30 January 2014

Iron forgery

The scraping bench

In an attempt to find a source for handwrought nails, I was taken in tow to a place east of Nanjing. My driver, Lao Gao, asked a local woman on the shoulder of the road where the tiejiangpu was. She replied: "There are many blacksmith shops in this village." I felt that we might have struck gold fastenerwise. This initial elation would prove to be unfounded.
The first workshop was squeezed between the road and a cesspool. As we entered, the smith was working on a cleaver, pushing a two-handled scraper downwards to refine the knife edge. There was a stack of smitten knives on the floor awaiting this treatment.

A typical Chinese anvil?

It was the anvil that caught my eye because although very identifiable by its function and position next to the forge, its shape was so different from what I had ever seen. It is symmetrical with two flat topped horns and a round lump in the middle.  There were the usual selection of tongs but only one hammer with two flat sides. Rather than using a ball or cross peen hammer to draw the iron ingot to form metal, this workman, the one example whom I've come across, uses the hump and a flat faced hammer.
Working triphammer

There is no need to romanticize this man's work. He burns coal directly on his forge, uncoked. The sulfurous, acrid smoke as a result of this hung in the air. His products and services amounted to very crudely fashioned cutlery and farming implements, one that was present in number was a kind of straight spade/hoe that lacked a footing edge. The lighting was so poor; otherwise, I would have taken a photo. This closest representation that I can find online is here. These are definitely not used as advertised. I can assert that the online seller is merely renaming the tool in order to attract international customers.

The homemade triphammer seemed to be in working order and also appeared to do much of the drawing and shaping. It displayed a combination of repurposing and blacksmithing know-how.
The tallyboard explains in detail the products being made here. From left to right along the top, he lists 110 in stock material, then big white knife and small white knife (I cannot find any clear meanings for this), and lastly hoes. On the second rank are listed sickle, (unclear), cleaver, repair hoe. On the bottom rank are handle, big scissor, small scissor, and repair plow.

As we slowly learned, He didn't regularly make any nails but instead directed us to another smith who did, maybe. At that smithy, we learned that the smith who did make nails was in poor health. Lao Gao took down the man's telephone number that was painted on the exterior wall and we headed back emptyhanded without even seeing an example of handforged nails.