I’m posting this relatively recent video (2015) as a source of inspiration for all you industrial metal workers out there. Chinese blacksmiths are making pipe flanges with the biggest power hammer I’ve ever seen.
Watch there teamwork and the movement of each worker around the power hammer. Watch how they maneuver their bodies with their tools. This kind of fluidity and strength is indicative of consistent practice under a probably arduous and competitive demand for product.
If you work in industry, the grind may get to you, but your labor is also your art. These blacksmiths are an homage to that.
Stainless steel is an expensive but desirable alloy because of its resistance to corrosion and extreme heat. You’ve certainly cooked with it or seen it in a bathroom, because it won’t rust (or it takes a very long time to rust) depending on if the metal has been contaminated during the forging or fabrication process.
Stainless differs from carbon steel by the amount of chromium present. Chromium oxide forms on the surface by a process called passivation which coats the metal in a kind of protective shield against corrosives if there is enough oxygen.
Stainless requires a high forge heat and hard hammer blows. The metal is tough and takes a while to move. I don’t recommend forging it past a high red heat because it has a greater tendency to crack and splinter if forged cold. After some wire brushing and grinding, it produces a beautiful, shiny finish; and after some direct heat, it produces the temper colors very vividly.
This is the second table I’ve built and I have found a lot of joy in the process. I had uncharacteristically taken my time in putting together the bottom layer of the table, carefully assembling the pieces as I went and forgoing all former designs I initially drew out. Sometimes not going with what you’ve planned ends up working out better.
It is also the first time I have played around with color. When I TIG welded the table together, I loved the blues and deep purples that came out from the discoloration. I painted the angle iron a blue matte to bring out those colors and create a deeper contrast between the grind marks, blacks and grays. To be honest, I don’t think I would go with this particular coloration again, but it was good to experiment.
For the top, a carpenter friend of mine is helping me create a redwood border, then I will fit a piece of glass on top. The redwood will also add a splash of color that I can’t foresee yet.
These pictures represent the process of making Atoke bells, a forged iron bell used in West Africa, particularly from the Ewe nation in and surrounding Togo. The bells are held in the palm of one’s hand and played by striking the edge with a metal rod. I was asked to make some bells for a local band in Oakland that plays traditional African music, as well as a mix of funk and blues.
The most challenging part of making these bells was to make sure the intonation was correct and in sync with the other bells. I figured the easiest way to play with the tone was to gradually decrease the thickness of the walls, but this process proved to be very slow and tedious.
Making one’s own tooling is one of the most amazing and inventive aspects of blacksmithing. This post only shows some of the tooling I’ve made over the years, but in reality I’m constantly making my own tools and feel excited to use the personalized tools of other blacksmith-friends.
The history of tool making is amazing and diverse. Many anthropologists and historians still question how humans were able to develop the skill of annealing, hardening and tempering metals to make efficient and long-lasting tools. The history of this science is interwoven in alchemy, war and trade, which I hope to touch on in depth in later posts.
I like my work to be both functional and beautiful, which is why lighting and furniture for the home seems like a good avenue to explore.
Oak trees and bamboo stalks are some of my favorite types of plants. With the advice from a blacksmith-friend in North Carolina and some trial and error, the stalks (1 inch pipe) were heated a few inches apart with a torch, then compressed with a press. Straightening the stalks out took some control and time.