Jump to content
I Forge Iron

Where are the artist blacksmiths who do not use a powerhammer?


Recommended Posts

Let me start off by saying I do not have a problem with the use of powerhammer's or modern technique's for blacksmithing. That is not what this question is about.

 

I do not have a powerhammer. I would if I had the space for it but I do not right now. I have come to a point where I want to take my smithing to the next level beyond steak flippers, hooks, cut crosses, fire place tools, candle holders, bottle openers, horseshoe hearts etc.

 

I have been doing a lot of searching on this site, YouTube, old ABANA mags, and across the web looking at artist blacksmiths and the art they are creating. I have not been able to find examples without a powerhammer involved. My question is who are the artist blacksmiths not using a powerhammer in the creation of their art? I know I have attended Madison and Quad State and even demo's that are described as "how to do x without a powerhammer" the demonstrator will often say during the demo, "now in my shop I would use the power hammer to do this".  I realize repousse and chasing are examples but I am looking for other styles of artistic blacksmithing.

 

So who has examples of artists and the art that is being created without the use of a powerhammer.

 

Thanks in advance.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Greetings DK,

 

Sounds to me like you are suffering artist slump...  We all can accomplish the same result on the anvil or with hand tools it just takes longer...   I have power hammers but some of my best work is done in one of my studios that is hand tools only..  I design many tools that just make things easer or more productive.  You can dig a ditch with a spoon or a backhoe...  In the end ya got a ditch....   If you can find some of the publicatons from the Blacksmith Journal most of Jerrys neet things are done on the anvil....  You say you went to SOFA..  If you look at the fine art that was displayed most were accomplished without the use of a power hammer...   If you can dream it you can make it on the anvil.....  What do you want to make and how can I help. 

 

Jim

Link to post
Share on other sites

DK, I don't have a power hammer, everything I do is done with my poor little tired hands!!! You can tell, as well, because the scale of my work is small comparitively and I use smaller stock sizes than someone who has a power hammer, thinner sheet and thinner bar- I use between 1.5mm to 2.5mm sheet and 6mm to 12mm bar stock for the most part. Saying that, I am saving up for one and to be honest think it's tricky to actually make a living doing this without one, which is probably why if you've reached a level then you move on up and acquire one as it's really the only way apart from hiring a striker to move metal as quick! I'm sure there are exceptions to the rule. I know it's possible to create beautiful work without one, but if I had one I know I'd use heavier stock as I love the look of really "squished" metal, I think it would open up all sorts of creative possibilities. There is a lot of interesting work being produced on hydraulic presses at the moment as well that looks really tasty!! :)

 

I think you can easily move on from "steak flippers, hooks, cut crosses, fire place tools, candle holders, bottle openers, horseshoe hearts etc." without a power hammer, just have to think outside the box section... :P

Link to post
Share on other sites

well there is a reason most people that are serious about blacksmithing  have a power hammer... it speeds up the work without replacing skill...now having said that (and yes i have a power hammer) most of my products are made without one . you can make a lot of items without even bigger items if you are willing to spend the time. selling those items and getting paid for your time is a different story...as far as products how about flowers? pot racks?hooks and hangars of many styles and shapes...candle holders ect.. lots of items to make and sell ...

Link to post
Share on other sites

Are you sure you don't have the space for a power hammer?  I have seen small air hammers that had about the same foot print as a drill press.  Build shelves move the scrap pile outside get a smaller quench tank.  You can do it man!! Got any other excuses I need to obliterate.  Once you get one you will wonder why didn't I do this sooner.  So pawn the TV sell your blood and max out your credit cards and buy a stinking power hammer.  The sooner you have one the sooner you will be more productive.  Why wait?

Link to post
Share on other sites

I think it is about scale, If you have a power hammer you can work the bigger metal productively. So it is about scale in two ways size of material and cost of labor. If you get into the artistic side you can do a lot without a power hammer with both smaller and larger stock just not as efficiently with the larger material. You might think about a fly press or hydraulic press they an do many of the things a power hammer can do without the space requirements. just my .02

Link to post
Share on other sites

Examples of work without power hammer use?

Most of the exhibit at the V&A ironwork gallery (though a case could be made for waterpower tilt hammers there) 

 

and in 

D'Allemagne's "Decorative Antique Ironwork "

 

 

I think what you are looking for are examples of work done alone...if you had two friends who would not mind swinging a ten pound sledge you could do many things you can not now.

Have you thought about a treadle hammer? Hydraulic press? Screw press? They do not take the place of a power hammers per se', but they will allow things to be done rather quietly and with a small foot print.

 

Work smaller, use forge-welding and joinery (or modern electric welding)...my first teacher,Paul Marx of Madison, WI said a man with an Oxy/Acet torch could build a bridge alone...true, but it would take a while.

 

I am VERY machine tool intensive for my normal work, but do non-electric things when requested. I use tooling and machines because I wish to extend my body's life use and work larger stock (or rather any stock I need).

