Why did you start bladesmithing?
Actual reason I started bladesmithing was practical as I was cutler before, carving, making wax models, playing with inlays and repousse and I had a very hard time to find a smith to cooperate with. I did finish some blades by Patrick Barta, the quality was exceptional but his schedule is not very cooperative- friendly. So I figured I need to do it myself. Once I moved from city to village, I had the opportunity and I used it.
Blade for piece entitled MAEL-KORR
How did you learn to bladesmith?
Although I don't think that there are completely self-taught people today, I am as self-taught as you can get. My first tries were tragicomical because of that, had no skill in controlling the fire, no knowledge of forging temperatures. I did not understand the relation of chemistry to steel properties at all. So lot of learning was trying and then being frustrated. I do however have some smith friends and they helped me, mostly by letting me watch them work. Patrick Barta again was supportive with his advice. Later on I discovered the Bladesmith's Forum and my search for information became more systematic. I can also say that my colleagues were very helpful, especially but not only - Jiří Javůrek, Jeff Pringle, Jeff Helmes, Jake Powning, Peter Johnsson, Owen Bush and Pavel Bolf.
Billets ready to be forge welded together.
What inspires you at your work? I know you draw on Tolkien as well as history for your pieces.
I do refer to myself as to storyteller in steel, not the craftsman. The story of the piece, or the glimpse is what's the most important to me. It means that I am mostly inspired by stories or metastories. It can be a nordic saga, glimpses of celtic history or a good book. Not all these stories are written or told, some of them are just in my mind fueled by glorious artifacts of the past.
What I find very important is a respect for the genre. It can be authenticity in case of historical pieces or artistic consistency in case of fantasy or legendary artifacts. But I draw also inspiration from other things. Materials come to mind, the naturaly polished tines of antler, stringy character of wrought, dark smoky character of bog oak hit the string in me somehow.
The process itself is a source of inspiration, once you set your first stone, jeweled daggers and sword hilts are instantly in your future. Another inspiration comes from artistic competition with my collegues. I think its very important to have this community as the antidote against atrophy. Generally, I like some work in replica field but I prefer some space for research or invention, more reconstruction type of work.
Chip carved hilt for 6th century sax
How do you start designing a piece? Do you sketch what you are planning first?
I do sketch a lot, I have lot of sketchbooks scattered evrywhere and I try to record my ideas on paper. That said, I don't sketch everything. Sometimes I dont sketch blades and just make them (this does not apply to commissions) and I very rarely sketch scabbards and sheaths, I don't know why.
I would say I have pretty accurate mental sketch in my mind and as I worked in graphic and DTP field before, I have pretty good visualization skill so I am more recording with drawing, not inventing. I do however think that drawing is essential to my work as its helps you to understand ornaments, proportions and harmony of shapes. Lot of my work is based on ancient art styles and I think that my understanding of those comes from looking at examples and drawing it over and over again.
You have a bar of steel, a hammer, an anvil and a forge – how do you get from that to a blade?
I would say that I would try to find another bar of something different and weld something from it as I rarely make monosteel blades. I do sometimes use shallow hardening steels and go for hardening effects, or forge little integral knives from monosteel bars, but in most cases my blades have at least one weld on them.
My process is really simple. Once I have a bar, or make a bar, I forge it to profile, forge a tang, forge a tip, Then I forge in the bevels. After that I usually normalize once and go to grinding on my belt grinder. I establish the profile, clean the thickness and distal taper, then I grind the bevels roughly. After that I normalize some more (regarding to previous forging history, but most often three times) and I harden in oil or in water in case of homemade steels. Then I temper the blade, again according to steel and purpose of the final artifact. After that I grind the blade on finer grits to desired geometry, polish it, add some blade decoration like engraving, grooving, stamping or inlay and then I etch it and finally polish it again. I leave sharpening to stage when I have the scabbard ready, I had cut myself too often in the past.
Morgan scramasax as work-in-progress
Do you prefer to make shorter blades or longer blades or does it matter?
I in fact prefer saxes a lot as they have the presence of serious weapon but they have good visual size to be perceived as the whole in one look from natural distance. I also feel that some how big knife looks bit more badass than a sword. Swords are also very cool and the symbolic baggage they carry is not to be compared to any other weapon. My third favorite is a spear, a field I want to explore more often in my future.
Mighty Horseman Spear
What was your most challenging work to date and what made it so difficult?
That would be projects involving inlay, I think that I am pretty comfortable in smithing area and I have no problem with carvings but inlay, especially more complex, is something that I don't do naturally yet. So some of the most challenging projects were Aeglim, the saxon sax, where i made the inlayed panel and engraved it afterwards, and Torgard sax with the long toothy silver inlay.
Aeglim saxon sax
What was your favorite piece to work on to date and why did that piece speak to you?
It would be hard to pick one but generally I prefer two things - collaborations and challenging projects. I love collaborations with my friends as it really enriches me and teaches me a lot. I worked with Alan Longmire, Owen Bush and Jeff Helmes and all of it was great experience. There is somehow more responsibility in trying not to destroy other artist work and responsibility is always a good thing to accept in your work. It's also kind of communication with another creative mind with simillar approach. So without trying to diminish other works, I would say I like Heptisax, Vendel spear and Torgard sax a lot.
You mentioned that you prefer not to work with monosteels – why is that?
I think that modern monosteel is great material for blade in user perspective. It does not really speak to me esthetically somehow. I like the texture of wrought iron and intricate patterns of pattern welded steel. It adds a lot to character of weapon, makes it more personal in a way of fingerprints originality.
What percentage of your work is commissions and what percentage is projects you have chosen to originate?
I try to balance that evenly, so around fifty-fifty is ideal, speaking about number of pieces. Commissions, however, take more than half of my wages, as I tend not to make too expensive projects for free sale. I do keep my free projects because people naturally want stuff similar to what I made before and this way I can broaden my skill set and my field.
HAUFUÞUPNARI -Norse single edged sword
How would a person interested go about commissioning a custom piece from you?
If you are interested in piece made to your order, you can contact me via my facebook site or my website at Gullinbursti. If you want replica or interpretation of historical piece, we will discuss materials, filling the missing part if there are any, and the price. If we agree, I will give you rough estimate when I will start to work on your commission. If its more complex, very specific, or it's hard to sell to general public, I will ask you to pay one third of agreed price when the blade is finished.
I will give you updates of the progress regularly and when the piece is finished, I will send you photographs of finished item and ask you for the rest of funds. Most often I do take payments by Paypal which I also use as the middle ground because I withdraw money after I send the piece and you receive it and confirm you are happy with it.
If you want non-replica work or fantasy or mythical piece, I tend to work almost exclusively to my own designs. I can work to clients design if it resonates with me. You are of course supposed and encouraged to have large input in design stage. After that the process is the same as before.
Celtic Anthropoid Sword/Dagger
What advice do you have for aspiring blacksmith/bladesmiths?
Well, I am not really sure I am in the position of giving advice, but I would encourage anyone to make work that is special in some aspects. Competing with cost is devastating. Technical skills are important but not unique. You need to persuade customers to buy from you. So go for original style, good skill set and customer service. And the most important: communicate with your customers. If you botch the first blade attempt and tell your client, its much better then to dodge questions and avoid emails.
Baltic viking sword
What do you do for fun when you are not smithing?
I like my work a lot so the border between work and spare time is not always very clear. When I am not working I try to read a lot, I am also viking reenactor and I like to go on ranger quests with my kids. I also try to draw a lot and I would love to be able to play musical instrument but it seems to be impossible for me.