GW: I’m here today with Stephanie Aiuto, who is a former international level sabreuse and a bladesmith, crafting knives, swords and even straight razors. And I’ve had a look at her stuff online. Not yet had the pleasure of handling any of it, but it looks absolutely lovely. So without further ado, Stephanie, welcome to the show.
SA: Thank you for having me. It’s good to be here.
GW: So whereabouts in the world are you?
SA: I’m based out of New York City, more specifically in Brooklyn.
GW: OK. I love New York. One of my favourite cities. I’m guessing you pretty much live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Would that be fair to guess?
SA: I mean, before the pandemic, technically it was the Museum of Natural History that that I preferred. I love history, but I’ve been certainly to the Met., MoMA, smaller museums, if you will. We’ve got basically all the culture that you could possibly want. Also, I mean, who doesn’t love a Broadway show? So before the pandemic, literally everything. Since the pandemic, you know these walls and the forge is where I spend most of my time.
GW: Yeah, I mean, New York is one of my absolute favourite cities in the world. If I had lots of money, I’d be happy to live there. But it’s one of those places where I think it’d be much easier to live there if you are completely loaded.
SA: Without a doubt, without a doubt. My day job, I do business intelligence and events analytics for a marketing firm. So that’s how I can afford to live in the City.
GW: Not knives?
SA: The knives is what I do on Saturdays, and Sundays sometimes. I mean, if it wasn’t for the data, I couldn’t do the knives.
GW: Fair enough. It’s worth doing the data so you can get to the knives at the weekend. So whereabouts is the forge?
SA: The forge is also located in Brooklyn. For those of you who are familiar with the area, in Sunset Park there’s this complex called Industry City. It has lots of fun places to eat or drink, but they also have a lot of people who make and craft their own things. So they have candle makers, artisan pastry people, chocolatiers. We are actually on distillery row so people can go to the different whisky makers, winemakers, beer brewers and then get drunk and watch us work.
GW: So you don’t really have to go very far after a day of forging to eat and drink and buy a candle.
SA: Pretty much. The guys that run Industry City, very smart people, they put us on Distillery Row, and then gave us these giant windows surrounding our forge, which are soundproof. So that way, people don’t hear the pinging and can actually have a conversation, which is very smart. But you know, we’re in this fishbowl, so every time we’re working, we’re constantly being observed.
GW: What does that feel like? I mean, that would drive me insane. I do lots of creative stuff, writing books on my hobby, but also woodwork and having a student watching me because I’m teaching them something is fine. But if I’m doing my own training or woodwork or writing a book, I simply cannot abide being watched.
SA: You know, you get used to it after a while. Some of the times, I don’t even notice I’m being watched. Especially when it comes to grinding because our backs are to the wall or something, or we’re locked in a process that requires a lot of focus. You don’t tend to notice them when it’s just forging and because there’s so much wait time while you’re waiting for metal to heat up, you tend to notice the crowds that gather. And then especially if there are children out there, you kind of wave to them and try to get them excited and like, pick up the nearest like semi completed work and show them like, this is what we’re making. So I kind of like that aspect of it because again, it’s a rare thing to do and you want to spark some sort of curiosity in kids when they’re young.
GW: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I mean, it’s great that there are people out there who are willing to be watched doing these things. It’s just I’m not one of them, unless I’m deliberately putting on a demonstration. If I’m actively involved in my own creative process, I can’t write books in cafes, for instance, the notion, you know, somebody might walk behind me like, no, can’t be done. And even if I’m with my back to the wall looking out, too much of my brain is involved in sort of situational awareness, so I basically close myself off into an opaque bubble. So we’re going to get onto how you got into forging in a minute because I know there’s a story there, but on your about page, it said you wanted to be a musketeer, not a princess. So my question is, how did you get into The Musketeers? What was your route into sword nerdery?
SA: I owe a lot of that to just my parents and the movies that we watched as a family, especially when I was young. I mean, I think I was quoting Monty Python and the Holy Grail before I really knew what the context was. At like two or three, I would say, you know, my dad was trying to bring me to go to bed or something, and I was like, “Help! I’m being repressed, I’m being repressed.” We’ve watched those movies since I was super young. And I guess I always just like the people who did the adventure and wanted to be closer aligned to them rather than the people who are waiting to be saved. That didn’t seem like much fun. So all of these movies you see the people who are fencing, the people who are sword fighting and yeah, like, who wouldn’t want to dress up as a musketeer for Halloween? That’s where the fun begins.
GW: So I have to ask, have you ever seen the movie Barbie and the Three Musketeers? I have two daughters, and they absolutely loved that film. And it was one of the very few Barbie films I was happy just, I mean, I’d watch all of them because they asked and that’s what you do with your kids. But when they said, “Can we have Barbie and the Three Musketeers?” it was like, I much prefer that to Mariposa Barbie or some of the other ones. So have you ever seen that film?
SA: I have not seen that one. My nephew also happens to enjoy a good sword fight. We’ve watched the regular Musketeers. And also, what is it like the Donald Duck Musketeers or the Mickey Mouse Musketeers? There some sort of cartoon version as well that he’s been in love with. So I’ve seen those versions, but not the Barbie version.
GW: Definitely worth a go. The Barbie version. The story writing is good, and they have a training montage, which is actually, I mean, it’s not real sword fighting training, but it is really, really cool. They have like these four women and their teacher is this old lady, and I knew where the movie started, when she showed up, I knew she wasn’t who she was pretending to be. I knew she was somebody special because you could tell, right? But yeah, the training montage is absolutely brilliant. And you might be able to slip that one past your nephew, I mean, there’s swords in it. And the villain is voiced by Tim Curry.
SA: Oh, perfect choice. Perfect choice.
GW: Yeah, exactly. So it’s genius. All right. But then you got into sport fencing, correct?
SA: True. Much, much later. In that gap from being the six year old who wants to dress up to being a teenager, getting into fencing was kind of a weird journey. I owe a lot of it to my older sister. She, in high school, was looking for a sport where she could win and didn’t really have to work that hard, which in our high school fencing was, yeah, like we did well and it wasn’t, you know, that much running like track or soccer. So it was easy for her.
GW: Fencing is for lazy people. I agree. Martial arts are for lazy people.
SA: At the high school level, specifically my high school, yeah. You didn’t you didn’t have to run for 90 minutes. So that was favourable. But she became an epee fencer. She really enjoyed it. She was actually pretty good. They got her coach outside of just the high school team. And so she started travelling to a couple of American Cups and North American Cups just to do these little competitions. She did very well. And as a family, we would travel with her and I’d watch her fence and I’d watch everyone else fence when she was in fencing because in fencing there, there’s a lot of waiting.
GW: In tournaments there’s a lot of waiting.
