Blacksmithing a playground for the imagination

Matt Gardner
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When it comes to tools of the blacksmith trade, the items that are most likely to come to mind include anvils, hammers, chisels and forges.

But for area blacksmith Hubert Smith, an active imagination ranks just as highly in terms of importance.

“The things that you do (as a blacksmith), you’re only controlled by your imagination, and your imagination develops over the years,” Smith said.

“When I started, I didn’t know what they meant by ‘your imagination will work for you,’” he added. “But now I know what my imagination will do.”

Throughout the weekend, Smith could be seen plying his trade at the 34th annual Vintage Power Machines Threshing Festival, adding to his diverse stock of metal products for sale.

Given the festival’s focus on the past, Smith, 77, noted the significance of the blacksmith’s role in years gone by.

“If you go back to the original blacksmith, he was the centre of the town or area, because anything that needed fixing was taken to the blacksmith shop,” he said.

“It didn’t matter whether it was something in the kitchen, whether you needed a soup ladle or something like that -- you went to the blacksmith’s shop and he made you one.”

Pointing to two kinds of blacksmiths -- artist blacksmiths and practical blacksmiths -- Smith identified himself as the latter, given his focus on making tools.

As the owner of the blacksmith shop Pop’s Old Forge near the district of Marcelin, Smith describes the shop as his “playpen.”

“It’s just absolutely amazing how you can take a piece of red-hot iron and shape it into almost anything you want,” he enthused.

“It’s just like a little kid playing with Play-Doh. They can do anything they want with the Play-Doh -- they roll it out, shape it, and I’m doing the same thing with metal by heating it up.”

While Smith had been exposed to blacksmithing all his life from childhood -- his father would utilize blacksmithing for things like sharpening harrow teeth on the farm -- he never truly got interested in it much later in life.

The initial spark came in 1994, after Smith had spent decades working as a farmer.

“I saw a fellow demonstrating blacksmithing and I thought, for the amount of metal fabricating that I was doing, that it might be a great thing because I’d be able to shape the metal and make it fit,” he recalled. “Then I could weld it together.”

It’s just absolutely amazing how you can take a piece of red-hot iron and shape it into almost anything you want. Hubert Smith

Enrolling in a basic blacksmithing course at the Western Development Museum in January of that year, by July Smith was out demonstrating the art of blacksmithing to others.

“I’ve been doing it ever since,” he said. “The more you do, the more your mind can see things that can be done.”

Besides tools such as chisels and hammers, Smith’s products include items such as steak-turners, fire pokers, pickle forks, door knockers, shoehorns and back scratchers, as well as some ornamental objects such as crosses and leaf necklaces.

One of his current projects is the construction of a “horseless carriage,” with metal pieces made through blacksmithing.

The versatility of blacksmithing has made itself felt in some of Smith’s other hobbies. A frequent singer for audiences at nursing homes, he forged his own customized metal music stand at the blacksmith shop.

Though some may view blacksmithing as an antiquated hobby, Smith had plenty of evidence pointing to a high demand for the products of those hobbyists.

“There’s a friend of mine in Calgary that had consignment work and he worked for one billionaire in the States for a whole year, doing railings and hinges and doorlocks and all that kind of thing that were hand-forged,” Smith noted.

“There’s a lot of us in Canada from coast to coast that do a lot of work,” he added. “I would say probably 60 or 65 per cent of us are retired, and not really interested in the role of making a living (as blacksmiths).”

Even as a hobby, Smith’s shop has proven highly popular, with pedestrians frequently coming in to look at his products.

Part of the appeal of blacksmithing, he noted, is the constant expansion of products one is capable of making.

“You never come to a limit,” Smith said. “There’s always something you’re learning. Every day you work at the forge, you’re learning something.

“If you’re not learning something, you’re doing something wrong or your mind has come to a standstill.”

Organizations: Western Development Museum

Geographic location: Old Forge, Marcelin, Calgary Canada

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