Richard Hanson © 2003
Foreword: At some point in your blacksmith career you will be involved in conducting a live demonstration. If you are one of the fortunate few that are skilled enough to be asked to demonstrate at an actual blacksmith event, I envy you. For the rest of you, your demonstration will probably be conducted in association with a re-enactment or other historical event where people don't have a clue as to what you are all about.
Your job is to educate these people about the craft of blacksmithing.
Entertain these people. Although you are probably not getting paid for your time, these people did pay an entrance fee.
At the end of a long day, refrain from throttling the next person that tells you his grandpa was a blacksmith, or asks you if you shoe horses.
Perhaps sell some stuff to at least recoup the cost of the coal you burned.
Keep the more adventurous from getting close enough to injure themselves.
Insurance: Don't leave home without it. Don't rely on the place where you demonstrate to have insurance. If you don't have your own umbrella policy, get one. Remember section 38 of Murphy's Laws. "No good deed goes unpunished." You are there providing a free service but if someone gets hurt as a result of your demonstration you could end up paying for the rest of your life.
Equipment: Remember it is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Prepare your equipment in advance. Make sure it is in good order. Your equipment may be more or less "period correct" depending on the type of affair you are working at. For example a composite frame hacksaw would be totally out of place at a Civil War Era demonstration. Pay attention to details if they are important to the demonstration. Basic equipment you will need is:
Eye Protection: "Period Correct" be damned, I don't do anything without my safety glasses. Take an extra pair of glasses if you wear them and a pair of generic safety glasses to wear over them in case you break your prescription safety glasses.
First Aid Supplies: Band-Aids, burn cream, some tape and gauze at a minimum. Also some sun block.
Business Cards: If you have them bring them. If not, something with your name, address and phone number on it that you can display prominently. You might make a buck at this yet.
Clothing: Your costume may need to be "period correct" however, stay away from synthetic fabrics anyway. They tend to burn rapidly. Cotton and wool are the best fabrics. Hat and shoes should be appropriate for the era portrayed.
Apron and Gloves: leather apron is a necessity. Whether it is a full apron or one that ties around your waist is up to you. Gloves are up to your discretion. Some people prefer to work barehanded.
Forge: usually coal, hand cranked blower if acceptable, otherwise bellows
Anvil: I take 2 because I have 2. Don't forget the mounts.
Hammer: Take at least 2 or 3, I take a bunch because you can do quite a lecture on the various types and functions of hammers. It has been said that many a demo has been ruined because of a broken hammer handle. My way of thinking is if you only take one hammer to a demo, you probably weren't the sharpest knife in the drawer to begin with.
Tongs: I take a bunch, once again you can do a lecture of the function of various types of tongs. Also if you only take one pair, see the above statement about hammers.
Punches: take at least 2, and if you need a size you don't have, a quick demo within a demo is making a punch and using it.
Chisels, files and hot cuts: take a couple of each.
Steel: you have to have something to pound on. I take a sampling of various sizes and shapes. Some flat bar, some square and round stock. You will be governed by what you plan to make. I also take some high carbon steel like pieces of spring.
Vise: I take a post vise mounted to a big wooden block. You can get by with a machinist vise, but you will need something to hold and clamp metal.
Swage block: if you have one, it is nice to take it. Part of your demo should be to show and explain the types of tools used by a blacksmith.
Coal or Charcoal: Don't forget something to burn. A metal coal bucket and coal shovel are nice accessories. Make sure you have an adequate supply to last the whole day.
Slack Tub: some sort of water container. It should be made out of wood or metal. A steel 5-gallon bucket is ok but remember to remove labels and paint over markings on it. Plastic is usually a no no.
A rack: for tongs and other tools as well as some way of organizing your hammers is a nice touch.
Non-traditional items: such as plastic buckets for additional coal can be hidden out of the way under a piece of canvas.
Matches: lots of them. You would be surprised how hard it is to find something to start a fire if you forget to bring your own. If you are a traditionalist, flint and steel, or two sticks to rub together. A little charcoal lighter fluid is a handy addition as long as nobody is looking. You might also want some pieces of cardboard and some newspaper and possibly some wood kindling.
Chair or Stool: It is nice to have something to set on and take a break from time to time. Include a few chunks of 2 X 4 to throw in the fire to keep it going while you take your breaks so you don't have to keep pumping the bellows or cranking the blower while you are trying to eat.
