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I am writing a research paper on why the trade of blacksmithing almost died out in america in the middle of the 1960's and why it is haveing a strong reamergence now.

I would appriciate any help with information on blacksmithingin the 1960's and if you are a blacksmith, if you could leave me information on when you started the trade,if it is a job or just a hobby, and short reason on what got you started or interested in blacksmithing. also if any one knows any blacksmiths makeing a liveing in the 1960' if you could ask them to chech this out i would appriciate it.

Background on why i am doing this is for a college class and in about 2004 while in the navy i started getting into blacksmithing and later from my grandfather i found out that his father was a blacksmith barely makeing it in the 60's and because of this takeing any job he could to provide died from galvanised steel poisoning in 66 after battling from it several times. I heard that there were only a few blacksmiths doing it as a trade at this time and it interest me how such an awesome trade and art form can almost die. i think it would have been a huge lose.

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Mass production became common. People are cheap, even today I hear from people wanting a fence, then the freaking out when I tell them $100 per foot or so, they reply that at Box store they only charge $20 per foot blah blah... we never really died off, we are just not as noticeable .

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I was involved in the resuscitation of blacksmithing (I borrowed the phrase from Brian Anderson), he presently a Vermont gunsmith. I began to shoe horses in 1963 and went to Oregon Horseshoeing School in 1964. I always worked with hot shoers (they had forges).as opposed to cold shoers. While working as a farrier, I began little by little to get orders for such things as fireplace screens and tools, branding irons, and kitchen utensils. By 1970, I felt that I was skilled enough to open a blacksmithing school in Santa Fe. I was still shoeing a few show Morgans on the weekends, but my focus was now on blacksmithing. Also, in 1970, Alex Bealer's book, "The Art of Blacksmithing" was first published. Also, see my bio at www.turleyforge.com

In the 1960's, it seemed to me that blacksmithing was moribund. I met one smith near Dallas, Oregon, who dressed many plowshares every spring. He mostly was a welder, but had a Little Giant for the shares. Another shop in Salem had a huge anvil as you walked in the door, but it was a carryover from the early days and little used. The shop was now a welding shop. I went to a county fair in Salem, and one family had their grandpa's smithing tools on display. There was a swage block, but nobody knew what it was. About 1965, I visited my sister's family in Seattle, and they took me to the Seattle Art Museum in Volunteer Park (it is now the Oriental Division of the museum). From the foyer leading to the galleries was a pair of Samuel Yellin gates. I thought that they were forged, but I was really taken aback by the beauty of the design and execution. Seeing the gates really piqued my curiosity about forged ornamental work.

I moved to Santa Fe, NM, in 1968. Soon after, I had some business in Oklahoma, and as I drove through Clayton, NM, on the way, I saw a fire glowing behind some double doors in a building at the edge of town. I drove over and parked, and there was a Mr. Kuhn making branding irons. I watched for a while and we talked. He found out that I was shoeing and smithing, and invited me for lunch. In his home, adjacent to the forge, In the living room was a lower, wooden wainscoting that had stamped in it every branding iron stamp that he had ever made. I found out that he only specialized in branding irons and wooden handled calf dehorners. He said that he didn't need to advertise. When he started out, he subscribed to all the agricultural journals that were in print. He wrote a long hand letter about his hand forged branding irons to every rancher who advertised in the magazines. And that was it!

In 1969, there was a Manuel Apodaca who was still blacksmithing in Santa Fe, but he passed on not long after my move to town. I met and worked with a blacksmith and welder, Victor Vera, in 1969. He was primarily making hardware for a furniture firm in Santa Fe. You can read about Mr. Vera in the stories section of another site using the pulldown menu. After starting my school, I was really unaware of much smithing going on at a national level. Eventually, I heard of Francis Whitaker of Aspen, CO. Then, I got a catalog from Donald Streeter of Franklinville, NJ, Streeter was a specialist in forging reproduction hardware. There was a blacksmith doing contemporary designed work in Sonoma, CA. Philip Simmons was doing ironwork in Charlston, SC. These were well known smiths at the time, but only well known to a small clientele. I met Tom Bredlow in 1970, and he had been smithing for a few years in Tucson, AZ. He soon got some commissions from the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. I had heard about blacksmithing being done in Williamsburg, VA, and I sent for the video, "Hammerman" which showed about 35 minutes of blacksmith work in Williamsburg.

