The Artistry of the Blacksmith

The Art and Mystery of the Blacksmith

The piercing ring of my father’s sledge hitting the anvil echoes in my mind yet today, 40 years later. Holding the red hot metal with tongs in his powerful hands as he easily flattened, ground, and bent the black iron – shaping it skilfully over and over until it fit the horses hoof perfectly. Smoke rises and the smouldering smell of the burnt hoof makes me cringe. He winks at me to let me know it’s alright – the horse can’t feel a thing. He drops the shoe in a cool bucket of water; three more shoes to go. Blacksmiths; their work spans the ages.

The Artistry

I have visited many historical landmarks and every time I am drawn to the stone and coal forges, fire tools, and metal brandished items on display. Often there are demonstrations by a burly man in a leather apron and I feel right at home.

Traditionally, tradesmen working with iron or black metal, as it was known, were called “blacksmiths” because they would smite and work with different metals. They were held in high esteem because everyone needed something from these custom toolmakers in the 18th and 19th centuries.

One out of ten early settlers were farmers who needed tools to clear and work their land. They often had horses, and cows along with other livestock. A blacksmith made plough shares, sickles, scythes, and metal parts for wagons and carriages, as well as wheel rims, axe heads, hammers, shovels, hoes, and pitch forks. Moreover, horses required shoes to protect their hooves from the rustic rural roads and the freely roaming cattle required cow bells to notify farmers of their where a bouts. Certainly, the American Axe which has remained relatively the same for over 225 years, was the single most significant contribution to tools made by the blacksmith.

Some of the lesser known items blacksmiths forged in their fires were items for women; utensils for preparing and eating meals; forks, knives, spoons, cooking pots and pans, coffee or tea pots, cast iron kettles, lanterns, sewing and other household tools. Trades and Industry workers needed tools as well. Builders needed door hinges, chandeliers, hooks and nails or screws. Vessels in the harbour needed anchors and chains. Woodworkers needed tools like crosscut handsaws, planes, scrapers and chisels1. Additionally, they needed gimlets for making small holes in wood, centre bits and braces to bore large shallow holes quickly. Hunters and warfare soldiers of the 18th century sought out hand forged blades like the Bowie and long hunter knives. Swords of various lengths, metal canteens, tomahawks, and gun parts are other types of contrivance created by skilled blacksmiths. Camp ironwork included tripods, trammels, cauldrons, spatulas, ladles and strainers.

Blacksmiths also maintained their handiwork with a grindstone – sharpening all metal blades; knives, ploughshare, axe, saw, sickle and the scythe.

Main Tools of the Trade

A symbol of the blacksmith is definitely the “anvil”. Without it, there is no craft; yet it is only one of the various tools of the trade. In an article By the Mother Earth News Editors (November/December 1975)2, it mentions various sizes of anvils ranging from tiny to the large 500 lbs models. I can easily imagine the blacksmith seeking out a tree butt to fasten a 200 lb. anvil securely to it. Lighter anvils weren’t as steady, more difficult to fasten and prone to crack under heavy hammer strokes while the larger models were hard on the back.

Instrumental to the blacksmith is the hammer. Customizing hammers to fit their skills and jobs, most blacksmiths had several types of hammers; a heavy sledge, or lighter ball-, cross-, and straight-peen which they forged themselves. Handles were an essential component to the hammer. Usually made from hickory or ash and properly wedged plus fitted to the palm of the blacksmith to make forging seem effortless. Knowing which hammer to use, when and how to utilize its effect, with the least expenditure of energy, was the quintessence of this trade.

Link, belt, hoop, and horseshoe are all types of tongs. Sometimes, a blacksmith will have a large variety of different sizes and shapes made for specific purposes. Known as the fire proof extension of the crafters hands, tongs are extremely personal. They are strong but have been known to slip in a loose grip and send red hot bits of iron flying when a hammer hits hard. Most blacksmiths created a hand held vice by adding a catch at the end of one handle to their tongs preventing it from opening and avoiding possible injury or fires.

