FARMINGTON — Nails go back thousands of years, and most were made by blacksmiths, Robin Beck recently told a 4-H Blacksmith SPIN Club class.

After the American Revolution, families — including children — would make their own, she said. 

Beck, of Livermore Falls, Janine Winn of Temple and Stan Tilton of New Sharon shared their knowledge of blacksmithing during a six-session SPIN Club held at the Farmington Fairgrounds.

All three are members of Western Maine Blacksmith Association, of which Tilton is president.

They volunteered to lead the sessions in partnership with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension 4-H, said David Allen, 4-H Youth Development Professional.

SPIN, which stands for “special interest,” is an opportunity for youths to work with adult volunteers. They share their skills in such things as fishing, photography and cake decorating, Allen said.

“The 4-H SPIN clubs are special-interest clubs where four or more young people, ages 9 to 18, gather with a volunteer and, for at least six sessions, learn about a selected topic of interest,” Allen said. “Topics vary and can include the natural arts, heritage arts, science and technology, music, gardening, shooting sports and more.”

Beck and Winn are 4-H leaders and members of the Education Committee of the Western Maine Blacksmith Association. 

They brought the Blacksmith SPIN Club idea to the association. The main reason is to promote blacksmithing, Winn said. Every year at fairs, there is a lot of interest in the rolling smithy. The blacksmiths also want to increase their membership, and sharing with 4-H meant more people learning about the skill, she said.

“It is a good partnership,” Winn said.

The University of Maine Cooperative Extension trains volunteers and helps with the logistics. It also helps with acquiring materials for the club. A grant from the Maine 4-H Foundation paid for safety gear for the students to try their hands at blacksmithing, Allen said.

The SPIN clubs provide shorter-term volunteering opportunities, he said. The free blacksmith workshop was offered in six nightly sessions, all in July.  

On July 13, SPIN club members learned about forging nails. On another night, scrollwork and forging spoons were the topics. They also learned about blacksmithing history, tools, forge safety, how to make a fire and basic blacksmithing skills, such as drawing out, tapering and bending steel, he said.

Club members first learned about safety and the basics, such as how to hold the hammer properly and hammering techniques, Winn said.

Participants put rods of metal in hot, burning coals, then pounded and shaped their own nails. The molten metal almost looked like it would break. 

“Once the metal is red-hot, it is soft and like plastic,” Tilton said. “You can push it around until it cools.”

Erica Johnson of Farmington, who was watching the blacksmithing work while waiting for a student in the class, said she enjoys learning about such things.

A member of 4-H from ages 9 to 18, Johnson said 4-H offers opportunities for youths to learn responsibility and money management from raising and selling stock and how to work with people. It also teaches children how to be responsible adults, she said.

“We are looking for more adults who are interested in starting other 4-H SPIN clubs,” Allen said. “We are planning now for SPIN clubs that will meet in the next three to six months.”

4-H staff is ready to guide and support adults through the process of applying to volunteer, training, planning activities and getting educational materials, he said.

For more information about volunteering for a SPIN Club, contact Allen at 778-4650 or email [email protected].

[email protected]

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