Rodney Duncan works a forge using a hand crank as part of a demonstration on blacksmithing at Sheep Wagon Days in September 2007 at the Wyman Museum. Dalton Reed, a part-time museum employee, is taking over demonstrations at the forge this summer while Duncan recovers from an injury.

File photo

Rodney Duncan works a forge using a hand crank as part of a demonstration on blacksmithing at Sheep Wagon Days in September 2007 at the Wyman Museum. Dalton Reed, a part-time museum employee, is taking over demonstrations at the forge this summer while Duncan recovers from an injury.

Hammering out a tradition

Part-time museum employee takes up blacksmith trade from local craftsman

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If you go

What: Blacksmith demonstration

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today

Where: Wyman Museum, 94350 E. Highway 40

Cost: Free

• For more information, call 824-6346.

— Rodney Duncan grew up around the smoke and flame of a blacksmith's shop his father built on a family homestead south of Steamboat Springs.

Dalton Reed is a part-time employee at the Wyman Museum who hopes to eventually become a self-employed automotive restorer.

A minor injury and a shared interest in a time-honored craft brought them together this spring.

This year, Reed began learning the blacksmith's trade from Duncan, who helped set up and once gave demonstrations at a blacksmith shop on the Museum's property.

When a pinched nerve prevented Duncan from swinging the hammer, Reed stepped in.

"Since he's getting too old to do (blacksmithing) anymore, I'm just filling in and learning as I go," Reed said.

It's not an easy task.

"It's hard to pick up 60 years of knowledge he has on me," he said.

Duncan steps into the shop occasionally to give his apprentice some pointers. He learned the trade from his father, he said, who built a forge on a family homestead at age 15.

"It's an old art that's slipped a lot," Duncan said.

Reed said he has long been interested in working with steel and was willing to take up the craft when the opportunity came.

"It's kind of something I've had as a want-to-be hobby in the back of my mind," Reed said.

Reed fashions steel dinner triangles at the shop once a week, working on a few other projects on the side.

"I've been experimenting with making knives and chisels and pry bars," he said, "kind of simple tools."

Creating even simple ornaments such as dinner triangles has tested Reed's skill and ingenuity. Finding high quality, affordable steel is difficult, he said, adding that high-end steel contains a high carbon amount that produces a good ring.

So, Reed improvises.

He salvages steel coil suspension springs from out-of-commissioned cars for his handiwork.

"The one I'm using right now is off an old Buick," he said.

He applies heat to three inches of the coil at a time, straightening the steel as he goes.

The process takes nearly two hours, he said.

Once the coil is straightened, he bends it into a triangle shape and creates a ringer to hang with it. Reed has sold about three of his hand-made creations so far, with the proceeds returning to the museum.

In principle, what he does in the shop isn't much different than the automotive restoration trade he learned in four years of college.

Welding and machining are just modern twists on the traditional blacksmith's trade.

Differences remain between the old and new forms of the craft. If he doesn't have a tool for the job, he makes one.

"I like it that I can scrap steel : and turn it into something useful," he said. "I've had to make a few specialty chisels and punches already.

"It's amazing how much you can do with so little."

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