Click for closeup Cover of 2nd Edition Dona Z. Meilach

Decorative & Sculptural Ironwork

Tools, Techniques, Inspiration

Soft Bound, 312 pages, 750 pictures and illustrations, including NEW 60 color photographs. Originally published in 1977, Revised and reprinted in 1999.

Cover of new edition shown. Click for details
REVIEW  by Jock Dempsey
The word inspiration in the subtitle of this book is an understatement! It shows examples and techniques of metal work rarely seen, even 20 years after its first publication. Subjects include an historical overview of ironwork, forge setup, tools, materials, basic technique, advanced technique including carving animal heads, bladesmithing, Damascus steel, mixed metals and the rarely illustrated technique of raising, more techniques and sculpture. There is a gallery of details taken mostly from the work of Samuel Yellin who's work appears throughout the book. Every chapter is profusely illustrated with photographs, diagrams and charts. Each technique is carefully photo illustrated.

sample step by step photos
Selected steps from showing how to raise a vessel

The term ironwork in the title of this book is misnomer. Although the majority of work is in iron a variety of metals including silver and bronze are included. This was one of the first popularly available books to explain the process of producing pattern welded steels or Damascus. Drawing on experts for this article the author found The Damascus Research Team at the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (Robert Griffith, Jim Wallace and the now legendary Daryl Meier).

Laminated steel diagrams Dagger by Jim Moran
Classic Damascus blade by William Moran

Throughout Decorative and Sculptural Ironwork there are hundreds of examples of forged and fabricated metalwork illustrating how the sample techniques used by different artists can produce an unbelievable range of effects.

example group
Some photos from Chapter 13 - Sculpture
Left, Artists Christopher Ray, 1937 - 2000 with some of his mansects, center - Torso by Ann Riley and right a sculpture by Benetton Studios.

Cover of the first edition of Decorative and Sculptural Ironwork Every smith I know of my generation has an old dog eared copy of this book (First edition at left). It inspired and instructed my generation and it will now do the same for another generation.

To understand this influence you must look at Dona's latest book, Ironwork Today Inside & Out. The work shown is of the artists, and students of the people influenced by the 1977 edition of Dona Meilach's Decorative & Sculptural Ironwork.

How Decorative and Sculptural Ironwork came to be reprinted

When I started anvilfire! in 1998 one of the first things I did was write the original of this review and edit a brief FAQ on getting started in blacksmithing. Dona's book was one of several I recommended on a very short list and I recommended it repeatedly on the guru page and elsewhere. Soon I got queries from people asking about the book. They couldn't find it!

I called Norm Larson of Larson Books & Publishing and asked him about the book. He told me it had been out of print for quite a few years. On a whim I searched for Dona on one of the web index "people find" services. Norm had said Dona lived close by but he had lost her phone number so I knew to look in California. I was amazed to find the name, address and phone number of the popular author listed! AND she had an email address! So, I sent an email to Dona and asked if Decorative and Sculptural Ironwork was ever going to be reprinted. And a second surprise, I got a response! But it was a bittersweet response, I actually got a personal response from one of my favorite authors but she tells me the sad story of how just a year or so ago she had been notified by the original publisher of Decorative and Sculptural Ironwork that the plates had all been destroyed! Reprinting a book with the original plates is relatively easy but without the plates reproducing a book with color images is very expensive. . .

So, I thought about it a while and wrote back asking if she would be interested in letting me republish Decorative and Sculptural Ironwork on-line on anvilfire! A bold request from a complete unknown but I figured there was nothing to lose. I told Dona how every smith I knew of my generation had a dog eared copy of her book and that there was a whole new generation of new smiths that had never seen or heard of it! Then I proceeded to explain how electronic publishing would work not knowing that Dona has a Microsoft family news feature and a software review newsletter! Not the first time I've stuck my foot in my mouth! -- More bad news. . . Microsoft had the right of first refusal on the electronic rights. RIIIGGGTTT! I'm going to get in a bidding war with Bill Gates!

However, my enthusiasm for the book got Dona going. She took her last copy to a booksellers conference and peddled it to numerous publishers and then sent out proposals. Then after a couple months I got a letter from Dona. She found a publisher! AND she wanted help from me! Did I know the whereabouts of Daryl Meier, of . . .? WOW! Dona Meilach was asking me for help! She needed color photos to replace the originals and was looking for the people in the original release. I sent email addresses of the few people I knew and explained some of the changes in blacksmithing that had occurred in the last 20 years. I got busy and wasn't as supportive as I wanted but Dona is a real pro when it comes to research. So, now you know my small part in bringing you this truly wonderful book.

Jock Dempsey, anvilfire guru, November 24, 1999

A NEW Book. . .

While gathering new color photos for the re-release of Decorative and Sculptural Ironwork Ms. Meilach was encouraged to write a NEW book about contemporary ironwork and the people that produce it. We were the FIRST to announce this project and published her cover letter and photo release in the anvilfire! NEWS, Volume 8, Thanksgiving Edition.


Published by:
Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
Atglen, PA

Distributed in North America by:

Price $34.99 US
ISBN 0764307908
Copyright ©1998, 1999, 2001, 2006 by Jock Dempsey, DEMPSEY'S FORGE
Webmaster email: anvilfire! webmaster

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