SA: Exactly. Even though even in regular high school fencing, there is two people fence and then there is ten minutes of getting unhooked and unzipped from the actual apparati and the next person comes up. There’s a lot of waiting. But yeah, so I had been watching her do this for a while, watching other people compete for a while and then eventually when she was a senior in college and I was still in middle school, she noticed that we were short enough people to do the sabre on our fencing team, and so she just asked if I could try out for the team. And just by, I guess, a little bit of natural talent and the fact that I had watched and studied for four years at that point, I happened to beat everyone on the Sabre team in those tryouts. And I think I owe a lot to her because she told my parents get her a coach, she’s good, and it kind of took off from there. I mean, the high school fencing is, yes, technically where I started, but didn’t spend a lot of my time high school fencing. I immediately got a coach and started at first going out east into Long Island to train multiple times a week. He was a fantastic coach. We got along very well, but after a few months he was like, you’ve outgrown what I can teach you. I’m going to give you to my old coach who happened to be the men’s Olympic coach.
GW: It’s very unusual for a coach to have that level of self-awareness.
SA: Yes. He was just a fantastic person. We got along so well, he knew exactly how to keep me engaged in the sport and not discouraged. And he just saw, like he knew I had talent and that I would work very hard and he wanted to give me the best opportunity. And you can’t ask for anything else in a person. So, yeah, so he made the call and the connection. My parents were like, all right, if this is what you want to do, we’ll do this. And so I became a member of at that time, Fencers Club, which later turned into Manhattan Fencing Centre, and I started going into the city because I used to live out in Long Island. I started taking the train into the city every day after class and, you know, fencing till 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock at night, training back and yeah, trying to trying to have a full time job as a fencer while I was still a student. It was a little intense, but I really liked it. And when you are suddenly this new person. Everyone else fencing there had been fencing for a very long time. They knew each other very well and they were very good. And here’s this new person who, what does she know? She’s from this know-nothing, club. So you don’t want to be the person that everyone’s like, “Oh, I don’t want to train with her.” So you just work very hard and dig down and commit into your training. And within a year, I was travelling the nation competing and starting to go to World Cups and go to Poland and go to Hungary and just kept going. Just didn’t want to be the weak one there.
GW: For sabre, Poland and Hungary are really where it’s at.
SA: Oh yeah. And again, this was this was at the time where women’s sabre in America was kind of dominating the field for sabre. For epee and foil, not so much, but for sabre, we were the force to be reckoned with, especially after the 2004 Olympics and then solidified in the 2008 Olympics, where we swept gold, silver, bronze. So this was just the air to be training. So we would go to all these places, almost every other week in a different country or a different state competing. And these people, I grew up with them, they became my family and all we wanted to do is just be the best we could be. We helped each other out. And we gave it our lives for years, and some of my friends are still competing. They went to the 2012, 2016. And just recently competed in 2020.
GW: Wow, OK. So how do you prepare for an international level competition? What are the specifics? A lot of people listening will be doing historical martial arts and going to tournaments. And it’s not at the same sort of level in terms of the kind of level of competition. But I think the process of training for tournaments is pretty similar no matter what tournament you’re training for. So how would you prepare for a tournament?
SA: Normally, Monday through Friday, it’s just spent at what you would might call the gym, we would call the fencing area.
GW: I call it the salle.
SA: But yeah, so wherever people go to train, we have our fencing setups. So two times that week, maybe three times that week, you actually just take a class and that has a little bit of calisthenics in it, that has a little bit of gentle sparring, practising certain manoeuvres. You also probably have three to four, possibly five, depending on which competition you are and what level you’re at, sessions with your coach that week. These are generally 20 minutes, but sometimes they can go longer where you’re just practising blade work and footwork and just making sure that the muscle memory is there. Because really, a lot of it is just training your body to know what to do before your eyes have actually seen what’s happening, because it’s so fast. So there’ll be things where like, you’ll be moving up and down the strip through footwork and you will just be working on a series of three three, four three, four three, five three. And you’re just trying to do this blade work back and forth without missing a beat. And eventually they’ll give you a little nod. And that’s where you supposed to actually attack. So you’ll be doing that for 20 minutes or 40 minutes, and then the rest is just sparring. So going against your friends who are there, or your frenemies who are there, and just having five touch bouts, 15 touch bouts just to just to get in the habit of, OK, next touch. OK, next touch. Don’t think about what just happened. Think about what’s the next touch and just making sure that you feel confident.
GW: OK, so you’re training five days a week. Getting four or five individual lessons with your coach each week. The average historical fencing club, I think meets maybe for an hour and a half twice a week.
SA: I mean, it’s a different world, at least, you know, back in the late 2000s. You know, at Fencers Club, there were classes, multiple classes every day of the week. Now some of them are for beginners, and some of them were for the experts. But even when classes were going, there were just people in the club and they were just training together without a formalised class or sparring together because that’s what they needed to do. It’s the more you do it, the more you get that 10,000 hours and beyond, the better equipped you are to meet an opponent you don’t know down the strip.
GW: Right. Did you spend much time studying your opponents, like videos of their previous bouts or anything like that?
SA: Some people do. Some people do that a lot. It depends who the fencer is. Some people who like to play the reaction game might spend a lot of time studying and watching video where they can. And there are certainly a lot of, you know, for the young fencers, their parents are filming them and they’re filming other people as well. So it’ll be like, train, look at this person, look at what they do. But there are other fencers who again, because it’s such a mental head game, they’re the ones that want to lead. So maybe they’ll just know a couple of things about their opponent, like, OK, they like to do this, they like to react to this or when you do this they will do that, but they don’t really want to work themselves up and say, “Oh, this is an opponent who might beat me.” Once you get into that headspace, you’re probably not going to win. It’s much better to be like, “No, I’m going to control the game and I’m going to make them react to me. And if what happens in the previous touch did not work out, I will adjust and they will have to react to me.” I mean, at least that’s how I used to do it.
GW: OK. Do you do any historical martial arts? Have you ever?
SA: Fortunately, no, I mean, as a child, I did karate for a while.
GW: But you’ve never got into longsword or rapier, anything like that? OK, fair enough. So you probably don’t know that much about the historical martial arts world and how it works. It’s really interesting, I think, for us, because basically historical martial arts are probably at about the same sort of place as fencing was in, say, the 1860s, 1870s. If things progress as they should, they will probably come a time where there’s something based on historical martial arts at the Olympics. And when that happens, we’re going to have a really clear distinction between competitors who are trained to win competitions and historians and martial artists who trained for reasons “other than” and there are many reasons other than training for competitions. Some historical martial artists have a background in sport fencing. Many do not. And I think it’s really interesting and useful for them to get some kind of insight into what the sport fencing world is actually like. I mean, I was a sport fencer at school in the late 80s and at university in the early 90s, and I quit in about 94, 95 because I wanted to do sword fighting. Not tournament fencing. Because the rules, as they were back then, is probably before your time in foil, particularly whoever was moving forward first had priority, even if the sword was pointed back over their shoulder. It’s so not a real sword fight, right? And as I was frustrated, I wasn’t getting what I wanted out of it. So I sort of helped to create this whole historical martial arts thing that then happened. But there’s an awful lot of really useful stuff that really helped me in my progression as a historical martial arts instructor. So, knowing how to train, knowing or tournaments are, what they’re for, what they’re good for and what they’re less good for. They are really good feel like pressure testing. But they are not very good for getting lots of experience in because there’s lots of waiting around. And if you’re there for eight hours, you might get like six matches. If you do really well, you might get 10. Well, I can get 10 bouts in under an hour.
