Knifemaking Course With Uli Hennicke
Posted 21 October 2006 - 02:47 AM
I participated in a knife-making course with Uli Hennicke last week. The course took place in Uliís new workshop in Hohenmoor, a small village in northern Germany located between Bremen and Hanover. It was my introduction into the world of bladesmithing and knifemaking, and I wanted to report about my experiences on the forum here.
I was the sole participant in the course, which meant that it was possible for Uli to work together with me very intensively. Nevertheless I am still amazed at how much time and energy he was willing to invest, and how open he was to my questions and wishes. We were in his workshop by nine oíclock each morning (and on one morning before eight), and we worked late in the evening until ten or eleven p.m. each night. As you can well imagine, I slept quite soundly during my stay in Hohenmoor.
We started on Monday morning forging damascus from an old file, an old saw blade, and an old ball-bearing casing. First Uli demonstrated each step, while I observed Ė it was really a pleasure to watch him at work. Then I tried my hand at it, often with only partial success. A number of times Uli had to intervene to rectify my mistakes, for example when I accidentally cut the piece of Damascus in two with the press hammer and one half of it fell glowing orange onto the shoproom floor. But back to the damascus. First I sanded down the old file with a circular sander to remove any possible materials left in the file teeth, and then I cut the file, the saw blade, and the casing into equal sized parts. The pieces were welded together and placed in the coal forge. And then we hammered, folded, and welded, hammered, folded, and weldedÖ By evening we had a piece of damascus with approximately 256 layers.
On Tuesday we forged blades. I think this was the most difficult part of knife making for me. No matter what I did, I continually felt as if I were fighting with the steel, which stubbornly refused to be hammered into the form of blade. I know I need to work on my hammering technique. Initially Uli gave me an old chisel to practice on, which I did, but with rather meager results. Afterwards we used about half of the piece of damascus to forge two hidden-tang blades, and then normalized them. Following a brief lunch break, we took the smaller of the two blades and shaped it on the belt sander, and subsequently heat-treated it in the fire, quenched it in oil, and then tempered it in the oven.
Wednesday morning we worked on the knife handle. I decided I wanted to use bog oak Ė I find the dark-blue-black tone really beautiful Ė and Uli suggested a bronze bolster, which combined well with the wood and the Damascus. We sanded the piece of bronze into an oval shape and drilled several holes in the middle, which I then filed out by hand and fit to the blade. The blade was sanded again, polished and then etched. Then I cut the bog oak to approximately the correct size on the band saw, sanded it on the belt sander and then filed it by hand. Then we drilled a hole in the handle and glued the parts Ė blade, bolster, and handle Ė together. Before the gluing, everything fit perfectly, but this was mysteriously no longer the case after the gluing; the bronze isnít quite flush with one part of the wood. I still donít know how this happened, but it is merely a minor flaw, noticeable only on closer inspection. After the glue had set, I continued to file by hand.
On Thursday, I again worked on the handle, filing and then sanding it by hand, trying to get angle at the butt of the handle just right. In the late morning, we started on the sheath-building course. I had not planned to dye the leather because I found the natural color so beautiful, but unfortunately my holes and seams were not quite perfect and as a result Uli suggested that it would be better to dye the sheath black, which we did on Friday.
Friday morning we dyed and waxed the sheath, and then oiled and polished the handle. The knife was finished! The rest of the day I practiced sanding on the second blade we had forged. I worked by myself and felt increasingly comfortable on the belt sander. I must confess that I was rather pleased with myself, even proud of my work, until I realized that I had ruined my beautiful blade by oversanding it. Oh well. Uli gave me a new blank and I continued practicing.
Overall I have to say that I am more than satisfied with the results. The knife, in my humble opinion, turned out extraordinarily well. I suppose the blade could be a little longer (unfortunately it seemed to get smaller at every stage of the process). But it was in fact exactly what I wanted, a small fixed blade with a full-length handle Ė I donít like three-finger knives, they donít well in my large hands. The blade is broad and quite thin at the edge, i.e., itís a very good cutter.
In terms of pedagogy, I thought the course was excellent. When I was able to work independently, Uli left me alone and waited until I asked him a question; and whenever I needed help, he was always there immediately with an astounding variety of possible solutions.
Yvonne and Uli were gracious hosts. The entire time I had my own room, located several steps from the living room and kitchen/ dining room, and about 100 feet from the workshop. I was served a meal four times a day, entertained by two adults, three children, and a dog (fittingly, a German Shepard).
It was a really wonderful experience for me. Iíve already arranged with Uli for a repeat visit in the spring, which Iím really looking forward to.
Pictures will follow.
Posted 21 October 2006 - 03:06 AM
Uli demonstrating on the hammer.
Here I am giving it a shot.
After the first day of forging.
Lillith with a Hammer (Mala in the background)
Uli trying to help me with my hammer technique.
The final results (I'll post a few more pictures of the knife in Show and Tell).
Posted 22 October 2006 - 01:47 AM
Uli and Yvonne live in a converted set of farmhouse buildings (which was last used as a bicycle hotel/ hostel) that form an L-shape. Uliís workshop is at one end, and the living room and bedrooms are at the other. Thereís enough distance to the immediate neighbors that Uli can work at night or on Sundays (which is legally forbidden in Germany).
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