This weekend Michigan blacksmiths will do demonstrations at the first West Michigan “Hammer-In.” In other parts of the state, hammer-ins are held almost every week. This event will be in South Haven at the Michigan Flywheelers Museum where Ted Guimond is blacksmith.
Some people think of blacksmithing as a dying art, but Guimond says there are about 300 members in the Michigan Artist Blacksmiths Association alone. Guimond has been a smith for about ten years, but he dreamt of becoming a one since he was nine.
“As a young boy, I was continuously told lies about my grandfather on my mother’s side who was a blacksmith. And I say lies because he says ‘Oh he was a big strapping fellow and he’d shoe those horses. And if the horse didn’t want to lift its foot, he’d just get his shoulder up underneath it and lift the back end of that horse and shoe it.’ And I just ‘Oh man, I’m going to be a big blacksmith.’ And so I had that in my mind. And then my mother and my sister took me to Greenfield Village when I was about nine or ten years old, and we’re walking around and walking around and walking around. And I’m nine or ten years old—it’s like ‘Oh yeah, well, this is interesting,’ until we got to the blacksmith shop. And then my eyes just were huge and it was exciting.”
Guimond says quite a few old sayings come from blacksmithing. One example is, 'strike while the iron is hot.'
“This is carbon steel," says Guimond as he hammers on what would become a meat fork. "If I were to pound on that when it was cold…every time you hit it, it becomes just a little more brittle. And over a series of beatings it could shatter or when I really most need it—I’m using it to pull a roast of the grill and it could break off. So we always hit only when the metal’s hot.”
Guimond likes to add a little pizzazz to his work, with twists and curls.
“As you turn it, it really does a really nice visual effect. Even when it’s just standing still, it looks to me like it’s in motion,” he says.
Like any other artist Guimond makes custom art pieces. He’s currently working on a large copper turtle sculpture that will sit by a customer’s pond. But Guimond says, like the blacksmiths of old, he still works on a lot of everyday things.
“Whatever someone wants or needs. I make campfire gear for setting up over a campfire—tripods and crosspieces and ‘S’ hooks. I do a series of grill forks, steak turners, and spatulas," he says. "I do repairs. Somebody comes in and says ‘I broke this. Can you fix it?’ ‘Well yeah, we can do that.’ A little bit of everything.”
Before finishing off a piece, Guimond takes a large block of beeswax and rubs it on the metal.
“By waxing the hot metal it actually absorbs a little of it and it will give it that characteristic black iron appearance and it will also help impede rusting,” he says.
“When I’m hanging on to this metal and it’s heated and I’m forging it and it’s moving, I just…that metal in my left hand just feels like an extension of my hand. And as I move it, I can kind of feel it moving and feel what it’s going to do. And it just…you know it seems like it’s a part of me.”
Ted Guimond and a few other blacksmiths will be doing demonstrations and selling their wares this weekend at the Hammer-In during the Michigan Flywheelers Museum’s Swap Meet & Flea Market in South Haven.