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Folk Crafts

Blacksmith Craft on the Upper Don

 

Blacksmith craft on the Upper Don was always held in high esteem. According to the Economic Census of the late XIX century, in Stanitsa Vyoshenskaya there were 20 blacksmiths: 10 Cossacks and 10 nonresidents.

Blacksmiths and their work are often mentioned and described in many works by M.A.Sholokhov. For instance, in the short story “The Road” blacksmith Sidor tells how he shod a mare for the retreating Whites: “I have shod their mare on the forelegs; I am hammering and listening…” In the short story “The Herdsman” one of the personages is blacksmith Tikhon.

In the novel “And Quiet Flows the Don” a forge is often said about as a place, where the personages often come for some business matters. The forge at the mill of merchant Mokhov is said about: “From the forge in the corner of the mill yard, the cheerful tapping of a hammer could be heard, now soft and muffled as it struck the iron, now a hard and ringing double tap on the anvil.”(Book 1, part 2, chapter 1). The author shows the importance of blacksmithing especially during the hostilities: “For lack of matches, wide use was made of flints and steel strikers hastily produced by the village blacksmiths.” (Book 4, part 8, chapter 5). “Every pair of bellows in the makeshift forge sighed, wheezed and panted, the hot coals glowed red, the hammers rang, the horses whinnied fiercely in their stalls. The Tekins shoed their mounts on all four feet, mended their harness, cleaned their rifles and made ready.” (Book 2, part 4, chapter 20).

In the novel “Virgin Soil Upturned” by M.A.Sholokhov many of the events were connected with Shaly, the only blacksmith in the village of Gremyachy Log. The descriptions of the forge are very imaginative, sometimes even poetic: “In Ippolit Shaly’s forge the broad spout of the bellows snorted from dawn till dusk, golden grains of fire sprinkled from under the hammer, and the anvil clanged and sang.”(Book 1, chapter 26); “One day Davidov looked into the forge to find out how the repair of the collectivised mowing machines was going. The bitter, acidulous smell of incandescent iron and burnt coal, the resonant clang of the anvil and hoarse moaning of the ancient bellows made him quiver with excitement.” (Book 2, chapter 3); “The old smithy on the edge of the village greeted him with its familiar smells and sounds. Obedient to every movement of its master’s hand, Shaly’s hammer rang and danced as of old on the anvil; even from a distance one could still hear the asthmatic sighs of the ageing bellows; and as of old there still floated from the wide-open doors the bitter smell of burnt coal and the wonderful, unforgettable smell of cooling furnace scale.”(Book 2, chapter 10).

Smith Shaly says about his job: “Our job with iron is such a responsible one. You can’t become skilled at it in a hurry, that you can’t… It’s not for nothing we, smiths, say: “Trust in your anvil, your hand and your hammer, but don’t trust your own mind when you are young.” It’s the same job in a big works as it is in a little smithy, both alike and they’re both important.” (Book 2, chapter 10); “It’s a difficult business teaching other people’s children, especially orphans. But in my lifetime I’ve turned out about ten of them to be real blacksmiths, and now in Tubyanskoy and Voiskovoy and other villages the forges are manned by smiths that I’ve trained, and there’s even one of them working at a factory in Rostov. And that’s something, lad. You’ve worked at a factory yourself and you know who they take on, and who they don’t. And it makes me proud to think that though I’ve got to die one day, there’ll be many lads alive in this world who learned their trade from me.” (Book 2, chapter 10).

Forges usually located on the edges of the stanitsas and villages. They were equipped with a furnace, bellows and an anvil; the main smith’s tools were a forging hammer, a gavel, pliers and a chisel. Anvils, hammers and pliers were made of usual bloomery iron.

The most important blacksmithing creation is a horseshoe, as the horse played a greater role in the life of Cossacks. A horseshoe is an iron structure curved in the shape of a hoof. It was not easy to forge it because of the complicated shape: the upper side of the horseshoe facing the hoof has a flap and the edge rounding; the lower side has spikes, grooves and holes to drive horseshoe nails. In old times, the horseshoe parameters were set by measuring three sizes on a special stick: the first, the longest, section determines the distance from the front of the horseshoe to the end of the branch; the second – the maximal width of the horseshoe, the third – the distance between the branches at the heel.

Every blacksmith had a lot of orders for manufacturing agricultural implements: spades, scythes, openers, ploughs and pitchforks; building tools, nails, cramp-irons, loops, hooks, axes, adzes, drills and other tools; different implements, household items, kitchen utensils used in each Cossack house. Some of the works being not complicated the blacksmith made them himself. Complicated works were carried out with the help of the assistants.