Hanging at the Smithy

by Ben N on January 7, 2013

Yesterday, I got to spend the afternoon with a blacksmith.

A while back, when I told my Dad that I wanted to get into blacksmithing, he said “You should go talk to Ross sometime.” Ross is an electrician that works with my Dad, but he’s also a blacksmith on the weekends, building projects like wrought-iron hand-rails, bed-frames, and iron-sculptures.

I called Ross at the start of the weekend, and he said “Why don’t you come over tomorrow afternoon.”

I headed over to Ross’ place, an unassuming house in a typical subdivision. I parked and went to the man-door on the detached garage, knocked and entered. Inside was far more iron, tools, and machines than I ever expected to fit in a two car garage. There was a huge A-frame metal rack, a coal forge (vented to the outdoors), natural gas forge, ancient anvil, hammers, and tongs, myrid home-made tools, and even a Little Giant Trip-Hammer.

I ended up hanging out with Ross for about three hours, talking techniques, projects, and materials. I was especially impressed with the dozens of small tools he had designed for various projects. Usually, they were angle iron and rods cut and welded into different shapes to hold metal, punch or shape it. For example, on one project, he was forging bunches of grapes for a metal fruit sculpture. He had a guillatine jig for veining the grape leaves, and a ball-shaped cutter that could stamp out individual iron grapes.

Once again, Ross was like many folks I’ve met over the past few years. “Use what ya got”, “It doesn’t have to be fancy”, and “This isn’t rocket science” all popped up in conversation. (I actually DID point out that heat, oxygen, and combustion sort of ARE rocket science…. But you certainly don’t need a PhD in it..) There were many pieces of stone, marble, and other gorgeous materials around the shop, thrown out from construction sites, that were destined for higher purposes – eventually to be made into art pieces. The mentality of taking scrap materials and making them into something far better certainly applied here.

I was most impressed by the photos I got to see of a king-size iron head-board, made from one-inch square stock, twisted and bent into graceful swoops. It was on a scale that put my tiny nail coat-hooks to shame. I suppose it doesn’t hurt that Ross is a third-generation smith, and I’ve only been doing this for about a week…. ¬†Looks like I’ll need more practice to catch up!

I told Ross what I was using for equipment and showed him the few pieces I’d done so far. He encouraged me to keep going and start making some of my own tongs. It’s a LOT easier to hold certain pieces with the right tool! He also gave me a two-foot section of railroad track rail, which I should be able to bang on a lot harder than my cast iron vise (which already has a foot broken off!) I also got a used bathroom exhaust fan. I should be able to mount it to my low-tech forge for a dedicated blower, instead of using my hairdryer or shop-vac.

It sure is pretty cool to get into somebody else’s workspace. Seeing somebody’s tools, how they arrange them, and how they are used in the real world is a far cry from what you get from a book. It’s great to be able to ask questions and have somebody to bounce ideas off of to get going on any new project, skill or hobby.

Best of all, it makes me feel like I’m on the right track. With a little hard work and more practice, I should be able to start making something amazing!

-Ben

PS: Below are a few photos of what I’ve done so far, including a fire poker and hooks made from old-fashioned nails.

Are you interested in blacksmithing? Check out Bob Rupert’s BLACKSMITHING BASICS instructional DVDs!

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