The unique thing about custom orders, is that they are unique. Well duh, thinks the reader. But let me explain what I really mean by that.
When someone comes to me with a custom order, it's more likely than not, in fact, nearly guaranteed, to be something I have never done before. A design of unique and challenging proportions and characteristics that will push my skills to the limit, and beyond.
Some custom orders are only light challenges. Perhaps finding the material is difficult, or the design is just a little challenging. These projects come and go swiftly, they're good for revenue and gentle stimulation.
But these aren't the projects that force my skills to increase. The kind of challenge which makes the heart thump irregularly, and regularly results in tools flying threw the air, closely followed with a volley of cussing. But it is these kinds of projects ( a Swearing Project, I call them ) which have made me what I am.
I am a firm believer in learning by trial and error. Mistakes, whether small, or embarrassing, or downright dangerous, are the best tools for attaining knowledge and skill. And, as frustrating as these big challenging projects can be, I always look back on them with pride and a new skill in my back pocket. A new level to my craftsmanship.
The cross guard of this piece took 5, no, 6 trials to get right. The trick was in the intricacy of the guard. Not the weaving pattern that reminds me of braided ropes. No, that was easy. It was the proportioning that caused me the most pain.
Notice the design of the center, where sits a coin-like structure, housing a moonstone. From four sides, strips of wood, almost like bands, wrapping around the hilt as if holding it together, run smoothly into one another and around the blade. These bands had to be wide enough at the base to accommodate the blade, while narrow enough at the top to hug the handle, and remain proportionate and symmetrical the whole time.
The key to this, was keeping them aligned, and trying to make sure the width, and depth, and even the distance between each link in the roping all stayed as symmetrical as possible. Of course, it's not 100% perfect, it is made by hand after all. And I often have to remind myself of that, or else the perfectionist in me would probably be on to test model 22 by now.
Unquestionably the most challenging project I have yet tackled. But, half a dozen tries later, and after a lot of putting it down, and picking it back up, I had finally figured it all out. Trial and error, and persistence, had won out yet again.
Walnut has become my absolute favorite wood for doing accent work. I had my first experience using it on my Uncle's long sword.
A beast of a weapon, inspired by his house family crest from Lester England, and featuring a pair of lions ( or bears depending on what YOU see ) for the pommel, and a goose, with wings spread, for the guard. The blade and full tang were made from white birch, and the accent work in walnut.
Walnut is one of those wood types that wood workers go in salivating search for. Like Cougars hunting that juicy tender young white tail yearly. That perfect species that's hard enough to dig your teeth into, yet tender enough to manipulate. To hold it's shape briskly, but not rough your hands and tools like iron wood, and ebony. Nor flaky, and tending to burr-out like mahogany, and possessing such a splendid luster and depth when stained and sealed. Walnut is all of the above, and sadly, not cheap.
The customer certainly made the right decision here with the moonstones set into the pommel and guard. The shimmering stones, white at first, but when the light hits them just right, a rainbow of blues is hiding, like an internal ocean just beneath surface. The complementary colors of the walnut and moonstones cannot be overstated.
Nor can the beautiful grain in the blade go unmentioned. Knowing that the customer wanted to use this gorgeous masterpiece ( and I have no hesitation in called it that ) for a little light sparring, I made the blade and core of the sword out of hickory.
I have some experience as a bowyer ( a bow maker ) and I discovered during that time that hickory was actually my favorite kind of bow wood. It's very forgiving, takes impact well, and is very hard. Not at all easy to work with, but the results and performance are well worth the effort. Hickory is also used in American baseball bats, and as a former ball player myself, I can appreciate it's functionality when it comes to contact weapons.
I am nearly done with this guy. I have yet to finish the scabbard, a back scabbard which, while I don't usually recommend them to my customers because they are impractical to say the least. But on a sword this short ( a blade length of 22 inches ) it should not be an issue to draw.
And so another beautiful project is added to the portfolio, and a new skill set and greater experience is added to the mental tool box.
Special thanks to the customer who offered me this project, that my skills might be heightened to new levels.
Thank you, and take care all!
Myth, Magic, More!