process of making them should be art. It could not have been said better. Art is beautiful, find the beauty in making it.

Another term that's been lingering in my mind is "sole-authorship". I read it while browsing J. Arthur Loose's Etsy page (etsy.com/people/jarthurloose). It really made me think. What it ultimately means to me is making something entirely by yourself. You can apply that at the level of forging your own blades instead of buying blades. You can take it really far, and only make blades from iron and steel you smelted yourself from naturally occurring ore. And I definitely think that the closer you can get to nature the more sole-authored it is. But I don't think that's what's important about this concept. What's important about it for me is the feeling that I get from something that I've made myself. I picture the object in my head before I make it. When I complete that object, I've given my thoughts form. I have put my imagination, my spirit, into a physical object. When I use an object I've made myself, it's not like I'm using an object at all. It's like I've just found another part of myself to put to use. It's just me.

So, to tie all this together. The act of making an object (big or small, blade or not) with your own hands is really an act of magic. You are taking your thoughts and giving them tangible, physical substance. You are literally bringing your imagination to life. And no, it's not like your thoughts steam out of your ears in a cloud of vapor and manifest into a physical object. But the process of making that object is no less magical, and is in fact much more beautiful. You are making art, being art, and establishing an almost spiritual connection between yourself and all the craftsmen that came before you, communing with them through your work. So what it means to be a craftsman, to me, is to be a kind of modern wizard, a magic worker in an age of plastic and factory-made objects.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

More Petr, More Poem

Here are a couple pictures of one of Petr's latest works (check out this man's engraving skills!!!), along with my latest poem. This one tells a story of a Danelaw era battle between the Northumbrians and the Danes, where a blade like this one might well have been used.



Mighty were the men     who marshaled their strength
against the heathens,     greedy for slaughter.
The Sea-Danes struck,     strong and fearsome,
with sharpened spearpoints,     shield-bearing fighters.
But the hearts of the Angles     are hardy and steadfast.
Boldly one thane     brandished his war-knife.
It was sorely suited     to sit in a corner,
rusting and pitting     to ruin and frailty
while its cowardly master     succumbed to old age.
Its food was the flesh     of fell opponents
and it hungered fast     for the heathen earl.
It bit his neck     and his blood flowed forth.
The raiders were broken,     bereft of their captain,
and yelling aloud     "Jarlabani" they cried.
The northmen so named     that knife of the thane
that had won the field     for the weary Angles
and had so well     upheld their rule.



Copyright © 2012 Myles Mulkey
Images courtesy of Petr Florianek (gullinbursti.cz)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Pocket Knife

This is my latest work, a small, simple pocket knife. I figured every bladesmith needs an everyday knife of their own making to carry with them. It is a folding knife with no locks or springs, just held closed by the friction from the tightly riveted pins. It is the product of my first experiments with differential hardening, the result of which can be seen as an etched line on the surface of the blade. The handle is decorated with a late Viking Age, Urnes style motif.

Specifications:

- File steel blade
- Maple handle, treated with pine tar
- measurements to follow






Sunday, October 21, 2012

Skaldic Smithery

As part of the collaboration between myself and the amazing Czech bladesmith Petr Florianek, Petr requested that I write some more poems for some Vendel Period pieces he was working on. He requested that the poetry be in an older style than the fornyrðislag poetry I had been writing, which would be more fitting for these Beowulf-era blades.

Learning this older poetic form was a very enjoyable experience for me, and I learned a great deal more about the Germanic verse form than I knew before. I think that my future poetry, fornyrðislag or otherwise, will be stronger and truer to historical examples because of this.

Here are some photos of Petr's outstanding work, with my poems below.



In a high hall     there was happy feasting.
Waiting outside,     a watchman stood guard.
He knew not     what night-lurkers stalked him,
wretched raiders     borne on roaring seas,
or greedy beasts     with gaping maws,
but he felt no fear,     fiery of heart,
for in his hand     he held Abrecan.
That doom of men     was decked with a ring,
the price of his promise,     pledged to his lord.
He regarded that gift     greater than silver,
and burned or buried,     he would bear it with him.





