What is the blacksmith shop
What is the blacksmith shop?
The blacksmith shop, or the smithy, as it is traditionally referred to, is anywhere a forge and an anvil live and work together to produce things in metal. In the days prior to the industrial revolution, there was a blacksmith shop in every town. Everything from farm tools to kitchen knives to horse and buggy and armaments depended on the blacksmith. The industrial revolution saw the beginning of the decline of the blacksmith shop. World War II pretty much put an end to blacksmithing as a necessity. There have been resurgences of blacksmithing from time to time in the art world since the war, but today, after the Great Recession and Covid, little remains of the blacksmith artist. In fact, the only blacksmith trade that still stands strong are the farriers.
If you ask Joyce Kilmer, he would say that under the spreading chestnut tree, the village smithy stands. My first smithy was located on the front porch of my house. I had half an anvil so beat up that it didn’t have a flat surface on it anywhere. The forge was a make shift innovation made from an old stainless steel beer keg. I had a 4 pound sledge hammer, an old gas pliers for a pair of tongs and a bucket of water. It wasn’t much for show, but it produced some beautiful artwork and over time, managed to turn the front of my house black from the coal smoke. Over 27 years, my shop evolved into a studio in an 18th century style barn with the business name of Robert Frieber, Artist In Iron .
I once met a blacksmith at a blacksmith convention who made the most amazingly beautiful padlocks. He worked out of the corner of his garage. He used old discarded pieces of metal junk, stones and glass for tools to create textures and manipulate the metal. “See this?” he said picking up an old Bic lighter laying on the ground. “The chrome on the metal part is harder than steel so you can use it to burnish the surface of steel and make it look old and warn.” He proceeded to rub the chrome lighter on a part of a lock he was working on to show me.
I met another smith at a lunch in Brooklyn. He spent his days bike riding around the world on an old 3 speed bicycle with a basket mounted on the handlebars. In the basket were his tools: a small ball peen hammer, a small block of steel, a nap torch, a pair of tin snips, a wire cutter, pair of long nose pliers, and a rolled up 2’ x 2’ sheet of black velvet. When ever he came across a construction site that had old scraps of copper roofing, green with corrosion he would stop and beg the owner for a few pieces of the discarded copper. When he was low on money he would cut little pieces of the copper, scratch a design in it and fashion it into a pair of earrings. When he made a dozen or so pair, he would spread his velvet cloth on a street corner or in a park and sell the earrings for $30 a pair. And this was how he lived.
Every blacksmith shop is different in design and content and the work it produces is unique to that shop. You cannot just go out and buy a shop. It has to evolve over time. Most of the tools and equipment are made by the smith, restored antiques, or repurposed discarded equipment from other industries. It is the cacophony of these machines and tools from which the unique art style of that shop evolves. When you are looking for a blacksmith artist to do a particular project keep in mind that they are all unique and you need to choose carefully making sure that the shop you pick has the ability you are seeking. You must visit their website, study their portfolio, and when possible, go visit the smithy. Our shop, located in Califon, New Jersey, is a high end blacksmith artist’s studio. We specialise in one of a kind and small production run custom work, including lighting fixtures, hardware, furniture, architectural, and functional and decorative commissions. We are a source for decorators, architects, and fine home owners. We welcome the trades and public to contact us to discuss your blacksmithing needs.