Monday, November 22, 2010

decompression in 3...2...1...

I'm in La Serena, a coastal-ish town (about 2km up the Rio Elqui from where it hits the ocean) 7 hours north of Valparaiso. It's desert up here, which somehow slipped my mind. I don't really care for the desert. Some people love it; I only visit when I need sensory deprivation. It's not super-interesting. The desert here looks more or less like the desert in California, Baja California, and Mexico. It seems to lack the dramatic geology of the deserts in Utah, Arizona, and Nevada, but there's still that theme of rocks, cactus, tumbleweed, brutal sunlight, and not much else. I'm not a visually-stimulated person and I hate sunlight, so, yeah. Not a desert rat.

I'd thought about going to Valle del Elqui, which is the vineyard-laden center of pisco production. Then I thought about what exactly I came here to do, which is roughly "nothing" in the form of "eat food, drink coffee, and read books and the Internet," and discovered that in fact I don't care about seeing Valle del Elqui very much. I saw some pictures. It looks like a moonscape with vineyards. Not really my thing.

Having reminded myself that I don't actually want to do anything, I'm...relaxing. Decompressing, starting gently to understand what's happened the past 8 months. I think the time spent teaching was forging and quenching: you apply heat and pressure to your work, shape it with your hammer, then suddenly you sink in it water, cooling it so quickly that the crystal structure changes suddenly, leaving the steel extremely hard, but brittle.

After quenching, you temper the work, which is actually making it less hard and brittle, giving it some flexible toughness so it can absorb shocks. Heat the steel slowly so the parts you want to soften heat up first, to a certain temperature (in blacksmithing, judged by color), and then quench it again. Done by experienced hands, it's an intuitive but fairly precise process.

Anyway, to get out of geek mode: I've done the forging and quenching. Now I'm relaxing and starting the tempering.

Shouldn't take more than a couple decades, I'd think.

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