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Regardless of one’s gender, blacksmith- ing is hot, dirty, and physically demand- ing. Metals must be heated to around 2000ºF to be soft enough to be hammered and shaped. In winter, the temperature inside the shop may be pleasant but, with overcast days or the sun hanging low in the sky, the only light in the shop comes from rows of single hung windows and the glow from the forges that limits the work that can be done. In summer the shop is sweltering. Dressed in interpretive cos- tumes and draped with leather aprons, the blacksmiths perspire profusely, consuming gallons of water.


The blacksmith shop is far and away the most popular historic trade in Colonial Williamsburg. The work attracts a number of visitors, some already blacksmith hob- byists looking to expand their experience in blacksmithing.


“Part of our goal here, our mandate,


A compass or divider was used to measure length or scribe circles and arcs and was used by nearly every trade. Courtesy of CWF


is to preserve these traditional skills for future generations,” says Ken. “Some of the smaller, lesser known trades have struggled to attract qualified candidates and as journeymen retire it’s a huge loss of knowledge that goes with them. We’ve been fortunate in that respect.


Very few professions today involve hand skills. Even in today’s modern manu- facturing, more of the work involves com- puters with men and women working at a keyboard rather than with their hands. Many people have an innate desire to do creative work with their hands—garden- ing, cooking, or painting—while others are drawn to the trades as hobbyists, so the number of professional blacksmiths is growing. Many are inspired by fantasy movies that portray swords and sword making, like “Pirates of the Caribbean” or reality TV shows like “Forged in Fire”.” “The majority of our work is making items to support ongoing projects here in Colonial Williamsburg,” Aislinn adds. “There’s always building projects going on that demand something from the forges. This winter we were re-making the running gear for one of our carriages. Occasionally we get the opportunity to do collabora- tive work with others. The Museum of the Revolutionary War in Philadelphia has an exhibit that displays Washington’s actual field tent. To protect the tent would limit interaction, so the museum approached the various trades here to reproduce the tent and its furnishings. I made the hardware


18


March/April 2017


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