Public Demos, Rules, and Ideas

Old Dominion Blacksmiths Association
Public Demo Suggestions

"We would hope that, as a member of ODBSA, you would demo what you know to your friends and the general public because that is an important part of being a member of the Old Dominion Blacksmith Association.

I do not profess to be a professional demonstrator to the public because 90% of my demonstrations have been to school groups in an enclosed environment and the children were captive for a 30-minute time period. Still, some of the things I did and learned might be of some assistance to you.

I have put together some suggestions that you can, if you want to, implement when you do a demonstration to the public. First, all members should know the hazard of blacksmithing before ever doing a demo. We definitely do not want anyone hurt because of what you did or did not do. Remember this: if an accident were to occur, you might have just opened yourself to Liability.

Now, what to demo? Whatever you want but I found to keep the majority of the crowd's attention, make something simple that does not take long to do, like a hook, nail or cross.

Surprise! I always do more talking that I do demonstrating. You might do the opposite, just demonstrating, but if you want to run your mouth some, here is some help for you.

  1. What is the most popular last name in the USA and England? One in every 100 people has the last name of Smith. Blacksmith is what is meant when referring to "Smith". I found in the records of our plantation where they paid the "Smith" at the end of each year.
  2. In earlier times as families moved further inland in America and started settling into communities, what was the first professional person they wanted? No, it was not the Doctor but it was the Blacksmith. He repaired equipment, made equipment, shod horses, fixed wagons, made axes, hoes, etc, etc. He was the MAN.
  3. The blacksmith worked himself out of a job. When the first automobiles came out the blacksmith would say when seeing the first car: " there goes another blacksmith that will be out of work."
  4. The Blacksmithing trade really started declining rapidly in the 1930's and by the early 60's had almost disappeared. In the 70's, it started to rejuvenate. Thanks to some people that wanted hand forged items over the last thirty years, we again have some professional blacksmiths. The real keepers of this historic craft are the hobbyist blacksmiths.
  5. Point out the anvil (steel face, wrought iron bottom if that is what you are using), hardie hole, pritchel hole (was added about 1830), horn (in England they call it a beck); slack tub or quenching tub (used for cooling and hardening metal); the blacksmithing vise or pole vise (the leg absorb the energy of the blow and the pole vise has been around for hundreds of years); the crank blower (the first dated about 1850) or the bellows which goes way, way back in time.
  6. Today, in America, we blacksmiths are not exactly using everything as they had in the early 1800's. In the past they used charcoal. The making of which helped clear a lot land in northeastern states like Pennsylvania. The charcoal maker would cut the trees down, cut it in certain lengths and stack it like an extra large T-pee and cover the outside with mud with very few holes for the smoke to get out when the fire was started. The fire was a very slow burning smoldering one. It would normally take about a week to produce the charcoal. The charcoal maker would have to stay in the woods observing the fire the whole time to make sure it did not burn too fast. Most of the smiths today use coal. I have been told that in this area of Virginia some Blacksmiths did not begin to use coal until about 1850.
  7. Another thing that is different is the metal that we are using. They used wrought iron, which has impurities in it like sand (silica). Because of this sand the wrought iron has a very distinct grain structure and the silica is said to help prevent rust. At this point, I show the people an example of it. This wrought iron is easier to forge weld, does not like sharp angles and is much more rust resistant than the metal we use today. In fact, up the 1930's most bridges were made of it. Wrought iron is no longer produced in the USA. Most of the pieces we are able to get come from old buildings and bridges. Today, we use mild steel that has very low carbon content and will rust quickly if nothing is put on it.
  8. The nail is my favorite subject to talk about because the public is interested in knowing something about its history. Why did the House of Burgess of Virginia pass a law in 1645 that people relocating could not burn their houses down? Because the nails were so rare and expensive when people moved they would burn their houses down to retrieve the nails. Here is a copy of the Law: "And it is further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That it shall not be lawful for any person so deserting his plantation as afore said to burn any necessary housing that are situated thereupon, but shall receive so many nails as may be computed by 2 indifferent men were expended bout the building thereof for full satisfaction, reservinge to the King all such rent as did accrew by vertue of the former grants or planting of the same from the expiration of the first seaven years."
  9. Because the wrought iron and particularly steel were so expensive in earlier times, the blacksmith did not charge by the job but instead charged by the weight of the metal used to do the task.
  10. Up to the Revolutionary War, we Americans were not allowed to make our nails, and many other items that England wanted to control. England had a cottage industry making nails and wanted to protect it.
  11. The hand-made nail goes way back in time. The Roman Empire and before used them. (Emperor Caligula used these nails dipped in copper for his ships.)
  12. The hand-made nail with its uneven head and sharp point was extensively used until the first machine for making cut nails was invented around 1795 (it had a somewhat square end or point. Even with this machine, they still had to make the heads by hand. As the cut nail machines improved (they now could produce heads that were somewhat the same and square) and as they became cheaper than the hand-made ones, they started replacing them. There was still a need for hand-make ones when clinching was desired, like in batten doors. Up to 1825 the grain in the machine made cut nails went the wrong way to bend it without breaking. There are ways to identity the approximate dates of cut nails made between 1795 and 1830.
  13. The availability of cut nails in this part of Virginia did not show up until about 1808.
  14. One of the first nail making businesses in Virginia was at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello in 1794. In 1795 he said he employed a dozen little boys aged from 10 to 16 years old. They produced 8 to 10 thousand nails a day. If they worked 10 hours a day and produced 10,000 nails then they each averaged making a nail every 45 seconds. In 1796 he bought and used one of the first nail making machines.
  15. The early blacksmiths took pride in their finished products. They would not let any item leave their shop until it looked perfect. It is said that they spent more time with a file than in forging the piece. When you look at historic hand-forged metal work you would think it came out of a machine (no hammer marks except on the back where it could not be seen). In the current times the general public wants to see hammer marks for verification of hand forging. "

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