Monday, January 7, 2013

without the wonderment of discovery!

Have you ever seen the look on a child's face when he/she discovers something new?  If not, it is absolutely amazing.

Sunday morning, I had the opportunity to join a local scouting unit on a field trip.  We visited a Master Blacksmith in Trenton, New Jersey.

Journeyman Blacksmith
"Sasha" as he called himself, welcomed each and every from our unit.  From the smallest tike to oldest--a grandparent--he shook hands with all of us.  He gathered us around the two work stations in his shop.  We were guests of one of Sasha's blacksmith students.  The other young man working in the shop that day turned out to be the same age as my youngest son.  This is when the look of wonderment appeared on my son's face.

Sasha, Master Blacksmith

My son realized a kid could make amazing creations and just like an adult.  I knew the moment he heard he would be asking me for lessons.  The young blacksmith before us has been working with Sasha two and half years.  He is considered a journeyman blacksmith at the age of 11 years.  He has enough knowledge and experience, that Sasha has him instruct new students.  This helps the young man hone his own talents and skills, while he is educating others.

To set the scene of our surroundings--it was like stepping back in time, literally.  The building was built in 1823.  One hundred and ninety years, simply amazing.  Overhead were large beams of aged wood about every two feet.  Everywhere you looked there was metal in all shapes and sizes.  The walls and pits were made of brick.  Tools hung from the walls surrounding the pits.  Most of these tools were forged by Sasha.

Forge pit
While we waited for the student's fire to be the right temperature.  He taught us about how to make a fire.  What to look for to know it was ready to be used.  The difference in the pieces of coal and coke.  Coke is what coal turns into after it has burned off all the impurities.  The color of the smoke helps tell a blacksmith when coal has begun this change.  Coke helps a blacksmith maintain the heat needs (between 3500-4000 degrees) to heat metal to a state it can then be forged.

The student blacksmith turned off the light and began to explain why they worked in the dark.  Sasha interrupted him briskly and stated it was because his grandmother didn't want to have the electric bill over $30-some-dollars a month.  Then he chuckled.  Sasha walked over to the windows and said they were on the East side of the building and explained why they, along with a sky light window, were located as such.  To allow blacksmiths the longest work day possible.  Overhead lighting is not used, as unnatural light has a tendency to trick the eye of the blacksmith.  In other words, the color of heated metal appears different in sunlight verses an overhead light.

Then the blacksmith student went on to explain what the varying colors of the heated metal meant.  He pulled out a sample and showed us how it was not glowing all the way through.  He placed it back in the fire. 

When the metal was finally glowing red he approached his anvil.  However, he told us he always wipe off the anvil and brush off the rust from the metal he was about to forge.  If you leave the small bits on the anvil or the rust on the surface of the metal to be worked upon, a blacksmith could forge an end product with imperfections.

Sasha's student blacksmith dropped the piece of metal he was working on to the floor.  The student blacksmith asked if we noticed how uneven the floor was.  It was made that way on purpose.  It is much easier to pick up a metal from a surface that is uneven, than a perfectly flat one.

All were giving strict instructions not to pick up anything metal from the floor.  Why?  Because even if it appeared to be dark in color; it could very well still be extreme hot and might burn you.  We were taught to check if a piece was cool enough to pick up with the back of your hand.  A burnt palm would mean days or weeks of being unable to pick up a hammer.  A blacksmith could not afford that.

Sasha grabbed one of the heavy hammers and handed it one of the scouts.  Instructing him how to grip the hammer, placing his thumb on top and wrapping his fingers around the handle.  Sasha said lift the hammer up and swing it down.  The young scout did as he was told, and we all could see it was a struggle to lift and repeat the motion.  Sasha then walked about the room, giving the youngest to oldest a try at the hammer.

The blacksmith student then led our group to the back workroom, where we gathered around a work table.  He showed us various blades, swords, knives and even a spear... all forged by blacksmiths from around the word.  He told us how some were used for harvesting and butcher tools; while others were weapons.

Sasha then ushered us back around the pits, where the journeyman blacksmith had started to bend a quarter inch thick bar into a spiral.  While he worked the piece of metal Sasha spoke of other past students and told the girls present some of his most talented students were three women.  He continued and stated those three women seem to have a way to visualize a finished piece as they worked.  Then he shared with us different jobs he recently been commissioned to create.  A large silhouette piece lay ready for a client--a town in New Jersey--to be placed on a street to bring a bit of the old world into this fast-paced-culture that surrounds us.

Our time to depart soon arrived to the disappointment of many.  Sasha said goodbyes as he greeted us.  To each and all he shook hands, saying we were welcome to return.  Of course, my son now wants to be a blacksmith, as well as, an inventor and professional soccer player.  Who am I to tell him no...?

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