Upright Chisel is a tool that fits into the anvil’s very hard, flattened top surface square hole, called the “hardy hole”. This hole is used to hold several tools; including, swages mandrels, fullers and the hardy – its name sake.

Finishing touches to the trade tools punches, files and a water trough. Making holes in metal was made with points of different shapes called punches; files were coarse or fine and used to grate metal deposits creating a smooth surface. To cool down the metal and solidify the finished product a water trough or quench tub was used. It was also handy to have water available to douse the flames if they burned too high.

The Mystery Revealed

An article about 18th Century Blacksmitting states iron made in the North American settlements was called Bog iron – a low grade ore gathered in marshes and ponds. If you got permission from the King, you could set up an iron furnace but you had to own vast amounts of natural resources; wood for charcoal making, limestone outcroppings to flux the ore and a huge ore supply. Therefore, iron was difficult to obtain in the yearly settlement years due to British restrictions.

The article continues to describe the fundamentals of making iron as a trade within itself. When enough ore was gathered the iron furnace fired up with coal and worked twenty-four / seven for two to four weeks. As the iron was smelted from the ore and fluxed with limestone it was tapped. Resembling a sow and her suckling piglets the molten iron ran down into ditches. It was called pig iron. Refined in a foundry-like shop, pig iron was cultured into useable iron metal ready for the maker’s hand – a blacksmith to skilfully shape, contour, strike, pound, and hammer.

The Apprentice

The blacksmith life was a hard one but nothing compared to the blacksmith apprentice. Masters gladly took on an apprentice at no charge for roughly a four or five year period and these boys would learn the secrets of the trade in exchange for clothing, lodging, and food until he became a master himself. Small item nails, screws, bolts and hooks were usually made by an apprentice.
Farriers

During the mid-to-late 1800s, one could find a blacksmith in cities and towns all across Canada. However, with the Great Depression and World War II, the trade was all but wiped out, leaving only Farriers – a specialized subsection of blacksmithing focusing on horseshoes. The rest of the labour formerly done by blacksmiths was swallowed up by factories, leaving little room for the blacksmith of old. Some blacksmiths were trained to shod or fit shoes on horses. These men were called farriers. They worked with horses exclusively; shaping the shoe, rasping, burning and nailing the shoe on the hoof to protect it. Some farriers evolved into taking care of the lame and sick animals thereby becoming the first veterinarians.

The Livery

The majority of settlement communities had a blacksmith shop. Some with very large doors so horses, wagons and farm implements could fit inside but most were small and poorly lit. The shop was usually near the livery stable (barn). Generally ignored by historians, the livery was a vital resource for settlers. Among other things, a livery provided wood and coal for heat, as well as hay and gain for livestock. One of the most important functions of an early settlement livery was to provide vital transportation service; a stable where settlers could hire horses, teams and wagons. If you were lucky enough to own a horse, the livery was the place to board it for a short time when travelling which is why the livery was often attached to a hotel or boarding house.

On the other hand, there were a couple downfalls of a town’s livery. It was common knowledge liveries were, well, lively with socialization. Noise and vermin was a problem and it has been documented that disgusting odours were also generated in and around liveries. Time and again, in many locations, towns attempted to control the locality and activities of their liveries. Unscrupulous behaviours such as gambling or stag shows, and cockfighting were vices enjoyed by some in the livery venue.

Present Day

Today, there are few blacksmiths who pursue the traditional ways of the early blacksmiths which involves forging, welding, riveting, and repairing metal parts for farm machinery. Nevertheless, there has been a true renaissance in artistic Blacksmitting within the last 10 years. Artisan blacksmith businesses in Southern Ontario specialize in custom hand-forged iron products, custom metal fabrications, and welding services for the home, garden or a business. Some offer demonstrations at special events like at enactments or small town heritage festivals. The Artist-Blacksmiths’ Association of North America (ABANA) now claims nearly 5,000 members, double the number it had 10 years ago.

