Knifemakers From Around North America Came To Auburn, Maine For The 2022 New England Bladesmithing Symposium
The 12th annual New England Bladesmithing Symposium brought nearly 100 knifemakers and enthusiasts together for the first hammer-in since 2019.
The event ran from July 15-17 in Auburn, Maine at the New England School of Metalwork and featured classes and workshops galore. Throughout the weekend there was something to scratch any itch you may have had about knives.
Master Smith Lin Rhea presented a tutorial on how to make his dynamic X-Rhea knife. There were workshops on everything from how to build out your knifemaking business to forging recurves.
It was a brutally hot Saturday in the Pine Tree State, yet it didn’t dampen spirits, particularly for the main event– the Battle of the Bladesmiths. The 2-hour competition to pushed four makers to their limits, and drew the largest crowds and interest.
Learning From The Best
During the afternoon I was able to drop into a few of the classes. The one I got the most out of was led by Master Smith Christoph Deringer.
Derringer class about the anatomy of the knife was a joy, particularly the care he gave answering questions. His wry sense of humor even out, like when he called flux a crutch pertaining to forge welds. In that particular case, he suggested simply listening to the metal and letting it guide you when you forge weld, no flux is needed.
He taught everyone a neat trick for adding patina to a blade, as well. The crux, you hang the knife above a piece of heated copper. Heating the copper causes it to emit gasses that rise up and patina the blade to an almost bronze color.
A Successful Weekend
It was a big weekend for the school, gathering makers from the Northeast, Eastern Canada, and even as far west as California. For NESM director Dereck Glaser, it was a successful weekend, particularly given the COVID-related lapse in the symposium the past few years.
“The school, in general, draws from around New England,” Glaser said. “I’m excited to see more Canadians here, to be honest. We can’t forget we have a whole other country on our border. I can’t be pulling students out of the Atlantic Ocean so Canada’s a really good option.”
It’s important for anyone with even a passing interest in knifemaking to visit their local school and learn. Not only can you save yourself toil and trouble, but supporting the broader community of makers helps it survive and thrive even in the lean times.
“It saves exponentially the number of years,” Glaser said. “Indebting yourself to a week and about $600 could potentially save you 3-5 years of trial and error on your own. The amount of compressed skill and support you get in 4-5 days of a course, answering those questions that’ll take 3-5 years to figure out on your own.”
Glaser said that even with the uncertain economy, he believes the future of the school and knifemaking is bright because the passion is boundless.
“The fiscal issues we’re having is making it rough. It’s 90+ percent an enthusiast kind of hobby and craft for most people,” Glaser said. “Where inflation and cost of living’s gone, everyone’s seeing a toll in the crafts. We’re even seeing it in the welding, which is an employment-based skill. But on a whole, I think the energy is still there. The love for it is greater than ever. A lot of people did a lot of things to better themselves in it through the pandemic, so I think coming out on the other end I think people are kind of stronger.”
The Passion For Knives
As informative and enlightening as the classes were the attendee’s conversations. Everyone was excited, whether it was to learn from a particular smith, show off a piece they made, or for the battle at night, everyone was open and welcoming.
A Previous winner of the Battle of the Bladesmiths, Emiliano Carrillo (owner of Sun and Stars Forge), was particularly poetic in what he said about the process of making his own steel.
“When I started the smelt earlier in the day the sand runs through my fingers, and by the time the day’s done it’s a lump of material that can be turned into something,” the owner of Massachusetts-based Sun and Stars Forge said. “It goes from being this throwaway material to something that’s actually useful. I think that’s crazy. It really is alchemy to me. It’s addictive. You do it and it works and you do it again and again and it breaks your heart, and then you have some successes.”
The day ended with the battle. Four young smiths were tasked with turning a one-foot bar of 1084 into a complete knife in just two hours. You can read all about the contest here.
In total, the symposium was absolutely worth the trip and should be on your checklist if you’re a serious maker in the Northeast U.S. or Eastern Canada.
To learn more about the New England School of Metalwork, click here.
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