I first met Ross Berry at the Wild Food and Chilli Fair on his Kaos Blacksmiths stand. I was soon to start my work sabbatical and was looking for activities to fill it with. Whilst chatting to his wife Sarah I was sold on the thought of attending a blacksmith experience day which would be a maximum of two customers. It was one of the first things I booked yet one of the last things I'll do on my time off.
One thing I was desperate to do was make a full tang knife blank so it was off to the Bushcraft Store to get some scales, liners and bolts (I was going to get a lanyard tube too but only remembered on the way home). I drew out what I hoped the blank would be like and once finished it wasn't a million miles away from a Bison Bushcraft Bushman's Pal and a Ben Orford's Whittler and Pixie knives.
I worked out my route and built in some spare time as I would be tackling the M25, the Dartford crossing and the M20. I used up a little of the buffer but as I got to within a handful of miles I encountered the extended delay known as the Wye train crossing-Goodness me! The reason I mention it is to be prepared if your route is ever similar to mine enroute to Ross. Also my SatNav stopped me a few hundred metres short of their place but as you drive on through the village the pub is easy to spot.
The Timber Batts public house is 15th century and the pair of them have taken a closed business and put their eclectic heart and soul into it. Look at the above right hand picture and you'll see timber beams and a dolly lamp and you'll see eclectic is spot on.
Anyway I digress. I booked a November date as I thought it would be a good one to fill in the cooler autumn months, but as it happened I arrived in full sunshine which bathed the working area and yet the cool outside temperature would work well with the forge heat to create a comfortable working environment. Once I arrived I also discovered that I was going to be the only one there at the eleventh hour so I am composing this blog from a 1-2-1 angle as opposed to a more standard two person day.
After having a cup of tea with Ross in the pub and saying a quick hello to his huge dogs we adjourned to the forge at the side. I'd run some ideas pass Ross of things I'd like to do and we did some bits out of sync as and when the moment presented itself so I'll cover the three things that I did in a rough order. First things first, a safety briefing and eye protection.
The first item that I made was a fire steel. I discussed various shapes and decided to try a Viking style one which looked a good introduction to metal bothering. The initial process was to create a long thin tapered length of metal which I started after some initial instruction.
Ross would then take me through the subsequent steps by working on his own piece and then I got on with mine. When I was in the groove he then did the next stage on his piece, which was actually a firesteel order for Jack Raven Bushcraft, with whom I did a medicinal plants day not so long ago.
Now the day before this attending this blacksmithing experience I'd been out and and about and made fire using a bowdrill made from scratch in a wood and using a time lapse on my camera I'd chalked up over 1700 pictures over the two days. I've obviously discarded the vast majority but I did notice a lot of shots of us laughing and it's worth mentioning that if you want banter you've got someone who can revel in it all day.
And then finally I came to the nitty gritty; putting a curl on the end of the handle with a pair of pliers...
And then after the fine detail it was heated, bent and flattened to form the handle.
Until I ended up with a Viking fire steel, well once the unused stock at the end was ground off. It was good to go once the edge had been heat treated and plunged and I'm pleased to report that it chucks out a good amount of sparks.
We had paused after completing the fire steel for lunch which Sarah had made (which was included as part of the day) and then after filling our faces we headed back. Now was you spend time in the forge you notice a lot of different things that Ross has made, as you do in the pub, and he produced such things as a bearded axe that he had made with Gransfors Bruks, and a piece of knapping that he had done and indeed a genuine piece too.
My second piece was to be a tapered tang neck knife blank. Again tuition first and then onto my piece. I did make sure I knew what I was doing at all stages when using the forge if unsure because you only have a limited time to shape the metal until it cools.
There was a sort of deja vu with this as in many ways it was broadly similar in the initial construction to the fire steel with a tang replacing a handle that was worked to get it long and thin.
And that was two pieces produced and to be honest I was rather pleased with them. The neck knife just needed a grind and heat treating/ tempering to be finished which was done with my third and final project. It is worth noting that all of his anvils are in three figures age wise-It really made you stop and think how many different items were created on them over the years. The one pictured above was made during or just after Oliver Cromwell's reign.
Sometimes the proceedings had to be paused because clinker buildup was a constant issue and it needed removing on a regular basis since ignoring it sees the air available to the forge drop markedly.
Also as part of the day you get an afternoon beverage and cake pit stop, and when I say beverage and cake I'm talking Lavazza cafetiere coffee and a slice of homemade cake.
And so to the thing that I wanted to make above all that I was making last! I've had an 01 steel full tang knife blank on my bucket list for ages and also wanted a smaller blade than the more 'standard' knives out there. I roughed out a basic blank on a piece of wood and Ross lined it up on a a 3 mm piece. My template was a few millimetres wider than the tool stock so we adapted it slightly to fit.
I then ground the waste off the blank and actually made it more ergonomic than my wooden stencil. The above picture is me grinding an edge onto the blank using an angled clamp.
I'd actually ground the neck knife blank first and got Ross to just touch it up, but I'm pleased to say that the full tang one was all my own work. This is Ross showing me a little visual trick to check that the grind was on track.
By the time we did the heat treating on the two knives we were losing the light as the clocks had just changed, but this is the voluminous amount of steam issuing from the oil bath.
We overran a little but I was so pleased to have completed three really nice and usable pieces. Perhaps the handle on the full tang is a little too long and I meant to do a central tang on the neck knife but what the heck I had a cracking day and can't recommend a day with Ross enough.