EXPERIENCE THE BEST TEACHER

The morning succeeding the events we have related, David Montague sent
over the chain, into which, he wished the rest of his bar of iron
worked. Richardson kindled his fire, put in the iron, and began to blow
with the hand-bellows; but when he recollected how difficult it was to
make iron hot enough to weld in that way, he flung down the little
affair, and gave up the undertaking. Convinced that he needed a pair of
bellows even more than a hammer or anything else,–for if he could only
get a good heat, he could manage to hold the iron with the kitchen
tongs, and work it with the claw-hammer,–he resolved to have them,
especially as he felt that he could obtain them by his own efforts,
without paying out money.

He knew that John Bradford, with whom he was on terms of greater
intimacy than any other of his neighbors, had a large lot of logs to
haul, and that he was the owner of a whip-saw. Leaving the shop, he went
over to John’s and said to him,–

“John, I suppose by this time you’ve heard all about my blacksmithing.”

“Reckon I have, and everybody else in this place. They say you hammer
the iron on a lapstone, same as a shoemaker his leather.”

“Not quite so bad as that; but I find I must have a pair of bellows, and
I want inch-and-a-half stuff to make the ‘woods.’ I have got a pine log
at the door, and I can’t go eleven miles to a sawmill; indeed, I don’t
think I could get there with cattle, the snow is so deep. Will you take
your saw, and help me saw out the stuff? and I’ll take my oxen and haul
logs for you.”

“Won’t I? I’ll be right glad to do it.”

“Then I’ll go home, and get my log on the saw-pit and come over in the
morning.”

Two men accustomed to the work will saw out boards and plank with a
whip-saw as well as they can be sawed in a mill, only it takes more
time. Richardson had a place fixed near the bank of the river, where the
ground fell off abruptly. Here stringers were laid on uprights set in
the ground, on which the log to be sawed was rolled, and the descent of
the ground afforded room to work the saw, which is nearly as large as a
mill-saw, one man standing on top of the log, and the other on the
ground below.

With the aid of his neighbor, Richardson not only sawed out plank enough
for the woodwork of his bellows, but one to make a bench, and boards
enough to make a door to replace the rude one of poles, and to close a
window he meant to make over the bench.

Having procured the material for the woods, the next article needed was
leather to cover the woods. Putting on his snow-shoes, he tracked and
killed a moose, took the hair off with strong lye, then tanned it with
salt and alum, and pounded it upon the anvil with a stick, kneaded it in
his hands, and greased it with the marrow of the moose till it was as
limp as a rag.

He now made the woods of the bellows, and bows, and as he had neither
nails nor tacks, fastened the skin to the woods with wooden pegs. All
this he accomplished without much difficulty; but without iron how was
he to make the nose, which must enter the fire, or at least must
approach within a few inches of it? The nose of a smith’s bellows is of
iron, and enters what is called the tuyere pipe, which is in these days
quite a complicated affair, and communicates with the fire.

“It’s no sort of use, William,” said his wife; “it must be iron, and
you’ll have to go to John Drew, and get him to make it.”

“I’ll sleep a night on it,” was the reply, “before I give it up.”

Whether he received any information in dreams, or not, I am unable to
say; but this much is evident–that he rose in a hopeful frame of mind,
and, to the great surprise of his wife, whose whole soul was in the
matter, set to work without the least hesitation.

Our readers will recollect that swamps in the forest do not freeze to a
great depth, and often, when the snow comes before the cold is severe,
not at all. Richardson found clay that he could get at in the swamp, and
by cutting the ice obtained sand from the bottom of the brook. He now,
with a hoe, broke up all the lumps in the clay, put water to it, and
worked it with the hoe till it was fine and tough; then he worked in the
sand, made a box a foot square, without ends (by nailing four pieces of
boards together), and three feet in length. In the middle of this box he
set a pine plug, larger at one end than the other, and tapering to the
size he thought requisite, and filled the space between it and the sides
of the box with the mixture of clay and sand, ramming it hard with his
hammer-handle, in order that there should be no hollow places; put it in
the kitchen, where it might dry gradually without freezing; made the
frame, and hung his bellows on wooden pins, in default of iron; made the
pole to blow with, while a strip of moose-hide served instead of a chain
to lift the “wood” of the lower bellows; and then went into the woods to
haul logs while his clay was drying, which required time, as the box
excluded, in a great measure, the air.

