Musings

Fall/Winter 2020-21

The fall and winter has brought a variety of projects both large and small. Along side the normal winter production of fireplace tools, housewares, and kitchen utensils I’ve had the opportunity to work on projects that have pushed me technically and creatively. I am thankful for both and I’m finding that splitting time between the two is a great way to balance the pros and cons of each over the course of a year. This fall I’ve even found the rare moment to improve the shop making new tools, tuning up equipment, and an odd purchase of something that should prove useful. 

The highlight of the last six months, however, was the opportunity to assist Lee Sauder with a bloomery smelting class in Johnstown, PA at the Center for Metal Arts. We built two clay furnaces and ran each twice. We used limonite ore that Lee brought from Virginia and we went ore hunting in the hills behind the town. We discovered, to our delight, what we thought was high quality specular hematite from the days of iron industry when the large blast furnaces were running. As the smelt progressed with this ore we began to realize all was not right. At first it appeared we were making cast iron so we adjusted the air and ore/charcoal ratio accordingly. The slag continued to thicken, however, and eventually cease completely. Our “bloom” was crumbly and it appears we couldn’t increase our air rate enough. Post smelt we determined that we think the ore was that mostly of manganese and not iron. We are unable to reduce the manganese and what we end up with is not iron and entirely unusable. That said, it was interesting to find ore that seemed to be of exceptional quality based on sight and feel, but confirmed that you never quite know what you have until you put it through the furnace.

Outdoor Railing Project

blacksmith Power hammer railing posts
Forged railing shop layout curve
Forged guard railing install blacksmith
blacksmith forged architectural ironwork
Hand forged candle holder blacksmith
forged iron candle holder set

Play time with bloom iron. Looking for patterns and areas of exploration.  

bloom iron mask
smelt bloom iron face

Mortise and pestle

blacksmith forged iron mortise and pestle

I’ve been looking to replace my old and cheap bench vise. I finally found this Parker swivel jaw vise in exceptional condition.  The pin on top pulls out and the back jaw can swivel allowing you to hold objects with non parallels sides. This feature, though simple, is incredibly useful and saves a lot of pain when trying to secure an odd shaped piece.  

parker swivel jaw vise

This is called a “fly press”. It is both simple and extremely effective. Essentially it is a huge screw that produces a large amount of force,  2.5 tons in this case. The frame and castings are strong enough to withstand the handle being swung to allow momentum of the top counter weight to produce a maximum of force. It can also be used very slowly for precise control of whatever die you insert into ram. The possibilities for this tools are limited only by the imagination and on top of that you can use it with hot or cold work making it versatile in more ways than one. I only just begun to explore this tool, but I look forward to using it for many projects down the road. 

blacksmith fly press providence 2.5

This is a tenon swage I made for use with the power hammer. It forms tenons of three different sizes for use traditional joinery projects. Shown is the tool and an example of what it can produce. 

power hammer tenon swage

Bloomery Smelting class at the Center for Metal Arts in Johnstown, PA with instructor Lee Sauder

Center for metal arts bloomery smelting
Furnace construction and chemistry of smelting discussion
iron smelting class center for metal arts
First smelts
Iron smelting manganese ore
Our 'high quality" ore turns out to be manganese ore
Manganese ore smelt
Our "bloom" made from the manganese ore
johnstown PA iron industry
Exploring the iron industry in the nearby hills

Evening at the shop

Eric Dennis blacksmith Greenfield MA

What’s next? a sneak peak…

Forged iron lizard sculpture

Recent Projects

A photo update on a selection of commissions from spring and summer 2020.

 

Late summer sunflowers and a fresh coat of paint on the front doors of the shop

Blacksmith Shop Front Door
Eric Dennis Blacksmith Shop Greenfield MA

Interior balustrade

modern black stair railing lines

Forge-welded and tenoned outdoor railing

Forged Wrought Iron Railing Decorative

Large forge-welded hinges based on 12th century”fleur-de-lis” style church hinges

Hand forged Medieval hinges
Large Medieval Strap Hinge

Bike rack for the Brattleboro Music Center. Each base clef independently swings and locks open or shut.

Forged Ironwork Process
Fabricated Decorative Bike Rack

The Bradley Upright Strap Hammer

I am extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to purchase from a friend a 50lb Bradley Upright Strap forging hammer. This tool was manufactured in Syracuse, NY is the early 1900’s. After 100 years of use it has found its way into my humble shop where I look forward to getting to know it and working with it to create forged ironwork on a larger scale.

