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What does "tradtional" mean?


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I hate myself for asking such an abstract, loose question, but it's something that's been niggling at the back of my mind for a while...I apologize in advance.

What does the word "traditional" mean to you in relation to ironwork? I don't really know what the word means to me. Is it a point in history? When does "traditional" become "modern"?

I'm forever reading on other smiths' websites "I use traditional and modern methods". I don't think anyone would dispute that punching a hole is a traditional method, but is drilling traditional?

I think everyone would agree that a fish tail scroll growing in size according the to Fibonacci sequene is traditional, but what about the fluid, elongated curves of an Art Nouveua scroll, are they traditional? Are they only traditional to the Art Nouveau style, or has Art Nouveau been around long enouh for those types of scrolls to be accepted as generically traditional?

At what point in time will MIG welding superecede forge welding as the traditional type of welds in architectural ironwork? I suppose at the centre of my questiion is - how long does something have to be around or be the norm before it becomes traditional?

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What a most interesting question. A question that will no doubt illicit hundreds of answers from your readership.

I too, have pondered this matter and wondered how many blacksmith artisans remained with forge welding once electric welding became available. None, I would imagine, particularly if they were hoping to  increase their financial gains.

I do not know the answer to your question but it will be most interesting to see the responses

Let us watch with interest.

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Man, you opened up a can of worms with this one. I'll be more then glad to follow along with what everyone has to say because I'm in your boat on this. In my opinion " Traditional" is in the context of what you are referencing. Even if you talk about traditional farming or whatever. This could go any which way as far as replies, so I'll sit back and sip my coffee while reading what everyone has to say. 

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I was  a member of an organization that split over the that simple issue.   The Traditionalist's  first objection was the use of propane forges at demonstrations rather coal or charcoal. Their second problem was the creation of objects as "Art" using electrical methods to join and finish products which were not possible in the forge.

In essence if Samuel Yellien didn't do something like it then it wasn't traditional.:wacko:

My take on it is that traditional methods refer to manual methods rather than power assisted with the exception of the power hammer or electric grinder. 

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When someone advertises  "I use traditional and modern methods" he is trying to give  the reader the idea that he is just like  "The Village Blacksmith"  (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) . Strong, Honest, Trustworthy, etc., etc.

It is not impossible that he is actually one or some  of these.

My definition of traditional methods excludes tools that require electricity.

Traditional style is harder to define. There are some pieces that are clearly traditional and others that are clearly not.
I think traditional style is more in the eye or mind of the person looking at the work.

 

.

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I have opinions on this subject, ... but learned long ago, to refrain from participation in discussions concerning Religion.

 

I don't care if you're a "deep water" Baptist, ... or pate sprinkling Catholic, ... and I don't care if your Hammer runs on Electricity, ... or Steam.

If you can't tell the difference by examining the finished work, ... then I don't want to hear any quibbles about how it was achieved.

 

.

 

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"Traditional" is going to be a matter of individual interpretation, and it could be considered in perhaps three ways; a date in time; appearance or style; method of manufacture. For example, if you were writing a book titled, "Traditional Ironwork in Poland," I would expect you to define your terms in the introduction or preface.

David Pye, a British author in the 1960's, wrote a thought provoking book, "The Nature and Art of Workmanship." He begins by talking about the dichotomy of hand tools as opposed to power tools. After getting several pages into his work, he confesses that isn't what he wanted to talk about at all. His thinking is now about workmanship of risk as opposed to workmanship of certainty. Workmanship of certainty would be say, an aluminum soda can. Unless the machinery has downtime, one manufactured can is going to look like another. Workmanship of risk would be something like blacksmithing. At any point in the making of an object, the piece could be burned or the necessary mass lost. I think one of Pye's examples had to do with a dentist's power drill. It is a power tool but requires workmanship of risk when in use.

A note about scrolls. They don't need to follow Fibonacci's formula nor the "golden" formula. Scrolls can have different ratios. A snail shell ratio is different than that of a chambered nautilus, but they are both legitimate in terms of constant rate of growth from the center.

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I've run into a lot of folks who say they don't use a powerhammer as it's not "traditional"  funny thing the earliest powerhammer I've seen evidence of was pre 1000 A.D. yet these same people use mild steel---1850's; coal---High/late middle ages, machine spun and woven clothes, etc.

