For the Love of Iron

                                                                                                                                                                      

Cold Iron

Gold is for the mistress — silver for the maid –
Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade.
“Good!” said the Baron, sitting in his hall,
“But Iron — Cold Iron — is master of them all.”

So he made rebellion ‘gainst the King his liege,
Camped before his citadel and summoned it to siege.
“Nay!” said the cannoneer on the castle wall,
“But Iron — Cold Iron — shall be master of you all!”

Woe for the Baron and his knights so strong,
When the cruel cannon-balls laid ‘em all along;
He was taken prisoner, he was cast in thrall,
And Iron — Cold Iron — was master of it all!

Yet his King spake kindly (ah, how kind a Lord!)
“What if I release thee now and give thee back thy sword?”
“Nay!” said the Baron, “mock not at my fall,
For Iron — Cold Iron — is master of men all.”

Tears are for the craven, prayers are for the clown –
Halters for the silly neck that cannot keep a crown.
“As my loss is grievous, so my hope is small,
For Iron — Cold Iron — must be master of men all!”

Yet his King made answer (few such Kings there be!)
“Here is Bread and here is Wine — sit and sup with me.
Eat and drink in Mary’s Name, the whiles I do recall
How Iron — Cold Iron — can be master of men all!”

He took the Wine and blessed it. He blessed and brake the Bread,
With His own Hands He served Them, and presently He said:
“See! These Hands they pierced with nails, outside My city wall,
Show Iron — Cold Iron — to be master of men all.”

“Wounds are for the desperate, blows are for the strong.
Balm and oil for weary hearts all cut and bruised with wrong.
I forgive thy treason — I redeem thy fall –
For Iron — Cold Iron — must be master of men all!”

Crowns are for the valiant — sceptres for the bold!
Thrones and powers for mighty men who dare to take and hold.
“Nay!” said the Baron, kneeling in his hall,
“But Iron — Cold Iron — is master of men all!
Iron out of Calvary is master of men all!”

Rudyard Kipling

I have a deep fascination for iron. I live in what was once one of the great iron ore producing regions of the world and the remnants of this age are still all about me: from the behemoth ore docks in Ashland to the Mesabi Iron range and all of the abandoned mines.

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Today, most people have forgotten what iron really is. Everything is made from steel now, which is iron with carbon and alloys. And today’s ‘wrought iron’ that you see in department stores is really just cheap steel with black coloring. But there was a time when steel was rare, expensive and completely misunderstood. Iron is one of the most common elements on Earth and the reason why our blood is able to do what it’s supposed to do. We are practically made of iron. Iron, it’s pure state, is much different from steel. It is softer, more malleable, and is beautiful with complex patterning if smelted with traditional methods.

Here you can see the complex patterning of the wrought iron that is laminated onto the sides of this knife:

aquin

There was a time when iron was considered as one of the most precious of metals and was found as inlays in thrones and crowns and used much like gold. It was considered useless because nobody understood how to harden and make it into tools. Eventually it was found that by hammering certain types of iron, it would harden in a similar way to bronze. The ‘Celts’ and other early Iron Age tribes began making swords and knives from cold forged iron (Cold Iron). Even though these knives and swords were able to hold somewhat of an edge, they were still iron. There are Roman accounts of Celts, in the heat of battle, having to stop to bend their swords back to shape! In time, it was learned that certain ores and smelting methods yielded irons that could be hardened by quenching in water or oil. But this was rare and expensive to produce so it was often combined with softer irons into composite billets that gave rise to the concept of pattern welding or ‘damascus’.

So I’ve started doing some work in pure iron and this work has a couple of different components. For one.. I’m trying to make it. I’ve been building furnaces made from clay and straw that are loosely based on both Roman and Viking methods of iron production. I’m still working on this and have made several failed attempts… but I’m zeroing in on the method, so stay tuned.

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I’ve been having more success with converting iron into steel to make functional blades. Here is a Saxon inspired ‘seax’ made from taking plates of pure iron and adding carbon in a forge to make ‘shear steel’:

blister

forge

sax

And here is a furnace that I use to turn pure iron nails into steel:

aristotle_furnace

bloom

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My latest project has been to take wrought iron salvaged from an old grain elevator in Superior, Wisconsin that happens to be high in phosphorus. Phosphorus happens to be an alloy in iron that allows it to be hammer-hardened or ‘cold forged’ into a state that allows it to hold an edge and become more durable in terms of utility. I basically forge the blades from the gigantic, 1 1/2″ diameter wrought iron rods and then hammer the edges and spines down until the are hard enough to use. Again.. this is a method steeped in antiquity.. and works very well.

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work2

hardtest1

And my latest project, one I’m very excited about.. a work hardened ‘La Tene’ Celtic short sword made from pure phosphoric iron and work hardened. This will be mind and it’s gonna be called ‘Cold Iron’.

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Here are the final pictures of the sword:

Iron Sword

Iron Sword

5 Comments

  1. Scott Harper

    Hi Scott. Let me say you do some of the best work I have ever seen. Big fan of that style. I do some smithing myself but your work blows my mind.

  2. Can you give me an approx. cost for return to the boot dagger style knife? From the photos, your work looks amazing! Thanks, Rick

    • Scott Roush

      Hi Rick… sorry to just be seeing this. I would charge $400 for something like that…..

  3. Hey there Scott, nice stuff going on here! Loving it!

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