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.
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.)
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
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