Wednesday, December 30, 2009

December's Open Book

Blest Be The Tie by Alexander Lawrence (Larry's first in the Goins series)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Hot from the past -- Peter Ross Bio (published in December 2009)

Was sent a neat article today from a friend:

Hot from the past
Send suggestions to

By his standards, the 1905 farmhouse Peter Ross shares with his wife, Louise Barnum, is not all that old. Ross, a nationally known blacksmith, has to explain to potential customers that when he says "historical restoration" work, he refers to buildings dating from 1650 to 1840.

After 25 years of heading up the blacksmith shop at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, Ross moved to Chatham County in 2006, after marrying Barnum, a longtime area real estate agent. (Ross moved from Forge Road in Virginia to White Smith Road here.)

Before renovating their home on 25 acres outside of Siler City, Ross first set up the studio where he makes custom hardware, tools and utensils for restoration projects. Current projects include supplying kitchen utensils and hardware for a privately owned 1750s kitchen in Virginia, making circa-1820s door hinges and locks for a museum in eastern Tennessee, and creating a lock to match an existing door at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, which dates to the late 1700s.

"Up until now I've worked only in the historic house restoration field, but this year I'm trying something new - a line of historically inspired but contemporary iron pieces that people can use in their homes," said Ross, 55. "Those could be kitchen utensils, tools for wood stoves and fireplaces, and brackets for lights."

Ross decided to add another line of work, although he typically has a backlog of restoration jobs, because he wanted to reach out locally; most of his clients are in other states.  "I wanted a way of being connected to the community, to develop relationships with other artists and the public," Ross said.  To that end, he signed up to be a stop on the Chatham Studio Tour, where artists open their workspaces to the public. The tour is this weekend and next.  Ross will give demonstrations with his forge, anvil, hammer and tongs, something he's used to after speaking with the hundreds of thousands of Williamsburg tourists over the years.

First a hobby

Ross' association with museums began when he was 17, living on Long Island, N.Y. He and his father took a blacksmith class at a carriage museum in Stony Brook.  "They had a blacksmith shop, and would teach classes in the community," Ross said. "They taught us to make simple hooks, and I just loved it. Of course neither one of us thought it would lead to a blacksmithing career."

Ross then became perhaps the only teenager on the East Coast to set up a blacksmith shop in the corner of his garage.  "I played around with it as a hobby for a while, and then I volunteered at another museum on Long Island, a reconstructed town called The Old Bethpage Village Restoration. That was enough to convince me to find a college that had some kind of craft program."

Ross ended up at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he met his mentor, Dick Everett of Connecticut, who specializes in restoring 17th- and 18th-century hardware and furnishings.  "He was in an old town, surrounded by old houses," Ross said. "I worked for him with the idea that I'd eventually open my own business."

And he did, in 1976 on Deer Isle, Maine, also home to Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. "It's just a beautiful, breathtaking spot, right on the ocean," he said. But the Williamsburg job beckoned three years later. 

Past methods

"It's a fascinating environment," he said of the country's most famous living history museum. "It's a great academic institution. You're surrounded with other professionals studying restoration - curators, architects, archaeologists. But you're also dealing with tourists who often have no or little knowledge, and so your job is to educate them. It's an interesting combination."

At one point, Ross as master blacksmith had a staff of seven blacksmiths.  "We had the same staff of blacksmiths for 12 years," he said. "It was a very skilled group."  About half his time was spent with the public and the other half working on restoration projects at the museum.  "I was hired to turn the blacksmithing into a more academic program instead of a souvenir-oriented program, so it was an exciting time to be there," Ross said. "There was a tremendous shift in many of the crafts there to do more research, to study long-developed techniques and to understand decorative arts from the maker's viewpoint. We got to look at everything with a fresh eye."

One of the things Ross learned and often lectured about was the difference between contemporary and pre-industrial aesthetics.  "Our job was to re-create old pieces, and the methods in which they'd been made. It was a revelation to me that when you don't have modern tools at your disposal, not only are the tools you're using different, but the whole thought process is markedly different. You don't use the same sequence of steps. It's like cooking without a recipe, when you go by taste and sense and feel."

