Cal Poly Among Top Hands-On Bladesmithing Teams in Nation

March 17, 2017

The science and art of smithing blades by hand is back on display in the biennial bladesmithing competition organized by the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society.

The art and science of blade-making was alive and well at the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society bladesmith competition, where Cal Poly placed in the top four of 26 international universities. The biennial event was held Feb. 28 in San Diego.

Cal Poly’s five-member team included materials engineering students Dylan Fitz-Gerald (pictured above), Cameron Atwood, Justin Boothe, Kyle Rosenow, and industrial and manufacturing engineering major Josh Ledgerwood.

“I really didn’t want to just make something sharp and pointy. I wanted it to be more than that,” said Fitz-Gerald, team leader.

“Our team participated in the first TMS Bladesmith Competition in 2015, which was a fantastic experience, and, for many of us, this year’s event represented our last chance at the competition,” he said. “It spurred us to use as many of the techniques and materials we’d always wanted to try, and to seek out ways to make the contest as challenging as possible.”

Instead of a more conventional, utilitarian blade, for example, the team opted for the slender elegance of the rapier, which embodied the kinds of challenges in design and production they were looking for.

“Because of the rapier’s size and design, we had to make new tools, such as a spring swage to round the tang to the right size so that we could thread it or a file guide that could accommodate different bevel angles and keep them straight and even,” said Fitz-Gerald. “We even had to build a new furnace to do our heat treatment because there weren’t any available that could handle the length of the blade. We also used an alloy, 51200 steel, that’s been gaining interest, but about which there is little known from a knife-makers’s perspective.”

The team also ventured into the world of ornamental ironworking techniques. Fitz-Gerald designed and built artistic ivy leaf patterns connected to the handle of the rapier, while a teammate made an ornamental cross-guard and another attached a pommel to the end.

The team’s derring-do approach to Learn by Doing sharpened their skills in engineering, metallurgy and science as nothing else could, said Fitz-Gerald. “Not only did we have to figure out how to do new things at every turn, but do it in such a way that it would be good enough that we’d be proud to present it at the international conference.”

The Cal Poly team also produced a video showing their process, a technical report about the blade and a poster presentation.

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