SA: Well, I mean, that’s why club sparring is so beneficial because, as to your point, you’re going maybe five bouts an hour at the club, just waiting your turn, maybe, because you don’t want to take up a limited amount of strips. But you know you’re getting your workout in. On competition day, you’re just trying to keep limber because you’re waiting so long, you don’t want to lock up.
GW: So like, let’s say you’re going off to Hungary or something like that for an international level competition and it’s a long flight. There’s lots of the admin rubbish to get through, and passport control and buying plane tickets and airports and all the admin and waivers and stuff you have to sign when you get to the tournament, all that sort of stuff. And then you’re supposed to perform at a high level. So what did you do? If you don’t mind sharing, to bring yourself up to that higher level when you’re tired and you’re stressed. How do you deal with it?
SA: You get into your rhythm. My personal experience is we eat breakfast at the hotel. Most of the times at the hotel, we would have some sort of yoghurt, egg or sausage situation, and that’s just what was available. So have a little bit of protein and then arrive at the at the competition arena. American team would kind of park as a unit in one place. Get our bags out, make sure that we have our weapons ready. All of our electrical cord is working because that’s, to your point, there’s some paperwork that you have to sign, but a lot of it is making sure that your mask passes the stamp test where they pressure point it and make sure that you’re not actually going to get a sword to the face. Making sure that everything’s right. Lay everything out, and then that’s when you start loosening up. Some people might spend a minute or two just running around their little area, maybe doing some footwork as well. At this point, I would take on my iPod and just start a fencing warmup playlist, if you will.
GW: Can you tell us what’s on that?
SA: Oh man, I might still have that. Let me let me see from my iPod. Let’s see what a young Stephanie used to listen to. Um. Fencing Warm Up. Oh, a lot of Eminem on this. A lot of Lincoln Park on this. OK, yeah, so a lot of kind of like angry, angry music, trying to get into that headspace. So I have a couple where I’m just running and like shaking it out like, stretching, doing the arm movements, and then I can see once I start doing footwork. I always used to put on Seven Nation Army for my footwork because even though it’s slow, it’s the perfect be it for like the heel toe, heel toe advancing of your feet as you go. I don’t know why, but like I always did my footwork to that song. So, yeah, a lot of that going on in the playlist.
GW: Well, it’s only fair to share. When I’m doing my forms, I very often have The Eye of the Tiger on.
SA: Nice. Nice. Nice. You’ve got it.
GW: OK, so you’re warming up and you’ve got your playlist going. What happens next?
SA: Right. So I start doing footwork at this point, maybe it’s about 40 minutes to half an hour before the official start time. So at that point, everyone kind of takes a second, gets hydrated, maybe people go to the bathroom because once you have your whites on, your fencing, clothes. It’s very hard to quickly get out of them if you have to go. Everyone takes their time, comes back and that’s when you start getting dressed. At this point, a lot of people are just kind of quiet and then the zone just mentally preparing, getting ready like, OK, you know, what have I been doing really well lately? What have I been sucking at lately and just trying to get their mental checklist going. At this point, you might know who is in your pools. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the fencing competition format, it’s split into two different categories. The first round is pools, so everyone’s put into groups of maybe between five and nine people and you fence each other round robin style of bouts up to five touches or in foil and epee five touches or three minutes, whichever comes first. Sabre it’s always five touches. Based on your results from that, they take how many wins, losses and touches scored into consideration, and then they put you into a direct elimination table. And that’s bouts to 15 with a break at first to eight.
GW: Wow. OK, that’s pretty much how we were doing it. I was not international level. I fenced for my university a few times and that was about it.
SA: You had the bouts to five. You had the bouts to five.
GW: We did the 15 as well and that’s the kind of structure I’m familiar with. And we also see similar structures in a lot of historical martial arts tournaments also.
SA: So we got we got our pools. We know we’re going to be fencing, so we might at this point, if you do care who you’re fencing, you’d be like, Oh, OK, this person, she likes to play with distance or this person they like to always do beat attacks, or this person, they will hit hard. That kind of thing. So, you know you’re shaking out at this point. You might grab a buddy because again, we do travel as a team and you start doing a couple of just warmup touches. Again, the whole idea is just to keep your body loose and make sure that your reaction times are there. During this time you’re like, OK, this is working for me. This isn’t working for me, OK, I need to stretch a little bit more. And just again, it’s just a mental checklist that you’re doing. At about 10 to 20 minutes prior to the start of the competition, you stop. You might just be stretching at this point and just focussing and listening to your music. And then eventually you hear your name called.
SA: Yeah, and you got, if you’re a foil or an epeeist, you got three minutes for the first bout there. If you’re a sabre-ist, it could be over in a minute.
GW: Oh yeah, I’ve seen top level sabre bouts that are quicker than that. Yeah, maybe actual fencing time somewhere under 10 seconds.
SA: And that’s fair. And here’s the thing. So I mean, there are people who are like, yeah, you don’t want to give any touches up, you know, 5-0 the whole time. The person who wins 5-4 the entire time also wins. So it’s figuring out, if I sacrifice this point, they’ll think that my distance is weak and they’ll charge in and I’ll be able to get them in attack in preparation for those of you who don’t know what that is. Generally, when someone has right of way, they’re the ones that are leading either with footwork or with their blade extended forward. And they’re the person that if two people hit at the same time, the person with right of way will get that touch because it was their attack. “Attack in preparation” means that someone who has right of way is coming at you, but before they’ve had the ability to actually hit you because maybe they’ve pulled their arm up a little bit, you are actually attacking in their preparation. Thus you get the point and then they don’t. It’s a game that you play with distance and with super fast reflexes because you need to find your opening and surgically go for it and get out of the way before they can hit you.
GW: Yeah, I mean that’s the thing that makes a difference, I think, between a lot of what we’re trying to do with historical martial arts and a lot of what works in tournament is that it’s almost fundamentally a game. And if you win 5-4, you win. But as a friend of mine who was having a discussion with an epee fencer, they were saying, Well, okay, I get it. If I get the first touch and I can be certain of doubles, I’ll just go for four doubles in a row and I’ll win five four. And my friend was like, that’s nine dead men, right? Yeah, but it’s not, it’s fencing, right? That’s the difference.
SA: It’s not life and death.
GW: It’s like in chess. If I sacrifice my queen and bishops and a rook and both my knights and I nail you in checkmate with my pawns, I win.
SA: You win.
GW: That’s it. There’s no prize for winning with the most pieces left on the board, or there’s no prize for winning with the least hits against you. You just win or you don’t.
