When I am designing a course I often end up reverse engineering techniques that I use in my workshop. My aim there is to make blades as quickly and as accurately as possible.
On a course I expect no prior knowledge at all for my students so my classes are also crash courses in blacksmithing; I try and start with the simplest techniques first and build on this during the course. Tooling helps speed things along, but it is a fine balance. If the tooling is too simple or sparse it can be hard for students to achieve good result, I can with time make most of my tools with only a hammer and tongs, but it isn’t realistic to take this approach on a course.
If on the other hand I have over engineered the tooling we end up with a hand version of drop forging- Hot metal is inserted into the tool or die which is then struck, out come a finished article, little has been learnt and this could not be replicated at home with simple equipment.
I have found that having a story board helps; I think it is useful for students to be able to pick up tool at various stages to really see what we are trying to achieve. Although I demonstrate the forging process the results are not immediately tactile. I also think it is useful to see examples of what not to do.
This box contains some of my axe making storyboard, some good some not. I have been teaching and thus refining my axe course for a few years now and I think that the Axe on the top tells an interesting story. It was made a few years ago in my workshop and at the time I was really proud of it, the best axe yet, I decided to quench in water as the steel was meant to be suitable… The blade cracked at the quench line and I was not happy. Decided to use it as an example of the importance of using the right quenchant, and also to show how deep an axe should be held during quenching.
When I started out teaching it was also an example of a great axe that I had ruined, after a year or so it wasn’t that special, then I found myself pointing out flaws in it that could be improved upon. On my last course I had 6 students with no forging experience, 5 of their axes were notably better than this failed one and the sixth was at least an equal. Constant tweaking of the course has helped my production axe making although the processes are more mechanised. I still have a few more refinements to make to the tooling for the next course, but these are largely now aimed at making the course run smoother and easier, the finished product is I think pretty much set now.
I also teach a Bladesmithing course at the Greenwood Guild and this has had similar refinements, to forge a blade, heat treat, and grind it, then make a sheath and handle and do a final sharpen- All in one day, is a huge amount to do.
I have just had delivered some special wheels made up for my wetstone grinders, grinding has been a bit of a choke point on the course, despite there now being 5 grinders available for students to use. This grinder is a clone of the well known Tormek, the wheel was very poor and wore badly. You can see how much was lost after only two courses.
To make matters worse it consistently wore to an oval shape as well, making grinding even harder. These new wheels cut much quicker and smoother and never need redressing, they will finish a grind in 1/3 of the time of the old wheel so we should all be in for an easier day on the course this weekend.
Will be very interesting to see how long they actually last, and I will be trialling different grit combinations over the next few months.
I have also decided to change the size of the steel stock that we start with for the knives, this will eliminate one stage of forging that some students found difficult. I have not been able to buy my preferred steel in either size so have always been forging it down to size under the power hammer, in one way this makes it quite easy to change the size. I trialled the new stock size today and it is an improvement, some stages are marginally more difficult but another stage is eliminated entirely. Trouble is I had to forge a new story board to match the new processes, so 9 blanks were started and one left to cool at each stage. All done now but I am hoping I don’t decide to tinker with the process again for a while.