Mines News

Release Date Monday, July 26, 2021

High School Students Win Mines Inaugural Junior Bladesmithing Championship

An award-winning knife blade made by Caleb Oppelt, a high school student from Goodwin, SD.

The winners of South Dakota Mines first ever Junior Bladesmithing Championship are taking home cash prizes for knife and sword blades they crafted from scratch.

The annual nationwide competition is hosted by Mines’ Department of Materials and Metallurgical Engineering and sponsored by the university’s industrial partner, Nucor Steel. The championship challenges high school students to use traditional blacksmithing and bladesmithing methods of hand hammering or trip hammer forging to produce a blade. Students are also tasked to write a technical report detailing the science behind their work. 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.

This year’s entries were judged by former South Dakota Mines Metallurgical Engineering alumni Luke Shearer, Daniel Nagel, and Isaac Hammer, who led blacksmithing and bladesmithing activities as students. Blades and technical reports are judged on the following four criteria: scientific merit, technical communication, creativity, and difficulty level. The top three winners received cash prizes. 

 The winners were:
1) Caleb Oppelt, Goodwin, SD
2) Evan  Oppelt, Goodwin, SD=
3) Hunter Hollenbeck, Edgemont, SD

4) Thad Malsam, Brandon Valley, SD

Oppelt Brothers Two brothers, Caleb and Evan Oppelt took home the top two places in the event. 

“I was introduced to this competition by a family member, who knew I had been forging knives for a couple years. Because of the generous time frame that was given, I was able to learn more techniques and skills that I hadn’t tried before. I made a few different blades before deciding on the one to enter,” says Caleb.  The knife he chose for this competition is a feather pattern Damascus steel blade, a twist Damascus guard and frame handle with African blackwood handle scales secured with brass pins. “After I completed the knife, I posted pictures of it on Facebook, and got an order to recreate a similar knife. I really enjoyed and am thankful for the opportunity this competition presented to challenge myself to experiment and grow in my skills as a bladesmith,” says Caleb.

“I am so thankful to South Dakota Mines for offering this competition,” Evan says. “I wanted to make a Damascus sword, but I needed to build a power hammer to accomplish that. The Junior Bladesmith Competition was the encouragement I needed to build the hammer and make the sword.”  Evan’s sword is a straight-layer Damascus blade and a walnut handle with an epoxy accent. It also includes a flared and fullered guard and a faceted pommel. “This competition has been so rewarding in so many ways, from pushing me out of my comfort zone to try new things, learning new techniques, and the perseverance I needed for this build. Thank you for this experience and to Nucor for sponsoring this event,” Evan says. 

Entrants for the 2020 and 2021 Junior Bladesmithing Championship were limited to South Dakota due to COVID-19 restrictions. All future Junior Bladesmithing Championship competitions are open to high school students nationwide.   



About South Dakota Mines  

Founded in 1885, South Dakota Mines is one of the nation’s leading engineering, science and technology universities. South Dakota Mines offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees and a best-in-class education at an affordable price. The university enrolls 2,493 students with an average class size of 24. The South Dakota Mines placement rate for graduates is 98 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $70,036. For these reasons  South Dakota Mines is ranked among the best engineering schools in the country for return on investment. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu and on FacebookTwitter, LinkedInInstagram, and Snapchat.

Contact: Mike Ray, 605-394-6082, mike.ray@sdsmt.edu

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