The moment I first came across Mad Dwarf Workshop, I was immediately impressed. The two masterminds behind the Indiana based swordsmithing shop, Andy Davis andDavid DelaGardelle, put their amazing talents together to create some of the most exquisite creations I’ve ever seen. From daggers to swords, each one is intricately and lovingly designed by hand. Looking at their site was like stepping into the lands of Middle-earth and I found myself wanting to know more about the two men who pound away at metal all day. Here begins the first part of my Q&A with Mad Dwarf Workshop (MDW):
1. You mention on your site that the two of you became friends at an early age – when was it you both realized you had a passion for swordsmithing and joined interests to create MDW?
Andy and I were blessed to have met at such an early age and to have had a great environment to hang out and to grow up in. We were also extremely blessed to have such awesome families who’ve always supported us in our weird creative endeavors ever since we were little kids. So right from the get-go when we first started hanging out we almost instantaneously became brothers. The glue that most definitely bound our friendship together from the start was our shared crazy creativity. We both had the freedom of being home schooled. Our learning environment gave us opportunities and confidence to explore who we wanted to become at a level most young kids unfortunately are not able to explore. We’ve been extremely blessed in that sense, and definitely do not take it for granted. It really all began with hours and hours spent building ridiculous creations out of Legos around age 7-8. We then moved into basic woodworking. We would make our own toy guns and swords; then we would proceed to beat the crap out of each other with the wooden weapons. Countless afternoons were spent digging trenches on Andy’s parents’ farm where we pretended we were soldiers in WWII. The landscapes we grew up in helped cultivate a passion and love for the natural world, especially when going on trips to the mountains of Colorado, Canada, and even England in our high school years. And finally, diving into the world of classic authors like Tolkien, Lewis, and completely eating up classic myths and legends like “Beowulf” really propelled our interest in Arms and Armor. It was right around 2000, a year before the first LOTR film came out (which we were a little critical of even at that age) when we first really started playing around with the idea of learning blacksmithing and blade making just for fun. Little did we know it would spiral us into an incredible world of craftsmanship and history, learning from some of the most amazing smiths alive.
The sword had always been an intrinsic love for us for as long as we could remember. And I think that may be the similar case with most boys, because lets face it, boys are boys and they dream of saving the damsel and slaying the dragon. The moment we realized we might actually be able to get our hands dirty and try this craft for ourselves was a revelation. After years of researching, hunting down tools, and learning the basics; we officially started what we jokingly called “the Mad Dwarf Workshop”. And it wasn’t started with any huge goals in mind. We were still in high school at this point, and were literally only interested in crafting cool bladed weapons for ourselves to keep. Once we started to share our work with others, however, the positive and encouraging response from people was overwhelming. We figured why not try and refine our skills to the point of actually selling our creations? MDW took on a life of its own very quickly. We almost feel like we were merely the instruments, not the creators.
2. What is the story behind the name, MDW?
We really wish we had some cool epic story behind the name… But we don’t.
It literally spawned out of the minds of a couple Mythology loving overly ambitious artistic high school kids who’ve read the Hobbit one to many times. What we can remember though is a couple conversations we had about “MAD” referring to “Metalworking by Andy & David”. It also gained a second meaning when our good high school buddy named Mason occasionally joined us in the shop. But as of today; the name Mad Dwarf Workshop simply stands as a wild idea that a bunch of young kids thought up after being inspired by guys like Tolkien, Lewis, and the stories we’ve loved growing up.
3. What is your favorite part of the swordsmithing process?
Andy: My passion has always just been working with hot steel and letting the material dictate organically what the finished piece should look like. I really love the task of forge welding (fusing metals together) and creating natural looking patterns within the steel itself. The forging and manipulation of the steel when we craft some of our swords is always what gets me excited with a new project. On top of that, however, there is a whole different drive behind the work for me. While I really enjoy making swords for customers, David is much better at it, and my true passion lies in the teaching of our craft to other people. It’s great to make a custom sword for an individual and get my work into their hands. But in many ways I personally feel it’s almost more rewarding to teach that person the craft, and then witness them use their own hands and own abilities to bring their dream to life.
David: For me it’s definitely the moment in which the materials I’m working with suddenly transform from simply being wood, steel, leather, or bronze into a real functional sword that seems to almost be alive. On every sword, it seems that point occurs at different times. Sometimes it happens right when I heat-treat the blade, which makes it tough enough to withstand combat. Sometimes it is when I am grinding the blade’s geometry to shape, and it suddenly begins to sing differently when struck against another object. And sometimes it doesn’t truly come to life until the hilt is fully assembled state and I can feel what some describe as the swords energy really come to life in my hand. Regardless of when it happens, it’s always an extremely satisfying and rewarding feeling as a smith and as an artist.
4. If you could design any weapon from one of Tolkien’s many made-up nations, what would it be and why?
Andy: I’ve always loved Tolkien’s description of Turin Turambar’s black sword “Anglachel” which later became “Gurthang”. Even if your slightly familiar with Northern myths and legends which spoke of weapons almost as people, its still striking to read Tolkien’s description of the black sword in such evocative detail. It literally is a character in the story, and is so much more than just an instrument of violence used by this flawed character. I think a few swordsmiths have attempted to bring this sword to life in their own way. But I think it would take a lot of time, craftsmanship, and passion to truly bring out the real spirit of this sword and have it do justice to Tolkien’s story. Plus, I love a good challenge! So maybe some day it will happen.
David: For a long time I’ve dreamt about bringing Farmer Giles of Ham’s sword “Caudimordax” aka “Tail Biter” to life. I have always loved The Hobbit, LOTR, the Silmarillion, and Tolkien’s other Middle Earth tales. But something about Farmer Giles of Ham always resonated with me, both in a comical sense of the story, and in a serious sense of its narrative. I’ve always found it one of Tolkien’s best yet most under rated and overlooked stories. It’s a hilarious story that also provides some awesome subject matter for weird on the fringe artists like me. And how cool a name is “Caudimordax”!? I drew an elaborate sketch last year of Farmer Giles, showing multiple variations of his sword. [On right.]
5. While smithing away, is there any music you find that most inspires you?
The list of music that we love listening to while forging could fill an entire book, so we’ll try to sum it down to our absolute favorite musicians and bands. Probably the 1# band we listen to on our shop is a band called Flatfoot 56. They are great guys from Chicago who we’ve actually met in person and have been really encouraging to us in the work we do. Their music is an awesome mix of Irish/Celtic & Punk Rock. It fits the old world vibe of our shop while still being loud enough to keep us moving during a long day of working.
We also love a lot of traditional Irish, Celtic and even bluegrass tunes. It is the kind of music that you might expect to hear in a blacksmithing workshop. Some of our favorite artists in general include: Lunasa, the Chieftains, the Crossing,and Darol Anger’s Republic of Strings.
We also really love a lot of “percussion” Acoustic guitar musicians such as:
TO BE CONTINUED…