Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The trappings of a good Baltimore evening in late August:

The mossies in Baltimore are small but voracious, so if you're going to play guitar on the porch at dusk, you must have a Citronella candle, bug spray, and Chianti—the latter is for drinking. Tonight, I was in need of relaxation. Even though Chris and I make ample use of mechanical advantage in our trade—powerhammers, hydraulic presses, the Hossfeld bender—every once and a while we have to resort to our brawn, especially in the case of punching and drifting holes in hot metal. Chris swung the hammer for yesterday's punch session, but today was my turn, so I cranked up the forge, stretched my shoulder, and commenced pounding.

To be sure, punching and drifting requires a lot of force, but the process is equally demanding in regards to focus and intelligence. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Blacksmithing combines the best of your body and your mind, and demands that they work together in harmony. Once you attain proficiency with the hand-hammer, accomplishing mundane hammering tasks can seem perfunctory and hack. Step back a minute: reflect on the beauty of mind directing matter; of intention guiding every minutiae of work. When my hammer swings, I witness the human spirit affecting material form, a ruddy, everyday kind of incarnation. Mysterious stuff, the material world—especially when it intersects so palpably with the world of ideas.

Before work, I don't wear clothes.

Chris and Rich deliberating over their next move.

Filing a chamfer on the support shafts for the sconces. When using files on metal, don't go back-and-forth as you would with a wood file. Treat the file as a "plane" and perform long, longitudinal strokes.

Ever wonder how to quickly remove scale from mild steel? Take your torch, fire up an overly oxygenated flame, and flash-heat the cooled metal. The scale will simply flake off. I wish I knew this three years ago.

Here's three unfinished pieces. You can clearly see the holes I hand-punched and drifted. It might not look like much now, but it's quite a process...

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