 

 

Ric

Link to post
Share on other sites

Greetings DK,

 

.  We all can accomplish the same result on the anvil or with hand tools it just takes longer...  

 

Jim

No way. When the scale of the work gets beyond a certain point it becomes impossible to work by hand. Like say Michael Dillon's ''Aileron'', you could make an exact maquette of this sculpture by hand but no one on the planet can forge a 4''x4'' billet by hand. Digging ditches with spoons is stock removal. Possible yes, but not practial.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I sort of think like this.... Hand held hammer 100 strokes.... Power hammer 10 strokes.... For big projects  hand held  might really cause pain and fatigue in arm and be very time consuming  just to move the metal to preliminary shape...

 

No I done have power hammer, but can see the utility of it....

 

Dale

Link to post
Share on other sites

Look at colonial ironwork. This is a great example of ironwork that was completed for the most part without the aid of a power hammer, although the striker was employed a lot back then.

 

What I notice when I look at colonial ironwork is that it is very thin in construction. They did not want it to be heavy and it was cheaper to make it that way. another good example of fine and delicate work, perhaps the best example would be Samuel Yellin's work. He is arguably the best iron worker that I know of and I will hold fast to that statement. 

 

http://www.amazon.com/Colonial-Wrought-Iron-Sorber-Collection/dp/1879535165/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1365180616&sr=8-1&keywords=colonial+wrought+iron

 

http://www.samuelyellin.com/

 

As stated above, a power hammer or a striker will increase your efficiency, but as long as you are doing this as a hobby you can throw efficiency out the window. It is hard if not impossible to run a business without some sort of assistance whether it is mechanical or human. The occupation that moves metal by hand without the aid of external help is considered a jeweler. 

 

That being said, do realize that you never really do leave the realm of simple trinkets. There is a book I think you would find interesting. 

 

http://www.amazon.com/Fireplace-Accessories-Dona-Z-Meilach/dp/076431615X/ref=sr_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1365180173&sr=1-6&keywords=fireplace+tools

 

In this book they explain how perspective buyers may wish to observe a completed fireplace set as a sort of resume of skills. I love this part of the book. It discusses how just about every blacksmithing operation is used to create a fireplace set along with the smith's creativity is also reflected in the work.

 

Just remember what ever you make, no matter how simple can always be done more elaborately. Many smiths, myself included, seem to think that improvement of skills means an increase in scale. This may not always be true. Take a look back on the things you have created before and think how can they be improved either in function or in artistic quality. 

 

Just a side note, another tool to consider is a treadle hammer. It is not as involved as a power hammer, but it will help nonetheless. 

 

I run a hobby/business shop. I do not own a power hammer or a treadle hammer. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

The "traditional" blacksmith shop was NEVER a one man operation, Apprentices, Journeyman, even day labour as strikers was used.  The more modern shift to using powerhammers reflects the greatly increased cost of labour these days.

 

So your question reads sort of like "where are the painters that grind their own colours and make their own paints?  (Instructions on how to do so are part of most renaissance artist primers...)  There probably are a few out there and some may even be able to make a living.

 

If you are wedded to the sole operation by hand power then you will need to focus on items that can be made easily and quickly by those methods and start saving for your retirement as it's fairly easy to wear out your body fairly young doing so---my smithing ancestors typically died in their 50's while their wives lived into their 90's

Link to post
Share on other sites

If you are wedded to the sole operation by hand power then you will need to focus on items that can be made easily and quickly by those methods and start saving for your retirement as it's fairly easy to wear out your body fairly young doing so---my smithing ancestors typically died in their 50's while their wives lived into their 90's

A friend of mine, Steve Rollert asked Francis Whitaker around in1999, "What advice would you give to a younger smith just starting out?'' and his answer was ''Learn to use power tools to their full advantage.''  Francis was in allot of pain and discomfort with a brace on his hammer arm in his later years from over a half a century of pounding. He did have a 25 LG but I think he did more work by hand, especially when he was young (I know I did) than he had to....''Nobody stays young forever''.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for all of the great responses. I think a number of you hit on what has been weighing on me lately and I appreciate each of you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

 

Upon self-reflection from some of your comments I think a challenge I face is finding my niche. I started blacksmithing doing demos at a Civil War fort and at public events demonstrating basic blacksmithing skills. I really enjoyed doing that at the time and think it progressed my skill because of the repetition of making items and explaining the process dozens of times a day. Now I feel like I want to move on to (don't take this the wrong way anyone) more meaningful art. I do see all of the wonderful things being created by artists at SOFA or Madison or posted here and I need to find what my "thing" is.

 

I am a Farrier and Blacksmith. Learned blacksmithing first and went to school and apprenticed to be a Farrier second. My income from blacksmithing has been craft shows but I am looking to grow that side of what I do to other areas.

 

Thanks again for all of the responses.

