Hey Red,

Funny you should bring this up. My boy apprentices with a blacksmith. Without giving too much away, there’s a state historical site not far from us. Spinners, weavers, candlemakers, whitesmiths, blacksmiths, coppersmiths, woodworkers, etc. We were touring the place a couple years ago and my boy volunteered to run the bellows for the old blacksmith. Been back a few times and chatted him up… he agreed to take my boy on as a blacksmith. Told my boy that if he showed promise and grit, I would build him his own shop, complete with a wee foundry.

Tips? Well, the ‘smithy usually takes on the intricate work, while the apprentice either cleans up or makes nails.

Let me say that again- makes nails.

See, from what I understand, the bread and butter of a smithy shop isn’t the big projects. It’s the little things. Hardware. Nails. Hinges. Things like that. His apprentice would crank out as many nails as possible if he didn’t have anything else better to do, because people ALWAYS will need nails…

By the way, some partially useless nail facts – when you go into a Big Box store and look for a box of nails, ever wonder why they’re denoted in “d” for size? Because of the Romans. The little “d” stands for “denarius”, which was the old Roman “dollar” a couple thousand years ago. One “denarius” would buy “X” number of nails a certain size. Bigger the nail, the smaller the number a denarius would buy. The Brits held it over from the Romans when they eventually left, and we held it over from the Brits…

Nails were so valuable and hard to come by on the frontier, that if a family was going to go West, they would burn their house down right before they left, then sift through the ashes for the nails, hinges, etc. The nails were more valuable than the structure itself, and there was no assurance that they could procure nails when they got to wherever they were going… makes em a pretty valuable commodity.

This also gave rise to the “trennel”, which is actually a bastardization of the words “tree-nail” (a nail made of wood). This was usually a wooden peg carved with a slight taper. Two pieces of wood would be drilled through, then the trennel was hammered home until it could not go any farther. The the trennel ends were then cut off even to make it nice and neat. Usually, trennels were made of a harder wood than the structure, such as hickory or osage orange. Eventually, the wood would swell and it would lock the trennel in place pretty much forever.

Last bit – just in case you were wondering, a square cut blacksmith made nail has 400% more holding power than a round cut machine made wire nail of the same size. If the wood isn’t properly normalized before you build your (fill in the blank) and you use round wire nails, the wood will shrink, which releases the nails (which is why all the stairways creak like a pirate ship about a year after a new house is built).

In case you were wondering how I know all this useless stuff, I got into woodworking all hot and heavy about 10 years ago. Invested in a bunch of antique hand tools, learned everything I could not only about how to make things out of wood (mostly Arts & Crafts style from the late 19th century), but also joinery, cabinetmaking, Japanese woodworking, then studied under a Master, and even studied how to make the tools you need to make the thing you need… it’s so much cooler to make a self-locking joint and not use nails… baffles people.

The wicked flee when none pursueth..." - Proverbs 28:1