HASTINGS, Neb. — About 20 blacksmiths from across the state recently gathered in Hastings to compare notes, swap stories and collaborate on a forged welding project at the shop of blacksmith Jim Peirce.
Members of the Prairie Blacksmith Association of Nebraska get together each month or two at a member's house to tackle a project in conjunction with the national Artist Blacksmith Association of North America. The group's focus is to keep the ancient art of blacksmithing alive while sharing knowledge with one another on some of the countless techniques used by master blacksmiths from long ago.
"Basically we've all done some kind of metal working and are interested in the old blacksmith craft," Peirce said. "We want to learn how to do it to continue the knowledge that was being lost. Plus, we can make some pretty nice things."
This month's project is a decorative grill measuring 2 feet by 15 inches. When completed, it will serve as a decorative piece to cover a window. The project involves numerous techniques most of the in-house blacksmiths hadn't seen before.
Peirce first became involved with blacksmithing in 1989 because he wanted to make knives. A bricklayer and certified welder by trade, he has made dozens of knives, tools, tomahawks, hatchets and other metal products in his shop.
"I make stuff out of junk," he said. "And a blacksmith makes his own tools, so that's kind of a nice deal."
Peirce said the forged welding project the group worked on recently was one of the more challenging he has tackled with the association.
"I've never done this particular item. There are so many things to learn. A lifetime ain't enough," Peirce said.
"Vernon Grashorn, 62, of Louisville, specializes in ornamental iron. An association member since 1994, his creations include bottle openers and various tools of the trade.
"I just love it," he said. "When we get together, we enjoy each other's company."
The meetings inevitably prove valuable in terms of lessons learned, Grashorn said.
"If I was doing it wrong, someone will say, 'No, do it like this. It works better.'"
Jim Bidlak, 55, of Bennett, has been involved in metal-related jobs his entire life. Yet as much experience as he has garnered through the years, he said, there is always something new to learn. And that's what makes the meetings so interesting to him.
"Everybody gets together and shares stories and ideas," he said.
Even Merwin Grafton, of Wilsonville, one of the club's oldest members at age 79, said he rarely misses a meeting for fear of missing out on something new.
"I like to come along and see what they've done and what kind of things they've been doing," he said.
"A lot of people don't understand how to make things by hand," Grafton said. "It's getting to be a lost art."