Articles

Moxon’s “Doctrine of Handy Works”

 Behold, the State of our Art, in 1683:

 

“How Pleasant and Healthey, this their Diversion is, their Minds and Bodies find; and how Harmless and Honest, all sober men may judge?”

Joseph Moxon, (who lived 1627-1691, and is no doubt familiar to you as Royal Hydrographer to King Charles, Fellow of the Royal Society and best-selling author of “Mathematicks Made Easie”) was among the first to illuminate the industry of his time in print. A man of the enlightenment, he followed Bacon’s reasoning that spreading previously arcane knowledge of the trades would improve not only the public’s understanding of them, but provide synergistic benefits to the trades themselves, and consequently all of society.

His “Mechanicks Exercises” remains fascinating today, and is one of our best windows into a vanished trade. Despite this, it remains frustratingly hard to find in print – so I present a link to it here, from the Library of the University of Michigan.

Forging Custom Knives

The Joy of Fine Steel

The Knife is perhaps the single most useful tool made by Man. Whether a shard of bone, knapped flint or forged crucible steel, the knife is a tool exquisite beyond reason. I take tremendous pleasure in making all kinds of knives – I’ve forged custom knives for cooks, woodsmen, swordsmen and soldiers. Blades that are all very different, and all DSC04563somehow the same.

Like any fine tool, a good knife becomes an extension of ourselves the instant we begin to use it. It feels instantly familiar, something lost and unexpectedly found. It is not out of selfishness that people tend to guard their knives so carefully, lending them rarely if ever. A treasured knife is no longer a tool or even a companion, but an extension of yourself.

A superlative blade may be more expensive than its mass-produced cousin. Forging a superior knife requires a high degree of artistry and technical skill, which may be acquired only through years of study and experience. Skills that allow any person commissioning a custom knife to have it suit their purpose perfectly.

This is what I aim for with every knife I forge. Even the knives I create with no person in mind have a matching owner out there, one unique person who will fit this blade better than any other.

cedarburl  After all, every custom knife has a character of its own. Minor changes in a design, the material of the handle or even the way it is sharpened can change the “feel” of a knife beyond recognition. There are infinite subtleties of function and design: The size and profile of the handle, its relationship to the edge; the thickness, taper and shape of the blade itself – all these things and many more must be carefully balanced to give the desired result: A tool that will be useful for our lifetimes and beyond.

A knife that I guarantee will – when cared for properly and subjected to only mild abuse – long outlast its original owner.

 

 Commission Your Knife                      

Norse Knock-offs

A Multitude of Mendacious Mjolnirs

 

Here’s the first Thor’s Hammer pendant I did, back in 2009.

I feel I’ve done better ones since, but this one strikes a chord with people. Not a month goes by that someone from the internet doesn’t track me down and ask if I’m ever going to make more of them – preferably at about $20 apiece. I always say “No”. I made a big deal over my promise that I’d only ever make 9 of them, and I haven’t had time to rework the design.

But market forces are as immutable as gravity, and where the original is placed beyond reach they inevitably give rise to imitation…

Behold! My very first knockoff!

Awfully familiar, no?

Awfully familiar, no?

I was more surprised to see it than I was angry. It’s flattering in a way – confirmation that it’s at least good enough to bother stealing! I do wish the “artist” took a bit more care with his model and the finishing. It’s a painstaking copy in many ways, with some lazy knots slapped on where my original photos were obscure or where finishing a smooth section would take too much time.

Took a while to track them down – some are distributed out of NY, others from Sweden, some from Bangkok. I have a hunch they’re cranked out somewhere with cheap labour and skilled artisans – Russia maybe, China probably. The most honest distributor I spoke with told me that he bought his cheap brass copies on a trip to China – the least honest one (pictured) claimed it was his own direct copy of an archaeological relic, which is nonsense.

When I cast this pendant in 2009, there were very few decent hammers available at all, and nothing comparable in quality. Now that Vikings have become a mainstream fantasy, there’s a great deal more to see. Many of the higher-end pieces are quite good, from a technical standpoint anyway. There’s still a lack of innovation, a great deal of artistic laziness. Most pieces are either copies of dug-up originals – usually simplified to speed production – or adolescent fabrications that look like they belong in an issue of Heavy Metal. Very few seem willing to devote the necessary effort to creating new forms within the ancient styles, and far fewer seem willing to finish them to the appropriate standard.