SA: Just win or lose. That’s it.
GW: Yeah. It’s a kind of refreshingly straightforward and simple way of defining victory.
SA: It’s nice, I know a lot of people who are in the headspace of, well, that’s not that’s not proper sword fighting, you don’t want to be hit when you hit someone or you want to touch that would cut off their arm or something. No, that’s not the name of the game. It’s just did I hit that? This is a game. This is not realistic fencing. This is I want to win this tournament based on these pre-defined rules, but it’s still fun. It’s still a lot of fun.
GW: Yeah, I remember it being fun. And yeah, you’re right. But in historical martial arts, we are often concerned about how much damage would that actually have done and a lot of stuff, because that’s what we’re interested in. But, yeah, the game of fencing is another thing together. So why did you stop?
SA: So back in 2010 ish, 2011 ish. I started to have a lot of issues with my feet constantly in pain. You know, I would try to take breaks, instead of doing footwork with my coach, I’d just be doing blade work from a chair. Going to competitions on, taking a lot of Tylenol or something, just trying to figure out, you know, go get through the pain, you can’t take time off because if you do, other people get better than you. And unfortunately, during that time, after months, years of being in pain while I was doing this, I started to see a podiatrist and they tried to give me cortisone injections in my feet to try to figure out, you know, stop the pain, whatever. Finally, I got an MRI and they’re like, you have eroded away all of the cartilage in your toes.
GW: Oh my god. Ouch.
SA: Stop running. Stop jumping. Stop. Just stop. And I was like, Oh, OK. So that was very abrupt, so I went from going and doing this five days a week and travelling every weekend to nothing. And it was a little rough for me because I had given so much to the sport that I loved, but through whatever, you know, maybe it was a bunch of injuries that I didn’t take care of. Bone spurts that never healed, grinding, working so hard because again, I, in a very short amount of time, through a lot of hard work and some natural ability, I was able to rise to the level of people who have been doing this since they were seven or eight years old. And I think the combination of just over working and not taking care of injuries led to my demise, as a fencer. So I had to stop. I stopped right before the 2012 Olympics, that was that was never going to be the one that I was going to go to, that would have been a reach for me. But a bunch of my friends went, I cheered for them, super happy for them. Hypothetically, you never know what could happen, ever. So this is all with a grain of salt. But hypothetically, if I never got injured and continued to train at that level, 2016 might have been my year. So when that came and went and I saw my friends go, I got a little sad. That could have been me. But my mom, you’ve gotta love family, she saw that I was getting a little depressed and she’s like, you need to find something new. Anything. And she’s the one who was like, OK, if you can’t swing a sword, figure out how to make them.
GW: I love your mom.
SA: Yeah, yeah, I love my mom. She’s amazing. She bought me a two day make your own knife class. This is not who I spent the past couple of years learning from, this was with someone else. And I forged and made a knife-like object. It was not pretty. It was a class that gave you an experience, not a class that gave you real information. But I loved it and I was like, yes, let me figure out how to do this for real. And that’s when I found Theo and started learning from him.
GW: Who is Theo?
SA: Theo Nazz. He is a bladesmith. And if you are familiar with the show Forged in Fire, he’s been on it twice and won both rounds. He’s the one that opened up Nazz Forge, which is a school for teaching people how to blacksmith and bladesmith. And I started learning from him, eventually became a teacher, and he runs the school, it’s his school. But, you know, I help him out.
GW: Excellent. You’re right. When you put so much into something and then it goes away, you have to find something to fill that void.
SA: Absolutely. Absolutely.
GW: So. To some people, this will sound like a bit of an odd question, but I think most sport fencers will understand it. Most sport fencers of my acquaintance aren’t actually that interested in swords.
SA: True, very true.
GW: Yes. But you got into fencing because you liked swords and say you decided then to start making them.
SA: So I’ve always been into arms and armour, as a family when we would travel and we would go to different places throughout Europe and you know, there’d be the museum day and I’d always want to go to the castle. Castles are cool. They have cool things. And then I would love going to the armoury to see all these beautiful and deadly tools that were that were made. And I just love that. You go to France to see the Mona Lisa. Let me go and see this stuff. So that love has always been there and that appreciation has always been there. Getting into fencing, that was a weird thing, my sister put that spark in motion and I didn’t think that I would ever be a fencer. That was not part of the growing up plan. But it does make sense when you look at everything like, OK, she loved this as a child. She did years of fencing and understands and appreciates if you’re building something, it has to be functional. And now that I’m a Bladesmith, a lot of people want me to do these wild fantasy or anime designs. And I’m like, it’s not going to be functional. I’m not going to build this. I will make a functional weapon for you that has elements of fantasy, that has elements of anime, but I want it to be functional first.
GW: Yes. If it’s not actually going to work as a knife or a sword you’re not interested in making it.
SA: I’m not interested in it, no.
GW: Because that’s basically sculpture. Nothing wrong with sculpture.
SA: There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s the history and appreciation of these tools, which is what they are, that makes me want to make, something that would actually work if you were trying to defend a village. That kind of thing, you know, or the zombie apocalypse that’s to come. Who knows?
GW: Well, actually, for the zombie apocalypse, I think the fantasy swords would work just fine.
SA: You’d be surprised. Some of these people want things that like if you hit them, it would actually hurt, like the steel would bend and your knuckles would punch something. They want these weird, futuristic things.
GW: OK, so we don’t often get Smiths on the show and it would be silly to waste the opportunity, so what is actually the process of making a knife? Where do you start and how does it finish?
SA: Sure, sure. So I mean, everything starts with the steel type that you want to use. So when we’re forging things, we want to use a high carbon steel because that retains an edge much better. You can harden it. It’s the reason why stuff that’s made today is much better than the stuff that was made 200, 300 years ago when they didn’t have the science to make these steel alloy compositions as strong as they are right now. So some Smiths have a favourite type of high carbon steel that they work with. You’ll hear the terms like 1095 or W1 or something, you know, different types of alloys. I personally prefer working with 80crv2 for swords or knives.
GW: Say that again?
GW: So it’s got chromium and vanadium in it.
SA: There you go. Yeah, yeah. So I prefer working with that medium just because even though it doesn’t start the process, what comes later, and I’ll get into that in a bit, the thermal cycling and the heat treating process, I know that very, very well. And even if I don’t have a temper oven, I can do it with my eyes alone. I’ll get into that. But the other thing that I’m working with a lot is 1095. And that is because we are a school and a lot of our classes, we do with 1095 because it’s easier for new Smiths to move that steel versus something that as you work it, it actually gets harder. So those are the two things that I work with most of all. So I’ll take my steel. They come in big, long bars of varying widths and thicknesses that you take into account when if you’re making a certain blade, you don’t want to start with something that’s going to be an impossible task for you to draw out in a certain dimension. So you get that piece, chop off enough of it that you can make whatever you’re going to make and then you get to work. Normally my process is through the act of forging so heating the steel up and hammering it out. I first do the handle so you’ll make a little indent where you want that initial handle to be, shape it and draw it out. Once you have your handle shape, you have the rest of your blade. You might start working the tip at this point. Now, depending on the blade shape, is interesting because after you make the tip, once you bevel it and bevelling is the act of pinching one side of the metal out, the tip will actually move and curve up. In a sword this is how you can get a very nice curve in a sabre or katana or wakizashi is actually just by doing one side, it naturally curves. So if you want that tip, so if your knife is here, and you want that tip up here, your tip’s going to start down here because the act of bevelling is going to push it back up.
