A group of spectators gathered under the pavilion at the Carroll County Farm Museum, watching blacksmith Kevin Clancy lay a rod of glowing orange steel on his anvil to hammer it out. Behind Clancy, smoke poured from a coal-fired forge.
Ted McNitt, president of the Blacksmith Guild of Central Maryland, spoke of this 31st annual Blacksmith Days event that continues Sunday at the Farm Museum.
“Blacksmiths attend from all over,” McNitt said. “They come from Staunton, Virginia, New York, Ohio … from six, seven hours away.”
Sitting in the front row, 6-year-old Luke Adelsberger and 7-year-old Bree Evans leaned in as Clancy described the process he was using to forge a candelabra from steel.
“We are learning about blacksmithing and colonial times in school,” Bree said. “I like how they melt metal and how they get used to doing that.”
For her mom, it was a way to give a history lesson.
“I want her to understand the difference between how things were made before and how they are made now.”
While Bree learns about blacksmiths at North Carroll Community School, Luke watches blacksmithing with Alec Steele on his favorite YouTube channel. The popular online show had him tuned in to the sound a power hammer makes. When it rang out moments later, he was ready to chase it down.
Under the second pavilion, blacksmith Patrick Quinn used the power hammer to flatten a long rod of steel. He was fashioning a component for one of his steel sculptures.
“What’s exciting about this event is the variation between me and [Clancy],” Quinn said. “He focuses more on functional work and I focus more on sculptural work. To provide the contrast, where people can see both ends of the spectrum, is really exciting.”
The contrast between the two blacksmiths is obvious. While one uses a propane-powered forge and a power hammer, the other works with a charcoal-powered forge and a handheld hammer and anvil.
“I make forged and riveted sculptures,” Quinn said. “My work is very abstract, I use traditional tools and techniques in a very nontraditional way, using joinery to combine them. I do unique and simple forgings. Then, they all get riveted together in the end to create a composition.”
Quinn runs a nonprofit forging school called the Center for the Metal Arts, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The school is located in a national historic landmark, the Cambria Iron Works building.
Clancy said his first career was as a woodworker. After he discovered blacksmithing, he combined the two, building a shop at his Eldersburg home — half woodworking, half blacksmithing. There he could create colonial-style hardware — like hinges, locks, latches and keys — for building restorations.
“Since then, the demand for blacksmithing has snowballed,” he said, and he loves that. “I think it is the nostalgic notion of being a self-made man and doing something that you didn’t think you could. It’s amazing that you can.”
His wife, Kathleen Clancy, said her favorite thing he’s created is a reproduction weather vane that now sits on the George Washington home in Mount Vernon, Virginia.
“It was a heavy beast, and he also did the gold leaf on it,” she said.
Walking up the hill, blacksmith Walter Van Alstine said he hasn’t missed the event in 25 years. He’s the shop steward for Blacksmith Guild of Central Maryland.
“We have a flea market for blacksmiths here with steel, pieces of steel — anything a blacksmith can use. We have a tailgate area for people who open their tailgate and sell items of interest to blacksmiths, and we have two demonstrators.”
McNitt said more and more young people are getting into the craft.
“Part of the reason is the television series and YouTube,” McNitt said. “One example of someone who started here as a teen is Ken Schwartz. Around 1987 or so, when he was in high school, he started blacksmithing here with some of our regulars and now he is the master blacksmith at Williamsburg [Virginia].”
Austin White, 16, said he came out to learn more and hopes to join the guild.
“I’ve always been interested in how they use propane or coal to fire the forge and what they can do with fire,” he said.
As a member of the guild, Clancy said he is happy to see it become self-sustaining.
“When I started in the guild we could all sit at one picnic table for a meeting,” Clancy said. “I think we had about 13 members. Now we have upwards of 200.”
The public is welcome to join the Blacksmith Guild of Central Maryland for Blacksmith Days again Sunday, May 19, from noon to 4 p.m., with an admission fee of $6 — which includes all Farm Museum activities.
For more information on the Blacksmith Guild of Central Maryland and the classes it offers, visit the guild online at www.bgcmonline.org.