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Ironhand Vernon

Vernon blacksmith impresses
visitors with unique craft

By LIBBY RICHARDS
Staff Writer


Vernon, Ind. – A step into Ray Sease’s blacksmith shop, located behind Vernon’s Historical Museum in the town square, is like a step back through time. If the ancient building with it’s enormous barn beams engraved with dates as early as the 1840’s isn’t evidence enough, just look to the antique blacksmith’s furnace, the tools used to shape the metal and the man himself. With his flowing graybeard and quite polite manner, Sease has embodied the art that he makes his living with. It’s easy to forget where, let alone when, you are. That is until you look around to see some of the more modern works of a man keeping an ancient tradition alive.

Ray Sease

Photo by Libby Richards

Ray Sease works a piece
of metal that will
eventually become
a decorative wizard.

Although Sease’s set-up is in conjunction with the historical museum’s location, much of his work embodies custom designs upon request. Popular are his reproductions of courting candles, a candleholder in a twist design that enabled control over the amount of time a young couple spent together. By turning the handle of the holder a person could lengthen the burning time of the candle, thus lengthening or shortening the time the couple could spend together.
Other pieces include plant stands and hangers, wick picks, letter openers, fireplace sets and custom designed gates and entrances.
Sease uses a hand crank blower to stoke the fire to heat the metal being formed. With the help of the blower the fire can reach temperatures up to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Though the sight of the intense fire is hypnotic, Sease warns that you shouldn’t look directly into a fire that intense for an extended period of time for fear of damaging your vision.
Some of the tools used by Sease are actual antique pieces that were easier to find when he started blacksmith work. Other pieces are made out stock known as UTA, or unknown truck axle, a tough metal that you can usually pick up for free. While small pieces can be forged by one man, larger pieces (3/4 to 1 inch) of steel require a two-man team. One man turns the metal while the other is the “striker”, repeatedly hitting the metal in the same spot until the required shape takes place.
Hot metal, Sease says, works like modeling clay. In fact many blacksmiths practice on clay before working on more detailed pieces.
Currently open two days a week, next year he hopes to increase that time to four days. When open Sease is visited by not only people off the street, but classes of students often tour the shop for a taste of what it was like to see hand forged blacksmith work at it’s finest. Captivated by the glow of the coals and the working of the metal, the children oh and ah over every strike of his hammer. On most days when children visit, Sease makes them a metal leaf that can be worn on a chain as a gift. It always amazes him how impressed the children react when they receive the gifts. No big deal to a man who hand forges such intricate works as wizard letter openers and multi-layered intricate leaf patterns that adorn his custom works.
Born in Salem, Indiana, Sease’s interest in blacksmith work began as a child with his Great Uncle, Earl, the last practicing blacksmith in Washington County. Earl’s shop still stands today, unfortunately Sease never got to actually see his uncle practice his trade. Fascinated, however, it was something he always expressed an interest in. After decades as a machinist, Sease became a blacksmith full time.
A member of the Indiana Blacksmiths Association, Sease and his colleges have started a satellite group that meets in his shop the second Saturday of every month, where members exchange ideas and techniques.
“You’d be surprised how many blacksmiths there really are out there,” Sease said. “They’re just kinda like termites, you only see one every now and then.”
To schedule times for student groups call (812) 522-7722.

Back to November 1999 Articles.

 

 

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