GW: This is audio only, but let me just summarise what I just saw. So basically, because you’re going to hammer out the edge and that’s going to push the tip up, you initially forge the tip down and then let the forging process of the edge push the tip back up to where you want it to be.
SA: Absolutely. So for those of you who might want to search pictures to understand this process, if you look at a sheepsfoot type knife, you will see that it comes from the top, from the spine. It comes down. So that’s kind of the shape that you would start your point. So that way, once you bevel it, what it will then do is will push that tip up and the tip would then become a slight drop point. So if you search those terms, you might see where a tip would start and where it would end, depending on the forging process. So you’ve got your tip, you’ve got your bevel, which comes after forging the tip. At that point, you’re planishing. So lots of strokes that are not too hard, very soft strokes that are just meant to even things out and keep them on a plane. And then you have your basic knife shape. At this point, depending on what type of finish you want, you might grind the whole thing for a very clean finish, or you might grind only your bevel. So that way you have what’s called a forge finish, a forge finish leaves some of the pattern that you get from forging on the knife, as just a cool, artsy thing. Doesn’t add anything, doesn’t take away anything. It’s just for pure visuals. But then you’d start grinding and making sure that your profile shape and that everything’s nice and neat. At this point, because the seal’s soft and it’s been ground and you like what you see, you then want to start the thermo cycling process. This is all part of the heat treat. So thermal cycling process is taking your blade and bringing it up to critical temperatures and letting it cool down to room temperature very slowly. The reason why we do this is because through the act of forging and hitting this steel as hard, not as hard as we can, but pretty hard, you’ve taken the metal structure and made it become chaotic. I know you can’t see what I’m doing with my hands. You’re making it become very chaotic and you need to relax it. So all the molecules in the grain structure of the metal is becoming in line. And to do this, we want to essentially relax the steel. This is why we bring it up to a critical temperature and let it cool down. Every time we do this, the molecule structure, the grain structure of the metal becomes less chaotic and more in line. So we bring it up to a certain degree. Let it cool down. The next step is we bring it up almost as hot as the first step, depending on the steel type you start to work with, it might be 100, 150, 200 degrees cooler than that first step. And you do that three, maybe four times, if you really want. But the last time that you do that, that’s the annealing step. This is where generally we actually will leave the blade in the kiln to let it cool down to room temperature much slower than if we just left it out. Annealing it makes the blade as relaxed as it possibly can be. If you have a lot to grind on your blade beyond just the bevels, you need to remove a lot of mass, it’s best to do this at the annealing stage because the metal is so soft if you’re not going to chew through a bunch of sanding belts. So that’s what the annealing stage has done. Now your metals are relaxed, all of the grain structures go in the right way. So now the next part of this heat treating process is to actually harden the blade, which is the act of quenching. So taking it, heating it back up to that critical temperature and plunging it into a medium. The medium that we use right now is oil. Park’s 50, I believe. You might see some people who try to quench in water. There are water hardening blades, there are also air hardening blades or steels, rather. The metal that we use at the forge tends to work best when you just quench it in oil. So this is again bringing it back up to that critical temperature and immediately plunging it into the oil.
GW: Now to interject at this point. In Conan the Barbarian, the original Arnold Schwarzenegger movie when they’re making the sword in the beginning. Firstly, they pour molten metal into a mould, which is a terrible way to make a blade. Unless it’s bronze, perhaps, and then they quench it in a snowdrift. It’s not going work very well, is it?
SA: It’s not going to work at all. That blade is going to shatter. So talk about just the snow aspect. When we quench our blades, what we do before we actually quench it is we have an official tool, the quenching stick. It’s just a piece of mild steel that we heat up and plunge into oil. So we take it and we do that first before we do our blade to actually bring the temperature of the oil up from room temperature a few degrees. Because what we want to do is we want to slow down just a little bit that process from going from super hot to, you know, room temperature or close to. If you don’t pre-quench, you’re at risk of having a little bit of a flare up that happens because the temperature is so different between your blade and the oil, that fire will actually shoot up from your quenching.
GW: I’ve done that. And it was great. When I quenched my kitchen knife. We’ll talk about my kitchen knife in a minute. But yeah, we got flames and we liked it.
SA: Technically, you don’t want that to happen.
GW: But it’s fun!
SA: It looks so cool. It looks so cool. But when you’re doing that, you have the potential, not all the time, but you have the potential to put unnecessary stress into your blade. So we want to avoid that. Now for kitchen knives and things, OK, you’re probably going to be fine. But if you are making a sword that would be, then, potential weak spots in the sword where later on it might break because it’s a little too brittle. So that’s why we don’t want those flare ups. If you do happen to watch Forged in Fire and see those flare ups, they shouldn’t be happening.
GW: But it says “forged in fire”.
SA: Yeah, yeah. We heat it up in the fire.
GW: So you don’t cool it down in a fire. Fair enough, OK.
SA: For those of you that are very interested, this is an interesting thing. Before we actually quench, you don’t want the blade to get too hot. You want the blade to get to the temperature where it becomes de-magnetised and not a step further. So, so when the metal becomes de-magnetised, actually you can have a magnet next to your forge and literally bring it out, test it against the magnet and put it back in just to see, you know, if you don’t have a kiln that you can set it and forget it, you’re working specifically with just a forge. You can do that. And that’s how you know this is the temperature for whatever blade I’m working with that I can quench it now. Some people who don’t want to use magnets use salt. Salt will melt at that temperature. I don’t like using salt because salt melts at one temperature and different steels require quenching at different temperatures.
GW: I was just about to ask you that.
SA: I like the magnet method. You can also train your eyes and this is calling out a point I mentioned earlier about how I can quench 80crv2 or do the whole heat treat with my eyes. Once you know, during the heat treat, when you’re bringing it up and letting it cool and bringing it to a second high temperature, letting a cool and a third high temperature, based on what that first temperature was, you’re looking for different signals in the brightness of the metal and also the colour of the metal. So we’ll say forging temperature, you’re looking for a bright yellow colour in your metal. Thermal cycling, you’re looking for a slightly less bright reddish orange hue for the first step, and the second step will be less orange, more red. And the fourth step might be very dim red. And I say this, it’s different to everyone. Everyone sees things differently. It’s also different if you’re working outside versus inside how much light there is. But based on what I’m looking at, I can tell, oh, this is the right temperature for this steel, for this part of the process. So back to quenching, when you’re looking for it, you don’t want it to get white hot or yellow hot. You’re looking for pretty bright, reddish oranges, and you’re wanting to make sure that you’re heating the blade evenly. So because the tip and the edge are so thin, they will heat up quicker than the spine. That’s OK. You don’t want your spine to be particularly hard. You want it soft because that will absorb shock later on if you wanted to knock it into a coconut or something. So a soft spine is fine, but you don’t want to overheat your edge or your tip. So you might be what’s called loving the forge, which is moving your blade in and out of the forge.
