Wilderness Ironworks


INTERVIEW: Robert Burns (Wilderness Ironworks)

Long time no interviews, eh? Our today’s guest has been featured a couple of times on the blog, so it is only fair that he gets his own interview as well. Art of Swords sat down with Robert Burns, the founder of Wilderness Ironworks, to talk about more sword making. Enjoy!

  • Art of Swords: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Robert Burns: My name is Robert Burns and I have been a professional blacksmith and bladesmith for the past four years. I live in the Midwest of the United States where I have my shop and forge axes, knives, tools, and every so often swords.

I love the outdoors  especially when I can be out hiking or kayaking, I always find my grounding in nature and much of the inspiration for my work comes from there.

I have always loved reading science fiction and fantasy novels from a very early age and feel very fortunate to be able to carry those stories in my heart while I do my work. I’m also very blessed to have a wonderful and support wife that  shares and interest in my work.

  • Art of Swords: What ignited your passion for swords and the art of swordsmithing and how long did it take for you to learn the skills required?

Robert Burns: I have always had a deep love of history and in particular the tools and weapons that moved civilizations forward. I would often visit historic sites and visit the local blacksmith; after enough of these visits my family took note and decided to encourage my pursuit of metal work. It was the winter just before I turned fourteen that I took my first classes in blacksmithing, and from there I set up a shop at home, that over time became first my part time job and now my full time business.

Of course I dreamed of making swords from the very start of this journey, but quickly learned just how little I knew and how much I needed to learn in order to attempt my first sword. Having just turned twenty two I can only now say that I feel my skills have developed enough to truly begin to understand the craft that is swordsmithing.

  • Art of Swords: Do you make swords for fun or professionally?

Robert Burns: Right now I make swords more for the pursuit of knowledge rather than money and often do not share my work publicly as I am more well known for my knives and axes which are the life blood of my business.

  • Art of Swords: Do you have an area or period or style you specialise in?

Robert Burns: My favorite period to study is the early and late migration periods in Northern Europe (Vikings) and more lately beginning to study the swords of feudal Japan. The swords I have worked the most on are viking period blades making large seaxs and now attempting more complicated pattern welded blades.

  • Art of Swords: Do you have an all time favorite blade that you forged throughout your smithing career and if so, why?

Robert Burns: Unfortunately I do not, I find that each blade has aspects which are done well or pleasing to me but I am very very rarely 100% happy with any project as there is always room for growth and development. So I guess you could say my favorite project is the one that I haven’t done yet.

  • Art of Swords: What were the bigger obstacles you had to overcome when learning the art of swordsmithing?

Robert Burns: Probably the biggest obstacle was myself. In a craft like this where there are already very few people still doing it you end up working alone a lot of the time and it can be very easy to get stuck in your head. You can start to think a little detail is way more important than it really is and it is really easy to let that take over a project.

  • Art of Swords: Can you also handle a sword?

Robert Burns: Actually yes I can. I have been a foil and saber fencer since the age of nine and competed for several years. I also studied medieval fencing for a while as well mostly long sword and dagger.

  • Art of Swords: What would you say is the most challenging aspect of making a sword?

Robert Burns: I believe the most challenging aspect is getting the sword to feel right. It’s pretty easy to get a sword to “look” right, any factory can produce things that look OKAY the difficult part is getting the sword to come alive in the hand and to perform like it should.

  • Art of Swords: What would your advice be to anyone interested in learning swordsmithing?

Robert Burns: To start small and work hard on the fundamentals of shaping and working all of the different materials and to, if possible study or try using swords in order to get a feel for what they are supposed to feel like and how they are supposed to work.

Thank you, Robert!

For more information about Robert’s work, check out his website, Wilderness Ironworks.

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