I’ve always admired people who work with their hands—those who can look at any given medium and visualize its potential, then expertly go from raw to finished with an unmatched skill that seems so effortless.
So, as a person who sits at a desk all day, it was a big thrill to be invited to join George Cramer at his Village Blacksmith shop in Gloucester to observe while he conducted a three-day course on the basics of blacksmithing.
I must preface this with the fact that I’m not good with my hands when it comes to do-it-yourself projects. I seem to be missing the ingrained knowledge it takes to be handy around the house. I’m also a terrible student.
None of these things matter in Cramer’s shop. I’m greeted with a forceful handshake that I suspect could crush rocks, forged from years of smashing iron into various shapes for fun. However, it’s a firm but controlled grip that I later learn is the secret to hammer control (hint: you let the hammer do most of the work for you).
Since I’m arriving on day two of the three-day course, Cramer first starts his students, Jennifer Pond and Travis Hogan, with a new task before providing me with instruction on my project. While Cramer works with me, his apprentice, Dalton Ward, keeps a watchful eye on the others.
There’s a lot more to the art of blacksmithing than “heat, beat, repeat.” Shop safety, shop etiquette, tools and their uses (the hammer and anvil are only two of the many tools used), and lighting and maintaining the furnace are just a few of the lessons taught to provide students with fundamental knowledge.
Following Cramer’s instruction, I set off to create a metal hook on which I can potentially hang other tools or perhaps a basket of flowers. Cramer points out the various parts of the anvil and how they’re used during the forging process, as well as a variety of techniques for hammering. My piece turns out a bit skewed, which gives Cramer an additional teaching opportunity on how to use a wooden mallet on a wooden block to hammer out kinks in the metal without damaging the ridges of the twist I had created.
The Village Blacksmith offers varying levels of courses for those who want to create something themselves or group demonstrations to witness the craft up close without dirtying your hands. Anyone who can lift a hammer can participate (children as young as 12 who are accompanied by a parent are welcome; children 6 and under are free for tours and demos). For additional information on classes or what’s available for sale at the onsite gift shop, visit GloucesterBlacksmith.com.