GW: And I can see why you call it that. Yeah, all right.
SA: Oh yeah, you’re pumping your blade in and out of the forge, making sure you’re not overheating a specific spot. So everything’s a consistent temperature.
GW: Seven Nation Army would be the right kind of rhythm for that.
SA: And then once you find that right hue, you can test it against your magnet or if you’re working in a kiln, it beeps at the right temperature. And here you’re a nice, consistent red, cherry red, throughout the whole thing. And that point is when you plunge it into the oil. At this point, you want to have kind of like a bouncing action, very slight. Not side to side, just up and down, bouncing action of your blade in the oil to make sure that there’s no pockets of air and gas that are released that might also cause a flare up. And just make sure that you’re trying to bring down that temperature quickly, but not too quickly. Also, the reason why you want to go straight up and down and not side to side is at this point, your blade might warp. So if you go to side to side your chances of warping your blade increase greatly. Up and down, you’re less likely to warp. But regardless, after this, we always bring it to a straightening jig, which is two angle irons. Very fancy terms for not fancy tools. Put that into a vice and just clamp it down. I do this no matter what. Some people do this only when they see a warp, but I just let it cool down completely in that and that clamped angle iron, straightening jig set up, just so that way there’s no possible chance of warpage. Sometimes, depending on how good you are at forging and grinding, you might have places that are a little bit thicker, thinner in some areas that when it’s cooling down and the air hits it, it might cause a warp later on. This prevents that. OK. Pause here, do you have any questions?
GW: This is great because I’m comparing it in my head to, you know, I’ve been to a forge twice, for two Make a Knife in a Day workshops. We talked about it before we started recording and I’m sort of comparing your method to Sergio’s method and they’re not identical, but they’re they are similar. And of course, his is adapted for getting a complete beginner into the forge at like 8:30 in the morning and out with a finished knife at like 4:30/5:00 p.m.. Which is different to when you’re making knives over whatever period of time they need to be made in. So I can sort of see where things have been adapted for the fact that the whole thing needs to be done, handle included, by the end of the one day.
SA: Absolutely. So our quickest class that we offer is a two day knife making class. We skip a lot of steps. Not that it’s a bad knife. It is a fine knife, but we know what steps we need we can skip to get a good result. This is if you really want to know how to make it. So yeah, so we’ve quenched it. We’ve cooled it. The last step of this heat treating process is the temper. The reason for this is we just put a lot of stress into that blade to make it hard. Once we quench it, it is hard. It will take an edge and it will hold an edge. But it’s also brittle. It’s like glass at this point. You hit something with it, it will break. So we put it in back in the kiln or the Easy-Bake oven that we have, it’s literally just a little toaster oven. And depending on the steel type, we will heat it for up to two 2-hour sessions or four hours total at a temperature between 400 or 550 degrees.
GW: That’s Fahrenheit, right?
SA: That’s Fahrenheit. Sorry.
GW: OK, do that in centigrade and you’re going to ruin the knife.
SA: No, don’t do that in centigrade. No, no, no Fahrenheit. Sorry, silly American using metrics that make no sense.
GW: Which aren’t even metric.
SA: You’re right, using units that make no sense.
GW: They’re metrics, but they’re just not metric.
SA: Just not metric. So, yeah, so we’ll heat it between 400 and 550 degrees, depending on the steel that we have and the hardness that we want to achieve. If you are making a sword, chances are that you will want it to be a little less hard. So when you’re hitting it, it will bend and come back and not break. So that’s why we’ll heat it at a higher temperature for swords than we might for, let’s say, kitchen knives that we want just pretty hard. So they can just consistently cut things up and they’re not going to take that much damage in the kitchen, let’s be real. At this point, we’ve tempered it. We’ve introduced a little bit more heat to it so it’s not so brittle. We finish grinding it. We might well hand sand it at this point if we want it nice and shiny. Slap a handle on it, shape that handle.
GW: I don’t believe for one second that you slap a handle on it. Because that’s one thing that even non specialists can spot is a badly attached handle.
SA: Fair. By slapping a handle, I mean, and this is depending on if you have a full tang, a through tang, hidden tang, it could take way more time or way less time. But in your class, I assume you had a full tang blade. You had two knife scales.
GW: Yeah, full tang blade and scales. And my first course where I wanted to make a Kiridashi, which is a Japanese style marking knife for woodwork. And because they’re very small and the whole thing is about five inches long. I can do imperial. About five inches long, and the actual cutting edge is about inch and a quarter, something like that. He said, well, why don’t we make three? So I made a right-handed one, a left-Handed one, and a double handed one. Because there are no handles to make it was dead easy. But the second time when I made the kitchen knife. Yeah, it’s got these two scales on it and that’s what you expect on a kitchen knife, right?
SA: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. No, that’s perfect. Generally speaking, full tang blade, your holes are probably drilled after the annealing process that I mentioned earlier, where the metal’s nice and soft just to make it easier for you. You can drill a fully hardened blade. I’ve done that many times. You just need to use the right bits for it and go slowly so you don’t break anything.
GW: Also, you wouldn’t normally harden the tang, particularly.
SA: When we when we quench, we dunk the whole thing in.
GW: The whole thing, OK.
SA: We dunk the whole thing in. If one part of the blade cools faster than the other or doesn’t get as hot and doesn’t cool down, again, you’re creating possible stresses in that blade. Some people will go in afterwards and with a torch, go in and soften the tang or soften the spine. That’s absolutely something they do. But for the purposes of the things that I make, I harden the whole thing. Why not? Why not? I temper the whole thing. It’s all cohesive. But yeah, so you’ve drilled your holes. You’ve taken your scales where the part in the front of the blade or towards the front of the blade of your handle, you’ll shape that first. So you might want a little curve or whatever handle design you want, you’ll shape that first. You’ll sand it down because once it’s affixed to the blade, that’s the hardest place to reach. But everything else you can just drill your holes through, use epoxy, glue it together and then let it cure. That might take about 30 minutes if it’s five minute epoxy, four hours if its 30 minute epoxy.
GW: Yeah, yeah. Those times on the epoxy are absolute bloody lies.
