Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The forge of the future

The way we forge and many of the styles we choose to forge in our quite traditional. What is tradition and what or who influences these styles? For the most part most traditional-esque blacksmiths forge in a very pre and Victorian style, they use pre-Victorian tooling and techniques. Victorians were very influenced by elaborate and flamboyant designs with the emphasis on grandger such as in the Brock and the rococo designs. As we stumble in to the future we have to ask a couple of questions about what it means to be a blacksmith. For the most part style change with time as a matter of course and are predominantly affected by styles that predate them. The way in which we work with metals for the most part doesn’t change but it’s the tooling and the science that alter slightly this in turn can and has affected how we design and what we make.

One of the most important questions that must be addressed is the way in which we heat metal. Ultimately one of the fundamental aspects of the Industrial Revolution was the way in which we used fuel. Predominantly we use fuel much the same as we did during these times; the consequences, side-effects and overall issues that surround fossil fuels needs to be addressed. As blacksmiths the ability to heat and hit hot metal is the essence of our craft and without a heat source what will we do. One solution could be the development of induction furnaces or the use of less harmful chemical fuel based hearths.

Other aspects that the future may bring up are the types and way in which we use our material. If the forging process was understood better the benefit of forging billets stock could allow industries to lower waist material. There should be a duty of care with what materials go into work we make and whether or not they serve to be of any significance.

The introduction of more efficient and effective machinery alters the way in which we work as well. Should we all deny such techniques and machinery or is it right to embrace new technologies. One such technology which many blacksmiths use is laser cutting and other types of CNC profiling. Not only are these technologies saving use time but they reduce costs which is all ways good for small businesses. And lastly the type of work that Smith’s will incur is also likely to change as it has for centuries.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Hammer Time

Well It’s actually Power Hammer Time and how I love power hammers! Since travelling to Sweden to work with Roger Lund my views and ideas about contemporary forge work and how it affects our culture has completely changed. I went from being someone whose ideas about forging were stale and misinformed, to a true fanatic about hitting hot metal. Well hitting hot metal with power hammers that is.

We live in an era of post Victorian engineering and we are the results of the Industrial Revolution. In fact we might say our culture is by product of steel manufacture; we are who we are and we do what we do because of steel. The creators of our culture could quite easily be the men that were once called blacksmiths, who then went on to become engineers, architects and inventors. Some might even say that the downfall of the local Smithy and its inhabitants were the blacksmiths that built our future.

Forging didn’t die quite like the Smithies across the country did instead the process found a new home hidden away behind the walls and roller doors of factories up and down the country. Each year Europe produces somewhere in the region of $14 billion worth of forged components, you can find these components in everything from cars to planes, tools and almost anything else that can be made from steel. The forging process can be quick and extremely effective when it comes to manufacturing it also provides quite unique attributes and can be used to improve steel quality for application.

As demand for forged components increased during the Industrial Revolution the types of machines and tooling changed to me such demands. One such type of tooling was power hammers and they came in all shapes and sizes. The idea of a mechanical tool to take away some of the burdens of forging wasn’t new, but what was new was steam power this technical little marvel would revolutionise the way in which we forged. Power hammers became exceptionally versatile and the control that they allowed the users was astonishing. As we explored their potential ultimately their size increased.

Power Hammers have changed somewhat over the centuries and we now use pneumatic power hammers and also we have started to use hydraulic presses each one providing its own unique benefits. I have always enjoyed working with and on large powered machines and it is a pleasure to produce products using such wonderfully primitive tools in essence. Also the nature of the tooling provides some interesting quirks and with practice power hammers are exceptionally versatile.


Just before Christmas it would seem that I was able to take control of this runaway train and I might make it safely back to the station. After putting quite a considerable amount of time into the locks and boxes I realised that they just were not going to work and in order to make them right meant going back to the drawing board. I made a decision to drop the project and start fresh and the results have been very pleasing.

I’m back working the way I love and I’m comfortable with the way I am choosing to forge. The boxes were failing on many levels and I felt that achieving a final outcome was important; I could have spent a lot of time and money trying to get the boxes to work and ultimately have nothing. Also what little forging I was doing was a result of poor design and it felt stuck on. I now have two part finished lamps and I’m now ready to begin forging the third.

The lights have been influenced by the piece I made for John and the desire to create elegant and interesting forge work that shows the use of contemporary forging techniques. I am concentrating a lot of my efforts on the production of all my stock, fixings, fastenings and where possible electronics. As prototypes go I’m very satisfied with the two lights as far. Also my productivity is up and I’m no longer messing around with plastic maquettes and trying to find cheap prices for water/laser cut components.