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Caniron 1--First Canadian Biennial Blacksmith's Conference

by Fred Holder

On June 28 through 30, 1997, 219 smiths journeyed to the O'Keefe Ranch north of Vernon, British Columbia, Canada to attend what was billed as the "First Canadian Biennial Blacksmith's Conference". I first assumed that this was sponsored by the Canadian Blacksmithing Groups, but later found that it was the dream of a small group of Canadians, five people in all, who felt strongly that such a conference was due.

As I understand it, they did go to the Canadian Clubs for support, but found them not interested. They also went to the Artist Blacksmith's Association of North America (ABANA) for possible sponsorship. They couldn't drum up any interest from either area at that time. The group still felt strongly that the proposed conference's time had come, so they decided to go it alone. I think they needed 300 registrants to make money, but perhaps the success of the auction on Sunday night helped to make up for some of the shortfall. It was an excellent conference and those five people deserve a "hand". The people in attendance gave them a resounding "hand" at the major get-together on Sunday night before the auction began and considering the bidding, I believe they gave them another hand during the auction. From Blacksmith's Gazette, we say "Good Show" , hope you can do it again!

Editor's Note: A different group is handling it, but there is going to be a CanIron II on July 1 through 4, 1999. For more information about this event, see their website at:  http://www.sait.ab.ca/caniron . We are pleased that this is coming about, and regret that we will not be able to attend due to other conflicts.

Who were these people who put this thing together? As I understand it, the idea was the brainchild of Ron Greig, Chairman of the Board of Caniron 1. He was the overseer of the event, but he could not have carried it off without the help from the others. Derry Cook was in charge of registration and also demonstrated, his wife Pat Cook served as treasurer and organized the registration at the site. Ed Parker was everywhere. He was layout person, sheriff, problem solver, run-about. He was all over the place and looked pretty tired toward the end of the event. Ed was there a week ahead of time to lay everything out. Unfortunately, the weather hadn't cooperated. The wheat that was supposed to be ripe and cut was still green when Ed arrived. Two acres of the space allotted for the Conference was in the wheat field. As a result, the plans and drawings, that Ed had carefully made at home, based on an area of 4-1/2 acres had shrunk to 2-1/2 acres. Ed had to start over in his planning just one week before the event. This trauma for Ed was not apparent to the attenders. The site looked well laid out. I thought he had done a grand job of planning the area and told him so. The other member of the team was Ed Cushing. I'm not exactly what Ed Cushing did besides plumbing the "hook up" sites with water. I guess he was sort of a member at large with the group


Farm Blacksmith Shop


Close up of Bellows

The ranch site was beautiful. For farmers and those interested in vintage machinery, this site was simply grand. There was more old farm machinery than I've ever seen in one location. There was even a steam tractor. Also a working blacksmithing shop on the premise, although I'm not sure that it is manned full time even though Joe Delisimunovic is the resident smith. It didn't look like a shop that is operational on a full time basis; however, the equipment from the shop may have been pulled out to use for the demonstrations.

The ranch also has a place where you could buy meals if you didn't bring your own food. A number of the participants dined there for breakfast and dinner, perhaps lunch too. This dining establishment also served the banquet on Saturday night. They did an outstanding job of it. The food was good and there was plenty of it. Arrangements had been made for a fellow, I didn't get his name, and his son to serve hamburgers and hot dogs, chips, and drinks for lunch. He made a good hamburger, so I made his booth my lunch stop each day.


Riveting Contest--Station #1


Riveting Contest--Station #2

Each day at 1:00 pm in the public demonstration area, they held a blacksmithing competition. I'm not sure whether it was the same each day or not, but on Sunday when I watched, they were doing a riveting competition with teams of two. One fellow forged the rivet from a piece of steel, looked like about 1/2" round bar. Once the rivet was formed, it was thrown to the second party who caught it in a bucket. He then riveted two pieces of steel together. The best time won.

Because of the time it was taking to make the rivet, it was decided to re-heat the rivet before tossing it to the partner. Joe Delisimunovic and one of his helpers demonstrated how to do this before any of the blacksmith's tried. They did it in one heat.

Of course, a conference is intended to be a learning experience. There was plenty of talent on site for that. Anyone who didn't learn something must have been sleeping through the demonstrations. With six areas of learning in operation and six rotations; i.e., two each day for three days, it was not possible to see everything. But by drifting about from one to the other, you could get something from each session. In addition to these regular sessions, there was a demonstration going on in a public area each morning and each afternoon. Also, John Babcock and Bill Plant had a forging station set up in the vendor area. They did regular demonstrations all day long and had a selection of forged items for sale.

