Column: Summer fun for children with metalworking

In one of the first articles I wrote, I mused about the traditional role of hands-on learning in the village blacksmith shop.

In one of the first articles I wrote, I mused about the traditional role of hands-on learning in the village blacksmith shop by children and how today there are not enough places of practical learning for the next generation.

It is funny that I am now visited by the spectre of my comments. The other day I happened onto the four- and six-year-old grandchildren at their home on the ranch.

They were watching a video of a blacksmith forging steel. Their mother had responded to an interest, probably in making knives and swords that all children want to experiment with. (Action hero inspiration maybe?)

It just so happens that we have a rudimentary blacksmithing set up.

Occasionally, we need to heat larger pieces of metal for shaping as it works better than using oxy-acetylene torches.

Over the years, several children, including our own, have learned the basics of forging; getting the iron hot enough to be easily shaped by bending and pounding.

They also learn a little about the types of metal, particularly the hardnesses.

One of my mentors said the older steel was better than what we have today so we should keep pieces of old equipment around, like old horse drawn dump rakes because the steel is so great for reworking.

I did volunteer to take the grandchildren under my wing and show them the basics.

Safety glasses and heavy gloves and a watchful eye are all necessary.

Forging a knife each wasn’t good enough. A sword each had to be in the mix.

So at least four irons in the fire had to be managed.  An hour of rapt attention by two young minds was reward enough.

Yet the process was repetitious and requires several sessions.

Our experience as parents raising children on the ranch involved responding to and raising topics of interest and following them to a point where the children lose interest or take it to the next level of competence.

One of our nephews took such interest and he went on to develop a fabulous competence in the art of metalwork, then engineering.

Above all, in the smithing experience they are learning about sticking to the project until it is finished, as it might take a while.

However, the “striking of the iron when it is hot” and not having “too many irons in the fire at once” will be indelible concepts.

Later maybe we will see artistic expressions of shaped steel. We may even see them learn about folding the layers of metal over and over to create differences in hardness that makes it possible to put a good edge on a blade.

What will they learn from hearing about many different metals making up the blades of antiquity and the modern replicas that collectors treasure?

Some of these grandchildren have an expert knife, sword, tool maker in their near family.

And they all have access to great great grandfather’s blacksmith equipment because my cousin and my uncle before him took care to store and use these great tools of the ages gone by.

Now we keep it and it has become part of the summer experience for future farmers and citizens.

David Zirnhelt is a member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association and chair of the advisory committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching program which started at Thompson Rivers University in Williams Lake this January.

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