Arctic Fire 2012 – June 26-27

This coming week (June 26-27, 2012) will mark the first ever Arctic Fire Invitational Hammer-In ( ). I imagine that leaves most of you wondering, “What the hell is that?”

Fair question.

Arctic Fire 2012 is an invitation only event featuring a half-dozen of the world’s most accomplished bladesmiths. Two days of seminars, lectures and demonstrations will be streamed live online in what, to the best of our knowledge, is the first ever event of its kind. It’s going to be AWESOME and I can’t wait. Even if I didn’t have an ounce of interest in swords, carving and metalcraft, I would enjoy this.

Try thinking about it this way. I don’t know a thing about golf, right? Still, I have to imagine that getting the chance to hang out for a couple days with Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Jack Nicklaus would be all kinds of fascinating. Same thing applies here. These guys are masters.

The smiths are coming to Alaska from all over the world. They are to a man artists, craftsmen and historians performing at the pinnacle of their trade. I couldn’t be more proud to be involved with the event and I’m flattered that co-hosts Dave Stephens ( @DaveStephens11 ) and Shane Harvey along with producer/director Van Clifton ( @Van_Clifton ) would include me. I also want to take a moment to call attention to a story that may otherwise go untold. It’s a story that is critical to the inception of the event and the genesis of one of the talented smiths that will be presenting next week at the Hammer-In.

I met Dave Stephens when I was thirteen years old. He was a transplant to my hometown of Palmer from the rural fishing community of Cordova some 150 miles from Anchorage. I had always been a single-friend kind of guy. My best buddy since grade school had just relocated to Minnesota and I was left with the daunting task of interacting with other humans or facing three more years of high school alone. Dave was new to town and didn’t know many people. All the ingredients were there, we just needed a catalyst to kick things off.

When we chanced to sit next to each other in health class, I noticed a wicked scar on Dave’s thumb. He had cut off the top of one knuckle. I had hacked off a finger with a chisel. I asked him if he liked gaming and was pleased with an affirmative answer.

Good enough for me… I had my new buddy.

Dave and I have shared an assortment of interests and adventures over the intervening quarter century. I want to call attention to one in particular. One that I have wandered away from but that has been definitive for Dave and critical to the creation of next week’s Arctic Fire event. That is, of course, bladesmithing.

Dave has social gravity. He likes his space and his stuff and he bring what he wants to him rather than venturing out to find it. As a result, I spent a lot of time at Dave’s place while we subjugated high school to our will. The vast majority of that time was spent enmeshed in some type of gaming endeavor. However, the very first time that I went to his house was to check out his forge. I was familiar with metalworking. We had a coal forge with a bench mounted wheel grinder at home. My Dad mostly used it to make or repair tools for the shop or tack for our horses. Dave’s forge was far less functional and at the same time infinitely more impressive for a fourteen-year-old smith.

Dave had rigged up a shop-vac to feed air underneath a dugout pit in the yard behind his parents’ garage. The knives he made were crude and simple and they tended to fall to pieces if you tried to use them. That being said, they were already better than the ones that I tinkered around with. Over the next several years, we each got belt grinders and gas forges. Dave got an actual anvil (we had already had a couple). Our knives improved. We started working with wood and leather and micarta for things like handles and sheaths. We played with stock removal and forged our first damascus from lengths of cable. About the time we left Palmer for college, my attention wandered and there I leave the story.

Dave, on the other hand, continued to develop and became a student of the craft. Through our twenties and into our early-thirties; he juggled college housing, grad school, doctoral programs, garage-less (read: workshop-less) apartments, and the overwhelming demands of entrepreneurship. Through it all, Dave maintained a love of red hot metal and clanging hammers and wickedly curved edges. When life denied him a forge and anvil, it provided books and the internet. Self-education filled in for shop time whenever a dedicated forge was an elusive ambition.

Now settled and able to fully explore his obsession with steel and sharp, pointy things, it is a pleasure to see my lifelong friend mastering his craft. I get to watch him produce objects of art that increasingly dazzle us interested laypersons. Yet for him, each piece is an instructional process that hammers home just how much there is left to learn. How much knowledge has been lost, abandoned or remains yet to be discovered.

Dave will be one of the presenters next week at Arctic Fire 2012. He will be demonstrating some advanced pattern welding techniques for making rather insane damascus patterns. I’ll be the close-up camera operator, hopping in and out of the wide shot to try and catch all the action. I encourage everyone to check out the coverage for a rare, perhaps unique, opportunity to catch these masters together and at play with their craft.

This is going to be awesome!

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