by Jody Best

Good music is required for this project.  Right now, I am listening to Putumayoís World Playground, a collection of kidís music from around the globe.  Itís upbeat and catchy, and just a little repetitive--perfect for a blacksmithing project thatís basically simple, but has some subtle complexities. Itís a very suitable selection for production work.

Track  1:  The project: Forged Bookends

ďBooksĒ, said one old smart guy, ďare the quietest and most constant of friends, the most accessible and wisest of councilors, and the most patient of teachersĒ.  But enough waxing poetic.  The bottom line is that a set of bookends is a good project for smiths with a wide range of skill levels or shop set-ups.  Bookends are a good gift, even for kids.  (Wrap up the bookends with a couple favorite titles.  Promote literacy and appreciation of the arts.) A single set can be designed to be a very personal reflection of the individual who receives them.  As an item for sale, whether in a gallery or store or craft show, bookends can be made quickly  as a production item with enough variations that the project doesnít become boring in the shop.


Track  2:  Item Description

Like anything else, design is only limited by the artisanís own imagination.  However, it sometimes helps to have a jumping off point, a place to start, an idea to run with.   Hereís one idea.  In my shop, I often make multiples of the same item with simple variations.  The bookends I make have a heavy steel plate which is the vertical piece that the books lean against.  This piece is chiseled with my design.  A thin plate with a right angle bend is riveted to the upright piece and it slides under the books to hold them upright.  The design options for the upright piece are where the fun kicks in.  This is the time to turn up the music a little, sit down with some soapstone at your layout table, maybe eat a few M & Mís, and doodle a few doodles until something looks good.



Track  3:  Some Specifics

I use 5/16Ē steel plate for the vertical element of the bookends. I had a number of these laser cut at one time so they can be produced in multiples.  The ones I had cut are very basic-- 4 1/4Ē x  5Ē  at the highest point with a slightly curved radius at the top.  A lot of shape variations are possible and these could be cut from plate using all the usual options--bandsaw, torch, plasma, water, laser, depending on the complexity of design, the quantity needed, the expense, and the access to these choices.  

 This may seem obvious, but I think it is very important to take the machine-cut plate blank and hammer it before you start on the ornamental work. Unless the effect you desire is something industrial in nature (which is fine, too), texturing your steel with hammer blows, peened edges, or even fire scale gives it a quality entirely unique to that piece and to hand-forged ironwork.  It is what sets an artisanís work apart form the stuff sold at Wal-mart.


After the plate is textured, I lay out a design to chisel into it.  Keep in mind where rivets from the bottom plate will be attached so they are not a distraction in your design.   To match the two bookends, draw the design to scale on paper, make two copies.  Keep one as a reference and rubber cement the other two to the plates.   Working cold, I use a treadle hammer to lightly chisel the design and then remove the paper and incise the lines again as deeply as desired and touch up the details.   Of course, this can be done on the anvil if you donít have a treadle hammer.   For an entirely different effect, instead of using a chiseled design, forged elements could be riveted to the plate. 

It is important that the bottom of the 5/16Ē plate be flat and square before attaching the base piece that slides under the books.  If it isnít, the bookends may tip forward or backwards.   The base plate I use is 12 gauge steel  with a right angle bend made with a brake.  On the base, the horizontal section is  3Ē and the vertical section which rivets to the chiseled plate is 1 1/2Ē.  To attach the base, I use rivets, which are simple, effective, and traditional--qualities I think are important in workmanship and life.  Make sure the base is square with the vertical plate and clamp the two pieces together to mark the holes and drill.  The top of the plate can be countersunk if the rivet head would be a distraction to your design.  The rivets can also be incorporated into the design, decorated, or accented--by using copper rivets for contrast, for example.



Computer clip art is a great source of design ideas if two-dimensional art isnít your thing.  Materials can also be scaled and images reversed and everything can be easily printed using modern technology.  I guess we could use the time and effort saved by the computer to reflect on and appreciate the artists throughout history who managed to create masterpieces using only their own vision and perseverance, no Apples, Epsons, or IBMís. 

Track 4:  Finish

In order to see the chiseled lines, sometimes it is effective to darken them to contrast with the steel.  There are blacking chemicals available through jewelry supply companies, but I usually spray the entire bookend with flat black paint, let it dry, then steel wool it.  I then finish the project with clear-coat or furniture wax.

 Thatís it.  Time to listen to more music, sit down with a good book, start planning the next project.  Itís good stuff. 



Note to Jody: Sunflower River Blues was not available as a midi :))bb


(Dave Radion is the owner of the bookends photographed in this article.)


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