SA: And so much can affect it. If it’s humid that day, it’s going to be way longer. Yeah, so the time is an illusion. But yeah, so you let that curing dry and then eventually it’s just shaping it. You can do that at the grinder to remove the majority of that material, and then you might switch to files and sandpaper to get the shape that you want. Now, as far as how much time has everything taken, forging, depending on your level of expertise, you can forge out a blade very easily in less than three hours. The grinding takes a bit more time because you want to make sure that you’re not accidentally putting in too much pressure in a certain area and you want something very, very nice. Heat treating takes a long time because you’re waiting for things to heat up and cool down, waiting for paint to dry. But hand sanding, that can take hours. You know, if you’re trying to get a sword to a mirror polish, you’re going to spend over 10 hours hand sanding that sword. And then handle work, depending on the complexity of the design, again, kitchen knife versus a sword guards, you can spend 20, 30 hours just doing the fit and finish work of assembling a guard. Sword collars, handles, pommels, all of that fun stuff. And then once it’s glued up, we generally, depending on if it’s stabilised or un-stabilised wood, will give it a sealing coat of whatever medium we like to use, whether that’s wipe on poly, Butcher Block conditioner, axe wax, just anything to give it a better handle experience and a nice little shine.
GW: You know, people wonder why my favourite sword, I know it’s not fair on the listeners, but I will put a picture in the show notes. This was made by my friend J.T. Palakka and it’s a pattern welded longsword. It’s absolutely beautiful. And I’ll put a picture in the show notes. But you know, he’s my friend. We’ve been friends for a really long time and I saved up enough money and I ordered that sword, people were really, really surprised when I told them that I spent more on that sword than I spent on my car.
SA: I’m not.
GW: I’m not surprised, because you have some idea of how much work went into it and how much time it took. The material costs are trivial, but the time. Oh my God. So I mean, to me, I was totally happy with that price because honestly, I care much more about swords than I do about cars. But yeah, it often surprises people to find that they could they could get, I mean, we’re not talking about a brand new Ferrari prices, but you can get a small car second hand for much less money than I paid for that sword.
SA: Absolutely. Generally, there are two types of people who are enquiring, people who say, “Oh, I want all this”, and we’re like, “OK, it’s going to take six to eight months and it will cost this much money.” And they go, “What? I thought it was going to be $100. But I see it, I see it online for a hundred dollars.” And I’m like, “No.”
GW: You see a child’s drawing of it online for $100.
SA: Yeah, that’s the majority of people. And then there are the people who actually end up buying commissions, and they’re the ones that are like, “Yeah, that makes sense. Or what if I wanted it this way?” And you’re like, “Yeah, that would add this much money.” And they’re like, “OK, yeah, we can do that.” And you know, they’ve done a little research and know what to expect.
GW: I guess I have a question. I’m a woodworker, primarily in terms of crafting at least, I’m a woodworker and I have this absolutely glorious set of chisels I bought recently and I will put the picture in the show notes. And they have fabulous blades on them. Beautifully shaped. Beautifully polished and they hold an edge so much better than the next best chisels. And the reason the manufacturers give for that is that they have been cryogenically treated. So they’ve been put in a freezer, basically, and brought down to like 70 degrees centigrade below freezing or something like that. OK. Now, I don’t dispute that they have been cryogenically treated, and I absolutely don’t dispute that they hold an edge like you would not believe. I mean, the first time I use one of these, I was like, why don’t I have to sharpen it now? Hang on. I’ve been doing this for ages. How come? How is it still sharp? What is your take on the cryogenic thing?
SA: I haven’t tried it. We don’t have that set up yet, and I am not a scientist enough to know why that is producing a better edge. I think as far as before we invest in the tools to do that in our forge we want to see a little bit more research on it. Because everyone always wants to have like a new cool tool to use or a new skill, whatever. And that’s fine. That’s how things get better. But the reason why we trust the weapons that we make in our forge is because we know these processes. We know them very well. We have them down to a science. I know exactly what temperatures to bring things up and let things cool down to. This is entirely new to us. It’s new to the game. I don’t want to pooh anything because why? If it works, it works. But it’s just something that we haven’t invested the time to learn about yet.
GW: Because as far as I’m aware, you can’t just stick it in your freezer at home and expect good results. It needs to be really, really cold to make a difference.
SA: Possibly, possibly. Again, it’s magic to me that people are trying this and it’s working for them.
GW: I can vouch for these chisels. They are stunning.
SA: Do you know the steel type?
GW: I can look it up for you. I may just edit out the typing bit, but hang on a second. I got them from a shop called Classic Hand Tools. How’s this for luck? We moved to Ipswich about five years ago, which is a town in England, which is about 70 miles north east of London. And when I was going online to buy some woodworking tools of some description, I forget exactly what, I looked at the phone number on Classic Hand Tools’ website, and I realised it’s an Ipswich phone number. So I looked them up on a map. They are three miles from my house. It is no wonder why I have no money. I have lovely tools. With a shop like that, three miles from my house, honestly, I think it was probably a good thing that we had the lockdown because otherwise I would be there every weekend.
SA: Fair, fair.
GW: The tools are made by a company called Narex and the model is the Richter. It is a bevel edge chisel and that they are stunningly, stunningly good. But it’s not telling me what steel they are made of. I’m on the Classic Hand Tools website, I can look it up. Tell you what, I’ll look it up on. I’ll put it in the show notes. Oh no, sorry it says “forged from high quality Cr-V steel”. Which is chromium, vanadium, obviously. And it says that cryogenically treated and tempered to at least 62 Rockwells.
GW: Which you wouldn’t want for a sword. It’s way too hard for a sword.
SA: Way too hard. Yeah, you want in the in the mid to high 50s for a sword. But OK, so having a very high hardness that retains the edge better. They probably could achieve that without it being frozen. But if they’re getting a consistent result with the freezing, then yeah, sure.
GW: These things are always out of stock because literally every online woodworker, you know, like Rex Kruger and now there are millions of them. Everyone who’s tested them. They are about a third of the price of the high end American made ones like Veritas or Lee Nielsen or whatever. They’re about third of the price of those and they are every bit as good. I don’t know how they’re doing it, but that’s why they’re always out of stock, because everyone who knows anything about chisels and comments about them online says they’re wonderful and all the woodworkers go out and buy them. I mean, I waited nearly a year. I bought one to see what they were like. And then I contacted the shop and said, I want the rest of the set and they’re like, OK. And it took a year for them to come in.
SA: Well, I mean, look. I do not doubt that they are phenomenal chisels. I do not doubt that this process is working. We would have to really research how this setup works, what metals or what steel types it works for, because I don’t know if it does it for everything. And they just said CRV.
GW: Yeah, that’s just what’s on the Classic Hand Tools website. I could probably find out more from Narex themselves, but if I do, I’ll stick it in the show notes. Have you ever made any woodworking tools?
SA: I have not. That’s not to say that I can’t. I tend to make what people want to buy at this point, which means I make a lot of kitchen knives because more people are like, yeah, well, you know, I’ve been cooking a lot. So why don’t I get a nice knife? So, yeah, so I do a lot of kitchen knives. I don’t even get to do that many swords because swords take a lot of time. And if I’m doing that, that means I can’t do the three kitchen knives I could make in this time it would take me to make one sword. So it’s a little bit of a trade-off, but I really want to step into that historical weapon recreation space and do that more. I’m hoping that’s something I can do in the future. And then also more of the ceremonial knives. So my brother in law is from Scotland. I want to make a bunch of sgian-dubhs. Oh, you’re going to show me a sgian-dubh now.
