NRBA Conference Fall 2009, at Jim Bolinger's St. Mary's Forge, Stevensville, Montana, September 21 - 23.

Tony Stewart demonstrating.

Report by Ben Lund & Photos by Morris Hallowell

Jim Bolinger's newly expanded shop.

Friday morning, after a quick orientation by our host, Jim Bolinger; Tony Stewart was introduced as our featured demonstrator.

He started his demonstration by showing us the three faces he had previously made. Then he explained the procedure he would use to make the faces and to put different expressions on each face.

After explaining his tooling and the use of his many hammers, he drew a face on the easel to use as a pattern. He had a piece of 12 gauge steel previously cut so he was ready to begin laying out the features of the face.

All markings were made on the back side of the face with a hand push auto center punch. The nose, mouth, and eyebrows were marked out and then the punch marks were enhanced with a center punch and hammer.

Lighting the forge was next and while the forge and metal were getting hot, Tony selected the tooling and hammer he would use to begin the forging process. Most of his hot forging was done at a low red heat to minimize scale loss.

A gradual dishing of the blank started and continued until a general shape was completed. The bridge of the nose was next and then the eyebrows and eyes.

After stretching the metal in the nose area, Tony had to be very careful not to get the thin areas too hot while he was heating other areas of the face.

Speaking  of "too hot", Tony was constantly dipping his hands and tolling in water to keep them cool. After hot shaping the complete face, the character of the face was done mostly cold with some more of his special tooling.

Tony had just gotten into a good rhythm when it was lunch time. Lunch was provided by CdA Metals of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. A big thank you to this business for their support of NRBA.

After lunch Josh Joyce from Kalispell explained his water jet business and showed us some of the capabilities of his business. Several NRBA members have been very satisfied with work done for them.

Tony again went to work on his face, the demonstration face.

After more expression work, which was done hot, Tony took a break while Jim showed us his Mohumegane project.  Jim had made some Damascus of 35 alternate layers of copper and silver. After some power hammer forging and hand forging with a striker, the press was used to flatten the layers again. When the Damascus was thin enough, Jim said, "OK, it is ready to repousse." Then several members used various tools to put indentions on one side - it make a very interesting pattern when cut into thin layers.

After this exercise, Tony started on his next two faces. Tony continued to work on these faces until time to quit for the day.

Friday evening's meal was well done and much visiting and storytelling continued on into the night. I could not "outlast" the story tellers, so I went to bed.

Saturday morning after breakfast by Terry & Jean, Tony reviewed the procedures for making faces and then continued to put real live looking expressions on the faces. He did some of this forging while the faces were hot and then tweaked the expressions cold.

Sculpture by Tony Stewart


Close-up of the bird from above.


Tony Stewart demonstrated repousse techniques of raising, sinking and chasing to make three-dimensional objects from plate steel, a human face and a bird.

Discussing the importance of hammer profiles.


Tony brought a finished face mask to show where we were headed. (Pun intended.)



  Truing the workpiece after the first step: dishing


Tony frequently quenches his hand to protect it from the radiant heat of his workpiece.


Raising the nose between the prongs of a forked stake.



Chasing the eyes with a chisel.

The nearly finished face.

  Principle of the forked stake. A slender-nosed hammer creates a concavity by striking at an offset from the prongs.


After lunch, Tony continued with his next project, making a bird. He drew a pattern on the easel and then cut four pieces out of sheet metal with a plasma cutter. While he was doing this, he was explaining the procedure for making the bird.

Much of the same tooling was used and the general shaping was done hot. The legs were made out of 1/2" round stock which was split to make the feet. All the pieces were riveted together.

After two days of enjoying Tony's demonstrating, I heard the following comment: "Tony sure does a nice job of forging, talking, and thinking all at the same time!"

Hammering a concavity to form a bird's wing between the prongs of a forked stake.



Drawing out the bird's slender ankle after forging his talons, using a long slender stake and opposing long slender hammer.


The finished [half] bird.  Note the flush, countersunk rivets fastening the wings to the body.


Joel Machler (Host of our conference, Spring 2010) getting the right angle on Tony.


John Kimball paying attention.


Jim Bolinger beating on a piece of mokume gane to expose its pattern.

The mokume gane after polishing and pickling to bring out the pattern

Art Anderson setting up one of his hydraulic presses.


Knifemaker, Gerome Weinand and Host, Jim Bolinger


Ben Lund explaining the finer points of a Little Giant power hammer that he had just restored to Martin Hildreth.


Demonstrator from Spring 2009, Steve Fontanini


After the general meeting and a quick board meeting, Jim & Sandy prepared a delicious pitchfork fondue for us.

Getting ready for dinner.


By auction time, we had a good selection of auction items, and with the help of "no rules Jim", the auction went well. We need to thank Jim for being our auctioneer as he would rather be doing the bidding.

Our host, Jim Bolinger at the podium auctioning a treasure for the benefit of the NRBA.


Marilyn Lund and Jean Melton --- our friendly auction scribes.


Martin Hildreth contemplating a bid.

Ron Ellis and Mike Sousa


Ken Pomeroy winning an auction item.

The Gallery:

John Cook with his recently completed gate.


Frank Annighofer's firetool set.


Several members brought gallery items, including myself. I brought Marilyn's plant stand and some of our "friends" tried to sell it for $9.00, but they didn't get any takers.

My goodness, the glass was worth $40, so there must have been something wrong with the design or quality of forging. I'll try to do better next time!

Ben Lund made this table for Marilyn.


Steve Fontanini made this log carrier. Note the slit-and-drift holes punched through 1-inch by 3-inch steel---the hard way.


Sunday morning, Tony had to leave and members seemed to be more interested in relaxing and drinking coffee than forging. By late morning, good-byes and "I'll see you at spring conference" were said and the conference was over.

I hope you enjoyed a little different twist on the conference report.--- Ben

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