“How about I just work here at the bench?”
I think I first met Sandra Dunn of Two Smiths on a tour of the old Double R Steel facility down on Ardelt in Kitchener. Her business, specializing in both blacksmithing and coppersmithing, occupied one end of that building. A couple years later, I cold-called to invite her to join the first Maker Expo we were launching. She agreed to both join and to allow me into her shop to do a story to promote the Expo. Then early last spring, I caught up with Sandra leading part of an international project to fabricate a railing for a cenotaph in Ypres, Belgium.
Which brings us to last week, when I walked into Sandra’s new shop at 8 Grand Avenue in Kitchener (Bridgeport, for you locals). Regular readers know my photographic predilection for makerly endeavours and good people. I found both, once again, at Two Smiths. Since they had just moved in, all their stuff was still in open crates and boxes, giving me a visual smorgasbord to shoot, and shoot I did for about three hours.
As I was wrapping up, we got chatting and Sandra said she needed some photos for classes and her web site and some printed material. She wanted to hire me for that gig and of course I’m keen to do it. I mentioned I had recently moved out of the co-working space in the old Brick Brewery uptown (soon to become condos) and was looking for a space to work. Sandra had heard that and invited me to pull up a chair to the workbench in her new shop.
Sandra Dunn, centre, is flanked by Aimie Botelho and Bronson Kozdas who are working and learning in her shop. “You want to photograph us dirty as we are?” they asked. “You’re perfect” said I.
It’s been a week now and the TL;DR is: Two Smiths is a fascinating nexus of smithing, design, fabrication, tools, projects, goodwill, talent and great people. I’m eager to follow along as Sandra and her crew fabricate the public art piece Spinal Column that she designed for the light rail train stop at Grand River Hospital. In the meantime, here are a completely unreasonable number of photos…
Bronson busting out the drills.
Aimie about to TIG weld a new rack. “I want this shot and I’m going to try to avoid getting welder’s flash” I shouted over the shop noise. “Will that damage your camera?” “Maybe, but it’s definitely bad for the photographer.”
Steel poppies left over from the cenotaph railing.
I asked Sandra if she had examples of coppersmithing so I could experiment a bit photographing copper. She pulled out these vessels that are cold formed (with some annealing, I reckon) with these hammers. This bowl would be a typical project in a Two Smiths introductory class. (Stay tuned for more info on upcoming classes)
This leaf’s complex curves are formed through a process of working the copper in a specific order, creating the curves.
Sandra and Bronson.
This is a leg vise. This design is hundreds of years old. To withstand the pounding, a leg vise is forged rather than cast. The leg (on the left end there) is pointed down, often resting on a buried post to receive the force of the hammer impact.
Hand-cranked blower. One way to heat up metal is with a coal fire and forced air.
I’m a fool for tools, and everyone’s toolbox tells a story and often travels across generations.
Some stuff needs to be stored…
up on the mezzanine. Not you, Bronson.
Anvils. Of course.
Calipers and scribes.
Aimie and Bronson doing some heavy lifting. Literally.
Box o’ files.
Regular readers know my fascination with hand lettering in industrial environments. Evidence of Human Life.
Up go the squares and levels.
I think this will be my new laptop background.
Wooden mallets for copper, I think.
For hot times.
Everywhere I turned, there were interesting forms, intersections of design and fabrication.
Here are laser-cut blanks from the poppy railing, pre-hammering.
You gotta have a plan.
Patterns and textures abounding.
If you’re new to fabrication, you may not know that sometimes the first job is to actually make the tools you need.
I’ll bet each of these bits is an artifact from a project or an experiment.
Blower from portable forge.
This anvil is enormous.
Part of Sandra’s craft involves creating or replicating a patina on the surface of metals.
This can be especially important in restoration work.
I love industrial controls. Everybody’s got a thing, eh?
Waiting to be unpacked.
A door that Sandra clad in folded copper and fitted with a forged door pull.
Fragments of refractory cement? Just guessing.
Love these steel grass forms.
This gigantic drill press is for sale. Offers to Sandra. It’s going up on kijiji shortly.
Gear head on the drill press.
Vise on the bandsaw.
The other drill press.
Aimie cutting bar stock on the bandsaw for a fixture.
“It’s hard for me to not make funny faces at you” said Aimie. I know, I get that all the time.
Drills and dies.
Bronson in action.
Filing some angle for a fixture. Here’s a leg vise in a mount.
This Bridgeport knee mill belongs to Sandra’s friend and is being rebuilt in the shop. A Bridgeport in Bridgeport. So good.
Oxy-acetylene torch. For cuttin’ and heatin’ and brazin’ and what have you.
On the mill.
The electrician got the TIG welder wired up quick, which accelerated the building of everything.
Regulator and gauges.
This made me smile: “LRT Maquette”. (A maquette is a small model of bigger thing to be constructed)
All the shapes.
You can never have…
too many clamps.
I’ve loved DYMO tape…
since the first time my Dad helped me punch out my name at his office at Dome Petroleum in Sarnia.
All the stands. This is, to the civilian like me, magic, and to the professional a way of everyday life: you fabricate a lot of your own fixtures.
Scratched up gas bottle. I think there’s a whole series in this domain.
Questions and answers.
That’s Bell Cartage across the street. Love those red trucks.
Sandra says when you have a piano in the shop, you will be surprised to learn who actually knows how to play. Bronson, for instance.
This 2400 sqft shop is perfect. Clean. Painted walls. Roll-up door. Parking. I love it.
The classic shop trio of microwave, coffee maker and boom box. Two Smiths has excellent taste in their eclectic collection of music.
Design and test.
That’s a good look.
I could do a whole lighting-the-torch series. That woofing sound when it ignites is terrific.
Bronson was heating up this bar stock to bend it into a bracket.
Aimie chopping stock.
Pretty long stock.
Great lunchtime chat with these three. Got valuable feedback on Art$Pay.
We’re all wearing earplugs in the shop, so I’m becoming accustomed to lip reading a bit.
Then it was time for everybody’s fave: headshots!
Aimie: “Should I strike the high school graduation photo pose?”
musing about what other poses he might have struck. More laughing and working.
Thanks for letting me into your world. It was so good: I stayed.
This is us.