The tech blog Wired has been re-releasing their archives, and this one crossed my trawl. There is a group of blacksmiths in Montreal that are trying to preserve and pass on the traditional metalworking techniques of those who provided tools to the legendary voyageurs .
Les Forges de Montréal aims to address the dwindling number of masters of metalcraft. “Our mandate is to preserve and share traditional blacksmithing techniques,” explains Mathieu Collette, founder of Les Forges. “[We] conduct research and host demonstrations, inviting masters to share what they know.”
Collette’s main area of research is in recreating edge tools. “I’m researching the Canadian Biscayne trade axe,” he says. “It was exchanged with the natives for fur, which was taken to France. Unfortunately, the Industrial Revolution killed the blacksmith, so now I have to rediscover how those axes would have been made.”
The ultimate aim is to build an online archive of blacksmithing knowledge, accessible to all, and built from crowdsourced information and metalwork “recipes” passed from master to apprentice. Time is not on the project’s side, though. “We’re going to lose blacksmithing if we don’t link together,” Collette warns. “There are no [new] masters, so if this is not done in the next ten to 15 years, it’s going to be too late to collect the knowledge from the old masters. The desire is to assemble the expertise gathered so far into a framework for an encyclopaedia of blacksmithing, a resource that blacksmiths everywhere could consult and contribute to.”
Digging deeper, I went to the LesForges site to find out more about the axes.
“The choice of the Biscayne axe is significant on a couple of levels. First, until very recently, the axe would have been considered one of the most important tool in anyone’s possession. Prior to the industrial revolution, these tools were fabricated in the smithy. Second, as a matter of cultural heritage of Quebec and for that matter the Americas, the Biscayne axe was critical in the early development of the new world. It accompanied the early settlers from France and quickly became an important item of trade with the native Americans.”
The site has some really cool pictures and much more information for those who want to dive into the weeds. I have been trawling several blacksmithing sites and have been coming across some great stuff. I hope you do as well.
The video below shows Mathieu Collette forging one of these historical axes.