Blacksmithing continues to be a very practical field with the farrier, a specialty smith who makes horse shoes. Our topic this month describes blacksmith-like metalworking for very practical purposes while creating works of art. Before we get there, let’s quickly review the history of the trade.
The first evidence of smithing by hammering iron into shape is a dagger found in Egypt dating to 1350 B.C. Although discovered in Egypt, it was likely the product of a Hittite tradesman. The Hittites likely invented forging and tempering, and they kept their ironworking techniques secret. When the Old Testament Hittites were scattered, their ironworking skills were spread to Greece and the Balkans. This early Iron Age occurred about 800-500 B.C. The smith can also be found in the classical mythology of the Romans, Greeks, Phoenicians and Aztecs.
In the 16th century, cast iron came into greater use. A Frenchman named Jean Tijou introduced the art of decorative blacksmithing in the late 17th century. The flair seen in today’s art is, at least in part, due to the work of this smith from centuries ago.
To make the beautiful chandeliers like the one seen in the photo, the process is begun by shearing steel bars to length. Six bars are then welded together on each end, leaving an open area in the center through which the wires will eventually pass. The bundle is heated to about 1830˚F and put into a fixture while red hot (as shown). The lathe-like twisting machine is turned to spiral the bars together, and it is then turned in the opposite direction to form a basket shape.
Metal tubes are formed into J-shaped arms for the upper part of the chandelier and S-shaped arms for the lower part. The baskets are bead-blast cleaned, and, along with the arms, they are then polished in a vibrating ceramic medium.
Next, the J-shaped upper arms are placed into a distributor using a mounting fixture, and the arms are welded to the distributor. This supports the arms and gives them the proper alignment. The lower S-shaped arms are similarly welded to another distributor. Larger-diameter metal tubing is then welded to both ends of the twisted basket. All of the decorative components of the chandelier are connected together via these tubes.
The assembled part is then sprayed with powder coating, which is a finely ground plastic with the consistency of talcum powder. These parts are fired in an oven at a maximum temperature of 500˚F for bonding and curing of the coating, which creates a hard, rustic-looking, attractive finish.
The wires are run through the fixture, and the distributors are attached together to hide the wiring connections. Other decorative details, such as the candles, are also added to cover wiring connectors and give the fixture a finished look.
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