The Blacksmith’s Library — Books

Books are an important resource for blacksmiths. A number of titles are available on forging processes and tools, ornamental work such as gates and grilles, and period and contemporary work. In addition there are several periodicals (Blacksmith’s Journal and The Traditional Metalsmith), publications of the Artist-Blacksmith’s Association of North America and sister chapters. At times we augment our book knowledge by attending demonstrations given during chapter, regional and national meetings. We have many “a-ha moments” as the demonstrating smiths generously share their knowledge. There’s also a growing body of videos (for example Teaching Tapes) available now. The a.v. section of our library is growing, but books are our mainstay and trying to select just a few titles to show here has been hard.

Amongst our favorite books to browse are the two volumes of Lennart Karlsonn’s Medieval Ironwork in Sweden (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiskell International, 1988). They are filled with the best photography we’ve seen of ironwork — which is so hard to photograph well. Medieval church doors were ornamented with beautiful hinges and applied forged decoration.

One of the most important reference books in our library is Albert Sonn’s Early American Wrought Iron (New York: Bonanza Books, 1979 reprint of 1928 edition). Sonn’s drawings often show better what photographs cannot. This set of drawings shows the knobs and a German-style lever latch and lock of the eighteenth century. Compare the drawings with a later latch shown in the previous post and it’s easy to see that the knobs became less flamboyant over time.

Another important reference is Donald Streeter’s Professional Smithing: Traditional Techniques for Decorative Ironwork, Whitesmithing, Hardware, Toolmaking, and Locksmithing (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1980). Streeter points the way for a blacksmith wishing to reproduce hardware such as that shown in Sonn. The pages shown here describe the making of a German-style lever latch and lock, and show the forge template for the knob amongst the other parts of a latch and lock.

Most of the books published about ornamental work are devoted to what has been made in Europe. Jack Andrews’ Samuel Yellin, Metalworker (Ocean City, MD: Skipjack Press, 1992) chronicles the life and work of a European trained smith who set up shop in Philadelphia in the early part of the twentieth century. From a high of 268 employees in the 1920s, down to less than 50 employees after the beginning of the Depression, Yellin’s shop produced the highest quality ornamental work in the United States. Anyone interested in the work of the Yellin shop would enjoy a visit to the bank in Weston, West Virginia where Yellin’s ironwork predominates, inside and out. Other examples are in Pittsburgh and New York City.

Amongst the books we have showing blacksmithing processes, the most beautiful is Otto Schmirler’s Werk und Werkzeug des Kunstschmeids (Tubingen, Austria: Verlag Ernst Wasmuth, 1981). Schmirler’s drawings illustrate a number of processes and tools used for ornamental work.

We’ll stop with these five but there are many others we can think of worth a mention.