Canvas or tarps: to cover your stuff if it rains, or if the demo is more than one day and you are going to leave your stuff over night.
Water: Both for the slack tub and for drinking.
Food: If lunch is not provided, make sure you have your own.
Fire tending tools: a clinker hook and some fire tending tools are a necessity unless you are adept at managing your fine with tongs.
A hand cranked grindstone: a small one, is a nice accessory, but not absolutely necessary.
A small sprinkler: can or can to water the coal in your fire.
Setup: The three most important things in real estate are Location, Location and Location. The same is true when setting up for a demonstration. Get involved in the selection of the site for your demo. Be vocal about your wants and needs. Remember you will be working with hot iron and fire you don't want to be located in tall dead grass. Fire is always a primary consideration, your proximity to flammable structures like tents etc. should be such that there is no danger of setting your neighbors on fire. Keep in mind that the sound of your anvil may be music to your ears, but it will be annoying as hell to the frontier poet who is doing a recital 50 feet away. Also keep in mind that the smoke from your fire can offend your neighbors.
After you have taken into consideration the comfort of those around you, it is time to consider your comfort as well. Shade is nice, the afternoon sun can be brutal try to find a location that affords shade from about on. Beneath a stand of trees is nice, they don't have to be Chestnut Trees.
The site selected should have ample room for all of your equipment and afford a comfortable safety buffer zone between you and the public. Pay attention to wind direction, you don't want to work in the smoke all day and you don't want the spectators to stand in the smoke either. Remember that as soon as the fire is built, the wind will change. You may not be able to reposition the forge, so have enough room so that you can reposition everything else to get you and the
spectators out of the smoke.
There should be some sort of physical barrier to keep spectators at a safe distance. Tables where you display your wares can work to this advantage. Sawhorses with boards on top will also work. Simple stakes in the ground with a rope between them will also do. The idea is to keep spectators at a safe distance yet afford them the best opportunity to observe what is going on. I generally try to set up with my forge beside my anvil and to the weak hand side. That way the spectators can see everything that is happening without me blocking
the view as would be the case if the forge were located behind the anvil. It also allows you to continually face the crowd and keep an eye on them for safety sake. By keeping the forge on the weak hand side, it allows you to operate the bellows or blower as well as handle the material with your off hand while you tend the fire and rest your hammer hand.
Have everything set up and in place well before the grounds open. Light your fire beforehand and be ready to pound iron when they open the gate. Remember that the only time in your life you will ever have difficulty lighting a fire is when there are 30 people standing there waiting for something to happen.
The Demonstration: Practice your demonstration beforehand. It is ok to be incredibly stupid as long as you are the only one who knows. If you get up in front of a crowd and announce you are going to make whatever, then botch the job, or it don't turn out because you didn't include something you need, everyone will know. If you have never done a forge weld, now is not the time to do your first one.
Take a short time and explain the tools that you use and what you are going to do. You can at this time give a short talk on the various types of tongs and hammers that are used and their function.
Keep your demonstration short. Most people have the attention span of a gnat. They are used to instant gratification. They want it now. If Martha Stewart can make a 7 course meal in a 30 minute TV show with time out for 15 minutes of commercials, you should be able to make a 6 foot gothic gate in about 30 seconds. With that in mind, make something that takes about 5 minutes. Leaf key rings are quick and easy for example. The rule is, if you want the key ring, you have to stay for the demo.
If you take requests, be ready for anything. I once asked a small boy what I could make for him and he said "a feather". I asked how big, expecting to make one about leaf size, He indicted a size with his hands that was about 10 inches long. If this happens, you are on the hook and you damn well better be able to make a 10-inch feather in short order.
That's the Theory, Here is the Reality: For the sake of brevity in this dialog the spectator will be referred to as "Guest" and the blacksmith as "BS".
Guest: As he walks up and sees the fire in your forge. "What ya cookin?"
Guest: Well I'll be, who would have thought?"
BS: Mumbling to self "Anyone with half a brain."
Guest: "What's that big hunk of iron?"
BS. "That's an anvil?"
Guest: "An annnvillllle, what do ya do with an annnvilllle?"
BS: "I pound hot iron on it."
Guest: "Why do you do that?"
BS: " To get the iron into the shape I want it."
Guest: "What ya gonna make?"
BS: Holding up the piece he is hammering "What does it look like to you?"
