- Associated Press - Sunday, September 20, 2015

MORRISTOWN, N.J. (AP) - Ten people from teens to retirees spent an already hot Saturday around an 1860s forge at Historic Speedwell, learning the basics of blacksmithing in an all-day master class called “Hammerin’!”

Standing between two anvils and a vice, their instructor, the affable William Barrett, 47, of Byram emphasized the importance of craft and of learning how to properly taper, square and round metal, the Daily Record (http://dailyre.co/1j00UKB) reported.

“One of the first things you need to know if you want to be a journeyman or a mastersmith, or just make kick-butt knives, is this distal taper on a knife,” Barrett said, picking up one of his own creations from a display table.

“You want your stuff to have that sweep and flow,” he continued. “You’re going to see a lot of guys who forge knives that are square and blocky, and they’ll say their knife is that way because it’s made for the outdoors. It’s blocky because they don’t know how to make a nice taper.”

One at a time in the afternoon, Douglas Vorolieff of Morristown, and the others, placed a piece of steel in the 1,800-degree forge until it glowed and then quickly pivoted to a vice where they practiced the decorative technique of twisting the metal.

For practice purposes, explained Barrett, who specializes in making knives, he brought “junky steel” to the class though he emphasized there are many different types of steel with different characteristics.

A good smith, Barrett said, knows how to make things and be imaginative - one small piece of steel could be made into 50 things, including a key chain, a letter opener, or a decorative hook - but also how to correct his or her mistakes.

“Once you start moving metal the way you want,” he said, “it’s a pretty powerful feeling.”

Barrett, who belongs to the New Jersey Blacksmiths Association, enjoys introducing newcomers to the field he loves. He teaches a lot of different people, from young women to senior citizens, at many venues - from the Peters Valley School of Craft in Layton and Morris County Park Commission sites to his own Byram shop, where he gives private lessons.

On Friday nights in summertime, he invites one and all to his shop during “open forges” so they can learn around his 750-pound Fisher forge, made in Trenton back in the day.

“It sounds corny, but I’m giving back,” he said. “When I was eight or nine years old, my parents left me with the blacksmith at (Colonial) Williamsburg for three hours. I begged my dad to let me stay and the guy - Peter Ross, who’s still alive today - said, ‘You can leave him with me.’ He let me help him. He hooked me.”

A lot of people have interest in blacksmithing - a slow and especially satisfying art in a fast-paced age - but they just don’t know where to start, Barrett said.

Pat Chianca of Brick, and his son, who lives in Ledgewood, took the class together.

“I was in heating, ventilating and air conditioning for 42 years,” Chianca said. “I’m retired so you’ve got to keep your brain going, and this is very interesting. It takes a lot of skill.”

To this day, Barrett, whose college degree is in accounting, is amazed at what he has learned, and continues to learn, from being a bladesmith.

“Doing this, you learn physics, design, metallurgy. The science you need to know just to make a blade is amazing,” he said. “With technology, everyone thinks they’re so smart. Back then, they knew what they were doing. My only regret about getting into this is that I don’t have two or three more lifetimes to learn even half of what could be learned.”

Marilyn Freiwald of Denville took the master class, too, simply because she’s interested.

“I’m learning a lot,” she said.

Barrett is comfortable teaching students of all background, including women. He has eight sisters.

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Information from: Daily Record (Parsippany, N.J.), http://www.dailyrecord.com

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