Link to post
Share on other sites

DK, I started out doing bronze casting and migrated into blacksmithing. I, too, started out with only hammer and anvil but found out that I could only make so many sculptures in the 12" to 36" range before I needed more help and that hiring an apprentice/helper was more expensive than buying a power hammer in the long run. So I searched out and bought a LG25# hammer, now I was able to go much bigger and do it faster. There is a limit to how much your body can take in terms of doing it by yourself. Even Danger Dillon probably started out doing small forged sculpture and then got bored with that and eventually moved up to the really big time steam hammers. Tom Joyce of Santa Fe has a similar arc of creativity in his forging history, started small and ended up doing very large work under rented time with industrial hammers of extreme size. My friend Michael Anderson of Phoenix has had similar experiences, small to very large and then to fabricated works to mimic the forged look. My arc had now gone to doing very small forged copper and brass works that can be worn by the client, my body is shot. The sooner you get a hammer the longer you can extend your working years.

Link to post
Share on other sites

One of the things that I find as a difference between old decorative iron work and new work is the change of cross section. In today's work it is common to see long tapers, heavily upset end and other forms that really illustrate the plasticity of hot steel. In old iron work you see a lot of uniform cross sections that are punched, split or welded, but the work and designs are limited to the ability to work fairly small pre-rolled stock. Today's artistic smiths are not limited in that way if they choose to uses power hammers so not only are their gains in efficiency, but also a much wider outlet for creative expression.

Link to post
Share on other sites

  I notice that Macbruce quoted me above, He actually contacted me earlier today to ask permission to quote me.  Thanks Bruce.  The conversation actually took place in Sept of 2000 when I called Francis to ask if I could come and study with him after I won a local folk artist compitition.    Francis is well know for his strong traditional techniques and great skill as a blacksmith as you all know. .  Francis knew what tools I had in my shop, power hammers, shop made forging press and rolling mill.  When I ask about advice to a younger smith, Francis told me to learn to use the power tools to the fullest to save my body from the damage he suffered while working down larger stock by hand.  I first met Francis when he dropped in at Skunk Hollow Forge while I was a student there in 1977.  Perhaps some will say that I am fibbing, but that is what he told me.

 

  I noticed that one of the opening comments from a Damascus smith noted that he is restricted to non-power tools due to noise and vibration.  I would like to suggest that he consider the option of a small forging press and perhaps building one of the small rolling mills simular to Hugh McDonald's design.  Simple to build and effective for drawing out stock without the noise and vibration as well as allowing much larger billets of damascus to be made.

 

  I was not always so fortunate as to have power hammers and appreciate the frustration of having to work smaller billets than you desire ( perhaps not what you were implying).  Several of my students have built smaller presses (20 ton) and we have built many variations of the McDonald design RM and have not had any complaints about the sound of the hydrolic pump from  their neighbors.  If $ is a prime factor, perhaps you could find a smith, perhaps through your local ABANA chapter that would share his PH and such if you agree not to sue if you get injured.

 

  Thanks for your time, please forgive my poor spelling and grammer.  

 

   Steve Rollert

 

  P.S.  All of the Damascus I make is dry welded, haven't used flux in 12 years.

Link to post
Share on other sites

One of my favorites was Edgar Brandt, he creating beautiful works of art by hand and hammer. Creating does't come from the hammer, it may come from "under" the hammer. Most novice smith tend to beat the xxxx out metal, advanced smith try to do as little as possible. I think this is not only due to practice but also being able to visualizing what the smith wants to say or make, then finding the most direct route. This direct path is where the power hammer shines for me but I also create this way in clay and drawing. You are not going to find your vision in a tool but they can defiantly inspire :D

Link to post
Share on other sites

Upon self-reflection from some of your comments I think a challenge I face is finding my niche. I started blacksmithing doing demos at a Civil War fort and at public events demonstrating basic blacksmithing skills. I really enjoyed doing that at the time and think it progressed my skill because of the repetition of making items and explaining the process dozens of times a day. Now I feel like I want to move on to (don't take this the wrong way anyone) more meaningful art. I do see all of the wonderful things being created by artists at SOFA or Madison or posted here and I need to find what my "thing" is.

 

I run from the niche, hellbent.

 

A niche smacks of different species of bacteria or mold taking up residence on old left overs in the fridge. 

 

You're a blacksmith DK, and a cross trained one at that. 

 

Your hand work and training will serve you well as you apply detail to larger works. 

 

As for making a living off larger pieces, you may have to "spec" some of those to increase your portfolio

 

to show potential clients, buyers, customers,  and clients what you're capable of. 

 

Make and learn. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

DKforge, when I look at the list of projects that you want to move beyond when strikes me is not the need to move more metal. It looks to me like all of those projects are made from a single piece of metal. One of my personal measures of advances in smithing is learning to assemble projects from multiple parts.

Instead of four steak flippers, make four scrolls and use collars to assemble them into a trivet. Look around, see how things are put together and how you can expand your repetoire.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

×
×
  • Create New...