Nature's model

The 18th-century worker, he said, was led by nature's infinite variety.  "The aesthetic ideal was nature. Like if you have two maple leaves. They have the same character, but are different in size and shape. That was the function of handwork through the ages until industrialization. Now it's all about uniformity and measured precision, sometimes even in ways that can be detrimental to the work."

Ross' more contemporary forged metal work won't be a huge stretch from his restoration work because he's basing the designs on historical pieces.  "I'm not sure how much of the new stuff I'll do, but it's something I wanted to try. We'll see how it goes."  No, he answered, he doesn't have a Web site showing his contemporary work. He is, after all, a little stuck in the 18th century.

Friday, November 27, 2009

November's Open Books

Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follet (great!)

Wax Finish

I did my first batch of wax finish today and it came out great!  I was nervous at first, as was my wife, considering all these heavy wax and turpentine fumes were consuming the front part of the house, but she was gracious and even let me use her glass measuring bowl and some other essentials!

Despite my initial worries centering around burning down the house and spontaneous combustion, it all turned out all right!  I used Doug Merkel's recipe below from the ABANA website faithfully, except for I skipped the Japan Dryer since I did not have any.  Many thanks Doug!

Doug's recipe (which first appeared in the March 1996 Appalachian Area Blacksmith Assn. Newsletter) is as follows:

Wax for All Seasons, by Doug Merkel

A significant portion of my work deals with the repairs and reproduction of antique ironwork. Most of my customers want a natural finish that looks old, protects the metal and which can be touched up if needed without lots of work or fancy chemicals. To meet their needs I have modified a few formulas that have been around for sometime into one that works for me and my customers. For some of the larger jobs, I leave a small container of the wax for use by the customer. It wears well inside and does quite well outside, if applied correctly. I have a piece of ironwork with this finish that has been out in the elements for over a year without rusting.

1 cup Johnson's Paste Wax
1 cup Boiled Linseed Oil
1 cup Turpentine
1/2 cup Shaved/pieces of Beeswax
2 tbsp. Japan Dryer

The first three ingredients can be obtained at most any hardware store, such as Lowe's, Home Depot, etc. The Japan Dryer is used by artists to speed the drying time for their oil paints, so is available at many art supply stores. The beeswax can be obtained from a local beekeeper, beekeeper supply shops, or blacksmith supply companies.

Mixing The Ingredients
Put all the ingredients into a glass quart jar, put the lid on with the retaining ring very loose. A metal can may be used, but it needs a tightly fitting cover. Either set up a double boiler or set next to your forge to get the mixture to melt. Do not put directly on the heat source and watch out for open flames. Once the ingredients are melted, tighten the lid ring and shake like crazy until all the wax is dissolved and is a homogenous mix. As it cools, it will become a soft paste. Keep the lid on when not in use.

Metal Preparation
Remove all scale with a power wire brush or by hand. if you want a dark finish, remove the scale at a dull red and let the metal air cool until you can just handle it with your bare hands. For a brighter finish, use a power wire brush and remove all the scale while the metal is cold, then apply enough heat until you can just hold it in your hand.

Apply the mixture with a brush, your fingers, or with a small rag. The heat will melt the mix and it will run into every nook and cranny. Let it cool and buff out with a rag. If you let the excess mix stay on the iron, it will eventually harden, but every place that has excess will show up as a bright spot. A second coat can be added to heighten the luster while the metal is cold Just remember to buff off the excess with a cloth.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Claude Moore Colonial Farm 2010 Market Fair Dates

Please join me and my family at the next Claude Moore Colonial Farm Market Fair!  It will be great to see you all there the 3rd full weekend of May and July.

