A novice blacksmith holds a thin steel bar over a bed of hot, refined coals. With heat and force, hammer, chisel and vise, the metal could be many things: rustic nails, decorative hair pins, a slithering toy snake for her son.
Mallory Battista, a local graphic designer working a forge at the 2018 Spokane County Interstate Fair, said the color of the metal when exposed to high heat lets a smith know the temperature of the steel they’re working with. Red is ideal, and once a piece of metal begins to turn yellow, it could begin to melt or burn up, ruining the project.
As the final day of the fair wound its way toward a close, the vendors, operators and performers who brought it to life were still at their stations. Among the craftspeople on the south side of the fairgrounds, it was one more chance to share past skills and knowledge.
Battista said she didn’t grow up using power tools like many craftsmen, and prefers traditional equipment and forges. She said sword and knife making is a growing trend in blacksmithing, but most of her hours are spent crafting items for her home or yard, such as a rack for pans or a metal gate.
Battista discovered smithing four years ago while watching a demonstration at the fair. She eventually took blacksmithing lessons and is now a board member of the Columbia Fire and Iron Blacksmiths club and regularly participates in their “Hammer-In” events. She said her sons, who are 3 and 5, will hopefully learn to help her out when they’re older.
Expert and novice craftsmen performed a variety of demonstrations. Late Sunday morning, several craftsmen twisted together baling twine, multicolored yarn and plant-based fibers called sisal to make different types of rope.
Chuck Lyons, who crafted his first rope maker while in grade school, offered passersby samples of the rope he made. He said to successfully create a section of rope, two people are needed: one twists a lever which spins strands tied to hooks, and the other keeps them separated. Once the three sections of rope are twisted, they are spun together into one cord and tied or taped at the end.
Lyons, a retired mechanic from Kaiser Aluminum and a romance novelist, said his rope maker is over a century old and was donated to the North Spokane Farm Museum.
Most of the patrons filtering through the fair Sunday said they enjoyed this year more than last year due to the moderate weather throughout the nine-day event.
Becki Costich said she’s been attending the fair annually since she moved to Spokane 30 years ago and has always enjoyed it. This year she attended with her daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren, who like the carnival rides and funnel cakes. She said she’s never been a fan of rides and prefers to look at the animal entries because she didn’t grow up with livestock around.
Fair Office Supervisor Rachelle Buchanan said she couldn’t say how many people attended Sunday, but in the eight days prior, 187,893 people purchased gate passes. This year’s preliminary gate numbers have surpassed last year’s by nearly 10,000. She said the increased attendance could be due to entertainment, but it also might be the nice weather. She said the 2017 fair started out smoky, but this year’s air quality stayed mild throughout the event.
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