ABANA got started in Georgia in the 1970's, and the craft seemed to take off from there. The first truly national meeting was in Carbondale, IL, on the SIU campus, in the bicentennial year of 1976.

Brandin, Since you're new to all this, PM me if you need any clarifications.

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With utmost respect to Frank and all that have been involved in the resurrection of the trade, I will tell you a few things that were told to me.

Dad sold the horses right after the War (1946-7). He bought one and then other tractors. He (in the mid 50's) told me that the forge work for a large part had died with the horses. The local smith had a welder and torch along with the forge. will add more later.

I am speaking of the issue from an AG environment. The progress of equipment and manufacturing led to the demise of hand smithed work. The progress of equipment also led the demise of raw materials ( to a degree). Think wrought iron. There will be arguments. So be it.

I won't speak of industry or art as I'm sure there will be plenty of comments on those. Suffice to say that the automobile alone led to the demise of smithing. Trains. Progress. It may be stated with accuracy however that the space shuttle was launched from the face of an anvil.

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Actually I would consider much of modern blacksmithing as part of the upswing of craft work in the 1960's along with the "hippie" and commune movements. You might check for references in the Whole Earth Catalogs.

Much of the "traditional" work of a smith was done away with by much cheaper factory made items, blacksmithing has always been a skilled labour intensive craft!

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It is all part of the greater societal movement toward specialization, industrialization, and automation. Skilled labor became less and less cost effective. Smithing was formerly a necessary trade to produce the basic necessities of civilized life. Since its resurgence it has been a somewhat different animal. Those who make a living at it serve high end niche markets, mostly. For most, like me, it is just a hobby.

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When I was a kid I first saw a blacksmith working at the historic forge at Old Sturbridge Village in the 1960s. About 1973 the university was offering a intro blacksmithing non-credit course at the home/shop of a local smith. He had a coal forge that had a hair-blower blowing air into a 1/2" pipe that was capped at the end with a slit in the cap to provide the air to the coal. My understanding is that we were his first class he ever taught. He had a 25Lb Little Giant power hammer and was struggling to make a living as a smith. Whenever possible he worked with wrought iron as that was still being made and available to him, but he also torch-cut structural steel and forged the recycled metal to useable size under his power hammer. He told us that while he could forge weld wrought iron, structural steel (mild steel) was still a struggle to forge weld for him. Back then anyone who could forge weld mild steel was held in awe, but now forge welding mild steel has been honed to a science and everyone can do it. The 70s was definitely a resurgence, and individuals with modest skills were making money as smiths as smiths were still not all that common. The number of smiths remained pretty low even into the early 80s, and the cost of tools was still pretty inexpensive as the demand for the tools was low due to the low number of people smithing. As time passed the number of people smithing increased with increased pressure upon the prices and availability of tools and increased competition for work. Over the years I have seen smiths come and go. Of the hundreds of folks that have been members of the local guild over the past ~25 years, only one other person is still a member of the guild from when I joined.

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I guess my real start was an interest in medieval arms and armour, 33 years ago I joined the SCA and when I told them my interest they said "well *make* the stuff!

The the modern renaissance of pattern welding was getting started good and I was floored by the beauty of the blades but at US$100 per inch they were way out of my price range so I figured I'd learn to make them myself.

Now I realize that the most expensive blade back then would have been trivially cheap compared to getting hooked on smithing and bladesmithing; but it's like the old W.C.Fields quote "It was a woman who drove me to drink, and I never had the courtesy to thank her for it. "

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I've always been interested in handcrafts from earlier days, starting with a fascination with the American frontier and colonial period when I was a boy. I used to read the Foxfire books, DC Waldorf's book on flintknapping, that sort of thing. But as a kid I just didn't have the discipline to follow up and really apply myself. I thought it was all neat stuff, but it all seemed way out of reach to me at the time. A few years ago those interests resurfaced, and I started flintknapping. Then I figured I ought to do something with the points I was making, so I made a few arrows. But what good are arrows by themselves? So pretty soon I was making selfbows (poorly). Then I thought about casting some bronze arrowheads, which in very short order led to forging knives, and then to some general blacksmithing.

