Archive for the ‘Tidbits’ Category

“Burning rock”

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

“… Burning rock!!!”

This is what my kids have been running around the house yelling for days now…

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I’ve been helping my good friend (and classmate) Mike to make these rock bowl things for the upcoming Willowbank Stone Festival.  The idea is, apparently, to have some bowls carved into a bunch of stones that will line a pathway or something.

We were concerned that a fire would cause the rocks to crack, split or otherwise explode.  After all, we have to assume that hammering on them with chisels is causing some stresses to build up in the stone.  Anyways, with this concern in mind we figured we should test fire one; and did so the other night in my driveway.

The rock didn’t split – although I’m still not convinced that they won’t.  And the kids loved it.  They’re obsessed.  Any time I have my computer open, they ask to see the photo of the “burning rock”.

Demo man

Monday, August 5th, 2013

Coming off the success and popularity of my demo at the Open House, Willowbank asked if I would represent the school at an event at the Niagara Historical Society & Museum in Niagara-on-the-Lake.  And so I’ve just chalked up my first real ‘public’ demonstration – outside the comfort zone of an educational institution.

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Once again, I was amazed by just how interested people were in the smithing.  I was so steadily busy all day, that I didn’t get chance to take a break to eat, and didn’t get chance to take a photo of my setup.

In the photos above, you’ll see my son William (who is the very model of a modern Major General), and if you look very closely you can see me working in the background.

All I can say, is that these demos are fun, fun, fun.  I’m usually a bit of an introvert and avoid talking to crowds of people. But while standing at my anvil, hammer in hand, it doesn’t seem to bother me.

That wascally wabbit

Friday, May 10th, 2013

Despite having grown up watching Looney Tunes – I was surprisingly able to resist the urge to drop an anvil on this little guy when he visited my shop…


… Sorry Wile E.

Another new apprentice

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Not to be outdone by her older brother, my two and a half year old has also taken up ‘baby blacksmithing’


It still amazes me at just how good kids hand-eye coordination can be.  She’s swinging a cross pein hammer (well, a wooden one) at her ‘metal’, and hitting it in almost the same place every time!  I’ve seen adults have trouble with that concept.

So long, little forge

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

Blacksmithing tools and equipment really do have a life of their own.  They are so robust, that they’ll usually serve several generations of smith.  We don’t so much own them, as look after them for a time.

My little rivet forge was a great starter forge. I enjoyed working on it, but its time with me has come to an end.  My friends and fellow Willowbank student Aaron is keen to set up his own blacksmith shop, and I think this will get him going nicely.



So long little forge!  It was a pleasure working with you.

Ruthven Park

Monday, January 21st, 2013

Today our class went on a field trip to Ruthven Park, in Cayuga, Ontario.

Ruthven is a large country estate built between 1845 – 1847 for the Thompson family.  It’s largely believed that it was constructed by the same master builder as Willowbank, John Latshaw.  However, there are no records from the building of Ruthven to confirm this – only later verbal accounts.

In any case, the two mansions have much in common.

Unlike Willowbank (which changed ownership numerous times), Ruthven remained in the Thompson family for five generations; from its construction in 1845, right up until 1995.  It is now a National Historic Site and a museum, operated by a land trust.  The mansion is maintained in it’s 1995 condition – exactly the way the family left it.



One thing I really liked about Ruthven, is the number of outbuildings that still exist.  It really gave you the impression of a ‘country estate’ – or at least as I imagine them.  Willowbank always appears a bit lonely to me, sitting all alone on top of a big hill.  The complex of buildings at Ruthven adds something to the atmosphere of the place.



Now, I don’t know if the two estates were both built by John Latshaw or not.  I suppose someone more familiar with his work could find clues to help determine that.  But if he did, then either the Thompsons had far more money to spend on their house than the Hamiltons did – or Latshaw really upped his game with Ruthven!  The interior is stunning.



I have a fairly vivid imagination, but have a hard time picturing Willowbank looking quite as good as this.  Perhaps that’s not fair to Willowbank.  I’m sure it was very grand in its day.  But when you see that spiral staircase at Ruthven, going all the way up to what would be the attic at Willowbank – and then having that skylight – its fantastic!

