How to hit things with a piece of metal on a stick.

This blog post is in connection with my video on how to swing a hammer on my you tube channel. Go watch that, or you may not understand this ;)

Here is a link: LINK

Alright, the first thing I talk about is your anvil height. Pretty important to get this right. You don’t want to have the anvil too tall. Too short can suck for your back, but too high puts some bad strain on your elbow and shoulder and can lead to some serious tendon issues. You can also hold the hammer in your hand with your arm extended at your side. The hammer face should be relatively flat against the anvil.

 My and my dirt floor, and my anvil, and my hammer all working together!

My and my dirt floor, and my anvil, and my hammer all working together!

This is one of the reasons I love a dirt floor in my shop. I can kick a little sand under the anvil to raise and lower it if I need to.

As far as stance goes, just don’t stand too far away. The stand your anvil sits on should not be so wide that you have to lean over your anvil either. Get right up on that bad boy!

Find a stance that feels comfy. Pay attention to your body, don’t be a tough ol’ idiot and say to yourself “Aaaahh fuck it, I’m a rough tough fella, and a real man don’t whine about an aching back” That way lies the way of pain, the way of getting older before your time. Remember that you have to do this every day for 20years, don’t be dummy. If after a long day forging you find your back hurts, or your elbow aches, or your wrist cramps, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! Find out why, change your anvil around or your stance or how you grip the hammer. Drink plenty of water even when its not hot out!!!

 That’s my hammer there in the middle :)

That’s my hammer there in the middle :)

When swinging a hammer DO NOT PUT YOUR THUMB OUT ONTO THE HANDLE!

Lets talk about hammer weight. I like a 2 to 2 1/2 lb hammer for most general forging. Its heavy enough to wail on things if I need to, but still light enough I can be precise. I have recently started using a rounding hammer I made my own self. I also use a smaller rounding hammer about 1lb for some more delicate work, and I have one that has a very flat face for finishing work.

I think I do a pretty good job in the vid of explaining how to swing. So much of it is just straight up practice. Do not go at it like you are the Incredible Hulk, or She-ra or some such. Get accurate, then hit hard. I see T-shirts and Bumper stickers all the time that say “Get it hot, hit it hard” That’s some bullshit, sounds catchy, but not a good attitude for a beginner.

If you aren’t a big meat head you can still be an effective smith. Build up more inertia by lifting the hammer higher, and swinging it faster. Focus on all the movements before you hit the steel, once you get that accuracy down, you will be surprised at how much work you can get done in a single heat.

This whole crew made knives in my shop! They were all shapes and sizes and did wonderful work. You can to!!

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In the beginning....

I just posted my first ever youtube video! Big thanks goes to my good friend grant for taping and editing. My idea is to supplement the video with a blog post that goes into more detail.

Here is the link to the video

I am assuming you have watched the video, so if some of this doesnt make a whole lot of sense, go watch it ya dummy!

 From right to left: Green Coal, Coke, and Cinker

From right to left: Green Coal, Coke, and Cinker

I call the new coal “green”. Sometimes I call it “fresh”. Its the black hard coal just as you get it from the bag. Smaller nut sized coal is best. Big chunks just dont burn as well.

As that “green” coal burns, the sulfur inside it cooks out and makes the smoke a greenish-yellowish nasty-ass color. Thats why we call it “green” coal. This is letting you know that your coal is actually lit, and you are not just burning newspaper. Some of the impurities dont become smoke. As the fire gets hotter other impurities begin to melt, and form clinker at the bottom of your coal fire. Mostly this is silica, essentially molten glass. It can clog up your airflow in the bottom of your forge, and cause your fire to cool off even though you keep feeding it fuel.

As the coal burns and melts off it’s impurities it fuses together and creates coke. Coke is light and fluffy, kinda. It burns nice and clean. The goal is to creep that green coal closer and closer to the fire so it gently becomes coke. The coke is what you want in the center of the fire. Dropping green coal straight into the fire causes all the smoke to flair up again, and causes that silica to drip down onto your work that is sitting in the fire. No good!

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Here is a look of what your fire should look like in a perfect world. My best advice is to always be messing with it. Every time you put something back in the fire to heat up again, take a couple of seconds to tidy it up. Roll some coal closer in, brush some coke over the center of the fire, maybe get some clinker out of the firepot.