GW: Oh, I have drawers and drawers of knives. As you probably imagine. I will put a picture in the show notes because otherwise it’s totally unfair. Where the hell is it? Oh my God, maybe it’s in a different drawer. I’ve too many drawers of knives. I will send you a picture. Here it is. Again, this is by J.T. This was the first knife I ordered from him and I said, I have this much money. Can you make me a knife for that much money? And he was like, Yes. So I said, OK, there you go. There’s the money. And so he made me a knife is that is like four or five times more expensive than the money I gave him because he had a completely free hand and he was having fun and because I lived in Scotland at the time, he made me a sgian-dubh.
SA: Oh, that is gorgeous. Oh, you got the Damascus pattern in there, that nice file work.
GW: Yeah. Stainless Damascus, file work on the thing, and the pommel area or the cap at the top and the bolster are heat coloured titanium. And the handle is it’s one of the tropical hardwoods, I think it might be cocobolo. I can’t remember. But yeah, it’s a beautiful thing.
SA: It is gorgeous. And your buddy’s forging stainless Damascus. He’s got an impressive set up.
GW: He has been for years. He made this for me in probably ’98, ‘99.
SA: He has an impressive setup. And so the reason why, for those of you who are listening in why I’m so impressed in forging stainless, let alone forging stainless Damascus. So when you forge regular high carbon steel, you never want to forge it when it’s too cold because you could induce stress fractures into it and the blade can break later on. But you have a pretty wide window of how cool you can let your blade get while still working it. For stainless, that window is again, I’m going to use Fahrenheit, within 100 degrees. It is a very, very short window, so it’s very impressive that, to me, that he can do the stainless Damascus. He probably has a very intricate setup at home.
GW: Really, it’s not that intricate. For the stainless Damascus, he has a gas forge and he has various quenching tanks and things. He built a quenching tank for doing swords. He puts a hole through the tang and hangs the sword blade from a pin so it can go straight down and he can anneal them in these tanks so that the gravity is keeping them straight, which really helps, apparently, so he says.
SA: It does.
GW: The pattern welded longsword I showed you, it took him, I think, like three or four goes. He made like three or four blades before there was one he was willing to let out of the shop because when they get to that length, when you pull them out of the forge, gravity makes them bend a little bit. And in the areas which aren’t at the optimal temperature it induces these little cracks in the pattern welding. He says. And he showed me these blades and what they look like to me. They look like absolutely gorgeous blades that I would have been completely happy with, but he wasn’t letting them out the shop.
SA: No, no, he’s absolutely right.
GW: I agree. Brilliant. OK, I do have one final question. You’ve done all sorts of interesting things. So I have to ask, what is the best idea you’ve never acted on?
SA: The best idea I’ve never acted on. Are we talking about a project I want to make or…?
GW: How you interpret the question is as interesting as any other aspect of the answer.
SA: I mean. I’d like to say that I’m a type of person who acts on the things that I believe in.
GW: Honestly, a goodly proportion of my interviewees. This is one of my standard interview questions is to get people thinking about things. The sort of people who end up on my show tend to be the sort of people who actually act on ideas, which is how they have done stuff which has brought to my attention. So it’s actually fairly common to hear, “Well, if it’s a good idea I act on it and if it’s a bad idea, I don’t.” And so, it’s perfectly legitimate to have that as your answer. But I think, from the look on your face, I think that there was something that popped into your mind that didn’t quite make it out of your mouth.
SA: So there’s is something that I haven’t acted on yet, but that’s not to mean that I won’t in the future. So at the beginning of this interview, I said I do data analytics as my main job. Eventually, I do want to stop doing that and do the sword and knife thing full time. It’s just figuring out when is the right opportunity because, it’s very scary going from a stable lifestyle to the lifestyle of an artist. So it’s something that I will act on eventually, it’s just finding the right time.
GW: Also, it’s really hard. I mean, I used to work as a cabinet maker and an antiques restorer. The product leaves your shop and you get paid for it, and that’s that. So you are entirely dependent on a production schedule and making enough stuff or fixing enough stuff and getting it out the door to keep enough money coming in to actually keep the lights on. It is hard. If I could make a suggestion, the thing that I found, because as a martial arts instructor, I have the same problem. You know, I show up and teach classes, I get paid. I don’t show up and don’t teach classes, I don’t get paid. But I found that first off, writing books not only got me more teaching gigs, but also eventually provided a steady source of income and producing online courses has also produced steady income that’s not dependent on me actually showing up to work on any given day. So then you’re producing a product which you can sell over and over again without having to reproduce it. So it might be worth thinking about.
SA: How to get that passive income going.
GW: It could be knife related.
SA: And so that’s the thing, it’s something that I haven’t acted on yet. I often joke, oh, when I retire, I’ll take up blacksmithing full time.
GW: Your joints won’t take it. Your joints won’t stand it. I mean, you’ve got no cartilage left in your toes. If don’t take care you’ll have none left in your shoulders either.
SA: I’ll get a power hammer. It’s fine. But yes, so it’s figuring out how to do it well. Because once I commit on something, I’m in it. So that I think that would be my answer.
GW: OK. Another thing brings to mind, generally speaking, producing stuff. And you see this in the furniture world all the time. Also in in gunsmithing, you’re either producing lots of things at a relatively low price or a few things at a very high price and the people who make serious money are either major companies producing lots of things at a low price or people like who’s that artist, the chap who put a cow in formaldehyde and called it art? I want to say David Hockney, but I’m not sure it’s him. But anyway, multimillionaire because people will spend huge amounts of money on his paintings because he’s marketed them correctly. He’s marketed them as art rather than as tools. I can buy a decent kitchen knife for $20.
GW: But, you know, one from the famous Stephanie Aiuto. That’s maybe $5000.
SA: Not yet, but eventually it.
GW: If you’re going to make a living from making individual objects, I think probably you want some that you want to find the people who will pay any amount of money for that object.
SA: A lot of that happens to do with just self branding. A lot of it is first I’ll have to get the Journeyman checkmark and then the Master Smith checkmark because that adds intrinsic value to your work. So it’s figuring out the roads you need to take to get to that place.
GW: So we can look forward to you coming back on the show to tell us about your new business sometime soon?
SA: Hopefully. I would love that. Yeah.
GW: Brilliant, well, thank you very much indeed for joining me today, Stephanie. It’s been lovely to meet you.
SA: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you. And yeah, first of all, I love to see, I know everyone else can’t see it at home, but you’ve got such a magical collection of swords on your back wall. I just I love looking in all the books. It’s fantastic. Yeah, absolutely. I’m enamoured.