I will have to go back to Ruthven at some point, when I have more time, to explore the house in more detail.  I’ll also have to take a better camera.  The camera on the iPhone isn’t bad, but its not stellar.  I found a lot of very interesting things during our tour… I happen to have a bit of a military background (I was an officer in the reserves); and the Thompson family were prominent in the local Militia.  The museum holds a wonderful collection of the their military ‘stuff’.  I was very interested in their collection of WWI artifacts.


tf-img-117One of the most surprising things I saw in the house, was a set of Colours.  The Regimental Colours (shown in the photo) was framed, and on the wall to one side of the formal front entry.  There is apparently also the matching King’s Colours – however it was out for some conservation work.

For those who may not have a military background, Colours are extremely important flags, which are presented to a military unit by the Monarch.  When they are retired from service, they are usually ‘deposited’ or ‘laid-up’ in a church or court house.  It is almost unheard of for them to be given to a senior officer for his personal collection.

It would have been an extraordinary honour, and a sign of the utmost respect by the soldiers of the Regiment.



As a blacksmith, I also enjoyed looking at the wide array of metalwork in this beautiful old house.  Again, a return visit is in order at some point, so that I can catalog some of it.



Saturday, December 15th, 2012

It seems that if you really get caught up in blacksmithing, sooner or later you’ll be called upon to either teach or do demonstrations.  I’ve just had my first experience teaching my fellow Willowbank classmates.

I had acted as a teaching assistant to Lloyd during the first forge session at school.  And quite a few of the others in my class were very interested in doing more (our formal session was only a couple of days – and very, very introductory).  So I offered to let anyone who was interested, come and do some more smithing at my home workshop during the winter break.  I had several groups come out for a day, two at a time, to work in my shop.

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This was fun.  I’d say it wasn’t so much teaching, as coaching.  But I think everyone who came out learned something new and useful.  They all left with a variety of finished projects in their hands.

I’m still a student myself (and suppose I always will be); but it seems I’ve learned quite a bit since this adventure first began.  Certainly enough to talk people through their first projects.

Working on your own is far more productive – but sharing the craft with others is nice too.  I hope to do more of this in the future.

Friends, fire & metal

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

A couple of my friends from school have been helping me re-shingle the roof on my house.  One of them had been asking me about my gas forge.  And so, after cleaning up tools and such after a day of roofing, we decided to fire it up so they could try their hand at some smithing.


Good times!  We’ll definitely have to do more of this type of thing.


Hurricanes & Ivy

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

My wife & I are in the middle of a bunch of renovations on our house. Currently, we’re in the process of having our roof replaced (re-shingled). The old shingles have been stripped, some of the decking has been replaced, roofing felt/membrane is down, new flashing is installed, and probably 2/3 of the new shingles are on.  And so, of course, despite a long-range weather forecast of good/clear weather – a F#@%KING HURRICANE has just passed through Niagara.

Okay, to be fair it wasn’t an actual hurricane – it is the remnant weather system of what was a hurricane further south and a few days ago.  But still. It was sustained, torrential, heavily wind-driven rain that lasted far, far too long.

We did manage to get the roof tarped in advance of the storm hitting. And when the wind began ripping at those tarps, we were able to get someone out to re-secure them and add a couple more.  But nevertheless, the rain found it’s way in.


And while sitting up in my attic in the middle of the night, moving around large tubs to catch the steady streams of water coming in, and wondering if the trembling roof deck would rip off – I was struck by something… No, not lightening.

I was struck with the realization that ivy is an evil plant.  This house must have had ivy on it at some time in the past.  Not only growing ‘on’ it – but apparently also growing in it.  That nasty plant had grown right through the asbestos siding, and into the attic.  It had grown several feet into the attic.  I’d estimate that some of it had stretched well over 10 feet into the attic space (from the wall where it came in).

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I haven’t abandoned this blog…

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

No, really. I haven’t!

The past few months have been insanely busy for me. I’m so tired, and sleep deprived, that I’m barely functioning. However, things should be calming down a lot once October is over and done with.

Long story, short: I’ve been renovating our house, started back at school full time, and still trying to find some time to spend with family (kids grow up so fast).

To fit it all in, I’m up at 6:00 am and get to bed at 12:30~1:00 … which you can do for a while, but eventually catches up with you.

By mid- November, I should have more free time to update the blog. There was quite a lot that happened this summer that I meant to write about….