Dog-powered Blacksmithing

Yesterday I got an email from Ken Schwarz, master blacksmith at Colonial Williamsburg, in which he shared a delightful video of nailmaking in Liège, Belgium in the 1930s. Besides the speed with which these smiths work and the fascinating dedicated nailmaking setup, I thought the dog-powered bellows were too cool not to share. As Ken described the video to me, “Note that the tooling and process are the same as those described in Diderot and by Thomas Jefferson more than a century earlier – right down to the dogs operating the bellows. This is how most commercial nailmaking was carried out.”

Here’s the video:


Below is a 1763 ink, wash, and chalk illustration from Jean-Michel Moreau le jeune called “The Nail Makers.” The Getty says, “This small drawing is one of several studies Jean-Michel Moreau le jeune produced for prints featured in Diderot's Encyclopédie.

Notice at rear left the dog walking in the wheel, which operates the pumping of the bellows…

Le Cloutier Grossier, Jean-Michel Moreau le jeune, 1763. Courtesy of The Getty.


Here’s the final plate in Diderot. 


Courtesy of The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project.


 Some will think of this work arrangement as animal abuse, but to my eye, the dogs in the video above look like they couldn’t have a better life – wagging tails and all. Watching them reminds me of the horses my logging friend, Jon Ellsworth, harvested the logs for our blacksmith-shop timber-frame project with. I watched him in the woods with his two Suffolk Punches, Jay and Jackson, and I tell you, those boys want to move all day long. Jon told me that standing still drives them crazy. He’s tried getting them to till his commercial garden and they just get antsy and bored with such a light-duty task – they just want to work! Jon has one of the most soft-spoken and gentle ways of interacting with these majestic creatures, in contrast to some of what he saw from others in his early days. I made sure to include the three of them working together in our documentary film because the collaboration is a beautiful sight to behold.

Even though the dogs in the video above weren’t turnspits, they looked like they were in their element!

– Joshua


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