In the mean while, work accumulated on his hands. Reuben Hight brought
a chain to be mended, John Bradford a kitchen shovel, the handle of
which was broken in two. These shovels were very large, the handle as
long as a broom-handle, and the blade nearly as wide as that of a barn
shovel. James Potter brought the bail of a Dutch oven; John Skillings
wanted a hook made to a chain, and brought a harrow tooth to make it of.
Richardson promised to do the whole when he got his bellows done, if he
could, of which he felt by no means assured.

The clay was now thoroughly dried, being kept near the fire, and
Richardson put the box on the kitchen hearth, and built a very moderate
fire. This he gradually increased, till the box was burnt, the plug of
pine consumed, and the clay brought to the condition of brick. He then
permitted the fire gradually to burn out, and, when the operation was
over, he had, as the result, a complete cone, thoroughly burnt. He made
a square hole in his butment, put the pipe through it, with the smaller
end towards the forge, and bedded it in clay mortar.

Into the large end of this brick cone he put the wooden nose of his
bellows. It being a great deal smaller than the cone, he filled around
it with clay mortar; his object in giving this shape to the passage
being to admit filling, in order to prevent burning the wooden nose of
the bellows. The length of the cone prevented its heating sufficiently
to burn the bellows-nose by reason of its great distance from the fire,
being out of the stone butment, in the cool air; and the clay mortar
around the nose was, he thought, a poorer conductor of heat than the
brick cone itself.

Richardson completed his work about noon, and it was a good deal of
self-denial to him to abstain from making a coal fire at once, and going
to work; but he thought it best to let his mortar dry. He, however,
satisfied himself that there would be no difficulty in raising all the
wind he needed, and he made a small wood fire to dry the clay before it
should freeze.

The next morning the shop presented much the appearance of a jubilee.
The children had obtained a promise from their father that he would not
kindle the fire till they were up. They were out of bed before a ray of
light streaked the sky, and the moment breakfast was despatched, the
whole family, even to the dog and cat, hastened to the shop. It was
Saturday, and Richardson, knowing that Bradford’s wife would want to
bake, and need the shovel, began with that, putting the two parts in the
fire, after having made them ready to weld, or, as he termed it, “shut.”
He resolved to have a heat this time; put on the coal, and plied the
bellows; but by and by he noticed that the iron began to send off
sparks, and saw little black specks of charcoal sticking to the iron.
Pulling it out of the fire, he found it was all burnt to a honeycomb:
that the little black specks of charcoal had burnt into the very
substance of the iron, and yet they were black, and the iron came to
pieces the moment he struck it. The anvil was covered with scales, and
he found it would not weld.

He was sadly puzzled, and most of all, that the charcoal that stuck to
the iron, and burnt into it, did not get red hot itself: and he found
there was such a thing as getting iron _too hot_. Little Clem had been
to John Drew’s with his father in the canoe, and now came to the rescue.

“Father,” he said, “why don’t you do like as Mr. Drew did?”

“How did he do, child?”

“I seed him stick the iron into sand, and once I seed him poke the coal
away, and fling the sand right into the fire.”

The father now recollected that he had often seen the blacksmith put his
iron into sand, but did not know what he did it for. He got some sand,
and put the iron into it, then put it into the fire, found the iron did
not burn, and he welded it without any more trouble.

He now got along bravely, being able to heat his iron so that it would
draw easily. Even the harrow-tooth presented no obstacle; for, after
bringing it to a white heat, he got his wife to hold it with the tongs,
and using the old axe as a sledge, soon brought the tooth to a size that
he could work with his nail-hammer, and finished his job. As to the
bellows, they were a great success, afforded a strong blast, and he
found the constant current of cold air passing through the cone kept it
from becoming hot enough to burn the nose of the bellows.

