2 years in a row, Oppelt Brothers win Mines Junior Bladesmithing Championship

Oppelt brothers with their winning blades.
Oppelt brothers with their winning blades.(KOTA)
Published: Oct. 6, 2022 at 8:44 PM CDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - Oppelt brothers Caleb and Evan from Goodwin, SD have landed the top spots in South Dakota Mines Junior Bladesmithing Championship for the second year in a row. The Junior Bladesmithing Competition is open to high school students around the nation who are challenged to craft a knife or sword by hand hammering or trip hammer forging.

“Each of their blades were so exceptional that the judges decided to make them co-champions,” says Michael West, Ph.D., head of the Department of Materials and Metallurgical Engineering at Mines.

Blades and technical reports are judged on the following four criteria: scientific merit, technical communication, creativity, and difficulty level. Caleb Oppelt forged a 10-inch hamon blade using W-2 tool steel. The blade has a spine of softer steel and a hardened edge. The paper he wrote accompanying the blade entry, titled “The Science of Differential Hardening,” outlines his process.

“I love the science behind bladesmithing. The competition has encouraged me and made me excited about pursuing metallurgical engineering as a career,” says Caleb. “Thank you to South Dakota Mines and to Nucor for hosting and sponsoring this competition.”

Evan Oppelt smelted his own wootz type carbon steel in a homemade foundry and then forged a Finish type hunting knife blade called a Puukko. The accompanying paper he wrote, titled “The Wootz Puukko,” outlines his process.

“I am very thankful to South Dakota Mines for hosting this competition,” says Evan. “It’s an excellent excuse to try new, experimental ideas and techniques. It’s a chance to stretch the boundaries of our skills. I love that Mines is encouraging young people to grow their skills.”

Entrants are also tasked to write a technical report detailing their fabrication efforts. The competition encourages high school students to work with local blacksmiths or experts in their own communities to build hands-on metalworking skills while engaging in a learning process around the science of metallurgy.