More than anything, what helped me get started was the Internet, which has made information on all those topics vastly more accessible than it was when I was a kid. I remember, at the age of 11 or so, trying to figure out knapping with a small piece of flint from a Boy Scout firestarting kit, an antler tine, and D.C. Waldorf's book. I didn't get it, and I didn't know anyone I could ask to clarify things for me. Today that wouldn't happen, because I have Internet access. There are YouTube videos, pay downloads, forums, read-only websites, you name it. The same goes for blacksmithing -- and tanning, spinning, weaving, and just about any other craft you can think of. There aren't a lot of people who know how to do most of those things by hand anymore, but it's much easier now for those who have the knowledge to share it with those who want it. The Internet facilitates diffuse groups of individuals with unusual interests finding one another to share those interests, whereas doing that in the real world could be much more difficult. That's a bad thing as applied to, say, "lone wolf" al Qaeda wannabes, but I it's a good thing for this craft.

That's not to say that the Internet is responsible for all of it. Some of the guys above were in at the ground floor of the resurgence of smithing in this country, and it started well before the Internet became a force. But I suspect they are the lucky ones. My guess is that there are quite a few folks in their generation who would've taken up smithing under the right circumstances, but never did because they weren't exposed to it or couldn't easily find guidance.

Books helped me too, of course. My local bookstore had The Complete Modern Blacksmith by Alexander Weygers, and a used bookstore had Alex Bealer's The Art of Blacksmithing. I learned a lot from those, and I've bought others since. But I learned even more by applying things I read in books to discussions with others.

Over the past couple years I've also joined a local smithing guild, and I've learned a lot from those guys, too. But that happened well after I had already built a couple forges, improvised an anvil, and started banging on steel.

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I started blacksmithing in Collage in 1990. The art dept. had a full smithy setup that no one used. I got interested in the concept of the tools used to make the tools to make the tools... Sorta the chicken and the egg thing. That was in the early 90's I opened a small shop- 10'x12' had the forge out front. My landlord freaked out and shut me down. With very little access to other smiths at the time, I strayed away from smiting. Hard to work out of a second floor apartment in the city. It never really left my blood. In '05 I hired a guy to do some work for a project I was running. He was a ferrier turned blacksmith. We have been friends ever sense. I now own the land and the building my smithy is in. I am working on making Blacksmithing along with other interest a full time thing.

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From around 1900 to the 1930's, my Great-Grandfather had a Smithy in Quarryville, Pennsylvania.

Along with general repairs and modification of farm equipment, he made specialized tools for the Slate quarrying and cutting business, in the "Peach Bottom" area.

Growing up, in the early 60's, tools that he'd made were still in daily use, ... and were among my Grandfather's most prized possessions.

But that was the extent of my direct relationship with Blacksmithing, in my early years.

By the late 60's, there were still a few "seasonal" or "part-time" Smithy's scattered around Southern York County, but the one in West York was the last "full-time" working Blacksmith in the area.

Sometime in the early 70's, that last Smithy closed, and the equipment was Auctioned off.

( Around 1970, York was a heavy manufacturing center, and all the Factories had well equipped Maintenance Departments, with Welding, Fabrication and Machining capabilities.

I think this contributed to the decline of the Blacksmith business, in this area.

Everybody "knew" someone, that had access to a repair facility of some sort.

Today, .. 40 years later, .. this is no longer the case. )

In the early 1980's I was Supervising a Custom Machining and Fabrication Shop, when a "regular" customer brought in a fabricated hand tool, ( for planting tree seedlings ) with a forged blade.

He wanted a quote on several hundred, ... but nobody could duplicate the blade design, in a reasonably economical fashion.

The customer said "the old Smith in West York always made them, on his Power Hammer".

Shortly thereafter, I accidentally learned who had bought that Power Hammer, when the West York Smithy was sold off.