The actual dates are:
    May 15 and 16, 2010
    July 17 and 18, 2010

You can see additional details at

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

October's Open Books

The Backyard Blacksmith (Jeff) - Lorelei Sims (perpetually open!) The Blacksmith's Craft (Jeff) - Charles McRaven A Short History of the World (Jeff) - J.M. Roberts

Sunday, October 18, 2009

My First Demonstration as a Colonial Blacksmith

After being cancelled on Saturday due to rain, the Market Fair at Claude Moore Farm in McLean, Virginia opened on Sunday, giving me the chance to have my first blacksmithing demonstration as a living history reenactor. Since the year was supposed to be 1771, I got to blacksmith in appropriate attire (except for the boots that the mud made necessary).

I had a great time, and really appreciate all your encouragement. And, please save the date -- I'll be doing this again the 3rd weekend in May. It should be warmer, at least!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Vulcan Anvil

The anvil I will most likely use (unless Erin can convince me to use his because it rings more :-) ) at the Claude Moore Market Fair this October is one we dug out of the pig barn there (literally) and spiffed it up with an angle grinder and some mineral oil and it looks great.  You can see some shots of it and its little brother (also found buried and unloved on the farm) on my Market Fair post here, but I thought some of you might be interested in the history of these anvils.

I found this information posted on some public blacksmithing sites posted by some real pros and I have tried to faithfully represent their words, but please forgive me if I miscredit or misquote someone - that mistake would surely be mine and hopefully will not reflect negatively on the fine individuals I got the data from!

I found these comments on Vulcan today, which I thought some of you might find interesting:

"Production of one-piece steel anvils was pretty well limited to imports from Sweden, with Kolhswa, SISCO and Soderfors (Paragon) being the leading brands.  One American manufacturer was Columbian (indented triangle with a C logo)."

"Likely the majority of the anvils manufactured in the U.S. were constructed of a cast iron body and steel plate.  These were sometimes called 'dead' or 'city' anvils as they did not have the distinctive 'ring' of a composite bodied anvil.  Fisher & Norris and Vulcan pretty well dominated this market.  Fisher & Norris anvils were targeted to the blacksmithing market and they may have produced more anvils than U.S. composite-bodied anvils combined.  They were the first and last major U.S. anvil manufacturer being in business from about 1854 to 1970.  Vulcan anvils were often carried as the low-end anvil in national mail order catalogs and were predominately intended for places such as schools, garages and farms.  While Fisher & Norris (only FISHER is on the anvil, usually on the front foot) were of the London-pattern, Vulcans tended to be blocky.  Fisher & Norris' logo was an eagle holding an anchor while Vulcan's was a circle or oval with an arm holding a hammer)."

"Cast iron bodied, steel plate top anvils are popular for use in residential neighborhoods due to their lack of a ring.  (And a propane forge and non-ringing anvil will go a long way towards being a good neighbor.)"

"I wouldn't go over about $1.00 pound for a VULCAN. They were apparently never marketed for the blacksmithing trade, but rather to institutions, garages, farms, schools and such. Normally they were carried as the 'low end' anvils in national hardware catalogs. They tend to be short, fat and ugly versus the typical Fisher & Norris, with their much more classic London pattern look."

"Vulcan anvils are a huge step up from a Harbor Freight cast iron ASO (Anvil Shaped Object - for looks only).  They are made with a steel face and horn plate with cast iron body. As such they are a quiet anvil and so good to use when you have close neighbors.  However, the face is generally softer than many traditionaly made anvils and may also be thinner. They are also harder to repair."

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Jeff's Blacksmithing Debut -- Please Come!

So, my wife says I'm "a bit nervous" , but talking about blacksmithing is going to be loads of fun for me! Plus, I get to demonstrate it!  Here's the details for those of you who live nearby:

Colonial Market Fair -- October 17th and 18th

Notice is herewith given that a Market and Fair shall be held on the third full weekend of the months May, July, October of this year instant, at the grounds so set aside and designated near the Claude Moore Colonial Farm at Turkey Run below the Little Falls of the Potowmack on the Georgetown Pike in McLean Virginia.