Sparta Ontario has one of the oldest blacksmith shops, built in 1827; the cob (clay and straw) building is now the Forge and Anvil Museum. This historic blacksmith shop has wall 9 inch thick clay walls and stores many artifacts that reflect the history of the Sparta Area including Port Stanley which has, among others, a livery in the heart of the town.

Official Alert: A Country Where Happiness Is More Important Than Wealth!

Bhutan suddenly shot to fame with the famous speech by their Prime Minister claiming that Bhutan is not only Carbon neutral, but Carbon negative. A time when our dear planet has sunk itself in tonnes of pollution, Bhutan is literally a breath of fresh air! Stunning Dzongs, monasteries and buildings that look right out of a film set… Bhutan is an impressive Kingdom. So without further ado let us spill beans about the country which measures its progress by Gross National Happiness (GNH) index… reallly!

THE PLACES

THIMPU – Only capital city in the world without any traffic signals!

Wow!! And trust us this is not the only reason why Thimpu is interesting. In fact inspite of this fact it is fairly easy to travel and get around this pretty and petite capital of Bhutan. Thimpu gives you ample opportunities to soak in the culture of this beautiful country and the locals here are super friendly and approachable. Thimphu offers myriad attractions to visitor- there is National Folk Heritage Museum, National library, Zorig Chusum School of Traditional Arts for those who want to understand the history and rich culture of this place. A stroll around Norzin lam which is like a City Centre is also something you must not miss while here. Thimphu also offers a great local shopping experience at the famous Crafts market. Thinking souvenirs?

Where to Stay:

Thimphu being the capital city of Bhutan has plenty of choice to stay on your visit to Bhutan. Every type of hotel is available from luxury to budget. Our recommendations based on every budget are as follows:

Amankora by Amankora Groups (5 star)
Taj Tashi by Tata and Tashi Group (5 Star)
Druk Hotel (4 Star)
Hotel Norbuling (3 Star)
Hotel Dorji Elements

PARO… Where a monastery hangs on a cliff!

And you must have definitely seen the images of this famous landmark which is called Taktsang Monastery also known as Tiger’s Nest Monastery! Apart from the Monastery, Paro is a stunning valley in its own right for the nature lovers. Revel in the ancient air here at Drukgyel Dzong, a fortress that has stood the tests of time. Old, dilapidated but not forgotten! Paro also boasts of a National Museum that exhibits rare artefacts and photographs. The only International Airport in Bhutan is also located here thereby making it an important city and also a place of heavy tourist activity.

Where to Stay:

Like the Capital City, Paro also offers its guests a varied variety of stay options beginning from luxurious five stars to more pocket friendly resorts. Our picks are:

Uma Resort by Como Group (5 Star)
Amankora by Amankora Group (5 Star)
Heaven Resort (4 Star)
Tashi Namgay Resort (3 Star)
Hotel Metta Resort and Spa (3 Star)

TRONGSA… movie set of a place!

Trongsa is very popular with visitors in Bhutan and there is big reason to be. This place is dotted by many fortresses from older times but they are in a great shape. In fact Trongsa looks like a film set for those Shaolin and Kung Fu movies! These colourful fortresses and palaces nestled amidst misty mountain sides create a mystical atmosphere around Trongsa. Trongsa was once the seat of power over central and eastern regions. Both the first and second kings of Bhutan ruled the country from this ancient seat and it is customary for the crown prince to serve as the Trongsa Penlop (“governor”) prior to ascending the throne.This place also has a number of guesthouses, restaurants and hotels owing to healthy influx of tourists. The most spectacular tourist sites here include Trongsa Dzong, Ta Dzong, Chökhor Raptse Dzong, Thruepang Palace, Kuenga Rabten Palace and Chendebji Chorten.

Where to Stay:

Most popular places to Stay at are:
Puenzi Guest House (3 Star)
Tashi Ninjay Guest House (3 Star)
Yangkhol Resoort (3 Star)
Chendebji Resort

WANGDUE PHODRANG… spectacular wildlife and the biggest Bhutanese Monastery

Sitting at a height of over 1300 meters (4265 ft), this picturesque district is home to the largest Monastery of Bhutan- Gangtey Gompa. Due to the height, Wangdue enjoys an ideal weather all through the year. It is also a part of Black Mountain Conservation Area because of its rich flora and fauna. For those who like to observe wildlife, Wangdue Phodrang has to be on top of the bucket list. Red fox, Sambar, Himalayan Black Deer, barking deer are some of the illustrious species found in these forest areas!

