A Day in the Life of a Blacksmith at Crooked Path Forge
Meet Jordan Borstelmann, head blacksmith of Crooked Path Forge. It’s 10:00 a.m. on Fathers Day Sunday in the backyard of the Repurpose Project, and today, a number of students have gathered in a small work space to hand craft their own crookshank knives.
Using eighth-inch thin strips of 1095 grade steel, roughly 1.5 feet in length and 1.5 inch wide, three students including myself were each lead through the process of creating our own knives to own and make use of.
Starting off with the handcrafted propane-fueled forge that Jordan brought along with him, we were guided through the process of heating up our prospective lengths of steel inside of the forge.
Upon the material reaching about 1500 degree Fahrenheit or taking on a glowing red-orange appearance, we carefully grasped our pieces and began hammering away at them on the anvils, eventually creating a fine point on one end of the material.
Patiently, we heated and reheated our materials after shaping them, creating the rudimentary form of a single beveled edge while discussing our connection to the ancient practice of hand forging tools and weaponry. The steel, usually very difficult to bend or alter while cold, was surprisingly malleable and easy to work with upon it reaching it’s target temperature range.
Roughly 30 minutes and several hand blisters later, we produced what looked like a knife’s profile, while it was still attached to the main mass of steel. We then cut our knife down to size, leaving enough length to wrap the metal handle (known as a tang) around itself and into a nice palm-sized grip– complete with several twists and a tongue for an even better hand hold.
With our knives now in the shape we desired, we moved onto the second phase of our process– normalizing the steel.
To ensure that our knives would be durable for regular use, the iron and carbon molecules that constitute the steel must be aligned and arranged in a strong composition.
This meant putting our blades into the forge and allowing them to reach a dull red color, removing them and letting them cool, and repeating this process three times to normalize the steel. After this, we put our blades into the forge one last time, and quickly dunked them into a canister full of canola oil in order to “freeze” the molecules in place in a nice, strong formation.
To make sure our blades wouldn’t crack or shatter under heavy force, the back edge of the knife had to be tempered. Tempering allows the molecules to set at varying levels of rigidness and flexibility dependent upon the temperature the metal is heated to.
We wanted the back edge of our knives to be flexible enough to bend under heavy force, while keeping our sharpened edge rigid to ensure a clean, straight cut. For this step of the process, we ground away a flat shelf on the back of our roughly shaped knives, and placed the knife blade-side down into a container full of wet sand.
Taking a small propane blow torch, we then heated up the back of our knives until the various color gradients of yellow, orange, brown, purple and blue metal began to reveal themselves.
With the metal now normalized and tempered, we were finally able to put a sharp edge on our knives using a stationary belt sander. Starting with a rough, 50 grit sandpaper, Borstelmann created a convex edge on our knives, and sequentially refined the edge with increasingly fine grades of sandpaper.
With a little bit of tender love and care from a stationary spinning wire brush wheel, our knives were finally complete and ready for use after roughly three and a half hours– time well spent in my book, considering the use I’ve been able to get from my newly forged blade.
To keep up with Jordan Borstelmann on upcoming workshops, browse his wares, or inquire about making use of his metalworking work space, check out his website here.