The new owner was willing to heat and hammer out the tapered portion, if I'd furnish the blade blanks.

This impressed upon me, the realization that, if the old equipment was preserved, the skills to operate it, could be re-learned.

In the 1990's I was working as a Manufacturing Engineer and Tool Designer, for a Company that operated several ACME Forge Presses, in the 500 to 1,000 ton range.

Induction Heaters and 10 second cycle times were the rule in that environment, ... but basically, the process is not much different from that performed in a Coal Forge, with a Hammer and Anvil.

Today, my "hobby shop", ... the "SmoothBore Smithy" ... has an 8 or 9 month backlog of unsolicited projects for friends and neighbors, ... while most of my "personal" projects are STILL on the "back burner".

The primary change that I've seen occur in Blacksmithing, over my lifetime, is in the nature of the work itself.

while machinery design and repair declined to the point of near extinction, ( primarily due to economic reasons ) ... "ornamental" iron work, and "artisan" type items have seen an increase in demand.

Here, in South-Central Pennsylvania, the needs of the Amish and Mennonite Communities have done much to keep "traditional" Blacksmithing from disappearing completely, ... but they too, are subject to the economic realities of "hand-made" versus "mass produced" goods.


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I got interested in smithing in the late sixties in a desire to make a more hands on form of sculpture. However in talking with my uncle, who was born in 1914 and a farmer, after he started farming with a tractor and didn't need to walk behind a team any more he sold the family smithing tools for scrap metal. He now had a set of tanks, an arc welder and if most things broke the Deere dealer was quick to supply new parts. There was no need to keep up horses any longer and there was no need to keep the equipment. Automobiles in general replaced the need for farriers and the auto mechanic suplanted the general blacksmith that repaired farm machinery and did general metal repairs. The making of consumer goods on the production line also helped to put the metal craftsman out of business with mass produced goods that of uniform consistency, no more of this one of kind thing made by hand. It's just plain hard to compete with a machine making a thousand of the same thing for a dollar when it takes and individual ten dollars to make one by hand. The very wealthy can, and do, still buy hand crafted silverware but the rest of us buy it from Macy's and it's either silver plated or stainless steel. As Steve has mentioned it hard to compete for steel fencing when you give a quote for a $100/LF and the customer says he can get it at Home Depot or Lowe's for $20/LF. It was a bit different for me as I used my smithing skills to make one of a kind sculptures, not running fence, but it does effect how a craft lives or dies. It takes dedicated craftsmen and women to keep it alive but it also take dedicated patrons who see it as a high value craft that they want to support with commissions and purchases. Yes, they can buy a knife cheaper at Walmart but not one as well crafted. Yes, you can buy running fence at Home Depot cheaper, but not as artistically created and skillfully made as by an artist blacksmith. The resurgence of the blacksmith profession/hobby since the late sixties and early seventies has been very welcome by many a really old timer who was wondering if he would be one of the last practicing smiths in the USA but as of now I think that with as many artist, knife makers, general purpose smiths and hobbyists that are now practicing the craft it will be at least another century before the craft is in dire straights again, at least I hope so.

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  • 1 month later...

here is my final paper thanks everyone for the help and hopefully i gave everyone proper credit if i didnt use your info in paper it wasnt that it wasnt helpful or interesting but that i could have writen all year and not finished with info i still wrote twice what i needed. hopefull everyone will enjoy and get something interesting from it. thanks all

“The Fall and Rise of a Spark”