Three of the demonstrators I knew from years back: Dorothy Stiegler, Darryl Nelson, and Berkley Tack, and I was familiar with Jerry Culberson. The other demonstrators were new to me. The one demonstration that I wanted to see, but didn't make it was Richard Sheppard of Morgantown, West Virginia with his Big Lick treadle hammer. I did get a run down on how it worked, sort of a personal question and answer thing, but I missed his actual demonstration for some reason, I think they had to make some schedule changes because of travel arrangements of some of the demonstrators.

Dorothy Stiegler, Jerry Culberson, Darryl Nelson and Berkley Tack are/or were all members of the NorthWest Blacksmithing Association (NWBA) centered in and around Seattle, Washington and encompassing blacksmiths from Washington and Oregon and possibly Idaho. They are well known demonstrators and full time blacksmiths.

Dorothy Stiegler is now a resident of California and was the 1st woman president of ABANA. As a demonstrator, Dorothy is extremely skilled in all areas of blacksmithing, but is best known for her beautiful metal flowers. Dorothy has taught in the USA, Canada, and the United Kingdom. I've seen Dorothy demonstrate at various times over the years and she was my first choice at Caniron 1. Her first demo for the conference was "forge welding". Dorothy uses a unique "two heat" process to forge weld. I always remember watching Jud Nelson demonstrating forge welding several years ago, he was going back to the fire for about the third heat on his forge weld. A participant spoke up with, "How many heats does it take to make a forge weld?" Jud's answer, "As many as it takes!" Well Dorothy only takes two for most of her forge welds. But the coal supplied by the conference wasn't so awfully great, it was more "awful!"

It seemed to have about five pounds of clinkers to 10 pounds of coal, perhaps more. They had such a large fire going that they burned a hole in the canopy. That was probably an expense that the Caniron 1 group hadn't anticipated. Anyway, Dorothy (1) brings her steel to an orange heat and wirebrushes it, (2) fluxes with 20 Muleteam Borax, straight from the box, (3) back in the fire, bring it to welding heat (she says that welding heat is reached when the flux melts and runs over the surface), (4)she brings it out and slings it down to shake off the excess flux and scale, (5) then to the anvil for light taps to bond the pieces together. Dorothy doesn't let the steel cool very much before she (6)wirebrushes it again and adds flux, (7) she puts it back in the fire and brings it to a welding heat. Again, (8) she snaps the hot metal downward to shake off the excess flux and melted scale, and (9) back to the anvil where she hits it hard to fully bond the pieces together. Dorothy says that by tapping lightly on the first weld, you bond the pieces together and they tend to stay in place when you hit them hard on the second heat.

Darryl Nelson lives in Eatonville, Washington and is a well known ABANA demonstrator and a NWBA member. He is an excellent all around blacksmith, but specializes in animal heads. This was the topic of his several demonstrations during Caniron 1. Darryl makes it look so easy. Just hold your chisel or punch here and hit it with the hammer and the cheek seems to move into the correct location. If you get a chance to see him demonstrate, it is a worthwhile adventure.

Berkley Tack is from Rainier, Oregon and is a full time smith who does a lot of tool work and architectural work. Berkley is a master smith and very knowledgeable on the subject of heat treating of steel. He demonstrated forge welding (including the making of a knife blade from logging cable), heat treating, and identification of steel, and making of door hardware. I watched Berkely's forge welding demonstration, part of his heat treating demonstration, and part of his door hardware demonstration. He really packs a lot of information into his presentations. Apparently, Berkley does quite a bit of tool dressing and re-heat-treating for businesses in his area.

Berkley Tack

Berkley Tack forging a knife from Logging Cable.

Jerry Culberson began his blacksmithing career on Michigan farms when he was 11. Now, at Allyn, Washington, he practices blacksmithing on a full time basis. His motto: "if you can imagine it, I can forge it." After watching him for awhile. I believe that he can. The demonstration I watched was devoted to Joinery and Jerry was making a tenon on a piece of 1" or 1-1/4" stock, which is not easy with just a hand hammer. But he stressed the importance of keeping that shoulder square and not banging it while forging the tenon. Jerry was also the auctioneer at the auction on Sunday night. He's excellent in that job. I'm sure that things sold for as much as they did, because of Jerry's expert auctioneer work.

