Woodworking in Vietnam

The Toolmaker's Forge

About a kilometer down the main road from Hoi An, heading towards the beach, is an unassuming shed which is the forge of a toolmaker. When I arrived the shop was closed for lunch. However the arrival of an American not en-route to the beach provoked immediate attention from the schoolchildren in the area who went to fetch the master. I speak no Vietnamese, the master spoke no English, and a generic phrase book filled with hotel and restaurant chats was totally useless in this context. After an long exchange, drawing pictures and making gestures, the master realized that here was a tourist who wanted to buy every tool he had around. This was big news.

Click on any picture to enlarge

When I visted, the toolmaker was working on a set of large knives. Here the blade is forged thinner. This is done even to older knives to reshape their blades and to hammer-harden the blades. Because this blade is so thin, the smith had to repeatedly reheat the blade to forging temperature. The actual forge fire is quite small, just enough to heat the exact area of the iron. The flames are fanned by a small electric bellows that is turned on when needed.
The smith is always in motion: hammering the white hot metal for a few mements before it cools down, thusting the metal back into the forge for reheating and then repeating the process until the work is done. The only respite is the time it takes for the work to reheat. A second or two when the smith can look around and decide what to do next...
... And forging the blade somemore.
The chisels that I purchased were all forged in the shop. But forging is a rough process and the final step - to make a smooth finished piece - requires quite a lot of metal work. Here an assistant in the front of the forge files the bolster of a chisel. On the bench in from of him are a group of files and two-handed metal scrapers that are used to work the metal to finished state. This is exactly how metalwork was done in the West in the days before precision forging and machine shops. One of the primary tasks in any metal shop was filing and scraping. What is important is how efficient these processes are.

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