Throughout history leading all the way up to the industrial revolution the smith and the skills which they used to create unique but usually very usable utilitarian object had a place in almost every village or community. In large communities the Smith was able to diversify into very specific crafts some being the Ferrier, Wheelwright, Armorer, Whitesmith (lead), Silversmith, and Blacksmith (iron) but in smaller rural communities the local smith usually known as the blacksmith had to be able to be more diverse in his skill, one day he might need to shoe a horse, the next he might need to craft the ironworking’s for a door, and the next he might have to dress a farmers plow or replace a wagon wheel. As America Emerged into the industrial revolution the need for the Blacksmith in everyday life begins to wane and by the 1960’s there are very few working Blacksmiths. If we look now, there are many blacksmithing groups scatted throughout the country,and many colleges are starting to have degree programs in blacksmithing or at least non degree classes in blacksmithing. As my interest in blacksmithing has increased so has my interest in its history. With the decline in Blacksmithing we also lost a lot of the knowledge of the techniques and skills of the Blacksmith due to not very many books were written with much detail on the subject before the 1970’s and the information was passed by word of mouth or visually from master to apprentice. Why then did America have such a rapid decline and lose of the Blacksmith and traditions then its gradual Interest in Blacksmithing but quickly picking up its pace in the 1970’s.
One of the ways to figure this out is to one look at what the job of the blacksmith before the industrial revolution was compared to today’s blacksmiths. Historic blacksmiths did many different tasks they might have been a specialist that created armor, a simple nail, horseshoes, or he may have been a small village smith that did a little of it all with less focus towards one area of expertise (Blandford 4,5). The historic blacksmith although they were greatly skilled and produced some famous metal like Damasteel (Damascus) most of what they produced was more utilitarian in nature other than the very few smiths that might work for the high kings or nobles producing ornate iron work like the one shown in the National industrial Exhibition in the summer of 1881 in Milan. It was said the mansion gates and rails shown by Officiani francesi, of Surina and Prestini, of Milan “no one was there masters” (Cope 85,86). As the invention of better weapons like the gun came about it made most armourers and bladesmiths an obsolete trade and they had to change or die out which also happened with the invention of the automobile and better casting methods. The automobile made the horse and carriage die out which was a main income of the wheelwright and the Ferrier. With the better methods of casting being found at the rise of the industrial revolution and the cheaper cost of factory labor the parts that a blacksmith might spend days making at the high cost of his manual labor were now being made by the heavy machines and forge presses that could cast them out by the hundreds. These cheaper products the average family were much more able to afford and didn’t always see the value in the one of a kind hand forged product of the Blacksmith. In Blandfords book he said that most city blacksmiths at the rise of the industrial revolution as their jobs died they turned to factory work in the foundries and ironworks (4, 5). A small rural or village Blacksmith who does a little of all the different trades focusing mostly on dressing farm implement, shoeing a horse, or fixing a broken axle on a wagon these blacksmiths with the car taking the place of the horse and factory made farming implements made it cheaper to buy a new tool than to redress it. These blacksmiths had to take any and all jobs that came to them to make ends meet or find a new trade. I found out from my Grandfather that his Father was a rural Blacksmith that died from galvanized poisoning in 1966 while taking jobs to weld galvanized metal a known danger at the time, but one of the many dangers a poor Blacksmith might take trying to make it by in those times but in the past wouldn’t have touched.
Talking to many Blacksmiths that operate now as a business and some that started around the 1970s along with the many hobbyist it seems that most of the interest into Blacksmithing began to rise around the 1970s. One Blacksmith I talk to in a forum named Rich Waugh that has a lot of background and information said that a lot of the rise in popularity and availability came with the Group called ABANA (Artist Blacksmith Association of North America), Alex Bealer’s book “The Art of Blacksmithing”, a magazine called the ‘Whole Earth Catalog”, and that the blacksmithing rise came more with artist blacksmithing than just general blacksmithing (metalartistforum.com). Frank Turley who started and still runs Turley Forge Blacksmithing School started in 1970 the oldest modern school in America. He tells how he started as a Ferrier in the 1960s and then wondered into a wider scope of Smithing and soon opening a school(metalartistforum.com). Turley talked about how he work with Victor Vera in his shop early in his career and how Vera has an astounding history from starting with his dads forge making branding irons, to his time with Pancho Villa and his guerrillas fixing weapons, to making torpedoes in WWII, then later moving to Santa Fe forging branding irons, spurs, and even silversmithing for the “Charros” gentlemen of wealth were Frank Turley began working with the 70 year old Vera (Turley).
It seems back in the time that the trade was dying out and even now that a blacksmith had to be able to bend and mold like the hot metal they formed to provide for their family moving into other fields of metal work. Were as the few others that Continued the Blacksmithing trade had to find those niches of their trade like producing only branding irons for wealthy people or those people willing to pay top dollar for their custom product.
Another area to look at to figure its continuing rise in interest we need to look at what started many into the trade. Turley tells how he like many others started with ferrying which lead to further interest. Then there is the young artist wishing to develop or show more of their art like Bentiron1946 talked about in the forum, also those who liked armor and weapons and desired to reproduce relics of the past like Matt Bower, but most of the blacksmiths I talk to their story starts in a similar fashion. It starts as a child getting to watch the roar of the fire that fascinates the mind of a child and the fascination as they watched a Smith mold and shape the cherry red metal(metalartist.com). I think part of the fascination with the molding and building of the Blacksmiths trade these days comes from many peoples desire to do something with their hands since many people these days do jobs were they do not get to make things or use their ingenuity or imagination which is what blacksmithing is all about.
Even with this rise in popularity many blacksmiths are just hobbyist and the ones that run a business doing it do not become rich off of it normally but usually are struggling to make a living with many even shutting down in this slow time. Some of what I think is behind this can be the industrial revolution thinking of machine fabrications are as nice and well made as the smiths handmade works. Also I think the American thinking that looks are more important than quality have caused this. We can see this in how many people might be driving around the brand new top dollar car but living in a house that’s barely standing. Or like Steve Sells points out his hand made fencing he has to charge 100 dollars per foot for it and some costumers complain that they can get it from the box store for 20 dollars per foot. They do not see the skill of the artisan (Sells).
I believe the decline of the smith was an example of many reasons combining together in a very short period of time to make the American Blacksmiths trade become viewed as an unnecessary expense for the typical customers at the time of its decline. Also because of the Blacksmiths skills and techniques being passed by practice and word of mouth it became hard for those desiring to learn it after its decline to study it. I believe its rise was quickly renewed like its fall but it seems the culture it shifted to at first was different it went from being a utilitarian skill and use to more of an artistic expression and aimed at a smaller class of people that see its worth in its one of a kind pieces and the skill and work of the human hand and who are willing to pay the premium price that in tells. Like myself who has came into it in more recent years the internet and its ability to traverse continents and place information in your hands in such mass has helped spark the rise and push those interested in the art of blacksmithing into a reality.