The other attractive place to offer spectacular scenic beauty to visitors here is Phobjikha Valley which is 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Wangdiphodrang. It is also simply referred as Gangtey. This valley is the habitat of rare and endangered Black Necked Cranes that roost there during their annual migrations. This valley also has interesting Home-stay options for tourists that entails living with a family to experience and learn about the way of life of local people including overnight stay in the households, local food and drinks, interaction with family members and participation in daily household chores such as cooking, milking of cow, making butter, cheese, feed livestock etc. Depending on the season, visitors may also have the opportunity to participate in gardening and farm activities including crop plantation, harvesting etc. For most of the foreign urban visitors, this experience will provide a glimpse of the ancestral way of life – life that is hard work, devoid of stress and sustainable.

Where to Stay:

Twenty homestays offer accommodation facility with each homestay having the capacity of two rooms for four persons. The households are equipped with the basic modern sanitation and bedroom facilities. Apart from this, there are normal hotels available too:

Amankora (5 star)
Hotel Dewachen
Gangtey Goenpa Lodge
Wangchuk Lodge

BUMTHANG

At dizzying heights ranging from 8530 ft to 14765 ft, Bum Thang is a trekkers’ paradise. Oh, and there is more to see around for those who are not much into walking and hiking. This magnificent place has its share of some of the oldest temples and monasteries in Bhutan. Bumthang consists of four main valleys Ura, Chumey, Tang and Choekhor. Choekho. Bumthang is one of the most richly endowed districts in terms of historical and spiritual legacy. Famous burning lake is also located here. Scenic Ura valley is just about 48 kilometers(30 miles) from here and worth a visit to take a look at the village and countryside lifestyle and culture of Bhutan.

Where to Stay:

Some of the places to stay in Bumthang are:

Amankora (5 Star)
Jakar Vollage Lodge (4 Star)
Hotel Peling Hotel Ugyenling (3 Star)
Jakar View Guest House (3 Star)

PUNAKHA… former Capital and cradle to Red Rice!

Punakha served as the capital of the country from 1637 to 1907 and the first national assembly was hosted here in 1953. Since it is the former Capital, it is but obvious that Punakha holds the spectacular Punakha Dzong (fortress and former power seat) whose location is on the equally mesmerising confluence of two rivers- Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu. Punakha also boasts of breathtaking trekking routes and rich wildlife on the way. There is a unique suspension bridge which makes for a nice spot and various Dzongs or fortresses owing to the history of Punakha.

Where to Stay:

Amankora (5 Star)
Uma Resort (5 Star)
Meri Phuensum( 3 Star)
Damchen Resort

RUSH OF ADRENALINE… and some more!

After all that sightseeing, it is time to pump up the adrenaline with some great adventure activities Bhutan affords owing to its unique location, geography, climate and topography. Cycling is a great way of exploring Bhutan on its most stunning and rustic routes. However, keep in mind that the hilly terrain can pose its own difficulties on the climbs so make sure you are physically fit to endure them.

rush that you can experience here in Bhutan is amongst the rapids of its many rivers where white water rafting can bring in the sheer joy of rising and falling with swell! Kayaking is also a popular adventure that many enthusiasts indulge in. For more hardcore visitors with an appetite for bigger challenges and thrill, rock climbing around the rugged mountainous terrain of Bhutan is something of a must try. Some of our softie team members are more content with fishing and as they put it- great way to pass sometime while getting a great catch for dinner. Well I am not complaining, after all a hearty meal is what I would need after that rafting followed by rock climbing!

For wild life enthusiasts, Bhutan is like a treasure trough that brings in rich and exotic amalgamation of animal life and ample bird watching opportunities! And this you can combine with exploring lesser known countryside of Bhutan on its amazing trekking trails, that take anything from a few hours to quite some days to cover!

