WOW! What a couple of weeks!
I’m exhausted and exhilarated at the same time.
I just spent over 80 hours in a very hands-on training course learning the essentials of bladesmithing. The course I took provides the instruction needed to prepare an apprentice smith to be able to pass the Journeyman test.
The course was laid out in a pretty logical manner and assumed you had no knowledge prior to taking the course. As an aside, I would recommend that you take a local one-day blacksmithing class before you sign up. It will help to understand the basics of moving hot metal and learning some hammer techniques.
- Class: Basics of metalurgy
- Class: Steps of making a blade
- Hands on: Forging
- Hands on: Thermo-cycling
- Hands on: Heat treating
- Hands on: Tempering
- Hands on: Profiling and Grinding
- Hands on: Differential heat treating
- Class: Edge geometry
- Class: Testing of blades
- Class: Knife styles
- Hands on: Edge bevel grinding
- Hands on: Sharpening
- Hands on: Testing
The Bill Moran School of Bladesmithing is taught in historic Washington State Park outside of Hope, AR. Hope is a small town with a population of around 10,000. There are limited hotel options, but they are there. There are quite a few restaurants, grocery stores, etc. While at the school, the only option for lunch is the comfort food restaurant which is run as part of the park. Don’t expect a lot of healthy options here, but man, the good is pretty good. You will also work up one heck of an appetite, so don’t worry about the calories!
The School is situated in a small neighborhood, and is comprised of two buildings that serve as classrooms and the smithy. The classrooms have air conditioning, which you will find yourself using from time to time to cool off. The smithy is large, loud, hot and dirty.. just as you would imagine. The bladesmithing classes all use propane forges, not coal/coke. These are forced air and when you have 7-8 of them going, it creates quite a roar. There are also around 10 belt grinders, of various states of repair, that also can make a good bit of noise. In any case, you will want to wear full PPE.
- Ear plugs
- Safety glasses
- Brimmed ballcap (brim forward while grinding)
- Particle dust mask
- A LOT of cheap leather work gloves (I went through 5 pairs while grinding)
Besides the fact that making functional blades from bar stock is just damn cool, I also met a lot of really nice folks. There was a real camaraderie and we all helped each other out as needed. There were folks from all over in my class. We even had a guy from Italy and one from Israel. We now stay in touch with each other and track each others’ progress on a private Facebook group I set up.
Why Take the Class?
For me, I plan to make bladesmithing a long-term commitment. It is what I hope to do after I retire from my “real” job in IT. While I could spend the next 15+ years just trying to figure things out as I go, I think the best way to start is to have someone else guide you along the way in establishing a solid foundation. Two weeks of solid instruction and practice builds some decent muscle memory and reinforces techniques that would otherwise take months or years to learn on my own. I learned a ton from our two awesome instructors, but I also learned a lot from watching others. We would learn from each others’ successes and failures.
Here are all of the photos I took while there. They are in reverse chronological order with the latest at the top. I also included the photos I took while I did a self-guided tour of Washington as well as some during the “Hammer-In” event over the weekend.