THE BLACKSMITH'S CRAFT
The fundamental tools and techniques utilized by the blacksmith
to shape metal have not essentially changed for centuries.The
metal is heated in the fire and manipulated into form by hammering.
Some of the basic processes and equipment used by the the
contemporary artist blacksmith, are illustrated below in the forging of
a pair of dragon andirons. Each finished piece starts out as a two foot length
of two inch square, mild, steel bar. Except for some slight loss by scaling in
the fire, the weight and volume of the metal is unchanged, simply rearranged
into a new form.
The white hot steel billet is pulled
from the propane fired forge. At a temperature above 2000 degrees
F, the steel is in a relatively soft and plastic state and can
be worked and shaped in ways that belie its normally solid nature.
The tail and body of the dragon had been drawn out to length and allowed
to cool providing a convenient way to handle the heavy 30 lb bar. Cotton
hot mill gloves protect the hands and eliminate the need for tongs.
The head and neck are forged out under
the dies of the hundred pound mechanical power hammer.
Driven by an electric motor, through a heavy flywheel and shock absorbing
linkage, the speed and force of the blow is controlled by a foot operated
This Little Giant hammer was built in 1922. It weighs 3800 lbs and is
securely bolted to a 3 ton reinforced concrete foundation block.
The form is further refined with a
hand hammer on the face of the anvil.
The anvil provides a solid mass and a variety of surfaces and edges against
which the hot metal is hammered into shape.
This anvil is a 260 lb double horn model from the Czech Republic. The
hammer weighs about 3 1/2 lbs. The leather apron provides protection
from the heat and dirt of the work.
With the neck securely held in the
jaws of the vise, the
dragon's mouth is cut open with a handled hot chisel and a 4
lb hand sledge.
During subsequent "heats", the
eyes and nostrils are formed with a variety of punches,
and the horns are peeled up from the back of the head
with a chisel.
The forged steel post vise has a sturdy leg anchored to the floor. Securely
fastened to a heavy bench, the vise is designed to withstand the shock
of heavy hammer blows and provides an iron grip on the work.
Final adjustments to the back of the
head and neck are done at a full red heat over the horn of the
anvil, with a smaller round faced hammer.
The solid steel bar has been slowly transformed and suddenly comes alive
through the magic dance of fire and hammer.
Heated locally in the coal fire, the
heavy section at the base of the tail is bent at just the right
spot using a fly press.
Manually operated via a handled fly wheel driving a large diameter screw,
the fly press exerts a powerful squeeze with excellent control and feel.
Various top and bottom tooling enable it to be used to perform a wide
variety of cutting, punching, stamping, and forming operations.
The coal forge provides an intense but controlled source of heat. Its
open design allows large and awkward shapes to be heated. The fire is
regulated by an air blast coming through the bottom of the cast iron
firepot. The fuel is a high grade bituminous coal from Pennsylvania or
The finished pair of dragons stand
alert and ready for mischief.
The legs have been forged from a separate bar and attached with a tenon
fitted into a mortise punched through the dragon's chest.