VIBRANT FESTIVALS

Bhutan is nothing less than an artist’s canvas with its vivid colours and absolutely vibrant culture. This is why witnessing their festivals is something you must not miss. These fests also present the best of opportunities to mingle with locals and observe their Buddhism influenced culture up close. Though Bhutanese calendar is full of events, there are two festivals that we have specifically picked:

Jomolahari Mountain Festival: This festival takes place at the base camp of Mt. Jomolhari and thus the name. The event showcases exhibitions, local cuisines, stirring performances by local communities and culture and traditions of the Dragon Kingdom.

Tshechu: Speciality of Tshechus is that they take place throughout the year in different regions of Bhutan and so you have strong chances of getting to see one! Oh wait… I forgot to tell what exactly they are. Tshechus are religious festivals that are celebrated with dance, music, fervour and faith. Mongar Tshechu is the most famous of all and is celebrated in Early November. However, local communities celebrate version of this festival throughout the year locally. So if you are interested in seeing one, check with your guide or tour agency beforehand to include one in your itinerary.

Where to Stay:

Usually one can stay at the nearest city or town where the festival is taking place. However, visitors can be provided tents and other necessary equipment for setting up camps by the tour operators at the festival site itself.

SPIRITUALITY… Discover the path to your soul

Have you ever observed how calming the presence of a statue of Buddha usually is? Now imagine going to a country that follows in his footsteps in its true spirit! When in Bhutan, getting in touch with your inner self is something you must look forward to. There are various meditation and wellness centres across this Himalayan Kingdom. The very views of snow capped peaks emerging from velvety lush act as enablers towards the path of spiritual wellness. These centres have techniques based upon concepts of peace, harmony and meditation.

Famous Wellness centres:

Como Shambhala Retreat at Uma Paro is a centre for peace, harmony and happiness
Terma Linca Resort, Thimphu
Ngoba Wellness Centre, Paro
The Mindfulness Yoga & Meditationn, Ziwaling Resort, Paro

HOT SPRING TRAILS

Bhutan also has a number of hot spring trails around the country and the most famous of them are at Gasa by the banks of River Mo Chhu.. Locals believe that hot springs relieve them of many physical ailments. However, remember that the locals consider them holy and attach sentimental value to these hot springs. Apart from Gasa, other notable and famous springs are:

. Chubu Tshachu which is located alongside the banks of the Pho Chu River and is located within a day’s journey from Punakha town

. Dur Tshachu is located in Bumthang Dzongkhag in Central Bhutan, Dur Tshachu is famous for its medicinal value and is known for curing body aches. It is situated in the village of Dur

. Duenmang Tshachu is situated alongside the banks of Mangde Chu River, Duenmang Tshachu is quite popular amongst the Khengpa population who visit it regularly.

. Gelephu Tshachu in Southern Bhutan is a hot spring mainly frequented by the local residents. In winter, people from all over the Bhutan journey come here to cure themselves of diseases.

HOW CAN I FORGET FOOD!

First and foremost, this is one country where red rice and Buckwheat are grown in abundance so make sure you taste the food made out of these ingredients because they are rare elsewhere. Also, Bhutanese love their spice and chillies so if you are little allergic to them then let your servers and hosts know!

So let us start with their National dish- Ema Datshi which is essentially gravy of Chillies and Cheese with variations where veggies are also added. Another delicacy of spicy minced Chicken served on rice called Jasha Maru is high on must-try food list here. Another Pork dish that is famous here isPhaksha paa which has pork simmered in stew with Raddish, Ginger and Chinese greens (Bok choy) garnished with dry pork in the end. Momos- dumplings stuffed with pork, beef or cabbage. Now to down it all, you can try their local beverages that range from tea to beer. And do try their local version of Beer/ Sake which is called Ara.
Highly recommended Places to eat in Thimphu: The Bhutanese, Bhutan Kitchen, Tandin, Ama, Yangkhil, and the restaurant of the National Folk Heritage Museum.