The Blacksmith Shop of Mt Vernon

Spending some time in Washington DC last week, my wife and I went to Mt. Vernon to visit George Washington’s estate. After we bought our tickets to the view of the house, we had some time to kill, so we walked around the grounds to see what else was around.

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On the right side of the estate near the near the back, was the blacksmith shop. It appeared to be about 15′ x 20′ in size.

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We arrived in front and saw one of the blacksmiths making a large hinge. You can see how soaked his shirt is as it was nearly 90 degrees that day. He must lose twenty pounds during the summer working in there.

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Here’s a shot of the bench with a scrap iron on the ground waiting for use.

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Here are some of the items the blacksmiths make at the estate. What’s really cool is they make axe heads and other tools.

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On the side of the shop sat a bin full of coal which stank to high heaven. The smell of burning coal is not a pleasant thing.

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I looked around the other buildings for a carpentry or cabinet shop, but found nothing. I find it odd that Washington didn’t have one on his estate somewhere. The only thing I saw was display case inside the museum with this panel raising plane.

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The Workshops of Biltmore

Last week, my wife and I went to the Biltmore Estate again for the fourth or fifth time. If you’ve never been there, there’s a little village on the estate where you can visit a farm, workshops and the ever important winery. Every other time we’ve been to Biltmore, we spent too much time at the house and the winery that by the time we arrived at the village, the workshops were closed. This year we decided to see the village before we headed inside the winery.

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I took some quick shots of the blacksmith shop and the tools they use. After I took these pictures, the blacksmith came back and showed us how he made coat hooks with a rose on the top (sorry, no pic). It was late in the day, so all the anvil work was done, he was simply polishing them up on a wire wheel. Biltmore sells these coat hooks in their gift shop for $42.00 each, but they sell as soon as he’s done making them.

 

If you’ve never used a blacksmith vise, you need to get one. I use on in my workshop and they are far superior than a table top machinist vise.

 

Not sure of the weight, but it looks like a 300 lb anvil. He had a smaller one in his shop right next to this one.

 

The overall working space of his shop was about 10′ x 15′

 

Right next door to the blacksmith shop was the woodworking shop.

 

Inside was a bunch of tools I’ve seen before except for this cool little foot powered mortise machine.

 

The woodworker wasn’t around so I don’t know what his responsibilities are for Biltmore. He could just make things for the gift shop, or he may do some repair work around the estate.

 

The majority of the tools were old, but he did use electricity. I couldn’t really see what was inside the tool chest on the right.

 

By the looks of these planes, I question whether or not he uses them, or if they are there just for show. A little too much dust and cobwebs on them for my taste.

 

A newer lathe sat in front of the older one. He spent his day making these turn of the century ball in the cup toys.

 

 

If you ever get a chance to go to the Biltmore Estate, make sure you give yourself enough time to visit the village before you head into the winery and get drunk like we did. haha

My New Years Resolution

It’s a brand new year and I’m not getting any younger. I’ve been thinking over the past few days about what I’d like to achieve this year with my woodworking. The answer was clear. 2014 has to be the year where I finally get into and learn blacksmithing. For years I’ve been farting around with the idea of incorporating metal work into my furniture. I took a blacksmith class from Welch chair maker Don Weber of Paint Lick, KY in 2008 where I made a couple of hold fasts and a cold chisel, but unfortunately, I never took anymore classes from him. I use the hold fasts all the time and I’m very proud of them, I just wish I would have taken more classes. Don’s shop was nearly three hours away and I believe he has since retired as his website has been down for several months.

I really want to learn blacksmithing for a few reasons. I want to make hardware for furniture, handles for cutting boards and be able to heat-treat blades for tools. I bought a set of handles for cutting boards from a guy at an art festival a few years ago and the design is simple enough that I’m sure I could reproduce it with a little practice. If I make cutting boards I would add handles like these and sell them through my Etsy account.

I have been a member of Southern Ohio Forge and Anvil (SOFA)  for a few years and I attended their annual meeting in Troy, OH back 2011. SOFA offers classes on blacksmithing but Troy is an hour and a half from my house. Ten weeks of driving back and forth from Troy on the weekends doesn’t sound like that much fun.

I do have a few books on blacksmithing, but the best by far is The Backyard Blacksmith by Lorelei Sims. She writes about setting up a simple shop and teaches some basic beginning projects. It’s a great first step in learning blacksmithing.

Awhile ago I bought the first piece for my blacksmith shop, a 150 lb anvil, at a local auction. My wife warned me that I would buy an anvil and it would just sit in the garage for six months before I would even use it. Well she was wrong. It’s been sitting in there for a year and a half. I need to make an anvil stand for it, but that shouldn’t be too hard. I’ll probably write a blog about it when I do.

I have three blacksmith vises that I bought at a tool auction a few years back. I only use one of them right now as the other two are sitting underneath my shelving where I store my wood. The one I do use is fantastic and works much better than a metal machinist vise that is bolted on top of a workbench. If you ever have a chance to buy a blacksmith vise for a good price, do it, you won’t be disappointed.

Last fall, I bought the final piece of my shop at an antique show, a forge. It’s really nice with a hand crank blower. I would like to eventually make my own chisels or blades for molding planes and a forge like this is ideal for that task. Maybe I can even get good enough to shape my own carving tools.

Now that I have all the major tools for my blacksmith shop, I could set it up in the garage, but that is where my wife stores her furniture or parks her car. We’re talking about getting a shed in the backyard in the spring. If we do, that would be an ideal spot where I can pull out my anvil and forge and work in the yard. All I know is that it has to finally happen this year. I just wish there were blacksmith classes around Cincinnati I could take.