Chris Schwarz's Blog

Why You Should Work with a Blacksmith

Blacksmith

Up until 1999, I didn’t think it was even possible to get blacksmith-made hardware for my furniture pieces. Today I rarely build a piece that doesn’t have some part that was made by a blacksmith or whitesmith.

In 1999 my then-boss Steve Shanesy took me to a blacksmith in Cold Spring, Ky., named Marsha Nelson. I spent an afternoon photographing her work and was amazed at how quickly she could bang out furniture hinges, even with me asking her to slow down do I could shoot the work.

Since then I’ve worked with about a dozen blacksmiths all over the United States to make everything from laminated fishtail chisels to simple nails. Yes, it seems expensive at first. Paying $1 to $2 per nail or $180 for a lock is a lot more compared to the prices of manufactured hardware.

Blacksmith

But after using blacksmith hardware once, it’s difficult to turn back. When I order from a blacksmith I get exactly what I want. Exactly. I don’t have to modify some off-the-rack piece with hours of filing, grinding and surface treatments to get all my hardware bits to match. That is time saved.

Even more important, the hardware looks exactly as I planned, or is an exact reproduction of what I was asked to make by a customer. It’s hard to put a price on that.

This week I received some hardware I ordered from blacksmith John Switzer at Black Bear Forge in Colorado. This hardware had to be made by a blacksmith because I couldn’t find  manufactured nails and a bail handle that would work. (Yes, there are some upholstery nails that look similar to the dome-head nails, but trust me, those stink.)

japanese_chest_corner_IMG_5261

These nails and hardware will be used to reproduce a Japanese toolbox that I photographed while in Australia in 2013. This toolbox has been on my to-do list since the day I laid eyes on the original, which was owned by a Japanese carpenter.

I’ll be posting photos of the construction process in the coming weeks, so stay tuned. In the meantime, start asking around about blacksmiths in your area. I think you’ll be surprised that – like woodworkers – blacksmiths are almost everywhere.

— Christopher Schwarz

One of the blacksmiths I work with regularly is Peter Ross. Check out his DVD on making hinges here.

3 thoughts on “Why You Should Work with a Blacksmith

  1. lbaker112

    I recently build a large gun cabinet for myself with the intention of using a blacksmith to make the hardware for it. I am fortunate enough to have master blacksmith Bob Patrick as a neighbor and friend right down the road here in central Arkansas. But alas, I chickened out at the last minute and ended up buying hardware from Lee Valley for expedience sake. The cabinet turned out wonderfully, as did the hardware choice, but I will not again make the mistake of not using Bob. I’m a hypocrite for not using a local artisan. It puts him to work making money that keeps him in his trade and that he turns around and spends in the community we both love and enjoy. It inspires him to perfect his craft and me to perfect mine. And, it puts both of us as artisans into a synergistic creative process to make something more wonderful than we could ever do by ourselves. Thanks for waking me up and inspiring me, Chris!

  2. CraigT

    I’ve had a chance to use a blacksmith/silversmith for some custom hardware and it does really enhance the work. Mine isn’t quite local though (she’s in Israel and I’m in Ca) but it still worked out fine. Her Tansu hardware is quite nice and has a more jewelry look to it as opposed to the more raw look of traditional blacksmith hardware. I threw a link to her site below if anyone’s interested.
    Craig

    http://www.tansuhardware.com

Comments are closed.