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Greenfield blacksmith teaches others through Franklin County Blacksmiths’ Guild

  • Ted Hinman forges steel in his Petty Plain Road blacksmith shop Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Ted Hinman forges steel in his Petty Plain Road blacksmith shop Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Ted Hinman forges steel in his Petty Plain Road blacksmith shop. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Ted Hinman forges steel in his Petty Plain Road blacksmith shop Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Inside Ted Hinman’s Petty Plain Road blacksmith shop. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Inside Ted Hinman's Petty Plain Road blacksmith shop Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Ted Hinman forges steel in his Petty Plain Road blacksmith shop. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Metalwork inside Ted Hinman's Petty Plain Road blacksmith shop. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo

  • Ted Hinman's Petty Plain Road blacksmith shop Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo



Recorder Staff
Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Towering over his anvil, the blacksmith pulled a glowing red rod of steel from the embers of his forge. He placed the piece of metal down on the anvil, holding it steady with his left hand.

With his other hand, he raised his hammer and brought it down on the rod with a sturdy, mighty stroke.

His peppered beard swung, and the large medallion around his neck reflected sparks flying from the malleable steel.

“I try to be authentic to whatever time period,” said Theodore “Ted” Hinman, 55, of Greenfield.

Hinman has been blacksmithing for 22 years, but he preserves more than a millennium of history, using techniques from different eras of the ancient trade.

While giving a tour of his new studio at his Greenfield home in February, he frequently stopped at a 19th-century-style anvil and forge, each time pulling the hot rod and banging it with his hammer.

Blacksmithing as an escape

A teacher who has privately tutored more than 150 students in blacksmithing, Hinman naturally explains each piece of equipment.

“This is the face, the step and the horn,” said Hinman, tapping each part of the anvil.

Hinman grew up in New York City, the son of two artists. He remembers his parents artwork, as well as trips with his grandparents to open-air museums featuring historical reenactments, as having influenced his future career as a blacksmith.

As a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, Hinman has struggled. He was institutionalized from ages 13 to 19, and has felt like an outsider when with other people.

His craft, though, is “a spiritual process” that allows him to escape from his disability.

“He just does such amazing, amazing work,” said Armené Margosian, Hinman’s wife of 16 years, watching him with fixed eyes.

Margosian met Hinman at a blacksmithing class, and is impressed by both his skill and scope of work.

“I cover from the 19th-century all the way back to the medieval ages — further back, actually,” Hinman said.

Sharing his knowledge

Hinman has done blacksmithing demonstrations and historical reenactments using techniques from the Dark Ages, the Viking Age, the High Middle Ages and the European colonial period.

As the founder and leader of Franklin County’s Blacksmiths’ Guild, Hinman performs demonstrations of medieval blacksmithing at the Turners Falls Mutton and Mead Festival each year. He does so in traditional clothing — something he is used to, having done 17th-century re-enactments at Historic Northampton for many years.

Hinman is a quiet man, but the hundreds of items he has crafted laying around his studio give insight into his vast knowledge of metalworking. The handles on the door of the room, as well as the lock, are just two of Hinman’s creations.

“The amazing thing is he made that forge and the hammer and all of that,” said Margosian, while Hinman was preparing to take another whack at the heated steel.

Yes, Hinman does his blacksmithing with tools and equipment that he himself has already forged. The forge, anvil and hammers — plus some steel — Hinman manipulates to make more.

He has a whole rack of tools he created, of all different sizes and replicating different eras of the trade.

“These are the first things I teach,” said Hinman, pointing to an S-hook, barbecue fork and spatula, a knife and a spoon.

The items teach students an array of skills: welding pieces of metal together, rounding chunks of metal and creating different shapes.

“It looks simple but it’s really not,” said Hinman, holding up an S-hook so symmetrical it could pass as factory-made.

“That would take me a really long time to make,” said Margosian, gesturing toward the small, shaped piece of metal.

Next to the display of beginners’ projects sit a shining array of blades Hinman created by joining steel with polished wood. He even punctured the handles with tiny pieces of metal, creating patterns on the hilts

One of his favorite blades is a replica of a sword the elves in the Lord of the Rings movies use. He still uses his knowledge of history to describe the fictional weapons.

“This would be an odachi or a nodachi,” said Hinman, describing the Lord of the Rings sword’s similarity to traditional Japanese weapons.

“George Washington’s tackle box” is another of Hinman’s quirky creations. It is a replica of the hooks, bobbers and string that would have been among the first president’s fishing gear.

Inspiring new blacksmiths

Hinman’s skill has won him countless competitions, gained him visiting artist status at schools and plenty of pupils. He’s even been commissioned to make pieces for different towns and institutions. Fitchburg’s Riverfront Park has seven iron panels created by Hinman, each an array of twisted black rods forming intricate designs.

At Fitchburg’s Blacksmith Art & Music Festival, also known as the Fitchburg Forge-In, Hinman has competed for more than a decade among other professional blacksmiths. He has judged the competition, too.

“He’s a very community-oriented man, very helpful to me and very, very talented,” said Achla Madan, the festival’s co-founder.

According to Madan, Hinman competes in the festival –— held the last Saturday in September at Riverfront Park — not for the chance to win the nearly $5,000 in cash prizes or to show off his skills. Madan, who has a background in architecture and metalworking, said Hinman competes because he wants to get others interested in the ancient art of blacksmithing.

Madan said Hinman’s goal has been a success; the festival has grown over the past decade, and sometimes draws over a thousand people.

Professionals like Hinman, she said, are the main attraction.

“He is unique because he is interested in medieval blacksmithing,” Madan said, recalling a time that Hinman, dressed in clothes faithful to the period, spent the lunch hour at the festival showing the crowd and even other professionals how blacksmithing was done centuries ago.

He did so with a forge he had made on his own, Madan said.

But Hinman is not just interesting because his work employs practices of ancient ages. Madan said he is among the most talented to compete at the festival, too.

“Every year we do a panel competition,” Madan said. (Yes, like the iron panels Hinman forged for permanent display at Riverfront Park.)

“He invariably gets a first, second or third prize in those,” Madan said.

A spotlight on blacksmithing

From Hinman and Margosian’s perspectives, events like the Fitchburg Forge-in allow blacksmiths to once again be in the spotlight.

After all, blacksmiths were an extremely vital part of the community in past eras. In medieval Europe, for example, everyone, from the rich to the poor, would need to go to a blacksmith for some reason or another, Hinman said.

But today, blacksmithing gives people like Hinman a passion with an infinite amount of challenges. Lately, that challenge has been iron railings for homes. Each staircase has different dimensions, and some clients want to minimize gaps in the railing if they have small children.

All of his works, he explained, from the tiny Viking-style anvil in the corner, to the metal flower sculpture he made Margosian for Valentine’s Day, require different techniques, tools and equipment, and their level of crudeness represents the limited items available to blacksmiths in their given era.

There’s four common things necessary in creating all of them, though: metal, heat, air and a blacksmith.

Hinman teaches both adults and teenagers as young as 11 in private sessions for a price of $30 an hour including materials, or parents and their children can take lessons together for $50 an hour. To see some of Hinman’s work, demonstrations and to learn more about classes, visit tedhinman.com or call 413-636-9079.

David McLellan can be reached at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.