Thursday, April 12, 2012

Credit where Credit is Due!

Day 53

Setting the Record Straight!

Part of the project grant was specifically to cover my participation in Smeltfest 2012, hosted by Lee Sauder at his Germinal Ironworks outside Lexington Virginia.
Lee, assisted by his close friend and smelting partner Skip Williams, started investing historic bloomery iron smelting methods in the 1990's. They were initially inspired by African models, then worked backwards to establish a functional and predictable technique.

Sauder & Williams, pulling a bloom from their 'African Queen' furnace.
Frontier Culture Museum, Stauton VA - 2002

I had the good fortune to meet Lee and Skip in Fall of 2002. I had only undertaken two smelts at that point, both unsuccessful. They were extremely generous with their knowledge and folding my small group (other members of DARC) into their demonstration. Although we did little more than help with some of the 'dirty jobs' I certainly learned an immense amount. They had already determined the critical high volume air flow required to correctly produce dense iron blooms. By the point I met them, they had published their research both formally and inside blacksmithing circles.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, the Spring 2004 smelt at Wareham had a special guest, Michael McCarthy from Cooperstown NY. Mike had been smelting at the Farmer's Museum, basing his furnaces on Colonial American models. He was actually on his way back home from spending a week building and operating a Japanese tatara furnace. Although yet again tour smelt was a complete failure, a solid friendship was struck up.

Mike would organize the first Early Iron symposium at the Farmer's Museum in Fall of 2004. This gathered together Lee & Skip, Mike and myself as demonstrators, each building and operating a furnace from our various traditions. My (quite unplanned) contribution was a Norse style short shaft.

the "Gangue of Fer"
(L-R) Sauder, Williams, McCarthy, myself (back)
Early Iron 1 - Cooperstown NY, 2004

Late Winter of 2005 would mark the first of the invitational Smeltfest events hosted by Lee. Initially this was just the small group of us, concentrating on some specific aspect of furnace construction or smelting method.
Over the years a number of functional problems have been proposed and tested. These methods have then been incorporated in the continuing work of all three teams. A growing group of other enthusiasts have been included and have contributed. The core these days includes Jesus Hernandez, Shelton Browder and Steve Mankowski. Smeltfest has been fortunate to have include a number of wide flung guests on a more irregular basis, including some that have travelled a fair distance to participate. (Recent years have included Jake Keen, Tim Young and Therese Kearns from England, Jeff Pringle from California.)

In truth, the Early Iron group acts much like a think tank - with a solid practical workshop aspect. Evenings are spent in brainstorming ideas, with the raw energy of being gathered from isolation into a group of fellow enthusiasts. Days are spent testing out suggested concepts. The combination of experiences, interests and personal skills provides a unique and often intense, learning experience for us all.

My single largest contribution to the overall endeavor has been with documenting and publishing the discoveries. Almost always I am *not* the originator of these ideas. In practical work, I am typically just a 'worker bee' rather than a team leader.
I do make every attempt to make sure credit is given where credit is due.

(This clarification arose from some secondary mentions of yesterday's blog post. Tomorrow I will expand on those additional comments.)

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February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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