I have come to the conclusion that "traditional" means "What I do is correct and the anachronisms I allow are OK while what You are doing is clearly a farby fraud"

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Tradition, <sigh> Good and bad, if it's a method to preserve methods, that improve a culture's success, call it survival then it's a good thing. If it's a method to preserve one "culture's" advantage over another it's not so good.

If Yellin used it it's traditional. A blacksmith name of Miller invented the arc welder to minimize losses to failed forge welds on made up pieces. The Miller family was in direct competition with Samuel Yellin and within a year or so the Yellin shop sported several Miller welders. To this day the Yellin shop arc welds made up pieces.

Better, faster, cheaper, any one = more profitable and is at the heart of blacksmith tradition.

Modern traditionalists have eschewed the true tradition of the blacksmith by making a philosophical decision to limit their tech base to a specific time period. If they were going to be accurate they'd limit themselves to time and local but like so many philosophical opinions . . .

My opinion is today's blacksmith is sitting in an air conditioned control booth monitoring the computers and sipping a Jolt cola.

Frosty The Lucky.

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F.W.I.W, a master blacksmith who specializes in traditional English ironwork once told me with regards to spot heating a rivet head: "do it with the gas torch, just like they would have done in 1700, if they had them back then".

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To me traditional is heating the metal and hammering it into a shape. It doesn't matter how it is heated, or the tools used to do the forming unless you are trying to portray some particular historical practice.

I see items that are cut , scrolled cold in a bender, and mig welded from standard stock called blacksmithing. I see fencing, railings, and other items made from cut and welded tube with cast finials welded on called wrought iron. Yes wrought also means worked, but you get the idea, this is not smithing. Half the time they get it wrong and call it rod iron.....

To me traditional can also be tied to an era. If you were making a Viking axe with their traditional methods you would not be using a London pattern anvil. This falls more into reenactment of historical periods when you only use tools that were available at the time.

If Yellin had an induction heater available I am sure he would have used it. Faster, and cleaner equals more profit....

This needs to be defined first for context as it applies to the discussion ,as it can be interpreted several ways, and still be correct. Let's not let semantics divide the smithing community. Let the work stand on its own merits of design, and execution no matter how they are achieved.

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1 hour ago, BIGGUNDOCTOR said:

Let's not let semantics divide the smithing community.

Yikes, I hope people don't think I'm trying to stir things up or trying to hold smiths to account for how they describe their business, I'm just curious for opinion. My own hypocrisy is that I've put on my business cards "traditional and contemporary ironwork". If someone asked me to say specifically what I mean by that, I'd struggle, but my hope is that the public will interpret that to mean something along the lines of "I can make you a replacement strap hinge to match the other ones on your Tudor barn, or equally I can make you an iPad stand".

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I don´t claim to work traditional per se, but if I would, I would explain it like that:

I work in the tradition of blacksmiths where I use the best tool available for a job. The result may even be historical accurate, but the route I took to get there can be different.

The only constant tradition in blacksmithing is progress.

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For the majority of people, I would say that 'traditional' equates to 'by hand'. Punching instead of drilling, hammer welding rather than the MIG, the hot cut over the angle grinder, using the 2# cross pein rather than the Anyang, etc etc.

Not saying it's right or wrong, but just public perception.

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Tradition vs. Modern is all Perception, where you are looking from and your past.  Is drilling holes Modern?  If so why do I have a hand drill press dating from 1900 in my shop? 

As we said in the Fire Service for years, 200 yrs. of Tradition unencumbered by improvements. 

Not demeaning Mechanics today but when I started in repairs we did just that repaired things, Generator, Starters, Distributors, today because the need for fast turn over they have become Parts Replacers in a lot of cases no idea how they work.   Not their fault either what the boss wants.

Modern starts Tomorrow! 

