Much to my surprise all the protective gear I was wearing was not enough to guard against burns. I learned this the hard way when I let one of my glove encased forearms linger near the heat. In a matter of nanoseconds, the heat singed my forearm hair, and the smell of burnt hair hung in the air.
A blacksmith's tools. Image © Douglas Wittnebel
The sheer amount of heat it takes to mold and shape metal is one of the most incredible things about blacksmithing. I recently took my first blacksmithing class with the Crucible team in West Oakland, Calif. As someone who paints, builds furniture, and even tinkers with robots, I consider myself to have a strong understanding of both the challenges and wonders intrinsic to DIY activities. But blacksmithing left me with a more profound appreciation of the sheer amount of energy it takes to transform raw steel into something useable. The intense heat and look of the massive and heavy gas powered forge, that glowing reddish orange light reminiscent of the sun, imbues a sense of respect into the novice student. Part of this respect stems from fear of getting burned, while the rest arises from the awe you feel standing so close to the source of energy that makes working with steel possible.
Blacksmithing challenged me by forcing me to think and design what it is I wanted to make while I was simultaneously heating the metal and hammering into shape. It’s akin to drawing or sculpting in space, except rather than working with relatively benign brushes and pencils you’re relying on the heat from a 2,000F + degree forge to turn one of the hardest substances on earth into a malleable, shapeable material...