We all enjoy a good woodworking project plan. We all love to see a flashy picture of expertly made furniture. Some of us, in fact, can’t get enough of all that – so we write about it all week long. But I believe our interests, as woodworkers and readers, run a lot deeper than plans and pictures. Above all, we want tools – physical tools for woodworking and mental tools to make the work easier. That’s why I started investigating the world of blacksmithing. As it turns out, there are many kindred spirits in the community – especially when it comes to blacksmithing tools and making homemade tools. When you reach the point of standing in front of a forge and anvil, hammering hot metal, you know you are somewhere near the absolute starting point of modern craft.
If you don’t already know Brian Brazeal, look him up and connect with his school in Brandon, Mississippi. Brian epitomizes the goal of bringing “old methods,” as he puts it, into the modern world. He does not teach a project class in his school. Instead, he teaches students a course that he calls “Tools for Making Tools.” Students revive traditional blacksmithing techniques, learn them well and leave with a basic set of blacksmithing tools that they have made themselves. This set includes the rounding hammer, a hardy, a hammer eye punch and fullers.
Brian is not only perfecting his own craft and helping grown-ups to revive blacksmithing; he is also teaching the next generation through his group International Young Smiths. We think of blacksmithing as an exclusive club of burly, middle-aged men. Brian explains that with the right technique, relatively smaller people can learn to do it well. Alec Steele, who started blacksmithing as a teenager in the United Kingdom, is a perfect example. Alec is still in high school and is already teaching the craft to others. He says one of his main goals in this is to “inspire other people.” I think you’ll agree that both he and Brian are doing a great job of that!
As woodworkers, we have the opportunity to apply the same concept to our craft. We can branch out into the making of both woodworking hand tools and woodworking hardware, then use those results in our tree-based projects. For me, while I don’t mind using a well-made tool that I have bought from someone else, I do find that applying store-bought hardware to a project is often a bit dissatisfying. If you feel the same way, and are ready to take the plunge into blacksmithing, take a look at our new Peter Ross DVD, “Forging a Custom Hinge.” And if you are more into the tool-making side we also have Peter’s “Forging a Compass.”
I believe in a good mix of woodworking project plans, flashy furniture pictures and an in-depth look at tools and techniques. So don’t worry. We’re not going to go off the deep end with the blacksmithing topic. But if you are interested we’d love to see your comments below and, again, be sure to look up Brian Brazeal and his school.