December 22, 1999
A Resurgence of Blacksmithing
By MICHAEL POLLAK
o understand blacksmithing's current
appeal, forget about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's village smithy under the spreading chestnut tree with his
arms like iron bands. Instead, suggests Brian Gilbert, consider the lowly kitchen spatula. Everybody has one.
"I have one, too," Mr. Gilbert of Chattanooga, Tenn., wrote by e-mail, "except mine
is handmade, and if you take the time to
notice, has decorative touches that make it
really nice to hold. It's a pretty piece,
there's not another exactly like it anywhere
else in the world, and I'm proud of it."
Mr. Gilbert is editor of The Hammer's
Blow, one of two publications of Abana, the
Artist-Blacksmith's Association of North
America, which was founded in 1973 in
Lumpkin, Ga., by 20 blacksmiths attending a
convention. Ten years later, membership
was 2,250, and today, it is 4,500, with more
than 300 joining each year, according to
Abana's Web site,
There are more than 50 Abana chapters, including chapters in Australia and
New Zealand and some on university campuses where decorative arts and metalworking are taken seriously. On the site, one
can subscribe to Abana's two newsletters,
The Hammer's Blow, with many how-to
hints, and The Anvil's Ring, which showcases new creations. There is also an on-line
A revival of blacksmithing has given rise to a number of Web sites, such as blacksmithchic.com.
Blacksmithing is most often associated
with shoeing horses, an association not all
blacksmiths care for, said Jim McCarty,
who edits The Anvil's Ring. "I know many
blacksmiths who would not like to admit
this," Mr. McCarty of Taos, Mo., wrote by e-mail.
"They wear pins with a horseshoe
covered by the 'Ghostbusters' symbol as a
sign of disdain for the mere shoer of horses.
The fact is had they not continued their
trade, blacksmithing would have died."
Farriers, blacksmiths who specialize in
shoeing horses, kept the old traditions alive,
Mr. McCarty said. "The farrier saved
blacksmithing," he wrote. "While the need
for blacksmiths to make tools, repair farm
equipment and forge household items ended
around World War II, there has never been a
time when the services of the farrier were
no longer needed."
A second reason for the resurgence of
blacksmithing, he wrote, was the efforts of
the Sixties generation to rediscover lost
And there were revered teachers like
the late Francis Whitaker, who died in October at age 92 and whose contributions are
outlined in a special page in Abana.
You are not going to learn blacksmithing
without doing it in person, but the fraternity
will be glad to give you plenty of on-line help.
Blacksmithing has its own Web ring, and
one of its sites, anvilfire.com, has a How Do
I Get Started in Blacksmithing page with
many suggestions, including these: Sign up
for a welding course at a local college or
trade school. Buy a few books, recommended on-line. Join Abana. "Start to look for
equipment and scraps of steel to experiment
with or to build equipment. Be imaginative.
Don't get stuck on setting up a classic 19th-century shop!" The site also posts basic
information on hammers, tongs, forges and
anvils, as well as how to buy out-of-print
An effort to keep alive the traditions of a trade that involves more than just shoeing horses.
The Blacksmith's Compendium, sponsored by the Celtic Knot, has an Frequently
Asked Questions list of sorts, indexed from Abana
(www.celticknot.com/elektric/compendium/guide.shtml). Topics include
anvils and anvil repairs, "blacksmith's elbow," chain mail, blade steels, Damascus
steel and "Coal: A Brief Primer."
For a blacksmith's page for women, try
www.blacksmithchic.com. "In many ways,
women make better blacksmiths," Mr. Gilbert wrote, "since they often have less upper body strength. They cannot force the
iron to move as easily as a large man could,
so they work smarter, often with better
hammer technique and control than the
Perhaps the most enthusiastic and
charming site is the Blacksmith's Virtual
the creation of Neil Winikoff, 79, of Bellevue, Wash.,
a former writer for industrial magazines
and a blacksmithing devotee for 30 years.
Interspersed with pictures of Cassius, his
junkyard dog, and audio of appropriate rock
songs are a joke page, how-to pages for
beginning and advanced metalworkers, listings (you want to contact a smith in Sri
Lanka?), a sketchbook page for drawings
and ideas, and an on-line junkyard.
Blacksmithing sites are far removed
from any guild-style secrecy. "The near loss
of this art form isn't lost on today's smith,
either," Mr. Gilbert wrote by way of explanation. "Some of the original founding members of Abana are still around. These 30 or
so people realized that secrecy was death,
and they freely shared all that they knew,
and encouraged others to do the same."
These sites are not part of The New York Times on the Web, and The Times has no control over their content or availability.
Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company