Interview with a Local Blacksmith

Local blacksmith David Glier will be presenting a program on Saturday, June 11 at 1:00 at the Milford-Miami Twp. Branch. Mr. Glier was kind enough to answer my questions about blacksmithing and his interest in it.

Laura: How did you become interested in blacksmithing?

David: Oh goodness. I suppose I backed into blacksmithing, really.

In 1982 the BBC made a television drama version of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, starring Sam Neil and Anthony Andrews. (By far and away the best film adaptation of the book, it’s *finally* made it to DVD!) In 1985, that movie made its way to network TV in Cincinnati. I was three. It must have been a formative experience, because I’ve been blissfully hooked on the middle ages ever since.

By the time I was fourteen or fifteen, like every other teenage boy I wanted a sword -and like every other teenager, I couldn’t afford one. But unlike a lot of teens, I had been working for my father as a grease monkey for a few years, so I already had a good handle on tinkerer’s credo of, “if you can’t buy it, build it!” So with all the enthusiasm of youth I decided that I was simply going to make a sword. After all, I thought, I’d already been making impromptu knives and scrapers to use around the shop for years, and a sword is pretty much just a big knife -how hard could it be?

As it turns out: “Very!”

Laura: How did you learn blacksmithing?

David: For that first project, I must have spent forty or fifty hours over two or three months building a primitive forge from designs off of the early Internet, and then even more time forging and shaping what I still think would have been a very attractive sword blade. Getting metal hot and then moving it around with a hammer is dirt simple to do; very difficult to do well. But I was used to that, and practice makes perfect, so I considered the project a great success -right up until the very end. I got my first real lesson in metallurgy when I shattered the steel with an improper heat-treatment.

At that point, I decided I needed to know a lot more. So, with the help of a lot of books and some very skilled and generous smiths on the Internet, I started studying the science of metallurgy, and applying it with the art of blacksmithing. I’m almost entirely self-taught, and in retrospect I wish I’d taken the time to hunt down a mentor. I’ve been smithing a dozen years now, and I’m barely scratching the surface.

Laura: If someone wants to learn more about the craft, where do you suggest starting?

David: The first, absolutely necessary step is to become familiar with using tools, and to already be in the habit of making things. Foundation skills like that aren’t universal anymore, and they have to be learned and in place so you can build more advanced skills on top of them. The DIY and “MAKE” movements cultivated on the Internet by sites like Lifehacker or Gizmodo or Makezine, are fantastic at fostering this.

But given all that, the first place to visit is the library. Bealer’s The Art of Blacksmithing -an old classic- and The Backyard Blacksmith by Loreli Sims -a new classic- are two books every serious beginner should read cover-to-cover, preferably several times. After that, the Internet is an incredibly powerful tool, not only for the growing number of tutorial texts and videos, but also for the incredible body of human knowledge that congregates in online communities of blacksmiths, bladesmiths, armorers and machinists. And finally, preferably after a project or two, there is a local affiliate of ABANA (Artist Blacksmith’s Association of North America) very nearby in Troy, Ohio. SOFA (Southern Ohio Forge & Anvil) is one of the best local blacksmithing associations in the country; they host regular weekend workshops on all sorts of skills useful to novice members, and even offer a semester-long course on blacksmithing basics in the fall for a very modest fee. In retrospect, I wish I had hunted them down when I was first starting out.

Laura: Do you participate in a reenactment group?

David: Yes, I’ve drifted in and out of several. Reenactment is a wonderful hobby, as it brings together so many people of various skills and backgrounds who all share a common interest in the history of a particular place and time. I’ve made tools for The Company of Wolf Argent (a living history group based on the army of Charles the Bold in late 15th century Burgundy) and I’ve helped out the 77th Highland Regiment (a local group based around American Colonial history and the French & Indian War), and I’m currently a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, which is a very large group of medieval history enthusiasts. But there are only so many hours in the day, and if comes down to choosing between reenacting things or making things -as it does all too often- I’d rather be at my forge.

Laura: How long on average does it take to create one of your pieces?

David: Much too long!

They say creativity can’t be rushed, but I find the creative design process to be fairly quick and easy. Much more challenging is planning those designs around my limited tool set, and figuring out how to create what I want, without having to work too hard, or make new tools. Most of the time, I wind up making new tools. But that’s just tradition. Never in human history has there ever been a blacksmith who thought he had “enough” tools.

The time I spend actually making the project itself, though, normally hovers around twenty hours, with some extensive projects sometimes taking as much as forty -always spread out over weeks or months (years, in one or two cases) of late nights and weekends. But it’s not so bad; like most hobbyists, I always have three or four irons in the fire at any one time.

Laura: Have you ever created something that you fell in love with and couldn’t put up for sale?

David: Oh, always. I make most of my projects either because I wanted something, or wanted something to use as a gift. So, most things I create have stayed among my immediate family or closest friends.

I have accepted commissions before, but always on the strict understanding that I would work at my own pace. A wise old smith once told me that mixing hobbies, money and friends is a surefire way to loose all three. I’m not eager to find that out for myself!

Laura: Wow! Thank you for such an intriguing look into blacksmithing and your involvement with it.

Leave a Reply