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EAIA’s BIG Sponsors Regional Meeting

Updated: May 15, 2023

The Blacksmith Interest Group (BIG) of EAIA held a regional meeting at the reconstructed Moses Wilder Blacksmith shop in Bolton, Massachusetts on July 28th.

The purpose of the meeting was to provide hands-on demonstrations and give participants an opportunity to try basic blacksmithing using coal forges. There were 30 participants which was the number that the shop and grounds could reasonably accommodate. The event lasted the entire day with demonstrations and presentations in the morning, followed by lunch and an afternoon of opportunity for participant forging with coaching from master smiths at one of the four available blacksmithing stations (forge, post vise, anvil and tools). The day ended with an hour or more of participants’ stories and networking about blacksmithing. The participants who were not already members were introduced to EAIA; several became members as a result.

The meeting started with a brief introduction to EAIA and the Moses Wilder blacksmith shop, the original of which was moved to Old Sturbridge Village in 1957 and an accurate reproduction built in the early 2000’s by the Roemers on the original foundation at their home.

Bob welcomes the participants to the event and provides introductory comments.

Derek Heidemann, Coordinator of Historic Trades at Old Sturbridge Village, demonstrated the forging of blacksmith’s tongs from a single piece of mild steel, first by forging jaws at either end, then diagonally slitting the piece to form the reins, and finally punching and riveting the hinge joint. Rob Lyon, Derek’s former mentor, was the “striker” for the project, an interesting reversal of roles.

Derek Heidemann holds a top swage while Rob Lyon, his striker, uses a sledge hammer to drive it to form one of the jaws of the tongs.

Derek holds the slitting chisel while Rob Lyons drives the chisel through, splitting the bar into the two sides of a pair of tongs.

The audience watches Derek and Rob with rapt attention.

Derek holds up the partially split bar which shortly became the two pieces of the tongs.

The final forged and pinned tongs. They will be smoothed out further before use.

Dirk Underwood, Blacksmith and edge tool maker, demonstrated blade making from large coil springs. Dirk is well known in the area for his knives made from a wide range of materials and processes including lamination of chainsaw chain and ball bearing races!

Dirk at his portable forge on the lawn starting to form a knife blade from the alloy steel of a very large diameter industrial coil spring.

The blade undergoing the initial forging. (Photo - Marc Sitkin)

The final forged blade. The blade will be then ground, polished, and fitted with a handle.

Rob Lyon, the former Master Blacksmith at Old Sturbridge Village discussed early iron production from bog iron, a process that was very important to the trade and economy of New England in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

Rob explains how to differentiate steel and wrought iron. Each sample was partially cut through with a hacksaw. When they were broken at the saw kerf, the wrought iron (left hand) showed a very fibrous structure while the steel (right hand) appeared uniform and somewhat crystalline. Pieces of bog iron are on the table.

Tom Kelleher, Historian and Curator of Mechanical Arts at Old Sturbridge Village, discussed the economic aspects of early blacksmithing using early account books and journals to illustrate the discussion. His talk was particularly interesting as it highlighted the use of “virtual money” to value transactions either in English pounds or American dollars even though very little actual cash changed hands. The talk also underscored the importance of bartering goods and services as well as the wide range of tasks of the typical rural blacksmith, often done in between tending for his farm which was often his primary source of food and income.

Tom explains the economics and financial transaction of 18th Century and early 19th Century blacksmiths, augmenting his talk with copies of day books and account books,

Bob & Max Roemer, owners of the reconstructed shop, demonstrated the use of a restored antique Champion tire and axle upsetter to shorten the circumference of an iron wagon tires which had come loose from road wear and/or shrinkage of the wooden parts of the wheels.

The behemoth Champion No. 1 tire shrinker and axle upsetter weighing in at about 870 lbs.! The hand wheel drives a large gear attached to an eccentric which drives two jaws with an enormous mechanical advantage.

A sample piece of wrought iron being upset as the two jaws are driven together by hand wheel, gears and the eccentric. The heated region is hammered to prevent buckling.

The meeting was considered a success at several levels. EAIA's Blacksmith Interest Group looks forward to having a similar event for the 2019 EAIA Annual Meeting in Lowell, Massachusetts (May 16 - 18, 2019). Please come join us, either as one interested in trying your hand at the forge or as a presenter/demonstrator.


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