Friday, February 27, 2009

Wrought or not? That is the question!

What does a blacksmith mean when talking about wrought iron? Traditional wrought iron is iron that was reduced from ore using the bloomery process. In 1845, the New York State census showed 173 iron-producing bloomeries in the Adirondack region of New York. The resulting metal has almost no carbon but does have fibrous silica slag inclusions as the by-product of the low temperature smelting process. Wrought iron was the staple metal of blacksmithing from the late Roman Empire until the beginning of the 20th Ccntury. It is tough, malleable when hot, forges well, and can be welded in a forge fire. It generally cannot be hardened for cutting edges.
Today the “wrought iron” is used to apply to any steel or iron that has been shaped by hand. This is not the same as the historic meaning. Historically, the term referred to how the iron was made, not what was made from it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Open Shop - February 28th

The Farmers’ Museum has been blessed with talented volunteers that are very generous with their time. In an effort to connect with volunteers and to network with the regional community of Blacksmiths we are having two open shop days at the Fields Shop. The first open shop day was very rewarding. We demonstrated methods used to replicate wrought iron clinched nails as were used in the construction of doors in the 18th and 19th centuries. We also began forgings to make traditional English style spatulas as were used in open hearth cooking. That is fitting as we are coming into Maple Syrup season and the pancakes that accompany hot maple syrup!

If you are a Museum Volunteer, have skills in metalworking, or would like to learn more about those pursuits you are invited to attend our Open Shop day on Feb. 28th. We will be in the shop from 10 until 4pm. There will be a pot luck lunch and hands on demonstrations. For more information please call 607-547-1452. I will return your call.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Language Legacies

These phrases may have started out in the workshops and forges as practical admonitions, and only later became metaphors. They once meant just what they said.

Strike when the iron is hot/Act at the proper time
Too many irons in the fire/Doing too much at once
Hit the nail on the head/To do something accurately
Going at it hammer and tongs/Working hard and fast
Don’t lose your temper*/To get emotional or “hot”
Have a brittle temper/To be easily angered
Get it ironed out/Solve a problem

*A steel spring is tempered (by controlling the rate of temperature rise and fall) to achieve a balance between strength and flexibility. When a spring is overheated it "looses it's temper" and can be bent out of shape. When a person gets overly excited they too may "loose their temper" and get "bent out of shape" as well!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Firewood warms you twice!

The Field Blacksmith shop is heated with a large wood-burning stove. The stove was cast in a foundry for the Museum by using an original as the mold. Thus the stove in our shop is an exact duplicate of an 1840s stove. It can hold up to four large logs at once, and produces a great volume of heat. But the shop is made of stone. The walls cool to match the average temperature. That means in July the shop is pleasantly cool as the walls hold out the summer heat. But in the winter they hold the cold as well. I don’t have to chop down trees for my firewood. I do spend a fair amount of time hauling wood, stacking wood, splitting kindling, stoking the stove, and hauling out ash. Wood warms you twice. Once when you stack it, and once when you burn it!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Earnest Questions

Young children are great visitors in the shop. They ask the questions that everyone wonders about but is afraid to ask. Most days a youngster will ask, “Don’t you get burnt from the fire?” I try to be truthful. The worst burn I received this year was at home cooking fajitas. Blacksmithing has its dangers, but major burns are usually a result of sloppy working methods or inattention. We make it a habit to always return hot metal to the same place at the forge so it is not inadvertently touched. Careful work cultivates safe habits.

How was life different from today in 1845?

One thing that stands out in my mind concerns the quality of light. Today we take light for granted. The Fields shop is an exceptional building, and has a wealth of windows. But when the sky is grey it gets very dark inside. We adjust by doing work that has fine details early in the day, at the bench by the window, or even outside. The dim end of the day is a good time for sweeping or to return tools to their spot. I think working with accurate and varied lighting causes us to adopt historically accurate patterns of work.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

What is the best time of day at the Farmers’ Museum?

The vistas and buildings are so complimentary that they just look right. At 6:59 in the morning I was walking into the shop. The sun was still behind the ridge, and the sky was aglow with pinks and lavender. Frost covered the ground. The rooster was crowing. Though I work here and see the grounds every day it still felt at that moment like I had walked into a village in a previous age.
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