Students forge new skill in Glidden blacksmithing shop

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DeKALB – The Glidden Homestead hosted two classes Saturday in its blacksmithing shop – Basic Blacksmithing and Fundamental Forging – to invite people to learn how to forge their own metal tools by hand.

Getting tools was not always as easy as walking into a hardware store. Blacksmiths shaped and formed the tools they needed from 2,000-degree steel. Those who mastered the craft also made beautiful decorative objects.

The Glidden Homestead opened the Phineas Vaughan Blacksmith Shop to honor Phineas T.W. Vaughan, who worked with barbed wire inventor Joseph F. Glidden from the 1860s to the 1880s. He and Glidden had a number of joint patents together.

Russell Seldal, a student in the class, already works with welding, but wanted to try a different skill.

“This is another experience to work with metal,” he said. “I love to be hands-on and enjoy the longer process. My great-uncle was a forger, and he handed down his anvil to the family.”

Marty O’Connor teaches and hosts these demonstrations to help students forge their own fire poker. The class did everything, from flattening out the tool to crafting a handle. The students were taught how to work with the hot metal, as well as use different hammers to get a desired effect.

O’Connor kept a sharp eye, and knew where each of the students needed to go in their tool-forging process. The small room was filled with sharp ringing, bright flames and the smell of a leather glove burning from an accidental touch of the metal.

O’Connor joked with the class, “What color metal burns the most?” The metal faded from red to black on the anvil as he was working, and he pointed and said, “Black. You know you’re not supposed to touch red.”

The beginning of the class was slow and tough, but as the students gained familiarity and comfort working with the tools and fire, they worked and enjoyed the process.

O’Connor has been blacksmithing for seven years under the apprenticeship of Lucio Bartolin. He said he’s helped teach demonstrations since the blacksmithing shop opened at the Glidden Homestead.

“Blacksmithing and forging has never truly gone away,” he said. “It just became more mechanized, with robots and machines doing the work. The process is the still the same. ... Blacksmithing is the origin of all the modern processes for creating tools, and they all stemmed from what the pioneers did all those years ago. I love the historical aspect of blacksmithing.

“I’m also a tool nut, so the two passions blend really well together,” he adding, laughing.