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Collections & Hobbies

Blacksmithing with the four elements

8/31/2016

Deep in the heart of Greg Malone’s garage, a bright light shines in the darkness, heat radiates from the open garage door, and the sound of metal hammering against metal rings out.

Greg Malone works a red hot piece of steel . Wednesday, August 11, 2016.

A blacksmith has the ability to forge, or heat and hammer, something that’s metal into something useful. Although the words’ origins are debated, it’s thought that the “black” in “blacksmith” is in reference to the black residue, or scale, formed on the metal while it’s heated. The word “smith” is also debated, but most think it derives from a word that means “to strike” or possibly from a word meaning “skilled worker.”

Malone lives within a stone’s throw of the seller of the least expensive form of any item in the western world, Walmart, but he prefers to make stuff the old-fashioned way.

Malone isn’t a blacksmith by trade, but “forging” is one of his favorite hobbies. His 1,500-square-foot garage is what a 21st century blacksmith’s shop looks like.

“All you need is a hammer; something hard to hammer on, like an anvil; a pair of tongs or vice grips; and something to heat your metal,” said Malone about the tools that are essential to the trade. He uses a forge heated by propane, but says many people use coal, charcoal or other kinds of heat sources.

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Malone picks up tools on the cheap at garage sales, antique venues or any place older items are for sale.

“People don’t know what this stuff is,” he said.

Since few people use these tools anymore, and since the tools are generally large and take up a lot of space, the market value is relatively low, Malone said.

The purpose of the forge is to concentrate the heat in order to get the metal hot enough to make it moldable and malleable. At that point, it can be formed the way one might shape plastic.

“Red hot” is around 1,000 degrees, according to Malone, and his forge is generally heated to between 1,600-1,800 degrees, but others have forges that get hotter.

A teacher at heart, he offers classes to show others what he knows about the art form. Like any good teacher, Malone simplifies the complicated task into easily understandable pieces. He contends the basics of being a blacksmith aren’t very hard to learn.

Zach Malone and his father Greg Malone work a red hot piece of steel . Wednesday, August 11, 2016.

Here, Greg Malone, a modern day blacksmith, crafts some metal. His son, Zach, is his striker.

“You need earth (the iron or iron ore), and wind or oxygen to feed the fire,” he said. “Oxygen allows the fuel to burn quicker. The fire is for heat, and the water is for your quenching. Those are the four elements: earth, wind, fire and water.”

Malone says blacksmithing is hard work.

“It’s hot,” he readily admits, and adds that it isn’t likely one could earn a high income doing it. But he enjoys working with his hands and creating something useful out of something that was worthless. While Malone isn’t a “prepper” who is preparing for the apocalypse, he does feel good about being prepared to make tools if such a catastrophe were to occur. And transforming scrap metal into something useful keeps it out of the landfill.

He hopes his hobby will become more popular.

“I would like there to be blacksmith shops all across Des Moines and Iowa for that matter,” he said. “At some point in time, I want (there to be) a co-op type of area.”

If that happened, the various blacksmiths could share tools, techniques and help each other.

He says his hobby is more than just something he does to pass the time — forging can have modern uses. The compaction of the atomic structure that occurs during forging is something that can be lost with modern knife-making techniques. He has saved a lot of money by repairing broken parts for cars, motorcycles, tractors and other tools and machinery.

Greg Malone's two burner gas forge . Wednesday, August 11, 2016.

The purpose of the forge is to concentrate the heat in order to get the metal hot enough to make it moldable and malleable. “Red hot” is around 1,000 degrees, according to Greg Malone, and his forge is generally heated to between 1,600 to 1,800 degrees.

“A lot of smiths use the art to recreate old parts for things made in the 18th century,” Malone said. “And knife makers are just gaga over forging.”

He loves hammering metal, and he thinks you will, too.

“Hammer on brothers and sisters, hammer on!” ■

 

 

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