Metal glows red as it heats up

Credit: Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University

Hammer time

A student blacksmithing group nails the timeless craft

The rhythmic ping of steel hammers echoing behind the Wyman Park Building announces the presence of the Blue Jay Blacksmithing Club, a new student group dedicated to the timeless craft of working hot metal with hand tools. At the group's third working meeting, six members in leather aprons take turns shaping small steel rods into hooks. A propane-fueled portable forge heats the metal to over 2,000 degrees. Using tongs, the glowing rods are moved to an anvil where each member has about 30 seconds to hammer theirs into shape before the steel cools. It will take many heating and hammering sessions to stretch the rods out to points that can be curled to form a hook. Club founder, sophomore mechanical engineering major Beryl Artman, did some smithing in high school, though is quick to say none of the 30 or so members have much experience and they are all learning together.

"Most of us are mechanical engineers, or engineers of some sort, so we've learned about the properties of different metals and alloys," Artman says. "But it's very different to work with them by hand. This is as basic as you can get. If you can understand this, then you can get some intuition into what we're designing in class."

He calls the repetitive labors of blacksmithing fun, fulfilling, and therapeutic.

"It's primitive," he adds. "I guess deep inside we all have this primal need and calling to play with fire."