Handmade Hardware

The bending process can now be completed. Marsha moves the stock to the anvil where, held between spread fingers, the bend is completed by a series of taps with a hammer. She holds a piece of round stock with the same diameter as the pintle, or “tail” portion, in place to maintain the correct barrel opening.

In further preparation for welding, Marsha fires the forge to heat the metal to a temperature of near 3,000 degrees. To do this, she moves pieces of coke, the residue of burned bituminous coal, into a beehive shape with a small opening in the hot forge. Using a steady steam of air from a hand-cranked blower, the coke is super heated.

To start the process, Marsha first makes the barrel part of the hinge using inch-wide flat stock. She places the mild steel in a jig that’s secured in a vise. The flat stock is then cold bent in the vise to a 90-degree angle. Then the barrel is formed by wrapping the stock around a jig.

Marsha also explains that overheating “burns” the stock, causing it to throw off sparks and can lead to it melting and dropping to the bottom of the forge as clinker.

Watching her tend the fire, I couldn’t help but ask if she’s fond of cooking on a charcoal grill. “Not much,” she shoots back, “but when I’m with a group they always ask me to get the fire going!”

The welding is done by hammering the white-hot steel with a cross-peen hammer. Striking the metal with a cross peen, as opposed to a flat-faced hammer, spreads the work across its width and will not lengthen it. So with hammer in hand, Marsha positions the white metal on the anvil where she strikes it rapidly with the hammer, molecularly bonding the bent ends together to form a seamless single piece. At the same time, the hammering gives the broader hinge end its shape. This all occurs in just a couple seconds.

After the metal cools, she parts off the excess length of flat stock by scoring the work using a cold chisel, and bends it back and forth till it snaps free. She quickly removes sharp edges with a file. Then, with residual heat still on the hinge, Marsha coats it with linseed oil, which blackens the iron as the oil burns, oxidizing the surface and preventing rust for a time.

With the difficult part over, she makes the pintle. Marsha heats one end, then hammers it into the traditional ball and spear shape. Then she bends the pintle to the desired shape and cuts it to about a 4″ length. The sharp edges are cleaned up and deburred with a file, and then the piece is blackened. Then finally, she bends the snipe around the pintle. And, in a seeming concession to modern times, Marsha switches on her drill press to bore the holes for the fasteners that hold the leaf and pintle in place on a cabinet door and stile.

Examining the completed hinge, I was struck by the near sculptural quality of the work. How with a few blows of a hammer in the trained hand and skilled eye of an accomplished blacksmith, an unyielding material like iron was reshaped like so much clay into a strikingly handsome form.

As a woodworker, I’ve often been frustrated by the everyday design and quality of commonly available cabinet hardware. And, by contrast, I’ve been delighted by the the quality that well-designed and finely finished hardware can add to casework. Custom made hardware from a seasoned blacksmith adds a new dimension to your work. Handmade furniture and handmade hardware are a perfect combination for totally handcrafted work. PW

Steve Shanesy is Editor for Popular Woodworking.

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