Last thing, I would love some feed back on the video, and on this blog post. If you are having any trouble getting your fire started or understanding what it is I am talking about, let me know! The whole point of this is to educate and start a discussion!

Quality over Quantity

The title says it all. I am going to make some changes to the way I handle my single day classes for next year. Its a bit of a long story, but this is my blog, it’s where I am supposed to tell long stories.

Two years ago I was in a tough spot. I had been blacksmithing profesionaly, but not full time. My full time job was bartending. It was great! Cool place and a fun job. The Blacksmithing Classes and knife sales were just some extra money on the side. However that all changed when the bar I was working at burned to the ground. This was Dec of 2016. Lost my 5 days a week, lost those good good bartending tips, lost a building and location I had grown to think of as a second home. It was heartbreaking.

Anyway I was out of a job, and after a bit I realized I was going to have to make sure this blacksmithing thing could start paying the bills instead of just my bar tabs.

 Me and my mutt zonked out after a Blacksmithing Class.

Me and my mutt zonked out after a Blacksmithing Class.

That brings us to the classes, especially the single days classes. Right now I have 6 people per class, and I often feel like I just bounce from one person to another never having time to step back and look at the overall picture. I also have trouble getting real personal with a student, because I feel like that means I am neglecting someone else. By the end of the day I am so wiped out from talking and forging and dealing with the heat I am usually asleep on the couch by 7pm. I feel like butter scraped over too much bread.

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I’ve worked a ton of other jobs, and one thing I’ve noticed is that when times get lean for a business, owners often make cuts or change policies to save money. Maybe its purchasing a lesser quality of product to pass on to the customer, or removing employee benefits , or whatever. I imagine the people making these decisions always tell themselves it’s a temporary move. Well it almost never is, and over time, after years and years of making these kind of small decisions the overall quality of the product or experience erodes. Often the owners don’t ever see it. I see this urge in my own self, and I know I have to fight it. When money was really tight last year, I found myself occasionally having classes with 7 or 8 folks instead of 6. The urge to purchase lower quality steel for cheaper prices was strong, but I resisted that impulse.

I want to be different in how I run my Forge. Hand crafted goods forged with my sweat and often literally blood were never meant to have their quality sacrificed. If I don’t feel like I am giving each student the attention they need, then I am doing a disservice to them and myself.

For Fucks sake! Our society has been making this kind of decision for decades. Its so bad sometimes I have people look at my work and say things like “I can get that at Wal-Fart for cheaper” Many of us don’t even know what quality looks like anymore!

So here’s the deal. My single day classes will now have only 4 students per class instead of 6. This is going to increase the quality of attention each student receives. I may end up doing a single day class on both Saturday and Sunday though. If I am not so dang beat at the end of a class, I can wake up the next morning and look forward to doing it again!

Here is the downside. I am going to have to raise the price for the classes. Single day classes will now be $125. I am a bit nervous about doing that, but I have to for a number of reasons.

  1. Money. I do still need to make a living. Doing 4 people for $125 is $500 for me. $100 less than I was making. This means we are sharing the burden and sharing is fun, right?

  2. Tariffs! I don’t care what you think of the current political climate. I don’t really care what you think of the past or future political climate either. The reality is that some tariffs have recently been put in place that have doubled the cost of my steel. What was $30 is now $60. As a small business that’s a big hit to my operating costs. I have been told it should only be temporary. See my thoughts on that in the paragraphs above.

  3. There are others smiths in Florida teaching folks how to make knives now. To my knowledge none of them make knives, axes and tools their specialty. If you want a cheaper experience from someone who only makes a knife or axe once a year or so, go for it, have fun. I live this shit. I breath steel, and burnt oil, and seared eyebrows every week! I think that means I can charge just a wee bit more.

Soooo… this policy will go into affect starting in the New Year! Until then you will be able to purchase Gift Cards for the $100 price that will still be honored for all of 2019. Kind of a holiday bargain. Otherwise you can sign up for classes as normal. New blacksmithing classes will be posted at the end of October.

Cheers

Jordan Borstelmann

Crooked Path Forge

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Knife Care

Just thought I would put info on my blog where people can access it easily.

