Blacksmithing is seeing a resurgenceBy PAT BROWN,
With the popularity of reality television shows like Forged in Fire and a renewed interest in metal work and metal artisans, the future of metal work “seems right,” according to metal artisan Spencer Pearson.
Pearson is a stay-at- home dad, which allows him to pursue a career in metal crafting while taking care of his children who are in school.
Pearson has been practicing his trade for over seven years.
His forge, thehammeredmonkeyforge, is located just outside of Magee on Wolverton Drive. It is what you call “a work in progress,” but it has all the essentials he needs to work, shape and craft metal.
Probably the most important part of the metal crafting process is the forge. Spencer has a couple of options. The first and his preference, is an American Bottom Blast forge. According to Pearson, the bottom blast is the standard by which most forges operate. He uses coke as a fuel source, which he purchases from Tractor Supply in Magee.
The fire itself has an air source which blows directly on the flame from underneath,which then heats the metal to the temperature that is required so the metal can be shaped and formed.
The particular day we visited was actually a very cold day. So the coke- fueled forge was slow to light. Spencer opted to use his propane forge. This was actually crafted from a five gallon butane bottle lined with a concrete and plaster concoction to maintain the proper heat for the metal craft.
One of the most important issues with a forge, Pearson said, is controlling the fire and temperature. When done correctly the fuel source can last a long period of time and when not, it just costs more time and effort to get the desired results.
Pearson plans to start teaching metal craft. He said the first part of teaching the forging process is teaching the crafter to control the fire and other basics.
Following his plan, when metal students start to learn the process they first learn to make tools that will be used to make other tools as they go along. Then the skills learned for making tools apply to other projects.
Thus, the student masters the basics of creating a hammer which has a rounder side that is used for shaping metal and a flatter side that is used for smoothing. Students can then expect to learn to make tongs, hammers, drifts, fire pokers and items like ash shovels.
The particular tool Pearson was making that day was a hammer. First, he heated a block of steel in the propane forge. He chose to weld a bar to the block to make for easier handling rather than having to hold the steel with a set of tongs. Once the block got to the right color, which was a brilliant orange, he took it to his anvil and began the shaping process.
He moved the metal a bit and then smoothed it out with a steady stroke from his three pound hammer. He said he could swing that hammer for the better part of the day. But he also has a 1958 power hammer that he acquired from Blow Torch Mason which he had put back into operation. It is a Little Giant 25 pound hammer. He had to order some of the parts from the manufacturer, like the housing. He has modified some of the operation of the hammer to meet his preferred working style.
Spencer, who is now 32, got his start from working with friends in their shops. He said he worked with Lyle Wayne from Mendenhall, who was on Forged in Fire. Others he has worked with include Stan Bryant, with whom he worked as a striker.
Metalwork takes a lot of skill because the crafter has to hit the tool while a partner is shaping and working the metal. This is one of those jobs that requires precision; otherwise a worker ends up smacking his partner, and that does not make for a good working environment.
The guys Spencer worked with are members of the Mississippi Forge Council.
Spencer is now offering classes for those who may have an interest in learning the basics of metal work. If you have an interest a three-day class is $150 and you may contact him at 601-320-7021 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.