Thursday, June 28, 2012

Living History at WHS         

Blacksmithing Classes

Re-creating the Tools that Transformed a Wilderness: Knives, Tomahawks, Froes, Mortising Axes and Other Edge Tools

August 11-14, 2012, 9-4 PM

Instructor: Adriaan Gerber

Hasbrouck Carriage House (Behind Francis Baird Tavern) 105 Main St., Warwick

Tuition: $325 for two days (16 hours) and $50 for each additional day ( 2 more day limit). 

Prior Registration: 845-781-3729, Class limited to six so register now.


Class includes use of tools and materials (coal and metal stock)

Traditional knife making methods can be described as inseparable from the particularities of the places from which they have evolved; both their form and function has been dictated by the natural materials available to the artist as well as the challenges of terrain, flora and fauna, and occupations which have inspired them. Particularly, the demands of the northeastern woods and the woodsmen who sought shelter, harvested its bounty for sustenance and trade, and protected themselves from the imminent dangers of the wild were especially influential in the vernacular design of hunting knives in the 17th and 18th century. Wood, bone, antler, and locally forged metal were the earliest mediums of this artistic expression.

Through the use of blacksmithing tools, particularly a heavy hammer, drift, hot cut or cutting hardy, and metal file, the blacksmith/knife maker would refine the metal blanks that they initially hammered out of trade metal or metal crudely forged from local iron ore in the populated hamlets, villages and cities of early America. With added difficulty, harder, more expensive steel was forge welded to softer metal blanks to form a composite forming composite. This would result in strong, serviceable cutting edges on knives and other tools.

These knives had a unique identity dictated not merely by the choices of materials to make them but the hammering techniques employed and the refined process of tempering the steel metal edge on them as well as the additional choices of blade size and shape based on their particular uses.  The composite handle construction was suited to functionality and durability.

These forms were unique to a northern American identity; their purpose was dictated by the demands of an unprecedented terrain characterized by virgin forests, untrammeled mountain tops, wildlife, and sometimes feared indigenous populations. The availability of a unique variety of raw materials for the purpose of knife manufacture like bone, antler, and wrought iron were further differentiated from European antecedents by the choices of fuels and methods available to the artisan in a frontier situation. Although there was a common thread that linked the work of these artisans, there are even more unique techniques like the choice of when a knife is finished to their satisfaction, the style they preferred, and the level of non-functional ornamentation realized.

Function would dictate form, and amongst specifically knife makers there were those who specialized in the simplicity of a one piece wrought iron knife for the purpose of skinning or a more complex construction of a wide blade hunting knife with a steel edged blade and a composite handle of trade brass, stag, moose antler, and sometimes plain iron.

The similarly primitive crook knife had the multiplicity of both form and function in the northeastern woods. Early American artisans did not limit their skills solely to the creation of hunting knives, for they would manufacture  any of the tools necessitated initially in the forest and the eventual cleared farm land.

The froe undoubtedly served in the early settlement of Warwick. Bringing their knowledge of construction from the earlier settlement in  the Wyoming Valley of Connecticut, Warwick’s settlers recreated the  salt-box design for their homes. Using local cedar and hard woods they fashioned shakes/shingles needed to sheath these structures. This is best exemplified in the original shingles extant on the Warwick Historical Society’s circa 1764 Shingle House (Forester Avenue). This is the oldest structure in the Village of Warwick. Built by Daniel Burt for his son and his new bride, the froe was likely an invaluable tool in this pioneer’s tool box, as the shingles exemplify to this day the signs of having been split and sheared with such a tool (Also, notice the original hand-forged rosette nails attaching the shingles) .

The broad axe, distinguished by its singular edge, was used for glancing strikes on a log to square it off. From the log would evolve a square beam to frame the house. The more lightweight mortising axe would serve in slotting beams for joinery. Mortise and tenon were formed and then joined by wooden pegs/nails shaped with another important edge tool of the pioneer’s tool box---the draw knife.

Edge tools were also necessitated in fashioning inland boats, like the bateau, and canoes adopted from local Indians for the rivers, lakes, and ponds characteristic of the area. The forge artisan created caulking irons and slicks---chisels invaluable to custom wooden boat construction to this day. 

For more information, email:, or call: 845-781-3729

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