Composition & Connection
A modern metalsmith’s journal on education, forging, and sculpture
As the second week of the forging focus draws to a close, I look back at the exercises and experiences and feel great about the growth and accomplishments of the students. As one of the instructors of this workshop, it’s very important to me that no matter what the student’s skillsets are, we start with the basics and move from there at a pace that everyone is comfortable with. My goal is to demonstrate and charge the students with executing a series of projects during the first two weeks that demonstrate they have an understanding of working at the anvil.
One of the major things stressed during this time period is hammer control. Without a firm grasp of this seemingly simple concept, growth as a blacksmith will prove to be difficult and frustrating. In order to demonstrate hammer control we work on parallel forgings: round to square, square to octagon, and back to round again. All these sections on one bar leaving evidence of each section. This exercise is beneficial in so many ways. From the student’s perspective, it gets them moving and working in an unfamiliar shop; using the saw, getting comfortable with the tooling and working at the forge and the anvil. As the instructor, it gives me a strong sense of the students hammer control and experience level. Regardless of your interests in forging a clear understanding and execution of this exercise will serve you well.
I want the students to get the most from their six weeks here. A firm grasp on the basics will only prove helpful when trying to execute sculptural, traditional, nontraditional, expressive, or rule-breaking forgings.
Following theR-S-O-R exercise we get into some simple wall hook forgings. Building off what we have already learned with the parallel forgings this exercise introduces tapering, shouldering, bending, working at the horn, and a small amount of scrolling. What I’m looking for from this project is several hand forged hooks that look the same. This exercise is not about the hook necessarily, but rather the repetition, the muscle memory and the introduction of several new techniques and skills.
Next I introduce the challenge of creating a much more contemporary hook of my design which consists of three forged elements and a rivet. This project is important because it relies heavily on getting comfortable using hand tools at the anvil and is the first project that involves joinery. Elements of this hook include three ¼”square punched holes, two ¼” round punched holes, some hand held fullering to create 90 degree bends, an interesting way to forge a crispy corner, and of course the square rivet so the hook does not pivot. As with the previous project I encourage three of these hooks to be created. It never ceases to amaze me how much better the third one is and how much firmer of a grasp the students have on the concepts and techniques.
At this point, week one has come to a close, and on Friday I introduce the next project which is to design your own three hook wall mounted coat rack. I feel confident I have introduced enough techniques for the students to now try to design and execute their own forgings. I request that they stick within the realm of techniques we have learned, but I encourage experimentation and sampling. They still are not yet allowed to use the power hammer. I don’t like when blacksmiths use the hammer as a crutch, and I love the challenge of designing something that does not rely on its use to execute. As frustrating as it is, it shows them that there are a lot of possibilities and lots of interesting forgings and work that can be created without power hammers.
The shop is closed this weekend, and the students have some homework. On Monday morning I ask to see a presentation consisting of three different hook idea sketches, they need to share five images of forge work and be able to talk about what is inspiring to them about the images, and to present one blacksmith that they look up to and why.
Students then have from after their presentations on Monday till end of the day on Wednesday to complete their designed and executed coat racks. During this time, I work closer with the students one-on-one helping them trouble shoot their forgings and make any necessary adjustments to their design to help ensure success without sacrificing integrity. This is a nice blend of personal exploration and one on one instruction.
This section of the Forging focus is super exciting, I love seeing what the students come up with and helping them through their process. I also really value being able to have two and a half days to work on a three-hook coat rack. This is something the real world rarely affords you and often, as they are encouraged, the students see this project more as wall mounted sculpture they can hang their coat and hat on. The results are always great, and I am inspired by the variety of work they present and the personal challenges they set for themselves and subsequently overcome.
Below: Coat Rack by Austin Rose
Next up is power hammer introduction and tool making!
Thanks for reading and for your time. I hope everyone is well, staying healthy, and we hope to see you soon!