 

                       How to care for your new toy..err I mean Knife:

Short Answer
    If you can season a cast iron skillet, you can take care of this knife.  After use all you have to do is make sure it is dry.  Clean it like normal, then dry it with a towel.  Thats all.  Put a little cooking oil on it if you leave on vacation.  I will say it again, make sure it is dry.

Long Answer  
    This blade is made from high carbon steel.  It is NOT Stainless steel. It will rust if you leave it wet.  It will not rust if you GET it wet. It will only rust if you LEAVE it wet.  It will over time gain a patina that will be unique to your blade. This is normal.  The blade will gain a darker color over time, especially if you cut alot of acidic foods(i.e. tomatoes, or citrus).  The patina is an extra layer of black oxide that will stay between your knife and the elements. Love your patina, it will help to protect against rust and corrosion, and it will make your knife truly yours.  Oh yeah, make sure you dry the knife after you use it.

OH NO I LEFT THE KNIFE OUTSIDE IN THE RAIN FOR THREE WEEKS AND ITS ALL RUST AND ITS RUINED!!

Short answer
Nope.

Long Answer
Get some fine steel wool, get some oil, rub it.  Steel is strong, it takes a long time for rust to really do damage.  A little red dusting is not going to harm anything.  It would take immersion in salt water for a week to really hurt the blade, and even then all is not lost.  Depending on how bad the rust is you may need a little elbow grease, but if you have developed a good patina the rust will be on the surface and should come off pretty easy.  If you have any problems or you just cant get the rust off, bring it to me, and I will clean it.

 

Teaching, Learning and Being a Blacksmith on the Internet

     I am a big fan of learning from the internet, just today I watched a few videos on how to fix my washing machine, and it went pretty well.  There is a ton of info about everything you might want to know, no matter how weird.  I love it! 

     It also happens to be a good place to help you learn about blacksmithing.  I have been a lurker and sometimes poster on several metal working, blacksmithing and knife making forums on the internet, and it has really been a boon to my knowledge base and skill level. 

IT WILL NEVER REPLACE LEARNING FROM A REAL LIFE AND EXPERIENCED SMITH.

But I will say you can learn quite a bit.  As I learn and grow with experience I find I have things of my own to share and to teach as well.   The thing is I often see folks posting incorrect information.  I also see folks who should be teaching instead inadvertently(so I hope) discouraging people from getting started by answering simple questions with non-constructive criticisms and unhelpful advice.

So I thought I would share my ideas on this subject, maybe it will help some folks more easily navigate learning and teaching blacksmithing on the internet.  Maybe someone will drop a power hammer on my porch in the morning.  I mean come on it could happen right?

 When I was first getting started I knew next to nothing.  I was asking the classic questions "What kind of steel should I use?"  "If I want to make a sword what size stock should I start with?"

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"Can I make a knife out of this?"

 

 

 

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"How about this?"

 

 

 

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"Can I make a knife out of this?"

 

 

New folks ask stupid questions, and it becomes very hard to answer the same stupid question over and over again.  When its coming in from a forum, or facebook, these questions on an emotional level feel like they are coming from the same person over and over again.  So as a teacher it gets frustrating to answer the same dumb questions over and over again.  Remind yourself that these are all new and disparate people of wildly different experience and back rounds.  Cut the new folk a break it's not their fault they don't know anything

As someone who has taken it upon yourself to teach and offer advice, it's really important to make sure the advice you offer is actually helpful.  Often when someone asks what stock size they need to forge a sword,  the answer I have seen from the unhelpful side of things is "If you need to ask you are not ready to forge a sword."  I am not at all saying that this statement is incorrect, it very likely is correct, the problem with it is that it doesn't answer the question asked.  It's really just a bit of unasked for advice.  If the person isn't ready to make a sword, they will learn that soon enough on their own. 

As a beginner going through the forums and asking questions, often times not even knowing the right questions to ask, I would very often get hit with a big ol' wall of negativity.  No you cant do that, no that wont work, if you have to ask then you wont be able to do it.  I hate that last one the most. 

 I aint afraid of not having power tools!

I aint afraid of not having power tools!

