Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Boys at the Farm

My 9 year old son recently had his school Spring Vacation. I invited him to come to work with me for the day. We put him right to work with chores that a boy would be doing in 1845. He started his day assisting the farmers with letting out the livestock, shoveling manure, and collecting eggs. Then he came to the Field Blacksmith Shop to haul coal, bring in firewood, and sweep the floor. Later in the afternoon he joined the farmers again to help cultivate the hop field. Zeb the horse is pulling the cultivator, Marieanne Coursen is driving the horse, and Devon is guiding the cultivator. When he returned home we found he had dirt in his boots, in his pockets, and in his hair. He then asked, “When can we do that again?”

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Cat's Life

Not all of the staff at the Lippit Farm are human. Miss Kitty is part of the staff too. Visitors will rarely see her up close, as she is very shy. When there are too many people she goes to the hay loft in the barn and watches. But early in the morning when the Museum is quiet she will take a break from her work and visit with you.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Many Files in the Blacksmith Shop

After an item has been forged it may be smoothed with a file.
Files are used to cut and smooth steel down to size and to change the shape of a surface. Files are made from a bar of high carbon steel. The sharp teeth are used to remove metal from an object.

The shop uses many types of files. Varieties include:
  • mill files
  • hand files
  • pilar files
  • half-round files
  • rasps

Files at one bench are stored standing on end in the file box. Their size and type can be seen at a glance. More files are in protective storage in a drawer at the other bench. Each file has a slot in the wooden drawer to protect it. Files should not be stored loose in a drawer, as the teeth are dulled if they rub against each other.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Lippitt House Oven Door

The Lippitt Farmhouse brick baking oven received some repair over the winter. This oven is built into the brick fireplace of the house, and is heated by burning wood. The repairs returned the door opening to an earlier shape. The oven now needed a new door, which was made at the blacksmith shop.

The door is simply a steel plate with legs. The most interesting part of it is the handle, which reflects the door handles used within the house. I am looking forward to seeing the return to use of a hearth and oven over 180 years old. The Lippitt Farm staff are eager to put it back into use for demonstrations. They make bread, biscuits, pies, and tarts. If I am really lucky, they will bake a cake and share it with the blacksmith!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hit the Nail on the Head!

The blacksmith shop at The Farmers' Museum follows tradition and makes its own tools. When Mr. Field built our shop in 1827, tool making was a normal part of a blacksmiths’ craft. We continue that today. One tool not often seen, but needed in our shop, is the nail header. A nail header is an iron bar with a tapered square or rectangular hole in it. It is used to hold the tapered square nail while the blacksmith flattens a head on the top. This finishes the nail. Since nails are made in many different thicknesses we make a variety of nail headers to hold them.
Nail headers of many sizes and style are used in the shop. We are making one in a late Colonial/early American style. It is made with a body of wrought iron and a smaller cap of hard steel welded to the face. The face is then punched with the hole needed for finishing the nail. We have about a dozen nail headers and many more used to make bolts and other hardware.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Forge Thick and File Thin

Many objects made in the blacksmith shop got no special decoration after forging. Nails, horseshoes, and clothing hooks may have been scrubbed with a wire brush and put to use. But some items received fancier treatment. Cooking forks, spatula, and ladles often received “whitesmithing.” This means the metal surface was smoothed with a file and given a bright, shiny finish.
Items that were going to be decorated in that fashion needed special treatment. The smith would carefully forge the item to as close as possible to the finished surface. Then time was spent with a succession of files shaping the iron. The traditional saying is that the smith needed to “forge thick and file thin.” He needed to allow enough material for filing. But not too much extra metal, as you could spend hours filing the surface. So a related saying admonished that “five minutes at the Anvil saves half an hour at the bench!"
Cooking hardware, like spatulas, was often filed smooth. The spatula was forged to rough shape and filed to a smooth shape and surface. We have examples in the shop of a freshly forged spatula, newly forged spatula, and spatula from past seasons.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Smallest Neighbors

The Lippitt farmstead raises a diverse range of animals. They have several breeds of sheep (Merino, Cheviot, Tunis, and Southdown), pigs, Devon Shorthorn cattle, chickens, ducks, and Zeb the Percheron draft horse. Big Zeb is something of a star in the barnyard. School children and adults alike visit the Museum just to see Zeb in his traces drawing the wagon, pulling the plow, or standing proudly in the pasture. My admiration, however, is extended to some of our smallest neighbors at the farm. The sparrows have claimed the barn as their own, despite all our efforts to displace them. They live here despite being unwanted by the farmers and pursued by the barn cat. Cheeky and boisterous, they squabble, chirp, and swoop around the farmers as they fork hay into the loft. Flights of sparrows launch dramatic air-born raids on any spilled chicken feed, and even hang upside down by their feet from the corn shocks drying in the barn. These bold little thieves cheerfully raid the barn for food, take shelter from storms under its eaves, and seem to watch our busy actions with amusement.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Forge Welding Wrought Iron

Wrought iron was the most common material a blacksmith would be forging at a rural blacksmith shop in the mid-19th century. Wrought iron was used to make everything from nails and horseshoes to hinges and tools. It has a lot of silica slag in the metal as an impurity. One task in the shop would have been to forge weld small scrap pieces into a single large bar. Wrought iron is worked at a high heat, and when welded it sprays out flux and silica slag. When I weld I am aware that flux and slag are being ejected from the piece; my apron catches the worst of the sparks. The camera catches the process much more dramatically than it seems while making the weld.
Photography: Charles Winter

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A New Fire Every Day

March is here, winter is waning, and The Farmers’ Museum is starting the yearly spring renewal. Our lives as museum professionals are tied to the seasons much as a farmer is tied to the seasons. Lippitt Farm is planning the spring planting, anticipating new lambs, and preparing the harness and plow. Yet we also have other seasonal duties unique to a museum. School children are visiting again, and we are open to the public on Sundays for our Sugaring Off Pancake Breakfast and museum tours. The visitors bring new energy and life to these old buildings.

It is fun to see the children visit, as for them everything we do is something new. Their energy can be contagious. Our days as craftsmen, farmers, and museum professionals respond to this renewal with work to prepare for the new season. Yet our daily tasks must still be completed as well. In the blacksmith shop every day starts with a new fire. No matter how taxing, frustrating, or rewarding was yesterday’s work, today starts anew. We clean out ashes of yesterday’s fire, lay out the kindling and coal, and start a new fire.
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