Friday, March 27, 2009

Blacksmithing Hammers #1: Cross Peen Hammers

The hammer and the anvil are the tools that form the foundation of the blacksmith’s craft. There are a lot of different hammers and handled tools used in the shop. The most used hand hammer in blacksmith shops was the cross peen hammer. The peen, or to the English the “pane”, is the working surface on the back of the hammer head. A cross peen hammer has a working surface on the back that is perpendicular, or “crosses” the line of the hammer handle. Both the face and the peen are used to shape and move hot metal. American blacksmiths used a wide variety of cross peen hammers. That is a reflection of the many nations from which our immigrant ancestors came.

The most common cross peen style in the U.S. is the standard cross peen. This can be found in many countries and around the U.S. Another cross peen is a more ornate colonial-style French pattern. Note that the peen is not centered with the center of the hammer face. Next is a small, ornate French pattern cross peen that was made in the Field Blacksmith Shop and is used for small and delicate work. Finally we have the Swedish cross peen which has a thin and tapered peen. That makes the hammer nose heavy and gives the hammer a different feel than the more balanced cross peen. All of these hammers can be used for the same purposes, and yet each has its own strengths and weaknesses. The diversity of hammers reflects not only the varied nations that contributed to the blacksmiths’ craft but also the creativity of the smiths themselves.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Getting Ready for Spring: Plow Repairs

One of our tasks in the blacksmith shop is to repair and mend the tools used within the Museum. On April 4th, during our opening weekend, we will be Getting Ready for Spring and repairing an old plow. It is a good tool upon which to demonstrate repairs, as it needs several new parts. The plow is getting newly forged bolts, wooden handles, and other hardware as needed to put it back into use on the farm. In a future posting I will show more information about how to forge plow bolts. After our restoration of the plow it may be used by our team of working oxen to till the farm fields this Spring. That is exciting! This plow has not been used in decades but our care will return it to use in the field.
You can learn more about Getting Ready for Spring at The Farmers' Museum Blog.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Secret Life of Old Tools: Anvils

All anvils must be the same, right? How complicated can they get? There is a surprising amount of complexity and specialization behind a good anvil. In Field's Shop we have more than half a dozen anvils. They range from 40 to 220 lbs and from as old as 270 years to as young as 130.

The oldest in the shop is an English pattern colonial anvil. The shape and construction of this anvil dates it to the English colonial period and English manufacture. It is a classic English pattern anvil. The wrought iron body, the small horn, the tiny hardy hole, and the blocky shape points to this anvil being forged by a smith with a team of strikers with sledge hammers.

The main anvil at the front forge in the shop is a Peter Wright manufactured in England sometime between the 1830s and 1880s. It is the classic London pattern anvil. This anvil has a wrought iron body with a tool steel face. The side is stamped:

Peter Wright
Solid Wrought
1 1 12

It was manufactured by the Peter Wright Co. in London, England. The numbers tell the weight in hundredweights. It is not 1112 pounds, but rather one hundredweight (112 lbs), one quarter-hundredweight(28 lbs), and twelve pounds. That works out to be 152 lbs. It has seen more than a lifetime of use, and is wearing out. It will probably need to be retired after only another fifteen or twenty years of daily use. What other tools commonly last for centuries?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Blacksmithing Coal, Part II

What makes blacksmithing coal different from heating coal? Soft coal burns off the impurities quickly and forms “coke;” a lighter, hotter fuel than the dense and rocky anthracite. Heating coal is anthracite or hard coal. Since the smith is placing the metal to be heated in the coals, soft coal and coke work better for the job.

Coal is also referred to by the size of the pieces to which it has been reduced. “Nut coal” or “walnut” has chunks the size of walnuts. “Pea coal” is the size of dried beans or peas. “Fines” are composed of coal crushed to a coarse powder. The largest I have seen is fuel from an industrial forge. The coal chunks were rocks the size of footballs! Another term for coal used to fuel boilers is “stoker coal.” That may mean large nut size, but can also mean coal treated with waste oil to make it burn hotter. This type is also smoky and less desirable in the blacksmith shop. We use good quality nut-sized bituminous coal in the shop.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Blacksmiths' Sayings from Germany

After reading my comments about old sayings related to blacksmithing my dear friend Dagmar in Germany sent this note. It is wonderful to see that these phrases cross cultures and language.

