Knifemaking: befriending what tries to hurt you, process and mistakes, and Brigid Marsal

“I build the road and the road builds me”

-African Proverb

I think about this saying often.  Sometimes you work and it’s hard to see progress until you look back and see how much road you’ve built.  Maybe you think about giving up until you look back and realize the only way to go is forward.  Parts of the road may be shoddy or weak or bumpy but it came from you and that is a beautiful thing.  It’s a process and sometimes parts of the process are bumpy and shoddy.  I’ve found the bumpy parts are the most sacred because that’s where the deepest lessons are.  It’s important to not skip or ignore the bumpy parts and to be with them as fully as you are able.  This is sometimes difficult or even painful but it is often times the only way to move forward.

I started building a forge to harden my knives.  Her name is Brigid Marsal.  In Celtic folklore, Brigid is the goddess of fire and fertitlity among many other things.  Marsal is a make of pizza ovens.

This is not my first attempt at making a forge.  Brigid 1.0 was a woodstove at the warehouse that I fueled with charcoal and bellowed with a shop vac on reverse.  It was loads of fun but never quite did the job.

Funny story.  This summer I was on a pretty hellacious job with Fred and Mr. Al in a mall in Kensington, Maryland.  The mall was set to be demolished and we were there to extract some safe deposit boxes, some dental equipment, and a gigantic Marsal double stack pizza oven.  One of these stacks alone weighed about two thousand pounds and they were covered in a brick facade.  There really wasn’t a lot of room to work because the kitchen was built around the ovens.  So here are Fred, Mr. Al and I trying to wrestle this monstrosity onto our crank lift which is really only rated for maybe eight hundred pounds.  The lift breaks, the monster of an oven comes crashing down and I had to dive onto the counter to avoid being crushed.

We all collected ourselves and found that there wasn’t any way to move these ovens without help.  It took another trip up there to get the ovens and thankfully I was not invited to go.  The ovens came back, were rebuilt, and sold.  There were a few of the heat stones left over.  Fred gifted two of the unbroken stones to me to build a forge.  Turning something that nearly kills you into something that works for you- I like this idea.

Here are the devil stones:

According to Fred they are liquid poured and can handle temperatures of up to “infinity degrees.”

They are also ridiculously difficult to cut.  They are dense and stubborn and have a tendency to crack if you don’t go slowly and patiently.  The satisfying part is to see how far you’ve come.

What starts as this:

Becomes slowly cut away into this:

And you have to do it one pass at a time, evenly.

The idea with this particular design is to create a vortex of heat to bring the knives evenly up to critical temperature- about 1500 degrees.  To do this I cut the stone into square- or as close to squares as I could get them.

many hours later…

I put a two inch hole into three of them.  There is no quick way with stone.

On one of the pieces I added a half inch hole in the side for the blow torch.

I lined the stones up to give it a go….

Pretty, but not quite vortexing the way I would like…

So the forge doesn’t work the way I had planned.  What I found was that the stones, which hold heat very well, are not so good at reflecting the heat, which is what I need.  There is still another forge to build but I am going to use the Marsal stones somehow- to remind them that I am not so easily crushed…reminders of bumps in the road you build and sacred lessons along the way.

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