Minds of metals industry try hand at blacksmithing
A group of metal industry experts dedicated to looking to the future took a trip to the past Wednesday with a visit to an old-school blacksmith shop.
About 20 members of the Specialty Alloy and Foundry Technology committee of the Association of Iron and Steel came to East Huntingdon from around the country, and a few from overseas, for the committee's biannual meeting.
Most of the meeting was business as usual. There were discussions of the latest developments in the industry, like a new way to extract nickel and a possible impending shortage of the bricks used to make furnaces. There was a roundtable on workplace safety. But there was also a trip to the blacksmith shop at the Fort Allen Antique Farm Equipment Association in East Huntingdon, where committee members heated metal rods over open flames and pounded them into hooks on an anvil, the old-fashioned way.
“Today we're stepping backwards in time; we're blacksmithing,” said committee co-chair and Scottdale borough council member Andrew Pinskey.
Although they've dedicated their careers to working with metal, many members of the committee don't have much of the hands-on experience blacksmithing requires, said committee chair Kevin Ninehouser, a metallurgical engineer for Latrobe Specialty Metals.
“We're casting steel and then we don't get to see it, we don't get to touch it again,” he said.
The trip to the blacksmith's was a way to turn theory into practice, he said.
“Being able to take steel and make something with it is I think the ultimate experience for myself and a lot of people here,” he said.
Some discovered it takes a lot of practice to get the knack of blacksmithing.
“I'm finding it very interesting. It's taking me a long time to develop my skills; I'm very slow at this. ... I'm not very happy at how I'm developing in my apprenticeship” joked John Middleton, a resident of England who regularly visits the United States for business and committee meetings.
No matter how high-tech the industry gets, it will always be important to remember the past, said Rich Fisher, who helps run the Fort Allen Antique Farm Equpment Association's blacksmith shop.
“They've been studying metal all their life, but they never blacksmithed,” he said. “This is where metalworking started. If we lose it, we can't learn from our mistakes.”
Raymond Monroe, committee member and executive vice president of the Steel Founders' Society of America in Illinois, said he's fascinated both by the history of metalworking and the future of where it's headed.
“Metallurgy started because nerdy guys were trying to impress hot chicks,” he said, recounting a story of prehistoric people discovering metal ore while heating shiny clay.
Hands-on experience can help experts learn what happens when abstract theories are applied to material realities, he said.
The Fort Allen Antique Farm Equipment Association offers free blacksmithing classes to the public 5-9 p.m. every Thursday. The last classes of the season are Nov. 16, then the shop will close for the winter.