The Claude Moore Colonial Farm
6310 Georgetown Pike • McLean, VA 22101 -- 703-442-7557
October 17th and 18th
Saturday and Sunday 11am-4:30pm
$5 for adults; $2.50 for children (3-12 years old) and senior citizens but please note the discounted 50% off coupon for admission.

If you are available, please show up -- I'd love the support. Just don't make too much fun of my fancy colonial attire!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Anvil Hardness Testing

I found some interesting information online today about hardness testing.  I am posting this here for my own purposes, so please don't question me on the authenticity or veracity of these claims.  I have not verified the content.

Testing an anvil top for hardness - two popular methods:

1 - Drop a 1" steel ball from 10" and record rebound on several areas of the top - Measured from the bottom of the ball to the bottom of the ball at the peak of the first bounce at  center of anvil over waist
    --- Anything below 40% is generally junk and some ASO's test as low as 10%
    --- 50%  (5")  is OK but a relatively soft anvil
    --- 70%  (7")  is an average good anvil
    --- 80%  (8")  and up are top quality anvils.

2 - Hit the top plate moderately hard with the ball end of a heavy ballpeen hammer.  Dimpling indicates a top too soft to stand up to significant usage.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Dressing an Anvil

Some interesting stuff I found today online about dressing an anvil.  I have not tried this yet, but will soon.  I have not verified this content, but I have posted it here for my own use.  Feel free to use it as you see fit, but not warranty is implied or stated, so caveat emptor!  :-)

The comments I found online are:
Ken Scharabok (responding to a post by Patdf)
Posted on Thursday, February 03, 2005 - 8:01 am: Without knowing what your new anvil is (and whether it is brand new or just new to you), it is difficult to answer your question. Will assume brand new. If it is one of the Asian or Russian imports you can expect to dress up much more than the corners. While the top may be milled relatively flat, the horns usually still have the mold seams on them. If you do any work to the sides, don't be surprised to find body putty. (And, believe me, these anvils are much like a blind date. Don't expect it to look like the pictures.) If it is one of the American cast steel (e.g., farrier anvils) or European imports, then ask the seller for their recommendations. My recommendation would be to just knock off the edges if very sharp slightly. After you have used it for a while you can determine where and how much you might want to change the radii.
Posted on Thursday, February 03, 2005 - 6:14 pm:
Ken and Dave, thanks for the reply, I neglected to state that it is a brand new anvil. It's a 175# Euroanvil, it has a round beak and a square beak on the opposite end with a shelve. I looked for used anvils for a while but couldn't find anything to speak of. And the prices are crazy for used for I think most are being picked up by collectors. I just wanted to work with it not look at it. I spoke with my dealer as suggested by Ken, and he stated to make about a 1/8 radius on the edges. This would be about the recommendation that Ken mentioned. Dave you mentioned to keep one edge square, I can see where that would help and be functional. But would I risk breaking an edge since I'm a begginner with not enough practice on hammer control. In my mind I'm thinking that if I put a slight radius all sides I don't risk a chipped anvil. Please advise. Thanks again. Regards, Pat
Ed Thomas (Ejthomas)
Posted on Thursday, February 03, 2005 - 6:49 pm:
Patdf, The edges of the Euroanvil aren't particularly hard. The typical argument for grinding a small radius to protect the edge doesn't really apply to that anvil. Take a file and carefully check the edge and you will see what I mean. The edge won't chip off the same way a brittle face of an old anvil will. So you can safely leave the edge wherever you want it. Even on the "sharp" edges of my anvil, I tend to ease the edge just a little bit, but don't be in a hurry. You can always take more off, but it's darn hard to put it back on. Congratulations on your new anvil! I think you will like that one. May you have many hours of forging fun with it.

