Saskatchewan

Hammer time: Blacksmithing enjoys a resurgence in Sask.

The art of blacksmithing has survived centuries of change and in today’s so-called throw-away society, a group of people in Saskatchewan are enjoying a resurgence in their craft.

Blacksmithing is a way for people to get their hands dirty and produce something tangible

Dustin Small, vice-president of the Sask. Blacksmithing Guild, says it's incredible to see people from younger generations taking on the centuries-old craft. (Bryan Eneas/CBC News)

The art of blacksmithing has survived centuries of change, and in today's so-called throw-away society, a group of people in Saskatchewan are enjoying a resurgence in their craft.

On Saturday, a "hammer-in," or gathering of blacksmiths, was hosted at Small Bar Smithy and Woodworking, located just north of Regina.

Artisans, farriers and crafters came together to share their knowledge while smithing hammers they can use in their respective trades and work.

The gathering was organized by Dustin Small, who started blacksmithing around two-and-a-half years ago.

"It's always been an interest of mine, and I've always wanted to do it," Small said of his passion for blacksmithing. "I was challenged: 'oh, it's probably something you'll never do,' and the next weekend I made a homemade forge and here I am today."

Small said he's dabbled in a variety of different areas including toolmaking, crafting and art.

Blacksmiths from around Sask. participated in a hammer-in at Small Bar Smithy and Wood Working on Saturday. (Bryan Eneas/CBC News)

He said growing up on a farm he found he was always building or fixing things and a shop teacher in high school sparked his passion for the craft. Now, he's got some time and money on his hands and he's putting it to use in his shop.

Small, who's also the vice-president of the Saskatchewan Blacksmith Guild, said he wanted to try and find people in his own backyard who have the knowledge and commitment to the craft he does. He hosted the hammer-in on Saturday as a way to potentially expose new people to the art.

"As a guild we try to have a hammer-in, or gathering every month. Usually, that's part meeting and part hands-on building things," Small said.

In his day-to-day life Small works behind a desk and his background is in the law enforcement field, which produces results, but leaves him wanting something more concrete.

He said blacksmithing is a way for him to get his hands dirty and produce something tangible.

Small said many of the older generation of blacksmiths prefer to use coal forges instead of some of the more modern devices that exist. (Bryan Eneas/CBC News)

It's not lost on Small that in today's day and age, there aren't many people who are producing their own things the way he does.

"Things are at your fingertips now, and things are cheap at your fingertips now," Small said.  

"That's all well and good, but to be able to pick up something that's been handmade, whether it was 100 years ago like some of the tools I have in the shop here, or something that's being made here today that's functional, there's something to be said for that."

It's a craft that's being passed on to the younger generations through gatherings like hammer-ins according to Small, who said a local 4-H club expanded to include blacksmithing as part of the crafts they include.

Younger generation taking on blacksmithing

Jesse Porter, 14, is part of the 4-H club for Maclean, Qu'Appelle, Balgonie and Edenwold that includes blacksmithing. He said there are about eight other members who do the craft.

Through the day, Porter said he learned a lot. For example, for the hammer he was making, his measurements were off by approximately less than one millimetre, something he said caused quite a few troubles in the creation process.

Porter said a lot of his friends would spend time playing video games or be behind a screen than working with their hands.

"I think it's kind of my personality, but I also have ADHD and sometimes I can't concentrate. I kinda like this, because I can concentrate on it." Porter said.

"You have to concentrate, otherwise, if you're using the coal forge, your steel will burn, or if you're not paying attention your tongs could seize up if you're not cooling them. And it teaches you how you can make your own things."

Jesse Porter said he and his father were inspired to bring blacksmithing to a local 4H club after a trip to Ontario, where they saw groups there partaking in the craft. (Bryan Eneas/CBC News)

Porter said he feels proud knowing he made something himself right from scratch — and now, he's making small hooks for his family members.

He said he's considering going into welding as a career, because he's not sure how much blacksmithing will expand in the future, but if it does, he said he'd be game to give it try.

Blacksmithing enjoying a resurgence worldwide

M. Craig Campbell, a Saskatoon-based blacksmith and sculptor, said his career started as a hobby in 1992. He left a construction career and started university and wanted to find something to do with his hands.

"I liked metal. I tried wood; wood's weird, wood scares me. Metal is fun, and with heat and fire, [it's] malleable, it's phenomenal material, it's a bit of a chameleon," Campbell said.

"It's this very immobile, cold, hard object and when we heat it in our fires up to 2500 degrees Fahrenheit, it's buttery soft, almost to the point of liquid."

Small said participants of the hammer-in on Saturday made metal hammers, a tool that will either be used by the people who made them, or passed on to future generations of blacksmiths or craftspeople. (Bryan Eneas/CBC News)

He said after the Second World War and the perfection of the arc welder many people found blacksmithing was no longer needed.

Campbell said a group of blacksmiths from the United States came together in the 1970s to try and find a way to keep their craft alive through knowledge sharing and frequent meetups.

That movement spread across the globe according to Campbell, who travels to different continents to meet and work with other blacksmiths.

"I know people all over the planet because of blacksmithing and a great part, due to social media now," Campbell said.

He said in the late 1980s, Saskatchewan saw its own resurgence and through the years, the provincial blacksmithing guild grew to about 125 members where it sits today.

One of about 30 participants took some time to make a bottle opener from an old railway tie. (Bryan Eneas/CBC News)

Now, the province is set to host a CanIron meeting, a national-level gathering near the Ness Creek Festival grounds. It's the third time Sask. has hosted a CanIron event, and according to Campbell it's a gathering of some of the best blacksmiths from across the country.

Campbell said he's seen more and more young people expressing interest in blacksmithing, something he attributed to a desire for a more hands on experience.

"People want to touch, they want to make, they want to build. So much of that is taken away with our disposable, big box stores, so people are interested in hands on again," Campbell said.

"Whether it's having bees and making honey, making your own beer, leatherwork, blacksmithing, it's a fantastic revival."

About the Author

Bryan Eneas

Web Writer

Bryan Eneas is a journalist from the Penticton Indian Band currently based in Regina, Saskatchewan. Before joining CBC, he worked in Prince Albert reporting in central and northern Saskatchewan. You can contact him at Bryan.Eneas@cbc.ca.