Paper Towel Rack on Etsy!

3 03 2010

So it’s not fully set up, but I did open an etsy shop yesterday for my blacksmithing work. I posted one item I have on my kitchen counter right now.

This lovely hand-forged paper towel rack could be yours!

Click here to view more photographs, and soon more items in my etsy store, leftoniron! I just need a banner for the shop and a little 75pixel square icon. If anyone felt like taking on the challenge you can use any of the photos from http://www.jacoblefton.com. I think the robot would be a stellar option ;)

If you like my paper towel rack, please don’t hesitate to tell me!

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Weather!

24 02 2010

A tree branch sheared off a tree and fell on our house last night! It shook the whole building and woke a bunch of us up.

Then the power went out! It was epic. Intermittently epic until seven when the power really went out, and I don’t think it’s back. A cellphone tower might be out of commission because my reception keeps fading in and out.

They opened Hampshire for some silly reason. It’s good because I can get work done, even though I would rather curl up in bed or go to the diner for hot chocolate.





22 02 2010

This week I worked for a day camp, which was great. It was a welcome change from blacksmithing, but one week of high-energy kids was enough for mid-winter. I would definitely do it again though, schedule permitting!

Yesterday, my friend Dave and I went to Worcester and dug through his grandfather’s junkyard. We left with probably 100 lbs. of rusty steel of various qualities. Probably some good will come of it :)

Here’s a taste of what I’ve been working on in the forge. This will be a door knocker:





Blacksmithing in Italy

16 02 2010

This summer, one of the festivals I attended was the World Forging Championship in Stia, Italy — a small town up in the mountains near Florence. Here’s some photos taken by my friend Kate Dinneen. We’ll play the ‘can you spot the safety violations?’ game!

A pose!





Modern Artistic Blacksmithing Class

12 02 2010

I’m teaching a blacksmithing class at Hampshire College this semester. It’s a really cool opportunity for both me and the students. We’re going to be doing some really great stuff, and I hope to get a camera so I can document as much as possible.

The class is exciting for me for a number of reasons. It diversifies my income — I’m not relying solely on commissions to make rent. I’ll get some sort of Honorarium payment from Hampshire for teaching. The other thing it does is tell me a bit more about what I have learned in the past eight or nine months since I went to Europe. They say the best way to reinforce what you learn is by teaching. Since I want to be doing larger architectural works, I’m focusing this class on creating a window grille for the Lemelson office, and a section of fence, hopefully for the community garden.

We’re doing two projects, because the class is oversubscribed and I don’t want to turn everyone away. Since there isn’t enough room for a dozen people to work in the shop, I have to split the class up into two groups of six. Each group will design and carry out a different project.

This leads us to the nuanced difficulties of my task. I’m the only one in the room who really understands what it means to do one of these projects — I’ve been watching blacksmiths work on them for a while, but never really got a chance to do it myself. Now I get to be project manager and direct a bunch of other people. I have to plan out the workload so we don’t hit a bottleneck, relying on one or two people to get work done before the whole project can proceed.

I also have to teach blacksmithing techniques. The aim of this class is to build something large, because most of the blacksmithing that goes on at the Lemelson Center is small and relatively crude. People know how to make knives and hooks and bottle openers, because that’s all they’ve seen. No one has been teaching blacksmithing for a few years, so what’s been passed on is limited knowledge. I get to educate a bunch of almost-blacksmiths. Some of them have decent skills and hammer control.

Some of them haven’t ever swung a hammer in their life. About half my class has no blacksmithing experience. They don’t know the first thing about forging, and they just came to the class because it sounded really interesting. This group of people is also exciting to engage with — I have to figure out how to develop the right techniques without losing sight of the main project. They have to build muscle memory, a feel for the metal, a knowledge of which tools can accomplish what tasks, and they have to do it all while putting together a fence, or a window grille. I think they can do it though.

My hope is that the presence of a larger project will actually aid in our (nearly daunting) task. Once we get past the basics of hammer work, which will be an exercise at the start of next class, we can focus on the techniques specific to our projects. Does it have a rivet joint? We’ll learn to punch a hole and hammer over a rivet. Do we need twenty elements to be all exactly the same? We’ll learn to make and use jigs. Do we have a mortise and tenon joint? We’ll learn to put a tenon on a bar and drift open a hole. Of course, then we have to learn about proper cutting tools and making drifts of the correct size. I hope you can see how it all logically flows together.

The first hurdle, however, is getting the design together. How do you get a room of people who have never conceived of blacksmithing as anything larger than a bottle opener to design a window grille? You have to train their eyes and mind to perceive and think about the properties of ironwork. I started with books, lots of books with pictures of contemporary blacksmithing. I told them to look for compositions, joints, and textures of metal that they really liked, and share them with the class. The assignment was to go home and, from the books, choose elements or make up their own for ideal window grilles.

I’ll tell you how it goes! Next class, after a forging exercise, we’ll compile the drawings into our design. We’ll figure out how much metal we need, and by the third class hopefully we can start forging the final projects!





Starting your own business

8 02 2010

If things from me seem sporadic lately, it’s because I’m in the process of starting my own business as an artist blacksmith. I may have mentioned that I’m involved with blacksmithing, but lately I have decided to make the step into supporting myself with it. This is really exciting and also terrifying because previously, I wasn’t making any money with it at all. I’ve basically decided to bootstrap myself a business.

I’m lucky, the people I live with are letting me pay low rent; my parents are supportive, emotionally; and there’s another blacksmith in the area who is essentially a mentor. Over the next few months, and hey, maybe even years, I’ll try to write my thoughts on the process of building this business. I’ll be making decisions based on who I am and what I want to do, and I’ll tell you why I made them and if they work or not. Hopefully you will be able to learn something from my successes and failures, and in future endeavors it will help you!

I have a website, and I take commissions.
http://www.jacoblefton.com

-Jacob





Dream Journal

30 01 2010

We sat on a bench in some Middle America city on a cold autumn day after the rain. If you mixed Boulder, Colarado with Boston, Massachusetts and threw in a dash of St. Louis for flavor, you would be there. The colors were heavily saturated. A dark grey stone cathedral loomed behind us, its bold decor strangely archaic in the modern city. The square of red brick stretched out in front, approaching a mountain range of glass and steel and concrete buildings. At the intersection of two streets, an arrow pointing straight at us, cars and people jostled for position, each individual oblivious to the other.

I lamented the fact that there were no more street cars, how once upon a time there had been one running through this very square. Its shiny rails followed the old roads, kink for kink. I think someone wrote a play about it once.

Maybe they would spend some of the $8 billion to renew local rail infrastructure.

A man standing in front of us said, “Do you believe in a higher power?”

He wore a brown trenchcoat and a matching wide brimmed hat. His sharp, close cropped white beard enhanced his imposing aura. There was a moment of silence. What do you do when that happens? I guess we were in the mood to humor the man, because someone piped up, “Sure!”

“In my own way,” said someone else.

Dreamlike banter almost passed between my friends and him. I stood from the bench to get away. At that moment, his weathered face cracked into a big grin and he laughed. He pointed over his shoulder to his friend, matching save for no beard and a thick neck. “We were just joking. Out on the town for a little fun.”

“That’s right,” said the other man, smiling broadly. They held note cards in their gloved hands and conversed briefly about who to harass next, and then I woke up.