by Jason Link
Mike looks exactly how you’d expect a blacksmith to look: big, brawny, bearded, and bald. I must admit that this figure intimidated me when I first met him. After all, he worked with fire and hammered steel while I—a skinny writer—sat at a computer and tapped keys. Despite our differences in macho-ness, we found that nerds and blacksmiths hold at least one thing in common: a fascination of medieval weaponry.
Through this connection, I received the huge privilege of seeing the sword from my fantasy novel come to life in actual steel. (Click here to see the video.)
As I watched Mike turn scrap from an old car into an elegant blade, I learned a lot about the maker and his craft. He not only uses his talent to create beautiful works of metal but also used it to serve God’s kingdom in Nicaragua.
Me: Tell us about your work as a missionary blacksmith.
Mike: While living in Nicaragua, I saw a great need for young people to be trained in crafts in order to get employment. So many young people had broken homes and were left to fend for themselves in many ways. I wanted to provide a safe place for them to learn and acquire experience.
I started teaching blacksmithing and welding in a small village north of Managua. Soon I had developed a program that had become a big hit in the community. Partnering with other businesses meant that many of the people coming through the program would have opportunities to get employment when their training was complete.
One of my students, Ramon, was a true craftsman at heart. Even though I showed him many things, he had the mind to grow that knowledge. Ramon was soon teaching classes alongside me. Like me, Ramon also loved knives. After three years of making knives under my teaching Ramon decided to take the ABS [American Bladesmith Society] journeyman test. Ramon passed with flying colors and became the first ABS journeyman bladesmith in Central America!
Me: What is a journeyman bladesmith?
Mike: The journeyman title is a rating bestowed by the American Bladesmith Society. This is similar to the system used in ancient Europe in all craft guilds. To begin, an apprentice would learn a craft under a master. When the apprentice was able to work for himself, he would start his own business journeying around offering his services. And when he felt ready to become a master, he would present his masterpiece before the guild so they could give him that distinction (or not!).
Joining the ABS makes you an apprentice bladesmith. It is your responsibility to learn, practice and grow in the knowledge of bladesmithing. When you feel the time is right and you are ready to become a journeyman you have to make a performance knife to be graded by a Master bladesmith.
This knife will be put through a series of tests intended to demonstrate your abilities in making an excellent performing knife. If you pass this test you will then be eligible to turn in five knives before a panel of judges. These knives are judged on form, fit and finish and will determine if you can have the rating of journeyman.
In order to become a Master the same battery of tests will take place but this time the performance knife is to be made of 300 layers of damascus steel. Five knives will again be presented before the judges but one will be your masterpiece. The masterpiece will be a quillion dagger made to certain specifications.
Me: Has the craft of blacksmithing changed much over time?
Mike: The basics of blacksmithing has changed little since the old days. Blacksmiths tend to be traditionalist type of people, so thankfully many older tools and techniques still exist. But, if a person wants to make a living at the craft, he/she would probably have to consider a few more modern tools to speed the process.
For instance, to forge larger pieces of iron a blacksmith may incorporate the help of a striker or two. These would be extra people with sledge hammers to strike the hot iron where the blacksmith directs them. This moves more metal than one person can move and means less time in the process. However, that additional cost of another salary would put a small shop out of business today. So many smiths have a power hammer in their shop to help with the heavy forging.
Much of what I do in making a sword or knife is very similar to the old ways. I forge all my blades by hand using a hammer, an anvil, and a power hammer. My first few knives were made without the aid of any electric tools due to where my shop was located in Nicaragua. I made complete knives using nothing but forging, filing and fitting. It was a fun way to work but if I wanted to sell knives I had to find a faster way. Slowly I would collect the proper tools to make knives more efficiently, and that has allowed me to get better at my craft.
Me: How can someone get started in blacksmithing?
Mike: For someone interested in the craft of blacksmithing there are probably more opportunities available than you would think. An internet search of blacksmithing groups in your area would be a great place to start.
Blacksmiths are almost always going to welcome you into their shops to see what they do. Many blacksmithing groups also offer hammer-ins (blacksmithing get-togethers) for folks who want to just try their hand at the craft.
Other great resources to find blacksmiths would be the Artist Blacksmith Association of North America. For bladesmithing I would recommend going to www.americanbladesmith.com.
To learn more about Mike and his craft visit www.deibertknives.com.
To learn more about me and the story that inspired Mike’s sword, visit www.epicjason.com.
Jason Link, author of The Legender, has come back to the U.S. after many years of living in Nicaragua, the tropical land where he proposed to his wife on an active volcano. This makes him sound more adventurous than he really is. Instead of cutting his way through the jungles with a machete, he cuts his way through academia with a pen. He has taught high school English and is now a student at Fuller Theological Seminary. The question he has been asked the most is: “Are you lost?” It may seem that he is, but he is most likely wandering while deep in thought. He dwells often on the art of story, for he sees God’s beauty in the finely crafted plot.