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We did a shop test once.  Fabricator verse blacksmith to see who could forge weld 3/4" square together for a bid on a fencing restoration.  We weren't actually sure what was faster.  The results were surprising.  The times were equal.  The smith worked physically harder than the fabricator but it took about the same amount of time to make the weld. I would suspect the smith might have a slightly higher failure rate but I also suspect the smith would get faster as the job went on. The welder spent most of his time grinding first to V out the joint then to level the joint. As we all know grinding is nasty dirty work. The welder required less physical skill to do the job.  Its really about skills and what you desire to do with your time when you really think about it.  I know plenty of welders who are broke (seeming more so than blacksmiths) but I know of no rich smiths also.   We as a humans are beyond just survival we have choices.  Blacksmith work centers around forging if you are not forging than you are not blacksmithing.  During a day sometimes i'm a machinist, sometimes i'm a welder, Sometimes I forge weld wrought iron.  Punching a hole produces one effect and drilling another.  Did you want a bulge in the bar where you passed another bar through it then you punch if you don't then drill the hole.  Something that is ground looks differently than something that is filed.  You may say this doesn't matter but if you are looking at the tang of a Japanese sword it does.  Different methods produce different results and the informed and educated know.  This trade is complex the skills are hard to learn and the equipment can be expensive and hard to find.  I have seen many who don't know how complain about why some smiths are so traditional.  Personally I hate the term you either have mastered a skill or you have not you are producing an authentic product or you are not and the price will reflect that. The process you choose produces a result that is identifiable in the majority of cases to those who know.  The problem is many smiths end up with clients who care for none of this. The smith needs to eat and may or may not developed the skill set, so the smith is faced with a choice will I work at the fab table or will I work at the forge. 

 

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I came to see "traditional" applied to blacksmithing as something beyond time, like "The timeless way of building" concept apllied to architecture by Christopher Alexander in his famous book.  Something which is real, not fake.  Something that works. Beautifully riveted iron work with split holes that retain the mass of the metal.  An axe or a hammer forge welded with steel edge.  A blacksmith -- a good guy archetype forging  good things  for other people.

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No worries Joel OF, that comment was not directed towards you. It was more of a general take on things. 

I have seen terms divide other groups to the point that neither side moves forward as they would if they had worked together. Some artist guilds over here consider anything other than painting "just crafts". 

Timothy Miller hit on a point that is very true, many times the customer just wants a look, and doesn't care how it is achieved. There are some on the other hand that do want the whole story, so they can boast about it to their friends. I knew a guy who bought a German brandy still from a company that was still hammering them out by hand instead of just spinning one on a spinning lathe. He liked the fact that it showed the hammer marks, and was "traditionally" made.  This also falls into the part of perceived value when making the sale. Some will pay for the more labor intensive item, others won't..

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Calling anyone an idiot on this site will get you a warning, as name calling is not allowed.

As long as the thread was posted in the interest of producing useful information, and the posts stay on topic and discuss the issue, It is a good question and a good thread.

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Mr. Miller's nailed it.

I've been saying we sell bragging rights for years and that is entirely perception. It's silly to think we need to "educate" the public that is self delusion. If we're looking to sell product WE have to sell what the customer wants. I've sent folk to Sears or other big box stores many times. I'll fab it up if they want to pay my shop rate. I'll go out and mine ore, burn charcoal in a pit and use young boys pumping goat bladder bellows to refine then forge a product IF the customer wants to pay shop rate on a time and material basis. Heck I might not even charge shop rate for my research time.

The customer often rethinks the value of "traditional" when they see the bid. It's a fact of life that perception is much MUCH more fluid than reality. Dad had tooling to "hammer mark" spun parts and sold hammer marked flower pots by the thousands. I got to trim, roll the beads and run the hammer mark roller over them but polishing the things was the real PITA. I can't tell you how happy it made me when a new customer speced they be spun from steel and plated. WooHOO! Jerry didn't have to polish and buff the blankety blank things and wasn't green anymore!

Oh don't worry Joel we still love you. Of course you'll go down in Iforge history for bringing this topic up. We'll name it after you, maybe have a contest even.

Oh come ON Glenn Joel can call HIMSELF anything he likes so long as it's civil. However I don't think calling IPS names for it's disappearing platform should be disallowed in any civil form.

Frosty The Lucky.

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:lol: Frosty, 

Maybe we should start a topic on fabed up imports that mimic the style and shape of traditional products and using the lightest weight gage of metal possible.

Ever had the experience of standing next to someone in a store like Pier One imports who is gushing over the clumsy reproduction of a traditional product?

People buy that stuff and call it blacksmithing.:rolleyes:  

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