Shivering birches     shook in the wind
while raiders ran     to wreck their target.
They burned the gate     and gained their entry,
but waiting for them     was a wall of shields,
and in the middle     stood a mighty hersi.
He held his war-knife     high and aloft,
its grip alive     with livid monsters,
its eager edge     aiming forwards.
"I am an eagle     with this icy feather.
Through this battle     it will bear me swiftly
to catch you fish     and carry you off.
In coming here,     you have caused your doom."
The fighting was fierce     but the foes were beaten,
and songs were sung     in celebration
under graven gables,     glad to be whole.



Copyright © 2012 Myles Mulkey
Images courtesy of Petr Florianek (gullinbursti.cz)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Swordsmith and Wordsmith

Here's what Petr's been up to with my poetry. Writing them beautifully on handmade paper. I think you'll agree that the items themselves are far more beautiful than the words that describe them.


The smith stared at
steel glowing red,
laboring long
he'd layered its form,
secret spruce-grain
singing grimly,
eager to eat
both elk and deer.





Remember well
our race's making,
born of driftwood
Bor's sons hallowed.
We learned ere long
to labor, crafting,
sweet things we made
splendid and fine.

One was carried
by warrior's belt,
its steel streamed forth,
steady, flowing,
from burnished collar,
bright, engraven,
Emblar bróðir,
ashen-handled.





In days long done
dwarves stoked their forge,
smelling of smoke,
soot-covered, black.
By Brokkr's bet
a boar was forged,
golden, gleaming,
a gift for Frey.

His sister also
sits atop one,
fierce in fighting,
Freyja's war-pig.
Their ward is given
when worn outright
high on a helm
or held in the palm.

A craftsman I know
will carve their shapes,
bristle-backed boars,
bold, protective.
Many, menaced,
commended him
when they wandered
weapon in hand.



Copyright © 2012 Myles Mulkey
Images courtesy of Petr Florianek (gullinbursti.cz)

Eddaic Epicness

Recently, Petr Florianek and I struck a bargain. He'll give me a knife, and I'll write him fornyrðislag poetry. When he makes a piece that he thinks deserves a poem, he'll let me know, and I'll do my best to represent the piece in words. I immediately agreed to this, and when you see the knife he sent me, I think you'll agree that I got the better end of the deal.

This is such an exciting venture for me, and I'm honored to have been given the opportunity. Fornyrðislag poetry is a recent interest of mine. It's a way for me to be creative even when I only have a moment or two to spare. It's also a way for me to breathe new life into one facet of the West's heritage that few people remember today. And though I'm far from being an expert, I try to improve with each verse. I hope my words can live up to the objects they describe.

Petr's work is obviously art - functional, beautiful art at that. I like to think that my poetry will help give his art context and help immerse the viewers of his art deeper and deeper in the world each piece creates and represents. And I will have to work hard to fulfill my end of the deal.

And if you don't know who Petr Florianek is, you need to find out. In my mind, he is one of the preeminent craftsmen of our time. Check out his website, and like him on Facebook. He even takes commissions.

I am honored to help him tell stories through his pieces, and to help keep the flame of Germanic art and culture alive and well.


This was his end of the bargain. Now I have to fulfill mine...

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Another Walking Stick

I'm still practicing carving Viking Age art styles. This time I wanted to try an Oseberg-ish style knotwork, applying the things I learned in my last carving attempt. I was pretty rushed to get it done in time to give as a birthday gift, so it's not been carved as cleanly as I think I could have done. And the grace lines were cut in with the skew chisel, which is not the best way to go about doing that, and some turned out less graceful than others. Still though, I followed the grain much better this time, resulting in no split-out. And the over-unders turned out nicely I think. Even though I'm no master carver, I have a lot of fun doing it and I expect that most of my future projects will feature some kind of carving. 


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ringerike Style Walking Stick

This walking stick was my first real attempt at carving. I was inspired to start practicing carving after watching Jake Powning's excellent presentation on the Arctic Fire 2012 web broadcast. I am indebted to all those involved with that event. I really feel like I learned a lot from it, and if nothing else, it was highly inspirational. This piece is far from perfect, but I learned a lot while making it. This is my own design, but I looked at existing examples of Ringerike style art for inspiration, primarily the Källunge weathervane.