I watched Joe Delisimunovic and his two helpers, Mitch Steck and Tony Krupp, forge and fit wagon hardware. I didn't get back to them towards the end of the conference to ensure that they completed the wagon they were working on for most of the conference. Joe learned blacksmithing by apprenticing in Croatia and Germany, where he worked in a wheelwrights shop to earn extra cash. He is resident blacksmith at the O'Keefe ranch, and a good one I might add.

John Adolph of Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Canada was trained as a blacksmith and welder in Germany but has spent most of his working life in Canada. Welding and weld design became his specialty, but John continued blacksmithing. I didn't watch John forge at all, but set in on his discussion of "flame straightening". I'm not sure that I fully understood all of what he had to say, but it makes sense. He gave many examples of cases where bent machinery was able to be straightened by proper application of heat and coolant (he recommends an air/water spray used close to the heat source). I found it interesting, but without a chance to actually check out his discussion it was a little hard to grasp.

Derry Cook of Saster Forge, Erickson, British Columbia, who was in charge of registration, ran a workshop on propane forges and demonstrated his "super burner", which doesn't use a blower, only normal air available and propane.

Big-Lick Treadle Hammer

The Big Lick Treadle Hammer.

Richard Sheppard of Morgantown, West Virginia demonstrated his Big Lick treadle hammer. This is a better hammer design than any others. Originally, I photographed the first of these new types of treadle hammers at the ABANA conference in Wisconsin in 1984 and published it in the pages of Blacksmith's Gazette. Although a great improvement over other forms of "Oliver" that I have seen, it still had a number of problems and it looks like Sheppard has overcome most of these with his hammer. If I were purchasing a treadle hammer for use in a blacksmith shop, I would give Sheppard's hammer a hard "look see."

I missed John Smith's presentations on "This Business of Blacksmithing", since I'm not really in the business of blacksmithing. Smith is from Kootenay Forge, Crawford Bay, British Columbia where he is owner of an exceptional blacksmithing production facility and distribution system. I just couldn't seem to work his presentation into my schedule, but it would have been interesting to hear what he had to say about the "business of blacksmithing", something that a lot of smiths forget to consider, blacksmithing is a business and must be run that way if you want to make any money from it.

The 471 Pound Gladiator Anvil being manufactured in Washington State, USA.

Jerry Culberson brought a sample of the 471 pound "Gladiator" anvil that is being produced in Washington State. That was one big anvil that provided a lot of mass to back up your hammer blows.

The anvil that John Babcock had made from five pieces of steel.

Handmade Leg Vice Leg Vice that John Babcock had made.

Not really a part of the conference demonstration scheme because they were set up in the vendor area, but were demonstrators anyway, were the team of John Babcock and Bill Plant. Both of these guys have been mentioned or had material in the pages of Blacksmith's Gazette in the past. You may remember John Babcock's poetry and Bill Plant's flatter made from oil field parts. John was using an anvil that he had made by welding five pieces of steel together, a good looking anvil it was too. He also had a post vice that he had made, about as fine a vice as I've seen. Both of these fellows demonstrated making tongs and other things during the conference. They also had a significant number of items on display and for sale.

Finally, we must not over look Norm Larson, book seller from Lompoc, California, who brought his "book mobile." Norm has about as complete an offering of blacksmithing books as you'll find anywhere. I've provided book reviews on three books that I picked up from Norm during the conference. You can get his address and telephone number from our list of suppliers at this site.

That pretty well wraps up the overview of the conference. I hope the people involved managed to break even or even make a little to compensate for the great amount of effort they put forth to make this event a real success for the attenders. I really didn't have much negative to say about the conference. It was well put together and well run. I had only two comments on the negative side: (1) the coal was real bad and (2) the lack of forge tools (shovel, poker, etc.) and anvil tools (hardy, fuller, etc.). The coal was an accident, they thought it was good. The other stuff they simply supplied for the demonstrations what the demonstrators had asked for. Apparently, the demonstrators didn't think to ask for tools to tend the fire and hardies to cut off steel. I always think of these tools as being a part of the forge and anvil station. But when you consider the overall, these tiny negative bits, which only slowed the demonstrators up a bit, had little to detract from an overall well run conference.

Editor's Note: In the next few issues of Blacksmith's Gazette, we'll discuss some of the demonstrations in greater detail with accompanying photographs. Even though the lighting was bad, too bright for the film that I took with me, there should be a few good ones to share since I took over 100 photographs during the three days of the conference. I expect that it will take at least two more issues to fully cover the activities at the conference. Hopefully, this will truely be the "first biennial Blacksmith's Conference in Canada"!

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This page was last updated on July 14, 1997 / September 18, 2008.