Dear Steven,
It was interesting to see the pictures, to read and to know more about your work in Cooperstown. I showed the pictures to Peter too, who liked to look at them. Some of the phrases in your list are used in German too:
- Hit the nail on the head - Den Nagel auf den Kopf treffen
- Strike when iron is hot- Das Eisen schmieden, solange es heiß ist
- Too many irons in the fire- Mehrere Eisen im Feuer haben

One other used phrase is "Nägel mit Köpfen machen", that means: To make nails with heads/To do things right and straight.

My mother, whose grandfather was a blacksmith, used the phrase "Schmiedeblut ist keine Buttermilch," that means: Blacksmiths’ blood is no buttermilk/ To be strong and tough.

My thanks to Dagmar for her thoughts and reminisces. I would love to hear from others too. Do you know of similar sayings in another language? I would enjoy hearing them in the comments.
My thanks! --Steve

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sugaring Off, Part 1

Hard work in late winter
Spring in rural New York is a hard-scrabble time of year. The weather March 1st was a good example. The afternoon was sunny and in the low 30’s. Ice melted to mud, the shop eaves were dripping, and spring seemed to be in the air. But the temperature dropped to 9 degrees and snow fell the next day. Maple Sugaring weather! Maple sap is collected for boiling to make maple syrup and maple sugar. The maple sap flows best when the days are above freezing and the nights are below freezing.

Sap collection
Maple sugaring is hard work. Forty gallons of sap are collected from buckets on the trees to make one gallon of syrup. The sap buckets are dumped in barrels, and the barrels hauled on a sled or cart. The sap is dumped in a collection tank. Then it is boiled down to syrup in heavy kettles or a rectangular “finishing pan” over a fire.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Blacksmithing Coal, Part I

Many people remember the smell of coal smoke from their youth. Hard coal, also known as anthracite, was used in boilers and home heating stoves through the 1960s and later. Blacksmithing coal has a similar smell when burned but is a little different chemically.
Blacksmithing coal is known as soft coal, also low sulfur bituminous coal. Every week during the summer I see visitors walking down the dirt road past the Blacksmith Shop. When some smell the coal smoke it triggers such memories of their youth that they stop in their tracks. People mention remembering the smell of coal smoke from their childhood almost daily in the summer. It is a distinctive smell that is now gone from our small towns and cities.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Gems in the Woodpile

We burn a lot of firewood in the stove at the blacksmith shop. All firewood is not created equal, as all would have known in the 1840s. Some wood is best only for kindling, some wood makes a hot fire, some is used for night logs to keep embers overnight. Our woodpile reflects the woods from which it comes. Red oak, hard maple, and beech are the primary woods. Here and there in the woodpile will be some gnarled cherry, shagbark hickory, old dead elm or even ash wood. Here is an old poem about the properties of firewood. The origins of this poem seem to have been forgotten, but I suspect it was brought to the colonies from England and adapted further here. There are many different versions of this poem. Here is the longest version I have found.

Beechwood fires are bright and clear,
if the logs are aged for at least a year.
Chestnut's only good, they say,
if for long 'tis laid away.
But Ash new, or Ash old,
is fit for a queen with crown of gold.

Birch and fir logs burn too fast,
blaze up bright, and do not last.
It is, by the Irish said,
Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread.
Elm wood burns like church-yard mould –
Even the very flames are cold.
But Ash green, or Ash brown,
is fit for a queen with golden crown.

Poplar gives a bitter smoke,
fills your eyes, and makes you choke.
Apple wood will scent your room,
with an incense like perfume.
Oaken logs, if dry and old,
keep away the winter's cold.
But Ash wet or Ash dry,
a king shall warm his slippers by.
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