BLASTS from the Bloomery

Ruminations on Building Community

by Michael Langford

Published in the June - July 2002 Issue of Anvil Magazine

Cast thy bread upon the waters, for thou shalt find it after many days - Ecclesiastes 11;1

This was taken from "Irony, The Sketchbook of an Apprentice Blacksmith." This new monthly periodical is available from Stephen McGehee, P.O. Box 925, Corydon, Indiana 47112. Rates are $35/year or $65/2 years. More of Stephen's sketches appear on pages 30 and 31.

Building Community is founded in the realization that projects which present opportunities for community involvement will develop stronger relationships between people, while helping to preserve our cultural heritage. Throughout history, the traditional crafts of carpenter, mason, and smith, have been the foundations of industry and of architecture.

Only in the twentieth century have we exchanged concrete for stonecutting, rolled steel for wrought iron, and two-by-fours for timbers; and for all that we have gained, some things have been lost. The relationship of master to apprentice, of journeymen in a trade to one another, of the trade to itself or to other trades, is almost non-existent.

At the heart of this concept is a fundamental application of geometry and physics, not in an abstract way, but in a real, solid three-dimensional approach. Geometry, literally earth-measure, is comprehensible when we square the corners of a building site, string lines for level, and a plumb-line points to the center of the earth. In the same manner, physics is the tool which we apply to moving heavy objects with layers and rollers and inclined planes. Forging iron is alchemy, the power which Prometheus stole from Mount Olympus.

The goal is empowerment, enrichment by experience, by immersion in a process which uses common materials and simple methods to turn base matter into precious things. A rough piece of granite becomes a cornerstone, a bar of iron is forged into a hinge, trees become beams which become buildings. And by learning to solve these problems, we acquire the tools, actual and conceptual, to solve other problems.

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