Meanwhile, Ashokan was a blast. Great people, a terrific lecture by Peter Johnsson, a superb location, and just a great time overall.
I want this as a ringtone now: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Hmj3FrmV7A
Some commentary below the cut; photos later.
Friday at the Sword Seminar was the usual setup and meet-and-greet, with the two official activities being a lecture on smelting followed by the practical. The smelt went pretty well, at least at first.
The smelter was a variant of the coated tile smelter -- an 8" square chimney tile covered in a layer of kaowool, with a sheetmetal cover over that to provide protection and to hold everything together. The tuyere was water-cooled, something I've thought about but never implemented. Over 4 hours the smeltmasters poured charcoal and ore into it, and in the end they got what was estimated to be about a 4lb bloom.
The forging team took over and started working the bloom, which was full of unburnt charcoal, slag, and unprocessed ore, and had a high variation in carbon content. The bloom kept falling apart while they were trying to get it flattened with the press, but they persevered. And persevered, and persevered. The smelt ended just about midnight, maybe a bit afterwards (my camera says 00:21) and they kept going until 6am-ish. Unfortunately, they couldn't get the steel to behave, and the resultant lump was unusable at the seminar.
The post-mortem concluded that the forge they were using was too reducing, too much fuel for the air flow, and while it was hot enough for the work, the carbon content of the bloom was too high, and so the reducing atmosphere didn't burn off enough carbon. Too high a carbon content makes a piece of steel hard to work, like trying to forge cheese -- it cracks, it crumbles, it won't stick to itself, and it's generally unusable. One of the pros took the remnants of the bloom home to work out some carbon and make a usable bit of steel out of it. He commented offhand that, if you included a $35/hr work rate, cost of materials, and cost of fuel, that ~2lb lump of iron had already cost $800.
The next morning, or at least later that morning, we were treated to a post-breakfast lecture by Kevin Cashen, one of the leading lights in sword documentation and manufacture, on rapiers. The afternoon was mostly stuff I wasn't particularly interested in -- fighting techniques, tamashigiri, that sort of thing -- so I wandered around looking at the tailgate sales and chatting with folk. I bought one of Sam Salvi's japanese bladesmithing hammers, and took some photos of some neat homemade equipment on sale, including a nice polishing setup made from a weight lifting bench.
After dinner, we were treated to the best talk on sword design I've ever heard, or even heard of, by researcher, swordsmith, and consultant to Albion Arms Peter Johnsson. Sadly, we were all sworn to secrecy until the article he's writing on the subject is published in March. I know I'm planning on getting a copy.
After that, open forge, where among other things a trio of smiths forged out a damascus billet using some very well coordinated multi-smith striking -- see the above video, where the lead smith resorted to calling out in German to keep the strikers in sync. Fun to watch, even if I did get splattered a bit in slag.
Sunday was another lecture by Peter, this one on his methodology of documenting swords -- not quite as fascinating as his first lecture, but valuable nonetheless. I wandered through the "show and tell" portion of the event, then went home. There, I discovered someone had stolen my lawnmower from out of my back yard, but that's a post for another day.