Nov 20, 2014

A few weeks ago I mentioned going with my friend S to visit L, a blacksmith. She invited us to come back to learn about smithing. We went yesterday and had a fantastic afternoon.
The forge is inside a dark shed with a dirt floor. It has to be dark so you can see the colour of the heated metal properly. We put on cotton shirts and leather aprons so we wouldn't get burned. Then we put shovelfuls of green coal into the forge and shovelled coke and burning coals on top. The coal began to give off an opaque yellow, sulphurous smoke. L used an electric fan to get the chimney to draw, and the small pile of coal quickly turned into a blasting fire. It's so hot it hurts the eyes if you look at it for a long time. 
We thrust bars of metal deep into the blast of the furnace and I learned how to tell when the metal is ready to work. Dull red isn't hot enough. Glowing yellow is just right, and when the metal sends off sparks it's about to crumble up and burn. 
I learned about metal grinders and wax polishes, forge welding, clamps, and vices. L showed me how the metal "moves" and lengthens as the hammer blows make it thinner and pointier. She also showed me how to bend a metal bar using the edge of the anvil and a hammer, and how to make fine twists with a pair of tongs. She let me strike every blow that shaped my hook. 
It was warm and dry inside the forge and we sipped at mugs of hot liquorice tea because we were so thirsty. The clang of hammer on metal didn't jar me when I had my earmuffs on. We were drilling a hole in my hook when for some reason I thought of the shiny new consoles and equipment at work. I was trying to bring the drill bit down slowly and gently so it wouldn't get stuck in the metal - which it did several times because I moved too fast. 
I thought about the difference between that drill and our touch screen buttons that type the same letter no matter how hard or softly the fingers press down. The word "analog" came into my mind. I thought about bringing the hammer up high to smite a fine tip of metal, and how it can bounce back into your face if you're not careful. On the other hand, there are the tiny taps of a hammer to put a subtle and elegant bend into the back of a hook. 
S and I were talking about it later, after four hours passed without looking at the clock or realizing that we were mentally drained. We agreed that smithing seems to be like a meditation. All your attention is focussed and concentrated on this one glowing piece of metal. You have only a short span of time to hammer it, shape it, put it back in the fire, and take it out without burning it. It was an intense way of seeing. Here's the finished hook I made. 
No picture could ever show you the sparks I saw coming from inside the red-gold bar of metal S worked on the anvil. They didn't spring off the metal and into the air. They welled up from the molten inside and shimmered on the surface of the bar with each hammer strike in the dark. 

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