This blog was written by Tammy Kingan, Maker Acquisitions, at CustomMade.com.
“It’ll start to smell funny,” said Carl, our Blacksmithing teacher, as he was describing that “slippery iron” meant your skin was incinerating, literally evaporating, in under a second. This was our introduction to Blacksmithing as eight CustomMade employees ventured over to Prospect Hill Forge in Waltham, MA. to get a taste of what our makers do every day. In an attempt to better understand the wonderful people we represent, (as well as a treat for making our quarter goal) founders Mike and Seth offered us the opportunity to take either a blacksmithing or glassblowing class and I luckily got blacksmithing. Not that glassblowing isn’t amazing, it’s just that there’s something about roaring fires and manipulating-hot-glowing-iron-by-whacking-it-into-oblivion-with-various-hammers-atop-a-ridiculously-heavy-anvil, that speaks to me.
The first thing that hits you is the smell. This foreign burning coal and metal smell that lets you know you've entered a house of ancient technique. Literally everything is covered in soot and the place is littered with hundreds of pieces of twisted iron. The four forges were emanating incredible heat as we got our first lesson from Carl. We were charged with making an “S” hook from a single 2 foot long bar, and of course Carl’s demo made it look easy. Just twist, taper, bend, cut, and do it all over again to create the perfect hook.
With our leather aprons, goggles, and ear muffs (which Carl insisted we wear because he still has ringing in his ears from a Don Henley concert or something) we paired up and got down to business. We had to do a sort of do-si-do between the forge, anvil, and bench in order to avoid causing permanent disfigurement by gouging each other. Those square dancing classes in middle school really paid off because my partner, Mike, and I moved seamlessly…sort of.
The thicker the metal, the more time it takes to heat up, but leave it on for too long, and the 3800° F forge actually burns your iron! I stuck my iron in, reached into my pocket to grab my phone to take a picture, and it was officially on fire. Burning iron is very much like a powerful sparkler. The only way to save it is to wire brush the crackling bits off, which promptly go flying in every direction potentially maiming nearby human beings. Lesson learned right away and I became neurotic about leaving the iron in, especially once it started to take shape.
A few of the highlights included the custom baby blue and pink leather apron made for a 12 year old student of Prospect Hill with a Twilight theme, the constant harassing and teasing from the hilarious teachers, and the crème-de-la-crème, the miserable look on Seth’s face while perpetually working the crank forge. Out of the four forges, two were powered by hairdryers while the other two required regular cranking which can be a bit…tiring. It needs constant babysitting because you have literally seconds to work the iron before it “cools” to a whopping 900° F and needs to go back into the fire.
After 2+ hours of heating, pounding, twisting, wrenching, curling, and cooling, the hooks were made. All of our hooks came out differently, which makes sense because everyone had their own “technique” they developed in order to navigate the unfamiliar territory. We all left Prospect Hill Forge with a new appreciation for the amazing metalworkers we have on CustomMade and each headed to dinner with 10 fingers, 10 toes, and thankfully no idea what that “funny smell” actually smells like.
And if you're interested in blacksmithing classes at Prospect Hill, click the link: http://www.prospecthillforge.com/ical/justlist.php