“Charleston is a city built on ironwork. There’s an appreciation for ironwork in Charleston that’s greater than most cities in the United States.”
Walking down the streets of downtown, it’s easy to see what Robert Thomas is talking about. Gates & fences with intricate craftsmanship adorn our city, some made by Thomas and his team at Robert Thomas Iron Design.
“So we are blacksmiths in the most classical sense you can imagine- we use traditional forging techniques to make custom ironwork,”
Thomas said. “We actually forge the material, steel in our case, as opposed to casting which is a pouring process where you melt down steel and pour it into a mold or machining where you’re removing material- cutting it away.”
So no metal is cut or melted down- but then what exactly is forging?
“If you think about it like clay- forging, you take a block of clay and you turn it into something else and it weighs the same- it’s just in a very different space. That’s what forging is.”Robert Thomas, blacksmith & owner of Robert Thomas Iron Design
Unlike molding clay, you won’t want to shape steel with your hands as blacksmiths at this forge work with nearly 2000 degree steel. There’s a couple ways metal can get that hot at this forge.
“In our case we burn coke. It’s a by product of coal that burns cleaner and hotter than coal.”
“A gas jet just like your grill but with a lot more power.”
“We also use induction heating, which sends an electric current through a copper coil- creates a magnetic field. When you introduce steel into that magnetic field it excites the molecules and heats it up.”
Since the heat source is from the magnetic field generated, the copper coil is actually cool to the touch.
Forged in fire, propane, or physics, the metal is now ready to become something great. And as the saying goes you’ll have to wait as next week’s Moment of Science will take you through the rest of the forging process.
Storm Team 2 Meteorologist David Dickson