Rich Waugh (in another thread)
Friday, September 28, 2007 - 10:11pm
Jake, Congratulations on the new anvil. It should serve you well, particularly if you get it dressed to suit your needs.
I can tell you how I dress my anvils, and why, and you can determine what of that applies to you.
I radius the edges of my anvil's faces to prevent chipping and to prevent creating sharp inside corners in my work, which could create cold shuts that later become cracks. I use a fairly large radius on the far side, near the horn. The first four or five inches back from the front are radiused at about 3/16" radius, or 3/8" diameter - around the radius of a fountain pen. The radius then gets tighter as it progresses to the heel of the anvil. The front edge is treated much the same, but the radius is a bit smaller; perhaps 1/8" radius tapering to 1/16" at the heel.
The horns on all my anvils are close to a mirror polish, as are the faces. This is not absolutely necessary for most work, but I do some forging of bronze and brass, and occasionally silver, and I want to have as little clean-up work to do as possible after forging. Also, a smooth surface rusts slower than a rough surface. That matters where I live.
I don't get too excited about chamfering my hardy hole or pritchel holes, as I absolutely NEVER, ever, use a hardy shank that is a tight fit in the hole. For years I used anvils that were very old, with wrought iron bodies and steel faces or cast iron bodies and steel faces, and a tight tool in the hardy hole could, if beat heavily, wedged itself hard enough to crack a face plate. With my Nimba, or your cast steel anvil, that is no real worry, but I still stick with free-fitting hardy tools. A very light chamfer is good to keep from marking tool shanks, but that's all you need. Do the same for the pritchel hole(s).
I recommend a belt sander and an angle grinder with a 180 grit flap disc for cleaning up anvil faces and horns. Don't use a hard grinding wheel, as you'll inevitably put gouges in that new anvil and annoy yourself.
If you have other questions, feel free to ask. I'll try to help.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Forge - Working on the Anvil Stand

Progress continues on the anvil stand.  To hear my my wife talk about it, it's quite a rite of passage for a fledgling blacksmith. You can't simply go out and buy an anvil stand for a home shop at your nearest Home Depot.  The gist is that you need to build a stand (at the proper height for your build) to hold the anvil.  And, you need to construct it in a way not only to keep the anvil from moving, but also to decrease its ringing.  It's not necessarily an easy thing to do.

Luckily, we have a friend, Steve, who has been through all this before and has a beautiful design for a stand.   I have steadily been working through Steve's instructions, building the box, then cutting out the rubber and metal pieces for the anvil to rest on, and finally putting in support posts for the anvil to rest on and attaching those posts to the box.

Pretty much everthing we do, we do as a family, so the boys helped fill the box with sand.  Steve brought his truck (fully equipped with his forge, anvil, grinders, etc...) over this afternoon, and he and I worked on putting the anvil on the stand (the anvil weighs 335 pounds, so this itself is no small feat!) and then constructing metal bands to tie the anvil down to the stand.

We made progress. The bands are resting on top of the anvil, waiting for their next step in the process, and the anvil is on top of the stand. This is an awesome accomplishment!

Next time Steve and I get some free time, we'll work on tying the anvil and stand together with the bands and various other tasks.  Progress!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Blacksmith Shop Links

Here are the sites for the stuff I ordered this summer to complete my home forge:
    Shed: (6x10 Khaki Vinyl)
    Anvil: (335# Euro)
    Forge: (Tabasco model)
    Hammer: (Brent Bailey Cross Pein)
    Tools: (Welder, OC tongs and various other essentials)

Without exception, these folks are all great to deal with and I would recommend them highly.  Please check them out and I am sure you will experience the same!

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Forge is Lit!

The Forge is Lit!
My friend Steve and I decided to test out the new forge this afternoon. Steve is a farrier and has been mentoring me on my journey as a blacksmith.

We had lots of flames at the moment of ignition (a few too many flames, actually):

Then, we decided to read the directions on how to light the forge the first time before trying it again (there's a lot my wife could say here, but thankfully she did not....):

After we changed some settings and removed some shipping material from inside of the forge, it worked like a charm:

Thanks, Steve!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Forge - Step 4

We're picking up steam here because I am scheduled to demonstrate blacksmithing at a colonial fair and marketplace on October 17-18th. That's not far away at all! So, we put together the forge this afternoon, with some help from my boys. I'll move it out to its proper place in the shed when it actually becomes operable after I get a propane tank.

