We leave the study of nihonto behind and move, once more, into the realm of armor. I had been a member of a facebook group for armorers called the United League of Armorers. Every year they put on an internal convention called The Forging. It's as much a get together as a sharing of knowledge, demos, and small classes. But, long before I got there, a few problems cropped up.
The first was domestic, and not entirely unexpected. It was near the end of the year and I had already been gone at least as often as I was home. Krista was feeling the effects of loneliness and there were some arguments. I asked if she wanted to go to The Forging with me, then, spend time at my next class.
She waffled back and forth about if she actually wanted to attend, but she wanted to go. The difference being, mainly, she was tired of being home and going to work and returning to an empty* house (apparently pets don't count?)
So instead of driving out (which would have been smarter, and you'll see why in a little bit) or flying out, we decided to take a couple days to ride the Amtrak out to Michigan for the event. I'd rent a car and she could drop me off in the morning and pick me up at night; during the day she could go play tourist and do touristy stuff in Grand Rapids.
The left the problem of what to do with all the pets while we're gone for the week. Ask a friend to watch them, right? Have to have friends who live in the same town who are reliable when they give you their word, though. Nobody died, so it all worked out well in the end.
A fun thing on the final leg of the trip to Grand Rapids itself happened. Krista and I were talking about Forged in Fire and there was only like...one other person in the seating area with us. So, he overhears and pipes in about the show as well. We're talking and I finally peak over and mention that I was on it, and he recognizes me. Cool, right? We took a selfie so he could send it to the misses and make her lose her shit.
Train was delayed over the course of the trip so I can't pick up the rental car when we arrive (they closed at midnight and it was like 00:30 when we got in.) No worries, I get an uber to take us out to the hotel near The Forging.
Did you know uber will take you to places that they then won't have service in, and thus can't pick you back up? Yeah, they will. Couldn't get uber, lyft, or even a cab to come out there. Never been literally stranded somewhere before.
Those of you who have been on my friends list a while might remember me reaching out with this. I needed to get back into Grand Rapids to pick up my rental and that was a 40 minute drive from the hotel. Not exactly walking distance, eh?
So I made a post about being FUCKING STUCK, and shared it to every group I was in. Plus asking people I knew if they had any connections in the area that could help. Lots of "No"s in return for that.
But, friends shared it. And it was through Travis Wuertz sharing my post that a FiF fan in the area saw the post and volunteered to extract me from the scary middle-of-nowhere hotel. I may sound flippant right now, but I about cried at the time. Tiny bit of faith in humanity restored.
So, up rolled Marcie and her son Parker (last names left out for privacy) to my rescue. I found out later that Parker recognized me from Forged in Fire and his silence was from being excited, not being shy. They got me out to the rental car safe and sound, and refused all attempts by me to thank them beyond the words "hank you" but that's ok, because I got them back later.
All the drama aside, I was able to make it to the forging in time (showed up quite a bit early first day, actually) and had a blast. Here's some of what went down, and some photos of historical pieces brought to the event by Wade Allen of http://www.allenantiques.com/ who is just a little knowledgeable about stuff.
There were 3 classes in a block, and 3 of those big blocks before dinner and then some smaller blocks. So much was being offered it was impossible to cover everything in a single visit to the event, even over all three days. Fortunately, I went again in 2018 and grabbed a few things I had (sadly) missed in 2017.
As always, my cell camera is kinda crappy. I'm rough on phones, so it's not that they're cheap Chinesium (or is it?)
But I was able to hit the Anticlastic forming, cased greaves, pauldrons and faulds classes while also dropping in and out to check out the others as much as possible. It's not really practical to go into exhaustive detail about each thing, because it was a simple demonstration and overview of how to make various pieces of armor.
Although I will point out that the anticlastic forming class, being hands on, was probably the most useful one out of the bunch for me. I know how to make metal move and form, it's learning all those fine details of historical accuracy that I needed to improve my work. Anticlastic, for those not familiar with the term, refers to having opposite curvatures in a single piece. Eg: a convex curve along the length and a concave curve along the perpendicular.
Why is anticlastic curvature important in making armor? Because the historical pieces weren't completely flat plates; there was subtle curvature and shape all over the place.
From the other classes I got to watch a piece of armor get fabricated, along with advice on what to do (and what not to do) as well as teacher-preferred tools. Plus, templates! Yay.
Did I mention that I played with armor a little bit?
I didn't take a lot of photos, and only some video, I mostly spent the time watching or being hands on when available. Especially the antique pieces when allowed; with white gloves of course.
In the evenings, during the smaller classes and demos, I picked up a bit of forging advice from Matt of Wasatch Forge in SLC, Ut. I also got to watch a little hearth refining display by "Iron" John as I was taking off one evening.
It was an excellent experience that I greatly enjoyed, and I think it was certainly the most relaxing of the bunch. I was free to wander and see, socialize, and ask questions. Hell, I ended up making friends just because of "Hey, what're you doing?" Thanks to George for hosting (funny enough, he'd end up being a fellow sword student of Peter Johnsson.) Thanks to Rob for putting up with my questions while planning the trip and being lost. Of course, thanks to everyone for the classes that encouraged me to come out and learn. Certainly better than just watching Peter Fuller's DVDs over and over.
It secured in my mind that I wanted to attend again in 2018 (which I did) and made the facebook community I was part of just a little more real. Picked up a ULA t-shirt to help support and commemorate my first attendance. Got one for Krista too. Picked up some forming stakes as well, and my apprentice is currently hogging them at the armoring station as he builds 2 sets of gauntlets in his spare time.
Oh, and remember early on how I mentioned "getting them back" about Marcie and Parker helping me while I was in need? Well, for Christmas 2017, Parker got a forge and an anvil. Hopefully his love of the craft spawned by Forged in Fire carries into a lifeline hobby that brings him great joy.
I know it has for me.