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BP1000a Uri Hofi, Blacksmith
by Ken Mermelstein, Stumptown Forge
At the age of 73, Uri Hofi, is one of the leading figures in modern Blacksmithing. This Master Blacksmith has had the courage to question tradition and convention and consistently has developed forging systems that conserve heat, move metal faster, and preserves our most important tools as blacksmiths, our bodies. I have had the honor of being able to call Uri my teacher. As my teacher he has been one of those rare mentors that pushes me past my comfort zone and truly is not satisfied until I improve. Recently, I made the trip from my home in Oregon to go half way around the world and visit my teacher at his smithy and school the Forge Ein-Shemer, which was founded in 1987.
I have taken classes with Uri in New York at Ed Mack's Center for Metal Arts. This is where I was first awed by how fast metal could be moved and how accurately. Uri would push all of us from dawn to dusk and then discuss the day's events. It was then our responsibility to take this information and begin our own journey of putting these practices in place in our own Smithy's. Over the years, I had stayed in touch with Uri. In fact, Uri originally introduced one of my close friends in Oregon, Arnon Kartmazov, of K&K Forgeworks, a fine smith and Hofi student, to me. I mention this to illustrate that after my classes my learning never stopped largely due to the relationship that was initiated by Uri.
When it came time to further my education, the decision was simple. It was time for me to make the pilgrimage to my teacher in Israel. I arrived in Tel-Aviv after the 18-hour flight unsure of where my journey would take me. I could only imagine what a journeyman blacksmith may have felt as they left for another experience not knowing exactly what to expect. When I arrived at the Kibbutz, I was welcomed and was shown to my living quarters. I was finally here and ready to go to work.
The days began early each morning. They would start with a cup of tea and conversation. These would be largely focused on the tasks of the day, philosophy, and of course a joke or two to start the day. We would discuss the previous day and the things that I needed to improve and questions that I had. This was a critical part of the day. Uri expects his students to ask "why. By asking, Uri would make sure that I had a thorough understanding of each topic. In addition, Uri would review my notebook to insure that my drawings and steps were accurate and repeatable.
In every sense of the word the Forge Ein-Shemer is a school, a place where his students are instructed in the art of Blacksmithing. Every morning other students would stop by and join in the action. Rafi Dahan the young smith who developed the Rafi-Rose and longtime student Shlomo Errel who has studied with Hofi for 11 years to name a few. Hofi would describe the activity for the day, which could include tool making, or a forging exercise and everyone would go to work. Hofi would then watch and make corrections to our form and make sure that the forging was done in a way that improved our technique, not necessarily to make a perfect item. However, that was also expected in quick order. Hofi would often stand behind me on the power hammer and instruct me to "Be Bold" and "Know were you are going to hit and HIT IT !" Hofi would explain the nuances of each form and how to not only make it functional but aesthetically pleasing.
One day, we had the privilege of making hardy tools for Hofi's newly designed anvil. On this day, I got the education of my life on striking. Not only striking myself, but to see Shlomo and Hofi effortlessly bringing the steel to form. Shlomo would share the intricacies with me of were to stand, how to have my sledge hammer in the air waiting for the smith, how to hit in a linear arc, etc. Not being accustomed to using strikers, I could not imagine how much power could be generated with the proper form.
During one of our morning conversations, we were discussing blacksmithing technique. In this discussion I mentioned what is often heard in American Smithies about how people are "comfortable working a certain way", or "there is more than one way to skin a cat". I tried to justify this point and said that there are many smiths that produce high quality work using different techniques. Uri responded to this by saying, "There is not more than one way to skin a cat, there is one or maybe two good ways to do things. The other ways are not as effective." He then discussed how we were now the holders of the flame of our craft and that it was up to us to challenge the experts and masters in our field to show all of us "why" their methods are better. "If you can do it faster, more accurately, and consistently then its better." It then dawned on me why Uri has come to such prominence. Why students will travel the globe to learn at Hofi Forge. Clearly Uri is one of the few master Smith's that shows us. He does not just talk about theory; he plays his hammer and anvil like a virtuoso violinist and shows us. Uri leaves it to us to ask "why" and demands that the people in the forefront of our craft "show us."
During my last two day's at the Smithy, Hofi had a beginning blacksmithing class at his school. The day began with a thorough cleaning and review of each forging area and preparation of all materials. The school itself is in a separate location next to Hofi's gallery. It is fully equipped for each student with a complete set of hand tools and tongs. Students have their own forge and anvil. Hofi begins the class with the discussion of the types of hand hammers and how his balanced hammer is used to forge steel. How you can move metal the direction and way that you want. Making elements that are finished when you are done at the anvil. While helping the class I see the same looks in their eyes that I experienced several years prior. During a quite moment while the students were busy at the anvil Hofi looked at me, smiled and said, "See they are starting to get it."
Although this article is not the typical how too, or blue print on a specific technique, I believe it illustrates something much more important. I hope it illustrates how to teach our craft. This article is written in honor of my teacher Uri Hofi. A Master Smith that makes us think, question, and demand excellence from those who would teach. He has place of education. If I had only one place to visit to learn this craft if would be on his Kibbutz in a small town one hour from Tel-Aviv.