Blacksmith Sandra Dunn on Maker Expo

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You might pass by this shop, visible from the Conestoga Parkway, and have no idea of the metal magic happening inside. I serendipitously learned of Sandra Dunn and her business Two Smiths back in 2013 when I (DW) caught a photo of her during an industrial tour associated with BOX Art. Fast-forward to today and helping put Maker Expo together has prodded me to ask myself: who among all the makers I know, from all my travels, do I myself want to see at the event? Sandra is right up there on the list and so I cold-called her last week to ask if she would consider applying. Happily she said: I’m all in! Application submitted!

It’s sort of fitting that we feature Two Smiths here when there are only TWO days left to apply to Maker Expo. I strongly encourage you to apply too as a maker, to participate, to engage in the event. I guarantee your experience will be so much richer as an active player. Life ain’t Netflix. Charles Dickens opened his book David Copperfield thusly: “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”  Maker Expo offers you one more opportunity on a hundred-high pile you have every week to be the hero of your own life. You may apply to show people finger-knitting, or you may be building a better Falcon-9 rocket: either way you are curious and ready to demo/teach/discuss/share what you’re working on. There are no prizes because there’s no judging at Maker Expo. We are all winners because we are all makers.

Before I dive into an unreasonable number of photos, I’ll tell you that Sandra will be offering classes in both coppersmithing and blacksmithing. Small student:teacher ratio. Check out Sandra’s website for contact info. And for all you new practitioners of axe-throwing, there is a whisper of a rumour of a make-your-own-throwing-axe class in the winter. That might be wildly popular.

My second question to Sandra after “Will you apply?” was: can my daughter Arden and I come to your shop and photograph you? Tomorrow? More happiness when Sandra said, sure, 9:30am. Here’s the photo walk.

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Around the back of 41 Ardelt Place, I asked a fellow measuring steel stock in the yard, “Hey, Brother, can you point us at Two Smiths?” Through that door to the left.

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Photo: Arden White

Don Voisin’s Double R Steel has the majority of this big building, complete with plasma cutters, gigantic rollers, and overhead cranes. Seriously heavy duty fabrication in progress in this section of Ron Doyle’s property.

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Sandra Dunn

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mid-restoration…

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of these gorgeous metal doors…

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from the mausoleum at Woodland Cemetery over on Weber.

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There’s my co-photographer Arden White checking detail shots. Sandra explained that the doors were initially thought to have a steel frame, but when she removed the skin on one side she discovered…

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it was actually all brass construction…

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Photo: Arden White

requiring a more extensive rebuild.

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That work involved fabricating brass blocks to fit inside the existing frame.

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Putting the skins back on the door required drilling and tapping over 400 holes and then threading brass machine screws into the door to hold the skins in place. In order to achieve the original look of the door, those 400+ screw heads will be ground off and then sanded flush with the door surface.

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Shiny new surfaces of sanded brass will then be chemically treated to match the patina…

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of the original surfaces. How ninja is that?

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Adjacent to the Two Smiths space we found ION LRT rails, fabricated by Double R Steel.

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Regular makebright readers know I’m a freak for tools. I noted all the different hammers in the rack and Sandra explained that she makes these. What?!

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Seriously. So meta! Making the thing that makes.

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She uses automotive stabilizer bars from car suspension as source material for these hammer heads.

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Photo: Arden White

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Here’s an example of coppersmith work. These beautiful complex curves…

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are created by hammering on one side of copper sheet causing it to bend into organic forms. Controlling the curves is equal parts art and science and makerly elbow grease.

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Sandra showed us examples of copper form folding, creating…

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these fabric-like sheathes…

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for entry doors.

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We were delighted to catch Sandra before she heads out on her around the world tour to New Zealand, Australia, and Hawaii to teach coppersmithing and blacksmithing. She’s the real deal in this artform and has been chosen to represent Canada, leading a team of six blacksmiths in Belgium in September 2016. There, her team will create a unique railing for a World War I Cenotaph.

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I pack Maker Expo swag wherever I go and I’m happy to leave it where it will do good.

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Sandra showed us this small chisel. Super-useful, she said.

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She made this chisel from automotive springs as they have higher carbon content making them a harder material suited to that tool. On a side note, I just liked this chisel-hand image so much that I…

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started…

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a micro-study…

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of…

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Sandra’s…

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hands. If eyes are the window on your soul, then hands are the doorway to what you do.

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Now this shoot+chat is my ideal engagement. Absolutely ideal. Tools, materials, shop, creation, noise, smoke. Since I’m shooting non-stop while we’re talking, it can be hella-difficult to keep the salient points in my quasi-reliable memory. Given that, you’d think I would stay super-focused, but when I see 7 ginormous shipping containers…

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right there in the shop, I gotta ask. The plan is to configure and conjoin these containers into some funky workshop somewhere on the property.

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30 or 40 minutes into our visit I started to wander around, so Sandra could get back to work on the doors.

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I found Sandra’s apprentice Bronson Kozdas on the far side of the shop.

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Bronson studied blacksmithing at Sir Sanford Fleming College at the Haliburton campus.

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Pretty compelling visuals in this corner of the shop, too.

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I gather he was cooling this end of piece in water so he could hang on to it while…

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shaping it on the anvil…

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with a hammer.

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There is something so intriguing about metal heated cherry red. I remember this vividly from my high school machine shop class where we had to heat treat the hammers we made as our term projects.

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Bronson took this piece through repeated cycles of heating and shaping.

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I was busy trying to get a decent exposure of the flames and the much darker surroundings at the same time. Such fun problems to have.

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I said “I hear you might be making a throwing axe.”

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to which Bronson responded…

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that he ultimately wants to make a double-edged throwing axe, but first will try a single-edged 2 or 3lbs axe to figure out the process. His plan is to figure that out over the summer when he’s back home on the farm and then bring back what he learned when he returns in the fall.

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Stock material is beautiful in colour and form and also in that it holds the potential to be so many different things. This might look like an empty shot with no specific focus, and you’d be right thinking that. I shoot these shots as potential backdrops for digital or print content where you can adjust the opacity of the background and drop text right in on it.

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I subscribe to the notion that it’s good to have a bunch of material in my shop so that I can think with my hands. Sure you can order whatever you need for a job, but a lot of times you need to figure out how to approach a job by assembling small mockups or fabbing up some jigs. I should be as organized in this approach as Two Smiths.

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Sandra with the torch over there and Bronson on the anvil over here.

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Evidence of Human Life. One of my favourite themes.

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Back over at the door restoration…

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Photo: Arden White

Sandra had sparked up an oxy-acetylene torch to do some serious soldering. Check out that sweet star burst that Arden caught with the 50mm on the D90. Winner winner, chicken dinner.

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I could have shot these colours and textures all day…

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seriously.

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But we had to get up to kwartzlab to drop off some killer robots that I took to our Maker Expo pop-up the night before at the Communitech Tech Jam job fair. Then we were hitting Queen Street Commons for lunch, so we said our thanks and good-byes.

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Thanks for the chat, Sandra and Bronson, and leaping high-five for applying to exhibit at Maker Expo. Dear reader, if you hung in this far in this post, you are definitely our kind of maker. Join us. Only two days left to apply.

We are all makers.

DW

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