Working in Metals
A Work and Play Book
Author: Charles Conrad Sleffel
Published 1911, 1916
Doubleday, Page and Company
Hardbound, 419 numbered pages with ink drawings
Plus 10 plates, two color, eight B&W
Semi Rare, Out of Print for decades, cheap paper
Reviewed and edited by Jock Dempsey
Written one hundred years ago
during the heyday of blacksmithing this book is obviously from a different era.
The author, Charles Sleffel, was 12 year veteran Metal Work Instructor from the famous Horace Mann School, Teacher's College of New York.
Attitudes then were completely sexist with no mention of young women taking part in any of the many projects.
The fronticepiece clearly illustrates this attitude with its title "Even a Boy Can Learn How to Make a Horseshoe".
Once you get past the quaintness of the book it is full of valuable instruction for children and adults alike.
While this was a classic children's or young adult's how-to book of the time one must adjust the methods to modern sensibilities.
The book calls for use of asbestos, lead and other materials we now avoid in the home shop.
We have added warning notes and suggested substitutions as needed.
Working in Metals is one book out of a series that included
Electricity, Housekeeping, Outdoor Work, Needlecraft, Home Decoration, Carpentry, Outdoor Sports, Gardening and Farming, and Mechanics - indoors and out.
I first learned about this book from Frank Turley of the Turley Forge Blacksmithing School
. Frank says,
My first student, Joe Pehoski, acquired the book, "Working in Metals" by Charles Conrad Sleffel, in 1971.
He xeroxed a small portion of the blacksmithing section which he gave to me.
I kept the copy for a long while, and about five years ago, I contacted Joe and asked him whether I could purchase the entire book.
He said that he would trade it for an ornamental door knocker.
"Done!" I said, and that's how I came by the book.
"Working in Metals" was ostensibly designed for Juniors, particularly boys, but as suggested in the introduction, the student was receiving occasional instruction from "the blacksmith around the corner."
I thought the 419 page book was outdated when I first looked at it, but about the only thing outdated would be the use of molten lead for hardening in a small shop situation.
Likewise, potassium of cyanide is no longer needed for case hardening.
Oh I almost forgot to mention, the elevator operator mentioned in the introduction is also a thing of the past.
Most of my experience is with blacksmithing, which is covered in the last 204 pages of the book.
The first half of the book addresses projects made with the non-ferrous metals of copper, brass, and silver.
These sections are useful, even to those working in iron.
For instance, there is a portion on hinge making and the placement of glass into a lamp shade.
I still refer to the blacksmithing portion of Sleffel's book.
Tongs, hammer heads, baskets, etc. are shown, mostly with line drawings.
If a boy could master what is outlined for ferrous metalwork, he would be the equal or better than a contemporary, adult so-called blacksmith.
One must remember that this was a time when every public school in the U.S. had shop or "manual arts" classes to at least introduce young men to
basic tools and shop skills. Those with an aptitude for hand work could go on to manual arts colleges or trade schools to learn a profession.
Many studied blacksmithing at these schools.
This book assumes some familiarity with tools or an instructor to help learn some of the skills.
Tools and materials are listed for every project and there are drawings of all the tools.
While some of the common tools of the time are expensive or difficult to come by today there are also many very practical methods
such as using hard wood blocks for forming copper and brass.
These are methods still used today.
The most expensive and hardest to find tools will be the basic blacksmithing tools, a forge and anvil.
However there are also stakes (small special bench anvils) listed for some of the non-ferrous work.
But for the most part the tools needed are simple, a work bench, vise, snips, steel square, dividers, hammers, chisels and punches.
A drill press (hand crank drill) is called for but may be replaced by a hand held electric drill in most cases.
The Table of Contents
of this book has been faithfully replicated in HTML and we have included some of the unnumbered page content and the original copyright there.
Thus it looks like the original but is also conveniently hot linked to the 40 chapter and illustration pages listed.
The major sub-divisions are:
- Introduction and Tools
- Work in Copper
- Brass work
- Silver Work
- The Blacksmiths Shop
- Ornamental Iron Work
The sections on non-ferrous work inlude many jewelery making skills and the blacksmithing section is as complete as any modern reference given the time frame.
In fact it is a much more complete reference than many newer books.
The copious illustrations have been copied or used as a guide in many later books.
Thus this is an original source for many later authors.
Adjusting the Browser Window
After some experimentation we found that the best width for this book's pages were 640 pixels wide.
However, to accommodate various computer screen proportions we have let the width of these pages float to fill the browser window.
On screens 850 wide or less you will need to use your browser at full screen.
On higher resolution screens you may want to view these pages in a reduced window.
When you do so the page images will be cleanest at their normal width or wider.
To adjust your browser window go to the Table of Contents
and scroll down to the bottom.
There you will find a line that when both ends just show the image window is 640 wide.