When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything in the world looks like a nail.
Unless you’re a blacksmith, that is.
Under the hammers of the would-be smiths who stopped by David Kailey’s blacksmith shop this weekend, lumps of iron and steel were banged and shaped into decorative pieces, tools, gadgets – and, yes, nails. Lots of nails.
The simple metal pegs were a common introduction to the craft for the hundreds of people who stopped by Kailey’s shop in northeast Spokane. For hours on end, they billowed forges, plunged rods of metal into piles of coke – a form of fuel made from coal that burns clean without smoke – until they were red hot, and pounded away until a desired shape was achieved. Then back into the forge they went.
“I’ve been watching Youtube forever, and there’s this show, ‘Forged in Fire,’ that got me super interested,” said 13-year-old Christian Gail as he hammered away at a rod of metal that was starting to turn shape into a leaf. “I really like the sense of accomplishment. It’s just really fun.”
Kailey, who’s been a blacksmith for just four years, said he looks forward to the “hammer-in” – a blacksmith’s version of teaching by drills and repetition – at his shop, Morgan Jade Ironworks and Forge, every fall and spring. He said it’s one of the only opportunities he gets to share his craft, which is not so much teaching new techniques as it is “discovering what was lost.”
“Lost” are methods and tools stretching back, in some cases, to medieval metallurgy. The forge. The hammer. The tongs. The mandrels and horns. And of course, the anvil.
These tools may be far more archaic than the large machines Kailey uses in his day-to-day job making fences, metal doors and art. But he still turns to them from time to time, and says he holds them in high regard.
“Our take is, blacksmiths exist so welders and machinists can have heroes too,” he joked.
Caden Gail, who was also working on a leaf next to his brother, burned his hand the day picking up a piece of a metal before it had adequately cooled. Although he cried after the injury, his father said he was rearing to go back as soon as the pain melted away.
“They’ve been non-stop for two days,” Scott Gail said, holding a long claw-like poker he forged to help turn vegetables on a barbecue. “This sure beats the hell out of playing Xbox.”