After awhile I started to feel like I would never get into this game.  I would ask how to do a certain task, and was told I needed a powerhammer or a thermonuclear quenching vat if I wanted to really do it right.  I think it's important to remember that there are many different ways to preform a task. 

There is more than one method to heat treat a knife for example.  If I tell you I am a backyard smith, give me an answer that will suit a backyard smith.  Don't tell me I need to drop $1000 on some fancy bit of machinery if I really wanted to do it right.

When I post an answer I always ask my self three questions.

"Did my reply answer the question?"  "Was the answer I offered helpful" "Am I sure I am not talking out of my ass?"

If you don't have anything helpful to add, just dont post.  Its actually easier to post nothing than it is to work out a snarky unhelpful reply.

I think that's enough on the teaching end.  On the whole the people who voluntarily take time and effort to teach, very often for free, on various forums on the Internet are excellent at it and we should all be grateful for their help and advice.

Trying to learn through the internet can be pretty tough.  Here is the best way I have found. 

Google search blacksmithing club (your state here).

Find out when the next meeting is, and go to it.

Never touch your computer again.

LEARNING FROM AN EXPERIENCED SMITH IN REAL LIFE IS ALWAYS THE BEST CHOICE!

However, sometimes it's one in the morning and you cant very well go wake up another blacksmith and get them to show you something, you want to go on the internet and learn there.  Good, go do it.

My first bit of advice is to stop asking questions, and just read.  Likely your questions have all been asked already at least a thousand times.  Browse around that forum and read every post.  Get some books, read them.  This isn't high school, no one is making you do this, but if you really care about learning this Trade/Art/Craft you should naturally be curious about it and want to learn all you can.  If you dont have that kind of urge to learn then you may want to take a second look at why you are trying to do all this in the first place.

I can't tell you how many hours I have spent looking at what I call "knife porn".  Hours of scrolling through posts looking at other peoples works.  Reading the advice and forming my own opinions.  Good, Bad, Ugly, all of it gets fed into your brain and stored there.  Its like a good scrap pile,  you'll be able to dig around in there and pull some useful info out when you really need it.

So how do you know you are getting good information?  This is a tough one, and its why I suggest you do alot of reading, especially real actual books.  Publishers wont waste their money on an author writing a blacksmithing book, if that author doesn't know jack about the trade.  It's not good business.  So in general if you are getting conflicting info go with whats in a book over what someone says on the internet.  There are of course exceptions to this, but you are a blacksmith, so I am sure you are smart enough to figure them out.

Pay attention to the moderators, very often they are the most knowledgeable people you are going to get.  Its part of their role to make posts and correct wrong information, so in general if the moderator tells you something believe it.   After that it can be a crap shoot.  Anyone can say they have made a hundred gates for 50 years, anyone can sound like they know what they are talking about, not all of them do.

A little trick I have come up with which works especially well on Facebook, is I check out an individuals other posts.  If they have alot of pictures of their iron work you can get a very quick sense of their skill level and experience.  I cant tell you how many times I've seen someone act like they know what they are talking about only to go to their FB page and find a hundred photos of Silly Cats and just one photo of a knife like this.

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Just take the time to check on your sources, remember that you care about this stuff, so make sure you get it right.

Last bit of advice is this.  Don't be afraid to learn that what you have been doing is wrong.  This is advice for all of us, teachers and students alike.  We are here to learn our craft, to make cool, beautiful, and useful items.  It does no one any good, especially yourself, to be stubborn and close minded.  Keep your brain open, keep it willing to change as new skills and information become available.

Last off I wanted to suggest some reading and a couple forums that I like to go to, that I feel are pretty good at handling beginners and really seem to have a good helpful communtiy.

Blacksmithing for Beginners on Facebook is an excellent resource

Bladeforums http://www.bladeforums.com/  These guys are really top notch when it comes to knives and blades.  Stacy A Pelt is the moderator for the knifemakers section and really knows his stuff.

Books

The Complete Bladesmith by Jim Hrisoulas

New Edge of the Anvil by jack Andrews

This is where i got started.  So good luck, keep hammering, stay safe.

 

 

 

Hammer Time

Alright well, I've got something more to talk about, so for those of you who care to read, come on in! 