Bradley Upright Strap Advertisement
Bradley Upright Strap Advertisement

Bradley Power Hammer Plate
Bradley upright strap forging hammer
Bradley 50lb power hammer upright strap
blacksmith power hammer bradley upright strap
Bradley Power Hammer 50lb upright strap
Bradley 50lb upright strap hammer

Woodford Furnace Festival 2019

I made the voyage across the big lake again this past August, to the humble and welcoming village of Woodford, Ireland Co. Galway. This place, it’s people, the landscape, the pub, is growing on me. Sometimes it feels like a place from the past, sometimes like a place far in the future. Usually like a place plucked from this earth and placed down on another.

I spent a week here after traveling via vehicle and boat with a good friend from London, England. This was not before, however, some adventures worth noting: sleeping on the coast of Wales, going undercover as an “artist assistant” in order to sleep on the grounds of the National Museum in Dublin, and gold panning in the hills of County Wicklow.

The week in Woodford was more informative and energizing than I could have hoped for. I’m still unraveling everything I saw there. I used the week to focus on building and smelting in a bowl furnace. Similar to a standard shaft furnace with the primary difference being only 12″ tall from top to bottom. The design was based on the experiments of Lee Sauder. I also spent the week working alongside Jens Olesen of Denmark with the intention of learning as much as possible through observation and questions. I learned from him about the self-tapping blow plate shaft furnace: as elegant as it sounds. I also learned about various methods of charcoal making including in an old bathtub. Evenings were usually spent in the pub… as one might expect.

Iron Ore Derryarkin Ireland bloomery smelting
High quality ore in Derryarkin
Bog Iron Derryarkin Ireland eric dennis bloomery smelting
Fields of iron in Derryarkin
bog iron ore ireland eric dennis bloomery smelting
High quality bog ore
Woodford Ireland County Galway
Woodford Ireland Co. Galway
Bloomery Smelting Blow Plate
Self-Tapping Blow Plate
Bloomery Smelting Bowl Furnace
Bowl Furnace
Bloomery Bowl Furnace Smelt
Bowl Furnace Bloom
Bloomery Smelting
Team work
Bowl Furnace Bloomery Smelting
Bowl Furnace Bloom

SLIABH AUGHTY FURNACE PROJECT, 2018

Next stop was the Sliabh Aughty Furnace Project in Woodford co. Galway, a week long bloomery smelting festival (since re-named the Woodford Furnace Festival). The goal of the project was to bring together experts and enthusiasts from all over the world, harvest local bog ore, and see if it could be smelted in a variety of different style furnaces. I worked under the guidance of Jake Keen from England. Our team built three furnaces of similar design using clay, straw, and sand. We built our furnaces rather small to further investigate Jake’s work to understand the minimum feasible size for a vertical shaft furnace. What I learned from Jake during that week I hold to invaluable in my own process of learning to smelt iron. I am still (a year and a half later) realizing just how much I was taught.

Irish Bog Iron Ore
High Manganese Irish Bog Ore
Irish Bog ore roasting
Roasting the ore to prepare it for smelting
Bloomery Furnace Construction
Furnace Construction
Jake Keen Iron Bloomery Smelting
Jake doing what he does best
Jake Keen Ireland Bloomery Smelting
Jake’s Bloom Emerges
Iron Smelting Woodford Furnace Festival 2018 Lee Sauder Jake Keen
Lee and Jake working the bloom
Katie Surridge Iron Smelting Ireland Woodford Furnace Festival
My good friend Katie Surridge preparing her furnace
Bloomery Smelting Furnace
Myself
Woodford Furnace Festvial 2018 Eric Dennis Jake Keen Lee Sauder
Team striking the bloom, fresh out of the furnace
Bloomery Smelting Jake Keen Katie Surridge Eric DEnnis Jon Snow
My team!

Visiting Blacksmiths in Ireland, 2018

A year and a bit ago I traveled to Ireland to attend the Sliabh Aughty Furnace Festival (since renamed the Woodford Furnace Festival). Along my journey I visited the Dublin National Museum of Archaeology which was showing an exhibit on viking ironwork. I then traveled by bus to County Wicklow to visit and work with blacksmith Finin Liam Christie. While there we made tongs and hammers. I then traveled west to County Galway where blacksmith Stephen Quinn let me hang around for a few days. He showed me a simple and elegant way to calculate a punch size for any desired hole, among other little tricks. Finally I arrived in Woodford, County Galway for the iron smelting festival….

Blacksmith Finin Liam Christie
Blacksmith Finin Liam Christie
Blacksmith Finin Liam Christie Two Horn Anvil
Blacksmith Finin Liam Christie forged hammer
Blacksmith Stephen Quinn Ireland
Forged Railing Blacksmith Stephen Quinn
Forged iron Stephen Quinn Blacksmith
Traditional Ironwork Blacksmith Stephen Quinn