Guest: "It kinda looks like a leaf."
BS: "You are exactly right, it is a leaf."
Guest: "What you making a leaf for."
BS: Secretly wishing lightning would strike this guy. "It's going to
be a key ring for you if you stay for the whole demonstration."
Guest: "Well gee, OK."
BS: Finishes the key ring, gives it to the Guest.
Guest: "Come on Bobby I think I see some horses and Cavalry over there" Walks away without saying thanks.
BS: Makes pledges to himself that he will get a full Frontal Lobotomy before he ever does another one of these things.
After a short period of time, another bunch arrives:
Guest 2 "What ya doing here?"
BS: "I am a blacksmith."
Guest 2: "Really, my granddaddy was a blacksmith, he used to make the best knives out of old files, do you make knives out of old files?"
BS: "No I make Files out of our of old knives."
Guest 2: "He he, you shore are funny."
BS: Contemplates forging a sharp point on a 4 foot piece of 1/2 inch square bar, setting it firmly in the ground, standing on anvil and doing a Swan Dive onto the sharp point to put himself out of misery "I find a little humor helps to pass the time."
Guest 2: "What do you make."
BS: "Everything you see on the table was made by me."
Guest 2: "Do you make horseshoes."
BS: "No those people are called farriers."
Guest 2: "But I'll bet you could make a horseshoe if you really wanted to."
BS: "I don't know why I would want to, I don't like horses."
Guest 2: "How can you be a blacksmith and not like horses?"
BS: Suddenly wishing he had a horse to drag this guy behind, "You're right, I really like horses, I was just kidding you, to shoe horses, takes special training, and I haven't had that training, so I don't mess with them."
Guest 2: "See I knew if you wanted to make a horseshoe you could."
BS: Smiling wryly because he is thinking how much he would like to nail a hot horseshoe right in the center of this guy's forehead, "Yup, nice thing about being a blacksmith is you can make anything you want out of iron or steel."
Guest 2: "Can you make me a horseshoe."
BS: "I probably could, but it takes a special type of steel and I don't have any of that type with me now. If I made it out of mild steel, it wouldn't come out right."
Guest 2: "If I come back tomorrow will you have some of that special steel."
BS: "Nope have to order it in special from
Guest 2: "What can you make me."
BS: "How about a leaf key ring?"
Guest 2: "OK but I really wanted a horseshoe."
BS: Completes key ring and hands it to guy.
Guest 2: Walking away mumbling to his family, "he can't be much of a blacksmith, I'll bet he can't make a horseshoe even if he had the right kind of steel."
Another short interval passes, way too short if you ask the smith, and
another group arrives:
Guest 3: "Where did you get these knives?"
BS: "I made them."
Guest 3: Thumbing the blade of a 192 layer random pattern Damascus Knife "Are they sharp?"
BS: "The Band-Aids are in the box on the end of the table, you need help putting one on?"
Guest 3: "Boy they really are sharp."
BS: "I wouldn't have much use for a dull one."
Guest 3: "How do you make the fancy figures in the blade?"
BS: Gives a brief description of the process of making pattern welded steel.
Guest 3: "How long does it take to make a knife like that?"
BS: "Several days."
Guest 3: "I'll give ya $50 for that knife."
BS: "Lay 3 $100 bills along side that $50 and you got yourself a knife."
Guest 3: Walking away mumbling "There ain't no knife in the world worth $350 and besides that, it didn't balance good and it didn't have no rivets in the handle. My daddy always told me the best knives have 3 rivets in the handle."
BS: Smiles to himself, contemplating how nice it would be to forge some earrings for that guy and hot fit them.
At the end of the day when you make the last of what seems like a million leaf key rings and other trinkets you notice a young boy who has been watching you all afternoon with rapt fascination. You put a little extra effort into that last leaf, and when it is done, you hand it to the boy. His eyes get as big as saucers and he goes running off to find his parents to show them the great treasure you have just bestowed upon him and you know that you are coming back tomorrow with a smile on your face, even if they charge you to get in to the place.
Sometimes the story doesn't just end with the last sentence, and the period after the final word.
Funny thing happened last week. It was several months since I had done that particular demonstration. I was called to the front of the store to help out as a cashier for a bit. I looked up at the next customer in line, it was a lady with her son, the same kid that I spoke of at the end of the story. He said, "Do you remember me?" I said, "I sure do. Your name is