At age 14, Class of 2023 Cadet Carson Lucena’s grandfather showed him the basics of bladesmithing, a form of blacksmithing, that involves the shaping of metal with the use of a forge, a type of brick or stone fireplace, and temperatures that can reach between 2,000 and 3,500 degrees depending on the heat source—gas or induction generators or coal.His grandfather, David Garrard, was not adept at bladesmithing but had made some knives and offered guidance, however, Garrard had never attempted to forge them to shape, Lucena said, which was something Lucena was interested in doing.“(My grandfather) preferred to cut the shape out of saw blades and finish them from there,” Lucena said. “Needless to say, there was a lot of trial and error for us to learn the basics of bladesmithing. It simply became a ‘give me an inch, take a mile,’ situation for me. My grandfather gave me the basic tools I would need, and I took off with it. After more than three years, I have had to learn most of my skills on my own, but it’s become one of my favorite hobbies in my downtime.”Lucena’s interest in bladesmithing soared at age 16 while learning about American history at Rose Bud High School in Rose Bud, Arkansas, his hometown.“I became interested in black powder guns and piece-pipe tomahawks from the Revolutionary War,” Lucena said. “When my grandfather gave me a book on making these weapons, called ‘Foxfire,’ I was obsessed with learning how to make them. Soon after, we were learning the basics of how to make knives from scrap metal we had laying around.”In the years since his interest piqued, Lucena said he has made knives, tomahawks, short swords, tools, bracelets and necklaces. He said there is no real limit to what he can create as a bladesmith, and his favorite piece to make is a pipe tomahawk.“The pipe tomahawk is a ceremonial weapon the American Indians used to symbolize peace with other tribes,” Lucena said. “Making this weapon turned out to be very challenging, but also very interesting. I incorporated a gun barrel into the shaft of the weapon to make it more authentic.“It turned out to be one of the most difficult projects I had ever undertaken, but the end result was phenomenal,” he added. “I ended up making two more when I was done with the first one.”In the aftermath of making the pipe tomahawk, Lucena was chosen as a “new and aspiring artist” while his work was displayed at the Contemporary Longrifle Association’s annual convention in Lexington, Kentucky, in August 2018.“This was a great opportunity for me to meet so many bladesmiths and gunsmiths and to see different styles of work,” he said. “It was a dream come true for a new bladesmith.”The process of being a bladesmith begins with the tools of the craft needed to make the inevitable creation. When it comes to the heating source, Lucena said he prefers the use of coal.“Coal is a more primitive heating source because it makes a considerable mess, but it can reach 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit very easily,” Lucena said. “Those are perfect temperatures for heating metal.”At those temperatures in a forge, metal becomes malleable to allow the bladesmith to form metal into whatever shape he or she chooses. Lucena said the shaping of the metal involves using a hammer and an anvil, while other tools are necessary to form hot metal into different shapes.However, the forge, hammer and anvil are the only truly essential tools to making knives, he said.After the forging is done, Lucena said he spends time grinding and sanding the blade down into a finer shape. He can add more detail while the metal is soft and his tools, such as a file, can cut into the steel.For his blades, Lucena said he prefers to use spring steel from old cars and trucks as this steel is considered high carbon and it can be hardened.“This means that the structure of the molecules in the metal can by crystalized if they are heated to 2,000 degrees and then cooled very quickly,” Lucena said. “When those molecules cool, they are actually frozen in place. Once the molecules are frozen in this position, the metal is molecularly stronger and cannot be cut into by metal tools, like files.“Depending on the technique, it can make soft, bendable metal as hard and brittle as glass,” he added. “The technique I use is I heat my blades in the forge to the point that they glow red or dull orange, and then I quench them in boiled linseed oil. The oil pulls the heat out of the metal quickly and creates the molecular structure inside I want. I hold the blades under until the oil stops boiling and pull them out to check for straightness. I check for straightness because the blade was soft enough moments before that it could have bent or warped before or during the oil quench.“If the blade is bent, then I need to bend it back straight as best I can without heating it again because the metal should only be quenched once,” he concluded. “More than one quench could damage the metal internally and it could be more susceptible to cracking later in use. If the blade is good and straight, then I send it straight to tempering.”Lucena said tempering the knives is done by heating them at roughly 300 degrees for at least an hour. The process does not destroy the structural integrity, but it does take the brittleness out of the metal. After that, he said, he shines and sands the blade to the desired level and then he will start on the handle. He makes the handles from wood or bone and uses a belt sander or files to shape the handles.“When they are almost to shape, I hand sand them with pieces of sandpaper. Once the handle is smoothed up, I use the boiled linseed oil as a sealant on the wood to waterproof it and give it a little color,” Lucena said. “After this, the knife is done. I sharpen it and check everything to make sure its durable. At the end, a good knife is ready to be used.”In the weeks he has been home during the COVID-19 crisis, he said he had been spending roughly six hours a week in his grandfather’s shop, but lately it has lessened as the U.S. Military Academy semester has wound down and his academic load has picked up.“Since the quarantine started, I’ve only had enough time to finish two prototype knives to practice my skills,” he said. “I haven’t had time to do quality work.”However, in more than three years, Lucena has made close to 200 knives and his grandfather has allowed him to take over his shop.“I work by myself now and he gives me advice when I feel that I need help,” Lucena, a mechanical engineering major who hopes to branch infantry and get into Special Forces in the future, said. “However, my grandfather’s shop can only be described as organized chaos. His shop is full of tools, antiques and supplies to the point that you cannot walk through it in a straight line if you wanted to. I don’t mind it though, there’s almost a homey feeling when I walk in.“My grandfather’s shop is a place that I can go for quiet and peace when I need time away from school,” he added. “I know that when I’m bladesmithing I don’t need to focus on anything except for the task right in front of me. That ability to achieve that flow makes time almost irrelevant when I work, and I can enjoy making things that I know can function in everyday life.”As the pieces he made grew in numbers, his skills have led to showing off his character as he has donated many of his works to help charities or fundraisers.“I wanted to use my skills to help people,” Lucena said. “When I found out people were interested and willing to pay for the blades and tools I was making, I wanted to donate them to causes that I thought were important.”His donations have helped his local church, a local softball team buy its state championship rings and, most recently, start a scholarship at his high school. The scholarship was named for his former physics teacher, Kristie Irwin, who passed away in February due to lung cancer. She was his guide, he said, and a teacher whose classes he enjoyed and the person who wrote a letter of recommendation for him to apply to West Point.“Mrs. Irwin was like family to all of her students, not just me,” he said. “I was at West Point when I got a call from my family that Mrs. Irwin had passed away. I was heartbroken. That was one of the hardest days for me at West Point.“Then, I received a call from my mom asking me if I wanted to donate (a knife) to raise money for a scholarship in her name,” he added. “I wanted to do anything I could to support her family, so I said yes without hesitating. I wanted the knife to go to a great cause for someone that I cared about and supported me so much throughout high school. To donate that piece in her name was a way I felt like I could honor her even though I couldn’t be there to pay my respects.”After this academic year is complete, Lucena will still have three more years at West Point, so when the time comes to go back into his grandfather’s shop, does he have any specific plans to make a blade piece that involves a West Point or military theme?“The projects I have in mind for the future will definitely have some military aspects to them,” Lucena said. “I like the tactical looks that military bayonets and weapons have. Replicating some of those characteristics, like the Vietnam-era K-bar knife, is a challenge I would like to take on soon.”