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USGS Employees Find Avocation in Blacksmithing

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Ann Tihansky holds up her finished projects, a fire poker and pot rack.
Above: Ann holds up her finished projects, a fire poker and pot rack.
Below: Dana bends a piece of metal rod around the horn of the anvil to make a hook.

Dana Wiese bends a piece of metal rod around the horn of the anvil to make a hook.
Blacksmithing is more than just a skill; it is an art. Dana Wiese, electronics technician at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)'s St. Petersburg Science Center in St. Petersburg, FL, and Ann Tihansky, hydrologist at the USGS Water Resources office in Tampa, FL, discovered they were classmates in a blacksmithing course recently held at Ramshead Forge in San Antonio, FL. These are their words.

Dana: "The course covered forge welding, annealing, drawing out, fullering, upsetting, and most aspects of traditional blacksmithing. All levels of blacksmiths attend the course. Today there is a distinction between a farrier (someone who shoes horses) and a blacksmith. Most blacksmiths deal in ornamental, useful ironwork, and some are also farriers. Farriers are not blacksmiths but deal in the proper care of horses' hooves and legs. In the past, part of a blacksmith's work was shoeing horses, as well as making iron tools and fixtures.

"I've been interested in blacksmithing for a few years. A while ago, I bought a forge, anvil, basic smithing tools, and joined FABA [Florida Artist Blacksmith Association], then tried to pound out some pieces. The Ramshead Forge seminar was the first real course I've taken. Lewis Riggleman, a master blacksmith, presented the course. Lewis is the owner/artist of Ramshead Forge. Seems like Ann and I have had a similar interest in blacksmithing and metal art for some time. I happened to mention to Ann that I was taking a blacksmith course this spring, and she mentioned she was also taking one. After a while, we realized we were taking the same course.

"I'm interested in the artistic end of blacksmithing: the idea of taking an unyielding piece of raw steel or iron and, with fire, air, water, and hammerblows, making something artistic and, hopefully, useful. Throughout the ages, people have looked to blacksmiths to provide them with high-quality tools and furnishings for the home, farm, and workplace that would serve them well and brighten their surroundings. I want to carry on this traditional craft, using ancient principles of traditional joinery and forging techniques.

"Neither Ann nor I may ever shoe a horse, but we can make horseshoes. I suppose, if we were in the field and someone needed a special tool forged or something bent up, we could do the job. Making an open-end wrench would be easy. Along with that, you'd have the only hand-forged, artistic open-end wrench in the USGS!"

Ann: "Dana pretty much summed it up. As a kid, I started doing cutting work with an oxyacetylene torch setup, and I make my own candleholders. This was my first class at building, joining, and constructing metalwork. I have always wanted to take more metalworking classes, such as traditional welding methods, but the blacksmithing class came first.

"Like Dana, my desire is to use these techniques for artistic expression and functional artistic items. It's definitely hard, dirty work, which I seem to like. But if someone told me I had to make 300 nails, I think I would suggest they go to Home Depot!"

Related Web Sites
Center for Coastal & Watershed Studies
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), St. Petersburg, FL

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May Publications List U. S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
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