We've also started to put together my colonial attire, which I need for my October demonstration. We picked up a shirt, stockings and workman's cap on our last visit to Williamsburg so I'm starting to even look like a 1770s blacksmith! I actually like the cap, which is quite a departure from my standard black ball cap. I'll order some breeches and figure out the shoes (from Fugawee) and I'll be all ready!

Now, what do the blacksmith's wife and kids wear? As one of our friends noted in a recent comment, we're all about doing things together as a family so you can be sure the whole team will be there supporting me! Besides, my wife says if she can figure out the kids' attire, we'll have their Halloween costumes all ready! The most important thing on the "to do" list is building the anvil stand, which I started on today. I made a bit of progress today, while the boys "worked" next to me in the basement shop. Anyone who knows us knows why I haven't been able to finish the stand yet. It's a bit challenging to build something this challenging and at the same time make sure the boys don't get injured! It is nice to have them close by, though, and I cherish the time.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Forge - Step 3

Progress continues - The shed was delivered on Monday morning!

After some tricky maneuvering to get it into place in the back corner, we were all set. 

Next up is building an anvil stand. I am eager to get started. I've decided to name the forge Black Forest Iron Works (based on my family name) and I've learned I can sell my wares at the local farmer's market. 
And, when we get a free minute, we need to decide what color to choose for my colonial-style breeches!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Forge - Step 2

The plans for the blacksmithing forge continue!  The boys and I have been preparing the site for a new shed.

Today, I got the welder and anvil.  We brought the welder inside but left the anvil in the car.  It's too heavy to move and move again, so I think it'll sit there (in the car) until we get the shed.  Everyone is intrigued. Even Dave, our friend who helped us with the addition a few years back, stopped over today to see it. The boys were more interested in all the buttons on the welder.

Next steps -- building a stand for the anvil, which is supposed to deaden the ring (my wife asks for a little prayer for that, please!) and getting the shed.  I am also in the market for a leg vise.  

Also thinking of a name for the forge - Ideas are welcome!

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Forge -- Step 1

I have tried lots of hobbies over the years, but blacksmithing is one that has "stuck".  Up to now, I have been traveling once a week to the BGOP forge to spend a couple of hours there, but I'd like to do more.  I have had lots of dreams for a blacksmithing forge out in the country, but those plans fell through for the time being. I tried to volunteer at another local forge and that didn't work out either, so we had to find another option.

What's left?  The back patio.  

Yep -- we're going to move some landscaping and install a new shed right in the back corner of our lot.   My wife says I've done my normal exhaustive research and ordered a forge, welder, vise, anvil, and various other tools.  She checked the neighborhood regs, norms and customs and It doesn't appear that there are any rules about blacksmithing in suburbia (not yet, anyways).  We are a bit worried about the noise level but that's hard to discuss (or solve) when we don't yet know if it's actually going to be a problem, so we are pressing ahead and will solve any problems that come up later. 


Yesterday, we tore down the grill that was in the way. We've been discussing this for years (ever since we moved here), and the time had finally come. It was quite exciting for the boys, although it was tricky to get them to wear whatever eye protection we could find.  Actually, I enjoyed it, too -- it was a fun break between conference calls!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Tool-making Class with Elmer Roush

My blacksmithing education continued at a tool-making class I took this past weekend. As you can see from the photo, I had a great time. Blacksmithing makes me happy (and dirty!).

I knew that I couldn't really go off on a fun vacation without doing something to help my wife with the boys. So, I did what every self-respecting blacksmith does in times of need.  I called my mom! :-) Mom was a great help with the boys and I appreciate her allowing me to get away for this great class.

While I was having a blast learning how to weld an axe from Master BLacksmith Elmer Roush (, Mom helped make Valentines, built rockets, led a cleaning brigade and watched the boys on her own every morning so my wife could do her essential yoga practice. 

A great help indeed - Thanks, Mom!