August 18, 2008

North Carolina Man Teaches Blacksmithing at Touchstone

By Dirk W Kaufman

It turns out there's a dance element to forging iron.

Which is why Chris Winterstein was taking a soft step-and-turn to his left Wednesday morning. He transferred a shaft of orange-hot iron to the surface of an anvil and with a smooth sweep of his left arm, dropped a hammer head on the metal. The shaft was transformed, one smack at a time.

"There should not be a tap-tap," he explained to a half-dozen charges at the Touchstone Center for Crafts. "It should be one smooth motion from fire to anvil. That first small tap I saw some of you doing yesterday doesn't do anything."

The 40-year-old North Carolina native was leading a week-long introduction to blacksmithing. Students were teens and young adults from as close as nearby Farmington to travelers from New York, West Virginia and Virginia.

Winterstein spent the week at Touchstone and will move on to blacksmith shops and regional festivals across the country this year, teaching and practicing his trade.

Jim Campbell, the veteran manager of the blacksmith shop, was thrilled to have Winterstein on hand.

"It's a beginner and intermediate course," Campbell said. "What he is doing is trying to show you what you can do with a piece of metal. One piece can be made into many, many pieces."

Winterstein is president of the 5,000-member Artisan- Blacksmith's Association of North America.

The instructor, rail-thin with black-soot-stained fingers, moved from chalk board to forge on a typical teaching day. He drew for students what they would be doing, then demonstrated, then oversaw their work. Instruction included everything from building a proper fire to hammering technique.

He said there is no "typical" student. Some are interested in re- creating 18th- and 19th-century tools and equipment, others, like himself are artisans who make decorated and utility pieces. Still others simply like to work with iron, heating, bending and shaping tools and decorations at a forge.

"My interest lies in working with the metal and seeing what's inside," Winterstein said. "I may not know what I'm going to create when I start, and a try to see what shape is in the metal as I form it."

The course is one of many conducted by various instructors from early spring through September at Touchstone. Campbell said participants come from around the world for classes. There were visitors from Japan at the center last week, who came to the U.S. specifically to participate in classes there, Campbell said.

(c) 2008 Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.