Eesh.

Oh, I found another knockoff, of my Mk III in cheap brass…

 

 

 

 

But what’s wrong with my Mk II mjolnir? It’s not good enough to steal?! I’ve always liked it the best of the bunch.

Philistines…

Iron in the Blood

I am a blacksmith. I earn my living through the strength of my arm and the sweat of my brow, hammering out tools and works of art as our ancestors did for two-thousand generations until the steam-engine sealed our fate and liberated humanity from a life of constant toil. Make that “The rest of humanity”. The hours for a modern blacksmith are as long as ever.

There is iron in our blood, for blacksmiths doubly so. Some, like me, know that it is the greater part of their being, the source of an all-consuming quest to be followed wherever it leads. I keep telling my friends to ditch that silly Ph.D. and come pound steel, but have no takers as of yet. To call yourself a Blacksmith and mean it – to be an honest artist of any kind – takes a kind of dedication that is almost a lost quality in this age of distraction and self-doubt. A dedication that chooses steel to work with over food to eat. A dedication that works through meals and into the early morning hours, and is found by the apprentice next day, asleep on the layout table.

Ours is an ancient and noble craft. One with much to be proud of and much to answer for: The noble Knight’s sword and the axe of the tyrant’s executioner; The surgeon’s scalpel and the Inquisitors thumb-screws; Shackles for the guilty rapist and the innocent slave, all were forged by my forefather-smiths.

Don’t ask why I do it, I’m not sure I even know. I can give you a list of the steps I took in pursuit of knowledge, masters studied with and schools attended after being thrown out of a third and final college; but what drives me on in my quest is hidden even from me.

The blacksmith’s is not an easy path. The hours are ridiculous, the labour often grueling, the pay is low or lacking entirely and the only retirement plan involves a deep hole and a long, narrow box. Still, I have not seen any life that I would trade it for. The black creases in my leather apron, the dozens of burn-scars on my arms and hands, the smell of a coal fire through the damp morning air and the searing heat of a half-finished, yellow-hot forging – Any of these mean more to me than all of the precious stones I’ve set into gold rings or silver sword-hilts.

It is a deep, indescribable, atavistic satisfaction to forge hot iron. Some call it a fulfillment of purpose, or a connection to the lost ages of the ancient past. Myself, in the midst of a swinging hammer and a roaring forge, gritty and dripping sweat, I have known moments of peace and contentment without compare, equaled only by the release of coitus, or a long stalk in the evening woods.

Metal-working pre-dates the written word, so there’s tremendous depth. As a blacksmith, your creativity will never be limited by material, style or even technique.

Ours is the King of Crafts, bearing the ancient motto: “By hammer and hand, all art doth stand”.

My Work

Rococo Pipe Tomahawk

Pipe tomahawk with light engraving
and pewter accents.

Birch-leaf Fireplace Doors

Hand-forged in their entirety,
from leaves to rivets.

Colonial Fire Tongs

From a set of 18th c fireplace tools.
Wrought with precision.

Hartree Wedding Band

Norse-motif platinum wedding band.
Weight nearly one ounce

Oak Leaf Fireplace Doors

Copper and steel fireplace doors, to match and complete a 1920s marble fireplace. Some very simple repousse, modern and traditional forms.

Bowie Knife

An even bigger knife – 15” overall. Differentially-quenched 5160 blade, hafted with antler, nickel-silver and maple then elaborately file-worked. Balance is exceptional.

Walnut Chest

Small dovetailed walnut chest, with forged
iron hardware from extant 18thc New
England examples.

Hammer-Poll Patriot Tomahawk

A hammer poll version of a famous movie tomahawk. Client request.

Steel.

Mjolnir Mk II

Second in my series of Sterling silver Thor's Hammer pendants. Fenris the wolf leers from the face.

Gun-Barrel Tomahawk

Pipe tomahawk forged from a .45 muzzle-loader barrel. Pierced blade, pewter and brass accents.

Fire-tool Stand – Detail

Detail of a stand for fireplace tools,
showing complexity of finials.

Surt’s Horn

An elaborate drinking horn, leaning toward Jelling motifs.