By Ben Nitkin on
The story starts a few months ago. Over the summer, Helen and I went to Heritage Day, a festival in Easton celebrating the anniversary of the reading of the Declaration of Independence. To celebrate the historic event, Easton invited local historic artisans - weavers, gunsmiths, leatherworkers, and a blacksmith. We watched the blacksmith for a while and eventually struck up a conversation. It turned out that he offered lessons.
Last weekend, Haley, Helen and I went blacksmithing!
Lessons were offered through the Bethlehem Historic Society, and were provided in a recently rebuilt smithy. The rebuilt facility was based upon blueprints for a smithy on the site, dating back to 1750.
Our lesson began with a bit of background of the smithy itself. Ed (the smith) described how the fires were built up, and how the bellows worked. (The bellows worked not unlike a bagpipe: pulling on the rope forced air into a bag. The bag provided a steady stream of air as it was forced empty by gravity.
The fire it fed was fueled by charcoal. Although 1750's charcoal wouldn't have come in paper bags, the setting still matched that of the historic building.
To get a feel for metalworking, Ed showed us through making a simple hook out of 1/4" stock. He quickly transformed a short length of bar stock into a coathook.
He began by honing one end of the stock to a point. By hammering the pointed end over the edge of the anvil, he created a tight decorative curlicue.
Next, he created the hook itself. Another pass through the furnace heated up the last few inches of the rod. He dunked the fragile decoration in water to reinforce it, then pounded the hot metal against the corner of the anvil to create a wider curve. As the metal cooled, he periodically returned it to the furnace to reheat. A quick cleanup on the rounded end of the anvil finalized the hooks' curve.
Ed continued up the length of the hook by heating an area just above the curve. When that was hot, the entire hook was placed in a vice and twisted. The warm, malleable, metal curved into a beautiful quadruple helix.
To finish, he sliced the rod to length and heated the very end. He shaped the end to a point, then used hammer blows to flatten it into a flame shape.
When he finished, the three of us donned aprons and set to work. Each of us tried to reproduce his hook. None of us did too well on the first try. My flame was distended, and the hook itself was enormous and not quite evenly rounded.
Fortunately, both Helen and I had leftover time after finishing the first gizmo. With a better appreciation for how the metal flowed, I created a much better second hook. Helen decided to make a door handle, so Ed broke out some heavier (½") stock. Although we could work ¼" stock with a large hammer, the heavier stuff took more muscle. Ed offered to be Helen's apprentice: once she had the metal hot, she'd give a light blow with the hammer, and Ed would smash down with a huge mallet.
By the time we left, each of us had made two thingeys. For now, they're all hanging along the wall. They'll probably see real use soon.
We'll go back soon. Who would pass up working in a smithy?