“William,” said his wife, “I’ll never say you can’t do anything again.”

It may seem strange to our readers that Richardson should be able to
heat iron sufficiently to be drawn and cut with an axe, and still should
have so much difficulty in making it hot enough to weld. They may
likewise wish to know what good the sand does.




Iron can be cut and hammered when red hot; but, in order to weld, it
must be brought to a white heat–almost melted. When in this state, the
two pieces of iron to be united are laid one upon the other, and made to
unite by a few smart blows with a hammer. If the operation is rightly
performed, the two pieces of iron will become perfectly united, and be
as strong at the place where they are welded as elsewhere.

It is, however, quite a nice operation to weld thoroughly. Iron, when
highly heated, inclines to oxidize rapidly. This forms a scale similar
to that which you perceive on iron when it is rusty. If the two pieces
of iron are put together in this condition, these scales that are loose
on the iron will prevent the union of the parts. That is the way iron
burns up. It oxidizes, and the iron flies off in sparks that are scales
red hot. When the smith sees the iron begin to sparkle, he takes it out
of the fire, and rolls it in sand, and then puts it in again, or opens
the fire, and sprinkles sand upon it. The sand melts, combines with the
oxide of iron, and forms silicate of iron, spreads over the surface of
the iron, protects it, prevents the formation of scales, and when it is
struck with the hammer, leaves the surface clean, and the iron unites
perfectly, and forms a solid junction. The smith also leaves the surface
of the two pieces to be welded highest in the middle, in order that they
may touch there first, and then, when struck with the hammer, the melted
sand or oxide will be squeezed out.

The possession of a pair of bellows, with which he was enabled to heat
his iron thoroughly, and soften it to such a degree that he could work
it with his nail-hammer, proved of the utmost service to our persistent
smith, and he was enabled, by the aid of his wife and the children, to
mend chains, staples of yokes, domestic utensils, and most of the
articles his neighbors brought to him, and, as we have seen in the last
chapter, was gaining knowledge even by his mistakes.

But there was a good deal of work that would be more profitable than any
he had hitherto done that he was compelled to lose for the want of
tools. There were oxen to be shod. Four of the neighbors now kept
horses. These they worked before their oxen, and therefore wanted them
shod all round, and were obliged to pay John Drew an exorbitant price to
leave his shop, and come through the woods on snow-shoes to do it. It
was quite as important that he should have iron as tools, in order to
learn by practice, as he could not expect his neighbors to find iron for
him to spoil in learning. To this end he laid by every cent he earned by
his blacksmith work, in order with that, the cloth, butter, and linen
yarn, to obtain both.

The tools for the lack of which he was the most crippled in his work
were a pair of smiths’ tongs, a hammer, and a punch. The kitchen tongs
were wretched things to hold iron with. It required all his strength to
hold a small piece of iron, and the jaws were so short that it was
constantly slipping; whereas, the handles of a smiths’ tongs, being
crossed like scissor-blades, act as a lever, and the jaws are long, to
hold the iron; while a smiths’ hammer, being much heavier, and with a
larger face, deals a more effective blow, and is, by its form, adapted
to the work. In addition to all this, he had but one pair of kitchen
tongs, and when he had to weld two pieces of iron, he made a pair of
wooden ones, with which his wife took out one of the pieces of iron, and
held it till it was “stuck.”

He longed–O, how he longed!–for a little iron that he could call his
own. It consumed him–this desire–even as does the greed of gold a
miser. He reckoned with a piece of charcoal on the top of the bellows
the amount of money he had on hand, the cost of getting Drew to make him
the tools, and the probable proceeds of the articles he had to sell. To
his dismay he found, after purchasing even the few tools he must have,
there would remain but a mere trifle with which to buy iron.

“I must,” he said to himself, “either go without the iron or the tools.
No, I won’t; I’ll _make_ the tools.–I _will_ do it, and save the money
to buy iron.”

Just then his wife came in to call him to supper, and overheard the
remark, but did not, as before, say, “William, you never can do it.”