Dwight Watt - Watt Thoughts #165 6/22/2008

#165 - Blacksmithing (Watt Thoughts)

What has Dwight been doing new in 2008? He has learned to blacksmith.

My great-grandfather was a blacksmith and his son, my great-uncle, followed him and then moved to auto mechanics. Their blacksmith shop was in Kansas. I remember visiting it when I was a young boy.

For several years when I have seen a blacksmith course listed or mentioned at a college it sounded interesting, although I had no idea what I would make in a class. I had done some very basic metal work in shop class in junior high and high school although the two items I remember making (and still have, a true packrat) was a metal frame post to hold a board with address number which had some simple rounded welded metal and two cast metal knight bookends where I made the mold and poured the metal.

Northwestern Technical College, where I teach CIS now, has had a course offered in continuing education since I have been there. I had chosen to not take it in the fall as I thought I was busy enough teaching two nights a week, teaching day (in Rock Spring and Summerville) and taking a graduate computer class online. Spring quarter it was offered again one night a week and I thought that works, so I signed up.

The class had a great teacher/student ratio; there were five students to start and four teachers. We lost one of each after a couple weeks (dropped out) and finished with four students and three teachers. We made a number of items. We basically made a project a week although a couple projects took two weeks. I bought my own hammers, had to buy twice as my first set was too light, but the second is great. I now have a ball pein hammer and 3 cross pein hammers (two styles and weights). Blacksmithdepot.com in North Carolina has great prices and fabulous delivery. I could order late Wednesday night, pay regular shipping and have on Friday by lunch. I also have several pairs of leather gloves, getting as light weight as possible that I could for maneuvering while handling the hammer and metal, although I usually had no glove on the hand with the hammer, except to keep blisters away, but I am calloused now.

We went from fairly simple work, although it was new and different/difficult in the first week, to making fancy ornamentation on the handle the last week. We started with a simple hook for a wall, could be a coat hook or whatever. Then it was to a bar to put three hooks (make by us) on to hang three coffee mugs on (have not figured how to get my hundred or so mugs on three hooks). We then learned an ancient skill of how to make nails, I did ok, but you do not want me to make nails. We made over a few weeks fire tools (which we actually used in the forge) including a shovel (from a rod and flat piece of metal and riveted) and a couple of fire pokers (with some fanciness in the handles like twists and various hammered curves).

We made a ladle (again from a rod and flat metal) and it actually holds water, but I made a long handle. We learned to forge weld two ways, although the one person method for welding two pieces of metal I was shown how to do, but I could not get it to hold. The other way worked for me. I looped the metal back, welded it, cut a loop and make a two prong fork I could use for barbequing. We also made crosses one week out of a single piece of metal split two ways and flatted. That was really impressive (and probably easiest. We did made a fork by splitting metal also. We made tongs to put our metal in the fire and to get the metal out. We also made a chisel and punch tool out of a truck spring.

We finished on the last night by putting a wizard on a handle. That was neat. I made mine into a steak turner.

The important items I learned in blacksmithing was one the temperature of your metal (canít be to hot or to cold), how hard and where you strike the hammer, the type of hammer and how to use a punch and chisel.

About the second week after starting the class in northwest Georgia I had an opportunity appear in Swainsboro (southeast Georgia). The retired optometristís, Dr. Dixon, father was a blacksmith in Tennessee, and Dr. Dixon was trained as one also, has donated his dadís blacksmith shop to the Emanuel Hone and Farm Museum. He intends it to be a living exhibit and wants to train some younger people. One other man and I met him out there one Saturday after my first two classes at Northwestern Tech.

He showed us how to use a hand operated bellows and forge (the ones at Northwestern are electric powered fans) and to do some simple work. He has liked the work I have done at the college. He favors lighter hammers and the instructors at Northwestern like heavier hammers, and my hammer is medium weight). He and I did a demonstration of blacksmithing for the public the first Saturday in May for open house for the museum for the Pine Tree Festival.

Blacksmithing is an interesting craft to know (to go with my wood, stained glass and photography crafts). What I may do with it, I am not sure yet, but I know I will at least do occasional demonstrations at the museum and who knows what else. I entered one of the metal crosses I made, in the art show at the Emanuel Arts Center this month and have thought about ways to combine stained glass and blacksmithing. I have learned how good and bad coal burns and how to clean a fire also.

I have done computer work for a steel fabrication plant for years and now I actually know how to work with the metal.

You can view pictures of me blacksmithing and projects I have done at http://dwight-watt.home.att.net/Dwight-Blacksmithing-spring-2008/Dwight-Blacksmithing-spring-2008.html



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