The old proverb goes, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Well, I’ve taken several cooking classes, so a hot oven isn’t necessarily a deterrent. In fact, I’ve also taken glassblowing and pottery classes over the years, so the thought of breaking a sweat seemed annoying at best.
Then I saw an off er on Living Social for blacksmithing classes in Pompano Beach. Yes, blacksmithing classes. The kind of blacksmithing where an artisan heats metal until its white hot and then hammers and shapes it into horseshoes and fireplace pokers. How hot could that get? I would soon find out.
I arrived at Dark Angel Armory & Forge on a hot Saturday afternoon. The metal shop is tucked away into a bay at a small industrial park. Master blacksmith Shaun Williams and his partner Sylvia Andrassy greeted me and about a dozen other eager beginners.
As the class began, we were introduced to basic safety precautions (If you remember one thing: Burning human flesh smells like bacon). Shaun gave us a tour of the shop and demonstrated the tools we would utilize, including a variety of hammers, anvils and tongs, and of course, the forge.
No, we wouldn’t be making horseshoes. We would be craft ing 12-inch decorative hooks, perfect for holding a hanging plant...or something. In the course of making this simple hook, each of us would be required to utilize four basic techniques—cutting, drawing out, twisting and shaping.
Shaun warned us an experienced blacksmith might whip out a hook with just four to six pauses to reheat the metal in the forge to 1400 degrees (with a big “F” for Fahrenheit). He wisely allows four hours for beginners like myself to complete the same tasks. But, how hard could it be? I would soon find out. While waiting for my piece of steel to glow, I struck up a conversation with one of the artists who was working at the shop, a lesbian real estate attorney who told me many of the other members at Dark Angel were also LGBT.
As much as I was tempted, I wasn’t about to make any jokes about lesbians and tools because, as I toiled away later, hammering my hook but making little progress, she generously came to my rescue. Not that I’m afraid of a little hard work, but I was starting to develop blisters and that girl really knew how to use a hammer!
Even with extra help, it took more than three hours to complete my project. After drawing my 10-inch section to 12 inches and hammering the ends to a point, I reheated the steel and then quickly placed it into a special vice. With a tight grip, I then twisted the glowing metal. That’s right, I twisted solid steel.
Th e next step was to shape the curved hooks on either end and create a decorative curl on the ends. Again, what would take an experienced blacksmith a few whacks turned into an exercise in patience. In some ways, the metal is like clay. No mistake is permanent. Just as a potter might wet the clay and start again, a few minutes in the forge makes the steel pliable again.
Aft er the last strikes with my hammer, I heated the entire hook one last time and brushed any residue off with a metal bristle brush. Aft er cooling the hook one last time in a nearby bucket of water, I placed it in a metal tray filled with beeswax. The wax would protect it from oxidizing, what laymen call rust.
I’m still not sure I’m cut out to be a blacksmith. My arms ached and all I wanted was a cold shower. But, as I drove away with my trophy, I couldn’t help but feel a little pride with the experience.
Dark Angel Armory & Forge
2600 Hammondville Rd., Bay #20
Pompano Beach, FL 33069
CLASS / WORKSHOP
Introduction to Blacksmithing
Learn about safety in a metal workshop, basic metallurgy, proper hammer-technique and the fundamentals of blacksmithing. With
these skills students will taper, scroll and twist metal into a decorative and useful S-hook, that can be taken home at the end of the day. No experience necessary.
Saturday, Nov. 12, 11 a.m.
Saturday, Dec. 10, 11 a.m.