John (Doc) Sturgis uses a hammer and anvil to form a piece of hot steel into a large hook. The simple hanger provided a useful utensil for explaining the process of forging steel to visitors.
Once again the traditional gathering of blacksmiths, at what has become known as the Hangover Hammer-in, gathered in the tiny village of Kumry in Milford Township on New Year’s Day.
For the 13th year, Kim and Mike Awckland hosted the event that drew about two dozen blacksmiths and visitors to their shop; a place filled with tools from the early 20th century and carefully placed forges ready for a day’s work.
But unlike many of their ancestors, these craftsmen were there to create art, not shoe horses or craft wagon axles, door hinges or gates. It was an annual meeting of the minds where skilled smiths shared their craft with novices.
The burly artisans, some who appeared more likely to be hauling steel instead of creating art with it, worked with the force needed to shape the molten metal yet had the sensitive touch to shape it into fine art. Most arrive with only a vision in their head of what they’ll create that day.
The first thing to capture the visitor’s eye when entering the shop was a four-foot steel sculpture of a dragon set upon an anvil and holding a hammer. The creation was the work of Mike and fellow blacksmith Steve Wictecha of Perkiomenville. The finely-detailed, 250-pound creation took more than 200 hours to create and was an award-winner at the 2012 Southern Ohio Forge and Anvil Association’s Quadstate Conference held in Troy, Ohio.
Mike is a truck driver by profession and blacksmithing is a hobby. He has created many things, for art and practical use, over his 14 years with the hammer and steel. Among them was a steel pulpit for the Morning Star Church in Quakertown.
Blacksmithing may run in Awckland’s blood. Mike remarked that “his great-great grandfather operated a blacksmith shop on his dairy arm in Upper Hanover Township” back in the late 1800’s.
Many of the attendees belong to the Pennsylvania Artist Blacksmith Association or the Rough and Tumble Historical Society of Lancaster.
Shortly after arriving, Mike was busy at his workbench using a Beverly Sheer to cut steel pieces into patterns to create a rose. The hand-operated cutter (circa 1930) worked well for cutting the lightweight steel into what would become the petals for the flower.
Nearby, John “Doc” Sturgis of Media was stoking up the forge with bituminous coal in preparation of forging a hook while explaining the details of his actions to those who desired to hone their skills. Low-sulfur bituminous, or soft coal, is burned to a high temperature to create coke which burns with little or no smoke.
At a smaller forge, Bill Clemens of New Columbia was creating a dogwood flower. Using a guillotine fuller to hammer the notches needed for the stem, petals and flower to come together; explaining each step of the process to the onlookers.
At every workplace questions were asked and detailed answers given. Sharing information and ideas was an important part of the day. Observing the skills and seeing the end result was a part of everyone’s agenda.
The event started at 9 a.m. and Kim said “the demonstrations go on well past sundown.” But what is created that day at the forge lasts a long, long time - the art and the friendships.