October 7th, 2023 at the Moses Wilder Blacksmith Shop in Bolton, MA
by Bob Roemer
The EAIA sponsored a regional meeting at the reconstructed Moses Wilder Blacksmith Shop in Bolton, MA on Saturday October 7th. The shop is an authentically equipped reproduction of the original stone shop built at the same location by Moses Wilder in about 1803 and relocated to Old Sturbridge Village in 1957 to replace the shop that had burned the previous year.
The purpose of the meeting was to demonstrate the traditional method of forging a woodworking hand tool and then give the attendees a chance to work at a forge with the support of one or more of the experienced blacksmiths in attendance. The two forges in the shop and two portable forges, each with an anvil and post vice, provided the stations for the forge practice.
The hand tool, a small draw knife selected for the demonstration was suggested by Jennifer Petrila, master blacksmith demonstrator, since it was not a common item used in hand tool forging demonstration. The selection was particularly appropriate since we needed another small draw knife to be used by young visitors to EAIA’s demonstrations at the annual Bolton Fair held each year for 3 days in August. Bob had recently purchased an antique drawknife that was the model for Jennifer’s project.
The meet attracted 24 people who were welcomed and introduced to the shop and the demonstrations by Bob Roemer, who with his family built the reproduction in the early 2000’s (EAIA The Chronicle V60, No2). The meeting started with a detailed 2-hour demonstration by Jennifer.
The forging of the drawknife started with a bar of antique wrought iron which was drawn out (stretched and reduced) to the rough central cross-section of the drawknife.
A piece of high carbon harden-able steel from an old farrier’s rasp was cut and forged to form the hard cutting edge of the tool a traditional and effective re-use of old files. The forged steel was then forge welded to a section of the wrought iron bar using the forge to heat both the wrought iron and a flux, borax, to help remove impurities between the two pieces of metal as they were molecularly bonded in the weld.
Jennifer explained the different weld preparation configurations.
Once the basic body of the drawknife was the forged to position the steel on the cutting edge, the tangs (tapered ends that would eventually be bent and fit into the wooden handles) were drawn out.
When the shape had reached it final configuration, the faces of the blade were smoothed by draw filing (the file is perpendicular to the direction of movement) using a leather strap to hold the blade on a wooden block in the vise.
The designated bottom of the tool was carefully filed flat, the other side filed to a taper at the cutting edge. Then the process of hardening the steel edge through heat treatment began. The tool was heated to a red heat and quickly lowered into a tray of oil
which quickly cooled it and changed the steel into a very hard, but brittle, state. The steel edge then had to be tempered, a process that maintained much of the hardness, but softened the steel slightly to remove the brittleness. Jennifer polished the faces of the blade with emery cloth to a clear shiny state and slowly heated the blade while watching the surface color, and indication of how much tempering had occurred. When it reached a “dark straw” color she immediately emersed it in the water of the slack trough to stop the softening. The color was quite evident when it was removed from the water and the difference between the wrought iron and steel sections.
To further differentiate the different grain structure of the metals, the blade was immersed in muriatic acid to etch it ; the difference between the wrought iron and steel became very clear.
The final adjustments were made to the tangs and inserted , then peened over, into the wooden handles that Bob had turned earlier.
Throughout the presentation there was rapt attention from the audience and many questions. [Rapt audience 1, 2 &3]
After a hearty lunch and lots of discussion about the morning’s project and other blacksmithing topics the group returned to the shop to take part in the use of a tire shrinker (Champion “Star” Tire and Axle Upsetter and Welding Machine)
which weighs in at 800 lbs.! It was used to reduce the circumference of wrought iron tires which had been stretched and become loose on the wheel by going over rocks and cobblestones. The tire is removed from the wooden wheel and a section heated in a forge after which it is put in the shrinker, a device with an enormous mechanical advantage that clamps the tire at either end of the heated section,
and forces the heated section of the tire together, thereby reducing the total circumference of the tire. The tire is cooled and returned with a better fit to the wooden wheel. Prior to the introduction of the tire shrinker, tires were shorted by cutting them and rewelding them. The tire shrinker was also used to adjust the length of an axle which was the exercise used for the demonstration. The resulting compression of the tire or axle often buckled the material
which had to be straightened on an anvil with sledge hammers.
All were impressed by the power and mechanical advantage of the tire shrinker….and also impressed by the effort required to shrink an axle. They were also impressed by Instruction No. 7 in the manual….something you won’t see in modern manuals.
The afternoon continued at the forges in the shop and on the lawn.
Nila completed a set of tongs she had started years before.
Dom Spano and Dirk Underwood, both experienced blacksmiths, demonstrated basic techniques and helped attendees try their hands at the forges.
Although the day was scheduled to end at 4 PM, most attendees stayed until almost 6 PM renewing old acquaintances and discussing various aspects of blacksmithing and recent other events.
We were very pleased with the attendance including noted blacksmithing organization representative, Beth Holmberg, a senior ABANA instructor who we saw demonstrating at Maine Maritime Museum during our 2022 EAIA Annual Meeting, Dom Spano, the Secretary of the New England Blacksmiths, Derek Heidemann, past Master Blacksmith at Old Sturbridge Village, and Leigh Morrell, President of ABANA. It was great to have them and introduce those who weren’t aware to EAIA.