Current Offerings of Blacksmithing Classes
FIELDS POND, ORRINGTON: Starting Tuesday, October 24, 6-9PM, Six Weeks of Beginning Blacksmithing Class with Instructor Dwight King.
The class also includes a reduced rate ($100) for a one-day Saturday metal casting class during the six weeks; date to be decided. The blacksmithing class begins with foundational skills and safety. Students learn to ignite and maintain a coal fire. Working with steel students will learn to shape and cut metal with a coal fired forge. A series of projects will be completed including making a punch, spoon, nail, hooks, and more complicated projects. Extra Saturday forge is available through arrangement with the instructor. Two texts are provided with your tuition of $395. You are responsible for a hammer of 2-3 lbs. Heavy hammers are not always good. Safety goggles required. Wear natural fiber clothing. Gloves optional. Call: (207) 745-4426 to register. Credit cards accepted. Class limited to 6; first pay first registered.
NEWFIELD: Saturday and Sunday, November 11, 9-3PM. KNIVE MAKING CLASS. This class is back with instructor Frank Vivier. You will cut a blank of steel and forge a blade using blacksmithing techniques on a propane burning forge. We will heat treat your blade with an oil quench. Students will prepare brass rivets and hardwood scales for a handle. Students will temper their blades and apply their handle to the tang with epoxy. Final sanding and polish may be your homework unless time permits. You will complete your first hand forged hunting knife. Tools and materials provided. Class limited to 5. Tuition: $225.
A History of Blacksmithing Programming at the Curran Homestead Village at Fields Pond
Since 2009, The Curran Homestead has significantly increased its collection holdings of tools and equipment relevant to metalworking and blacksmithing. Before this time there were a number of items in the collection that had come through the efforts of the late Bob Robinson, master blacksmith from Stockton Springs, Maine. Robinson had grown up under the tutelage of his father, a Philadelphia-area blacksmith. His father had learned the trade through the then-prevalent practice of apprenticeships as he too would later complete a formal apprenticeship seeking a livelihood as a blacksmith, but by this time the demand for blacksmiths was on the wane. He pursued building contracting instead, but often made use of his blacksmithing skills.
After a move to Maine in the early 1960’s, Robinson built Split-Rock Forge in Stockton Springs. He continued to keep the traditional art alive, doing custom forge work for clients both local and nationwide. His interest in sharing his skills and the historical significance of the art form led him to his connection with a number of non-profit organizations, including 19th Century Willowbrook Village of Newfield, ME, which was recently gifted to Curran Homestead Village. Eventually, Robinson became a fixture at The Curran Homestead’s “gatherings,” working as a hired for pay blacksmith and setting up a portable forge in the barnyard and doing demonstrations. Public interest in these demonstrations inspired thoughts about creating a permanent blacksmithing shop at the farm.
Taking the idea of building a permanent smithy on the farm was brought a step further when Robinson secured a portable forge, an anvil and some tongs from donors. Ceramic flue and masonry were also purchased at this time, but actual construction was temporarily stalled for lack of funds to complete the wood frame, siding, and roofing for such a structure that was necessitated for a year-round facility.
Before the portable forge, anvil, and selection of hand tools came to the farm there were only a few pairs of farrier’s tongs that were likely from the Currans’ own use of work horses. Before 1914, Arthur Conquest (with assistance from his son Edward) ran a Fields Pond Farm as a horse farm, and this would have lent itself to frequent visits to the site by local farriers. Blacksmiths, even until mid-century and rural communities, would have been called out to farm locations for tasks like parts fabrication and repair; “carriage ironers,” as they were often called, served the farmer in his maintenance of wagons, carriages, and horse-drawn farm equipment. We know of several permanent smithies in Orrington that were functioning well into the 20th century, and trips to these establishments to seek repairs and part fabrication were part of the Curran farm’s history.
The construction of a permanent structure for demonstrations, instruction and collections storage was deemed necessary to share the traditional art of blacksmithing with the public, and it was in no way meant to re-write history or deceive the public by insinuating that a smithy ever existed on the farm site. With the change of our mission in our current endeavor to build a museum village we may have several.
During its history, the Museum has sought to develop educational offerings that focus on arts and crafts characteristic of 19th- and early 20th-century rural Maine life; the development of a permanent blacksmithing facility at the farm has been a monumental step in realizing this plan. The blacksmithing we intially presented was exclusively demonstration, but we have been offering beginning blacksmithing classes and other related metal working class almost continuously since 2009.
Building a smithy on our site insured that we could offer hands-on learning over a time period longer than our usual and seasonal one-day events. With both a structure and additional tools and equipment to satisfy the needs of a class of beginning blacksmithing students we believed that we could make an important step forward in the development of our educational mission to share skills and knowledge of Maine’s rural past, and this goal has continued to be fulfilled. The smithy has allowed us to offer classes in beginning blacksmithing to students who may not otherwise have had the opportunity.
See the following article on the Fields Pond Smithy: Build a Smithy, and They Will Come; Strategies for Museum Development, by Robert Schmick, Museum Director, Curran Homestead Village. Maine Archives & Museums Newsletter, November 2009. This article identifies the origins of the smithy and the anticipated blacksmithing programming located at The Curran Homestead.