I want to talk about my process a little, and also about what makes a Bladesmith different from a knife maker. When I first got in to this whole MAKE HAMMER SMASH business I had no real understanding of what was involved at all.  I had read many a novel of Swords and Sorcery, played many a game of Dungeons and Dragons, but hadn't been the least bit interested in Building Character and Sheds with my Dad.

Don't get me wrong I played a heck of a lot of football, and had a job since I was 16.  I wasn't lazy, nor was I uncoordinated,  I just preferred to spend my time in more intellectual pursuits.   Building things, makings things (other than love and music) did not appeal to me, for some reason it always felt like a chore.  As a young man I really hated doing chores.  Mowing the lawn, cleaning my room, fixing the shed door, I always said to myself"It's just going to get dirty again tomorrow, so why bother cleaning it today."  Kinda dumb really, but I fought such things tooth and nail at the time.  I still hate mowing. 

 The hand of a Blacksmith and a Gamer!

The hand of a Blacksmith and a Gamer!

Anyway building or making or anything like that just felt like kind of a chore.  When I finally decided to get into blacksmithing, I came at it from a direction that a good deal of smiths hate hearing.  I WANTED TO MAKE SWORD BECAUSE VIDEO GAMES!  This is a real thing that certain smiths get mad at.  I can see their point to a degree.  They've spent a good deal of effort and blood and sweat to achieve a skill that is not only physically demanding, but requires a fair amount of finesse, as well as some science. Here comes some punk kid with tattoos and a raccoon tail thinking he can learn how to make a "Buster Sword" whatever the heck that is.  It takes long hours and real skill, and having been one of those former punk kids(never with a raccoon tail) I can tell you I had NO idea what all was involved.

 See, I know what that is!

See, I know what that is!

 

There was one thing I did know about the process however, and that was hitting something glowing red with a hammer, on top of an anvil.  The image of a man in a dimly lit room with a fire to his left and a black iron anvil to his right;  sparks fly and the anvil sings as he forges out an elegant blade or fearsome axe;  quenching the steel in a hiss of steam and flames, the smith tests the edge by cutting clean through an ironwood tree trunk.  This was what I wanted to do, what I wanted to be.

Hammering at the anvil is the fun part.  Its the part that gives us our name.  Blacksmith.  We aren't Ferrousgrinders, or MetalBenders.  When I tell people I make knives they sometimes don't even know the words for it, but they will say "Do you...?" and make little hammering motions with their hands.  When that happens I really want to be able to say YES I DO! So with any smithing task I take on, I try to do as much hammering as possible.  It's a challenge for me in a way.  Get as much of your steel to its final shape as possible using only the hammer and anvil.  Its a fun way to build better skills and hammer control.  It's amazing what you can do with just a hammer and a flat surface.

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Of course this isn't to say I don't have a super sweet 1hp belt grinder at my beck and call.  I just try to use it sparingly.  It's part of the reason a lot of my knives have that textured finish.  That is what the steel looks like fresh out of the forge.  I feel like it helps me to differentiate my work as a bladesmith, from someone that only grinds away metal using machines, aka knifemaker.  It doesn't inherently make for a lower quality blade using these other methods, but I do feel like I have a lot more control as I create.  I get to live out this childs fantasy while at the same time making a living, making art, and making a useful high quality tool.  I don't get that feeling grinding away in front of a machine.  It's just not my style.

So finally I want to just share some things about the knives I make that also help to set them apart, and show that a real blacksmith made them.

I forge a distal taper.  That means the blade is thicker at the base, and gradually gets thinner towards the point.  This is not an easy thing to do well unless you are a smith.  Most knife Grinders don't bother to do it.

I do all my own heat treating.  This is where the real heart of a blade is born.  I do it all myself at my own shop with my own two hands.  Some knifemakers send their knives out to a third party to be heat treated.  There are ways of tempering and quenching that lend added strength and flexibility to a knife that you just don't get when it's been done at a factory.

 

Seem what you want to be.  Be what you seem.  Thanks for reading.

The First Riddle: Fire is Hot

So, lesson one as a blacksmith is this:

Fire is hot. 

This is both a warning and a lure.  Who hasn't started throwing things in a fire just to see what happens?  Fire is hot.........but how hot?  Can it burn this plastic army guy?  Caaaan it burn a tin can?  A recliner?