Work Cited

Bentiron 1946. “Re: Analytical Research Paper.” Web Log comment. www.iforgeiron.com. 3 Nov. 2011. Web. 4 Nov 2011.
Blandford, Percy W. “Practical Blacksmithing and Metalworking”. Tab Books 1988. 3-6.
Bower, Matt. “Re: Analytical Research Paper.” Web Log comment. www.iforgeiron.com. 3 Nov. 2011. Web. 4 Nov 2011.
Cope, George W. McAllistor, Henry. Swank, Moore. American Iron and Steel Association. “Statistics of the American and Foreign Iron Trade”. Ebook. http://books.google.com. Web. 4 Dec 2011.
Einhorn, David. “Re: Analytical Research Paper.” Web Log comment. www.iforgeiron.com. Nov. 2011. Web. 4 Nov 2011.
Fe- wood. “Re: Analytical Research Paper.” Web Log comment. www.iforgeiron.com. 3 Nov. 2011. Web. 4 Nov 2011.
Powers, Thomas. “Re: Analytical Research Paper.” Web Log comment. www.iforgeiron.com. 3 Nov. 2011. Web. 4 Nov 2011.
Smooth Bore. “Re: Analytical Research Paper.” Web Log comment. www.iforgeiron.com. 3 Nov. 2011. Web. 4 Nov 2011.
Sells, Steve. “Re: Analytical Research Paper.” Web Log comment. www.iforgeiron.com. 3 Nov. 2011. Web. 4 Nov 2011.

Turley, Frank. “Re: Analytical Research Paper.” Web Log comment. www.iforgeiron.com. 1 Nov. 2011. Web. 4 Nov 2011.
Turley, Frank. “Victor Vera, Man of Metal”. Paper. 2001 anvilfire.com. 3 Dec 2011.
Waugh, Rich. “Re: Analytical Research Paper.” Web Log comment. www.metalartistforum.com. 3 Nov. 2011. Web. 4 Nov 2011.

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