After lockdown, it was a wonderful surprise for us at Heavin Forge, Bladesmithing Studio and School in Belfast, South Africa, to have a full class of six keen students.
We began on Saturday before the course officially started on Monday, 7 March 2022. Two of our students came from overseas. Our assistant instructor, Jean Wilke, ABS Apprentice Smith, and fellow Knifemakers’ Guild of Southern Africa member kindly collected them from the airport in Johannesburg. His family took them to spend the night with his grandfather on his farm halfway to our forge. They were treated to all the favorite South African dishes and given a farm tour where they saw a few antelope.
Anetta Ameryk is from Poland and aims to become Poland’s first ABS Mastersmith. Martin Cooper is from San Francisco, California, and the other four students are from South Africa. They met for the first time on Sunday evening with a traditional South African “braai” – barbeque.
Anetta stayed in our separate “Ladysmith Suite” while the guys shared the Golden Mole Conservancy Guest House, a large house next door to us that we recently bought for our student’s accommodation.
Although we follow the ABS guideline for the two-week Introduction to Bladesmithing course, we add quite a few extras as our classes are small. The students stay on the property, and we have the luxury of working out of our studio. We allowed the students to work in the studio on Saturdays.
We spent most evenings giving lectures while we braaied and socialized. Days in the studio started early and finished at 5:30 pm with an hour for lunch. Our stores are only one mile away, and because our town is so tiny, even our local butcher got to know each student by name!
The student’s confidence grew with each new knife forged, ground, and heat-treated. One the final Friday, after their written test, they nervously plunged into their mock-up performance test. We only had one student break his knife, and the others bent beautifully and sprung back almost straight. We handed out their well-earned certificates while they used their bent knives to cut juicy watermelon wedges!
Their braai ended early as our students went to bed early as we were up at 3 am for the 3 hour trip to the Kruger National Park for a day visit. We were fortunate and saw elephants, rhino, African wild dog, Cape buffalo, waterbuck, giraffe, zebra, impala, hippo, warthog, wildebeest, and a host of beautiful birds.
Most of our students stayed on for the Handles, Fittings, and Sheaths class the following week. This was followed by three days during the last week for the Introduction to Damascus Course.
We all got together to visit a local tourist town, Dullstroom, only 20 miles away, for lunch and to attend the stunning flying demonstration at their birds of prey center. Our students bought craft beer from “Anvil Ale” breweries and homemade cheese and chocolates.
Our students, now all firm friends, left with the promise to keep in touch. Anetta flew back to Poland, and Martin is still in South Africa exploring Cape Town and its wine region!