Thursday, April 22, 2010


I used to just love a magazine called Early American Life. It was awesome! That was where I first fell in love with quilts, heritage breeds and really hard looking furniture. I am actually convinced that if they had had softer furniture that it would have increased life span by a good ten years. EAL issued some of the first warnings about the loss of heritage breeds of domestic livestock, the loss of produce varieties and the loss of fruit tree cultivars. We have gone from thousands of types of apples to around four hundred. They also warned of the loss of artisans. We were losing the secrets of ancient handwork. One of the skills that was disappearing was that of artisan blacksmith. The idea of blacksmithing TOTALLY captured my imagination and it left a flickering flame burning in the back of my mind.

Zoom forward twenty plus years and I am then 49. I get an e-mail from my oldest daughter and an attachment. It was about an adult ed. class called basic blacksmithing. She called later," You should go, Mom. you've wanted to do this as long as I can remember. If it will make you feel better, I'll make Micah go with you" I think going to an adult ed. class with his future mother in law was just too creepy for Micah, but I did go to the class .....AND IT WAS GREAT!!!!!

It ended up being the coldest day of the winter for that year. The students met at the visitors center. Then we trudged across the back "yard" up the hill and down the street of a recreated historical village. Then into a plank shed that was the black smiths shop. It had no insulation, no central heat and no floor. The fire had been started in the pot bellied stove but it wasn't warm enough yet for the chimney to start drawing. Smoke filled the small space and we had to open the doors. The instructor started off explaining fire safety and hot metal safety but I really can't remember too much of it. The phrase "mind numbingly cold" is no exaggeration. Pretty soon we were allowed to get some coals and move them to the forges and to start our own fires. We used the bellows to coax the coals a bit then added some coke and then more air. More coke, more air. Watch and wait and gently, more coke, more air.

Before long each of us had a glowing pile of coals in out forges. We banked more coke on the pile then we picked out our hammers and cut our metal. By this time the chimney had stopped smoking and was drawing. We closed the doors and the shed went dark. We could finally take off our gloves. While we watched our fires out of the corners of our eyes, the instructor told us how to bounce our hammers on the anvil. Told us what made an anvil good and what made it bad, explained the hardy and pritchel holes and why the horns were shaped differently.

There was instruction interspersed with application. Our water buckets, which had been frozen solid, were starting to thaw out. We could cool and temper our pieces. The women were having a blast and, all but myself, were making plant hangers. I'm not sure what the fellow was making. In a fit of testosterone compensation, he had chosen a five pound hammer. He was overheating his metal so that when he pulled it out of his fire it looked like a sparkler. Then he would proceed to wail on it until the metal had gone gray and he was basically cold forging. Poor Dear was in pain by the time he broke his project into two pieces. He leaned over and looked at my work while rubbing his arm muscles, "So, what are you making?"

"Well, I figured that if I liked doing this, it would be a good idea to have a tool. So, I decided to make the coal shover thingy. If I get it done in time, I want to make the clinker tool too."

Then he went and cut some more metal and it wasn't long before he had a coal shover thingy as well. Being a chick, mine had a curve in the handle and a decorative twist in the shaft and a curley-que on the tip of the working end. The instructor watched me. "How did you get such a small curl on the end of that?"

"I dunked it a lot and didn't hit it very hard. Did I do good?"

"Good enough"

"But is that good? I want to be good at this!"

That fart never did answer me! But apparently, some of us were fairly good at it, because the instructor also taught us to do cold twists and hot twists. How to punch holes and make splits. One gal made a coil from her metal, but the best was making the leaf! One young gal's second effort was a key chain in the shape of a leaf. It was only about an inch across and two inches long. That's when I knew that some how I had to keep blacksmithing.

After class we went to eat. My face and hands were black and I exuded some smokey bacon aroma and I was so excited!

I bought a forge over a year ago. I still haven't found a way to get it home. Next step is to find an anvil that has good bounce and can sing. But I'll get it all figured out. Because I am addicted!! Next project is slated to be a gate. It will be a gate of twining vines and lots and lots of leaves! I'm going to be an awesome blacksmith!


1 comment:

  1. When I come to visit you Louie I want you to teach me, or at least let me watch you work :)