Now imagine it's the Stone Age, and all you have for entertainment is a story about what happened at the last hunt, or you can play the throw-things-in-the-fire-and-see-what-happens game.  It's the best thing going.  Mind you, there is no fire marshal to stop you from making a fire as big as you wanted.  Of course if it gets too big it may get out of control, but that's how we learn.  So humans are learning a few things here, how to control fire, how to make it burn hotter, and what happens to stuff that gets thrown in.  Over the course of human history LOTS of things got thrown in.

Some things that probably shouldn't have. 

One thing that was thrown in, but initially didn't seem like alot of fun, was rocks.  Except some rocks melted, that was kinda cool.  This is the first step on the road to blacksmithing.  The guys that like melting rocks. 

Okay I am really over simplifying things here.  I know the march of human progress was a lot more involved than all that, but look at how many of our most basic crafts involve transforming substances through the use of fire.  Cooking, Pottery, Glass Blowing, Metal Working.

Now when learning the art of blacksmithing tending the forge fire is the most important skill.  The word for Forge is used to refer to the workshop as a whole.

Here's a picture of the Crooked Path Forge.

 

Or it can mean the actual hearth in which the heating of metal occurs.

 

This is my forge.  There are many like it, but this one is mine.  My forge is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.

 Yaw and the Dreamers Gate I helped him build.

Yaw and the Dreamers Gate I helped him build.

I was apprentice to this dude in Hawthorne named Yaw Owusu Shangofemi.  The guy was a great teacher.   He came straight from the old school of Charleston SC smithing.  He himself was an apprentice to Phillip Simmons, a real master.  Anyway, learning from him was pretty intense, real wax on wax off stuff, you know work.  The thing he made me learn first and best was how to tend the fire.  Here is a sampling of the tidbits I learned:

Fire-is-hot Sub-Riddle

A :  Metal can burn!

B:  Just because it isn't glowing any more doesn't mean it won't turn your hand into crispy bacon!

C:  Don't stare into the fire, it will hurt your eyes

D:  Don't stare into the fire, you'll blink and come to an hour later

E:  Don't stare into the fire, it will suck you in.

I stared at the fire a little too much.

Makers Mark


This is my makers mark. It stands for the Crooked Path Forge. If I made it it'll have this mark on it somewhere. It's not a stamp, I cut each line with a chisel. Like a signature, you can always tell it was done by my hand, but each one is just a little different. The mark is made from 4 runes from the Anglo-Saxon futhorc. The first 6 runes of the Anglo Saxon Alphabet spell out futhorc, hence the name.

 

There's the full alphabet.

Each rune has a sound just like in our alphabet, but each symbol by itself also has a meaning.

I made whats called a bind rune, which combines two or more runes into one, to kind of blend the meanings of each symbol to roughly translate into the words "Crooked Path"

So I combined   Year, and Ride, and, Tyr and Ash(as in the tree, but also fun because a smith makes ash in the forge).    Here's where I start to use my own inspiration to interpret the runes(i.e. I'm just making it up)

The firsttwo runes I used meaning Year and Ride, I kinda figured could work for Crooked.  Part of the Point of the Crooked Path, is that nothing has a straight line, and as your life takes you through the year, it's always full of ups and downs.

Path was a little tricky.  I mean I could have used the Riding rune again, but I didn't want to.  So I figured I wanted to hint at the destination of the path a little and so the Tyr rune worked pretty well for me. 

There's a poem that is used to help remember all the meaning of the runes, it's kind of like the alphabet song, only for Vikings.  In the poem Tyr's stanza is:

"Tyr is a guiding star;

well does it keep faith with princes;

it is ever on its course over the mists of night and never fails."

We may get a little mystical here, so deal with it.  That spoke to me pretty strongly.  Guiding Star, always keeping faith, coursing through the night and never failing.  That all felt a lot like what I was trying to do when smithing, and also how I wanted others to feel about my finished work.  Never failing.

Then comes the Ash rune.  Well, ashes and blacksmithing is a no brainer, but the rune really points to the Ash Tree, otherwise known as the World Tree.  It winds it's way through all the possible worlds tying them together with root and branch and stem.  I couldn't think of a more crookeder path than that.

So there you go.  That's what the runes mean.