Transcript for the Piece Audio version of The Mark of a Blacksmith
-- scene 1: in the shop --
0:09:16.0 [blower starts]
A blowtorch gets things started -
0:09:35.6 [blowtorch – sparks and ignites]
but that’s not enough heat.
0:09:46.2 [forge starts, torch off]
Bob Jordan’s forge has a glowing rectangular opening on one end – like a mail-slot to hell.
0:16:14.1 – [do you ever burn yourself?]
Every day – I keep a bottle of aloe vera over there – I used to have aloe plants – but it’s easier to keep a bottle than it is a plant.
Bob’s garage is a great place to get some serious work done. It’s bright and tidy. And best of all – dangerous tools line the walls.
0:02:13.6 - I have a 75lb power hammer, which is like a 75lb sledge hammer that will beat 3 times a second if you really wind it up…. I have a TIG welders, MIG welders, and a plasma cutter – which is what we use today to be competitive in this game – because we can’t do everything in the traditional sense…
Some things never change though. A massive anvil sits by the forge. Bob pulls a red-hot iron rod from the fire and starts hammering.
[hammering sounds throughout the shop scence]
0:08:48.2 – I’m making legs for that fireplace screen that’s on the table – which has a ringneck pheasant on it and a scene on the bottom.
Bob says he’s spent over 80 hours working on the screen so far. Half of that went into the bird. The feathers are individually formed from silicon bronze, copper, and steel. He knows how each metal will oxidize and change colour over time – so the plumage actually evolves as it ages. And you want that level of detail in a five thousand dollar fireplace screen.
0:18:37.5 – [this is labour intensive] it is – that’s why it’s so expensive
0:19:56.0 [it’s beautiful]
-- scene 2: challenges --
There’s nothing practical or efficient about blacksmithing. We have faster and cheaper methods now. But Bob loves creating things slowly, one at a time. And he loves the results. He can’t really imagine stopping. Even now – at age 67 – as a lifetime of hammering catches up with him.
1:10:52.9 I’ve been doing it for 40 years and I’ve had three knee scope surgeries on my right leg for torn meniscus tissue, I had my right shoulder rotator cuff rebuilt five years ago, just this past year I had my left shoulder rotator cuff rebuilt
…and other than that I’m doing alright, hahah. My feet hurt sometimes.
So if blacksmithing is the career equivalent of getting hit by a bus - It’s not surprising his kids aren’t interested.
1:12:11.9 No – heheh.… Basically kids today don’t wanna work too hard. They can be radio DJs and stuff like that.
-- scene 3: the creative spark --
Bob grew up in Chatham, back when kids loved hard work. He found metalwork early - building an all-season go-kart when he was 10.
1:29:22.5 … in the winter time, when I took it out on the ice, couldn’t steer it. So I had a pair of ice skates, I welded a piece of pipe on them – put ‘em on where the wheels were, and I went out cruising around, I wrapped a chain around the rear wheels so that they’d get traction – so that was my gokart.
Cape Cod’s inspired a lot of Bob’s work. One of his most impressive pieces is another fireplace screen. Two large brass lighthouses form the base.
0:37:50.9 – Chatham used to have two lighthouses and in the early 1900s when they moved one of them to Eastham. I had a client that wanted to have a motif on the front of his fireplace screen that was the twin lights of Chatham with the house. And inside each on the top where the lights would be I hung a crystal – so that when there’s a fire behind them it flickers.
Bob sculpts every piece by hand. He could make his life a lot easier – and reduce the wear on his body – by cranking out duplicates from off-the-shelf parts. That’s what some of his competition does, but not Bob.
1:22:11.4 - Boring, hahaha.. … I don’t wanna get into production work, it stifles the imagination and cuts down on the creativity – if I can go along and keep making individual pieces, it makes me much happier- you know it makes me wanna go to work every day, instead of saying oh god I have to make 10 more of those things…
-- scene 4: conclusion --
[shop ambi comes back in]
Bob’s done making the foot for the fireplace screen. A bead of sweat runs down his face.
He says he’s going to teach a weekend blacksmithing class soon. He gives them regularly to keep the dying art alive. But on this rainy day – by the warmth of the forge – it seems like it has a pretty strong pulse.
And now there’s just one thing left to do.
0:22:20.5 – it’s called a touchmark – it’s my stamp that I’ve been using for probably 25 years, 30 years – and I’ll put this on flat of the foot so that it shows.
0:22:51.4 - it’s RSJ for Robert S. Jordan [bang]