After sketching the design on paper, I had a feeling for how the interlacing worked. I then transferred the design on the stick itself. This is also where I made the motif fit the piece I'm working with, resulting in a slightly different design than my original sketch. It ended up being sightly more elongated, and a little more graceful surprisingly.



 After the design was transferred to the stick, I followed the lines with a skew chisel. I probably need to make a better one. This one was made from a broken needle file. I'd like a beefier one.



Once all the lines had been traced with the skew chisel, I used a straight chisel to round off the design and try to give the carving some depth. This is where I made most of my mistakes, but also where I learned the most about this technique.




Once the whole design had been carved and sanded, I coated the stick with pure pine tar and lightly passed it through the flames of a campfire. I was trying to both bring out the grain of the wood and make the piece look a little more aged, but I'm not sure if I like the result. Perhaps after several more coats of finish, I'll be more satisfied. I'm definitely not putting it in the fire again, haha.
This was just a learning piece anyway, and I think it served that purpose well. My next carvings will be better. And there will be more...

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Iron Ore?










The Direction I'm Going

Up till now, I have been making small items - knives and firesteels mostly. I still have a few more projects at that scale to finish up. Once those are done, I'm redirecting my focus a bit. I want to make bloomery steel, and then make swords...

I've been really inspired by the smiths that took part in Arctic Fire 2012 (http://www.arcticfire2012.com/), a hammer-in that blew my mind. I knew of each smith that took part. I knew the work they had done before, and I knew their individual styles. What I didn't know was how awesome it was going to be to watch them work and listen to them talk about the craft of bladesmithing. I am truly grateful to each of these guys for sharing their expertise and serving as an inspiration for less experienced smiths like me.

This event made a huge impression on me. It made me think about why I started smithing in the first place. Homemade steel, pattern welding, and swords. I've always wanted to do these things, but I've been too intimidated to try. As soon as I finish a handful of smaller projects I've got going, these things are going to become my focus.

I am ready to earn the right to take that "amateur" out of my title.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Griðungihorn

My new knife is finished, made in the style of a simple Viking Age working knife. The design also follows Finnish peasant knives, consisting only of a piece of figured wood with the blade wedged (and in this case glued) in place. The sheath is treated with linseed oil and pine tar before being hot-waxed with beeswax.

This is the second knife that I've completed from start to finish, and my first experience with forge welding. It's not perfect, but I'm very pleased with it. May it serve me for years to come.

Specifications:

- File-steel core
- Wrought iron sides
- Curly maple handle, treated with "boat soup"
- 2.75" blade length
- 7" overall length
- Vegetable tanned, naturally dyed leather sheath
- Rough forged brass sheath fittings





Griðungihorn Has Been Etched


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Griðungihorn Has Been Tempered

I re-profiled the spine to fix the problem I had with the tip having no steel. I also tempered it again at 425F, thanks to the advice of bladesmith George Ezell who warned me that the file steel may chip at the previous tempering temperature of 360F. The transition between the steel and the wrought iron is now very apparent. At this stage, it's time for polishing and handle-making. I can't wait to finish it.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Disting

See Sun's brother
silver, shining
on high, heralding
holy women,
Fulla, Nornir,
Fensalir's queen,
the Dísir deem
doom for us all.





Copyright © 2012 Myles Mulkey

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Griðungihorn And More


Here are the results of a quick test etch in vinegar to reveal the character of the iron.  I like what I see out of this (lots of grain). I wish I'd been more careful with all the hammer marks on this one, but I still have some grinding to do so we'll see how it turns out. Whether it up beautiful or not, it's my first forge welded piece and I'll treasure it forever. I can't wait to get it finished. I have a long way to go before I'm making pattern welded Norse stuff, but this is a good step in that direction.



On another note, here's a small carved amulet I made for an old friend. It's a donarskeule, sort of the Migration Era German version of a Mjölnir aka Thor's Hammer. The originals were antler or bone, but this one is walnut. Just a small token of appreciation for my friend, and something I hope keeps him safe during his travels as a US army serviceman.