CanIRON III, the third Biennial Canadian Blacksmith Conference, was held this year in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, and was a wonderful time of learning and fellowship among blacksmiths. A great venue, superb demonstrators and exceptional hospitality combined to make this “Iron Odyssey” a truly wonderful event for those of us lucky enough to attend.

You can understand why they call Saskatchewan the “Land of Living Skies,” as the rolling farmland opens up in front of you and the sky becomes the dominant feature. One often thinks of this province as flat prairie land, but actually of its quarter-million square-mile area, one half is forest, one third is farmland and one eighth is covered in fresh water. Where the Battle River meets the mighty North Saskatchewan River lies the city of North Battleford. One of the earliest communities in the province, the first fur trading post was established here in 1785.

The city sits on a plateau above the lush river valley and is home to one of the province’s four Western Development Museums, which provided an excellent backdrop for CanIRON III. The museum is set up as a heritage farm and village that provides a social and economic history for the province with one of the highlights being a fantastic collection of preserved farm equipment. The CanIRON demonstration areas were set up on the grounds of the museum village and participants were able to wander between these and the large exhibition building that housed the dinner hall, the “Instant Gallery,” and other exhibition areas.

The Chapel Gallery, North Battleford’s public gallery, presented the CanIRON exhibit “Iron Odyssey” and was the location of the weekend’s first event — a wine and cheese reception — to welcome the CanIRON participants. Old and new acquaintances mingled in the beautiful exhibit hall and on the outdoor patio with its incredible view over the river valley.

The next morning CanIRON kicked into full gear as the nine demonstration areas filled up with activity. Demonstrators from far and wide brought their expertise to CanIRON III and with just two and a half days, it was impossible to see everything. The following is just an overview of the demonstrations presented.

Mike Boone from Colorado produced a full-sized gate over the weekend to demonstrate how to take your ideas from design to finished product using several forging techniques, and traditional joinery and assembly.

Robin Boone also presented an interesting seminar on design as it relates to forged metalwork, providing an insight into the development of an idea through its different stages to a completed design.

Shona Johnson and Pete Hill traveled from Edinburgh, Scotland, with their small son Josh to demonstrate the various techniques that they use to produce a large, elegant, freestanding Windvane sculpture. They also presented an exciting slide show of work by their company, Ratho Byres Forge, and by other British smiths. The majority of the slides were of very impressive architectural pieces that use traditional techniques to express some very nontraditional designs.

Bob Patrick of Arkansas brought many years of teaching experience with him to illustrate the fine points of forge welding and produced an ornate doorknocker during the weekend.

Dorothy Stiegler from California not only demonstrated some of her trademark floral pieces but also forged several interesting pieces out of bronze. She has also been experimenting with applications of glass enamel on her forged pieces and she shared this process with the eager participants that crowded her tent.

John and Nancy Little from East Dover, Nova Scotia, made — among other things — decorative elements that combined to make an elaborate railing as a way of illustrating their approach to modern sculptural design. An exquisite little dragon bottle opener that they produced during their demonstration was an extremely popular item.

Decorative scrolls and animal heads were the main focus of Mark Pearce from Calgary, Alberta, during the three-day event. It’s marvelous how a giant of a man like Mark can so deftly turn out a delicate little swan or graceful horse’s head.

Jim Jensen from Mont Nebo, Saskatchewan, had set up a portable foundry at his station and was demonstrating the process of casting bronze in sand molds. Along with many small pieces, Jim was casting parts for a life-size blacksmith, providing interested participants with several opportunities to watch him pour molten metal.

Bill Plant, also from Saskatchewan, was the only demonstrator whose tent, located next to the museum’s old blacksmith shop, was accessible to the general public and registrants alike. Bill provided his audience with interesting demonstrations in tool making and various other things from materials at hand.

The Ontario Artist Blacksmith Association sent four representatives to demonstrate in their tent: Murray Lowe, Duff MacDonald, John Newman and Charlie Sutton . Charlie has designed a terrific “Beginner Blacksmith Workshop,” available as a small booklet, as well as a book titled, “Under The Spreading Chestnut Tree.” Several slide shows, a presentation from Parks Canada on historic restorations and blacksmithing artifacts, plus a basket-making workshop by Mary Patrick , were among the offerings provided to participants.

The final event of the weekend was the auction, where pieces donated by registrants and pieces produced during demonstrations were sold to the highest bidders. The general public was invited to this event and the large attendance made for some lively bidding.

Aside from the excellent events offered at CanIRON, it is the fellowship with other smiths that attracts people to the conference and provides the participants with the best memories. Over 250 people attended CanIRON III and meal times in the museum hall provided excellent opportunities to meet new people or reconnect with old friends. On the whole, it seems that blacksmiths are a magnanimous bunch, willing to share techniques and ideas especially, with novices. One of the registrants, a banker/hobby smith from Vancouver, lives in an apartment; since he doesn’t have a shop, he practices what he calls “guerrilla blacksmithing,” by hauling his forge and tools out to some abandoned lot or industrial area. It is this kind of love for the craft that unites us all.

A terrific conference of this quality doesn’t happen without a lot of hard work by many people, and the organizers of this event can be very proud of the weekend they hosted. Cheerful caterers dished out generous portions of delicious food. Volunteers and museum staff were always very friendly and helpful, and the participants were left with a great impression of Saskatchewan hospitality.

While the organization and planning of CanIRON IV is now underway, it is with a touch of sadness that we said farewell to our new friends in Saskatchewan, but look forward to meeting many more in Hamilton, Ontario, in 2003. All of the terrific people and organizations involved with CanIRON III, including the organizing committee, the Saskatchewan Craft Council, the Western Development Museum and the many weekend volunteers, are to be congratulated for producing an outstanding weekend event that will be remembered fondly by all those who attended.

By Jesse Ellingson, Kootenay Blacksmiths Association
Source: Anvil’s Ring, Fall 2001, p.39 (along with photos)


Dates: June 29 – July 1, 2001
Location: Western Development Museum Heritage Farm & Village
Host City: North Battleford, Saskatchewan
Theme: “2001 an Iron Odyssey”

CanIRON III, 2001 is being hosted at the Western Development Museum’s Heritage Farm & Village at North Battleford Saskatchewan Canada. The focus of this event is to provide registrants with genuine country hospitality and a venue to learn and participate in the growth of blacksmithing skills and knowledge.

The CanIRON committee is pleased to share the Chapel Gallery with a fine display of quilts presented by the Quiltmakers Guild. The quilts make a great backdrop to “2001 an Iron Odyssey”. The official CanIRON III opening will take place at the Chapel Gallery Thursday June 28th at 7:30 p.m.

Featured Blacksmiths

John & Nancy Little, Nova Scotia, CANADA
Mark Pearce, Alberta, CANADA
Bill Plant, Saskatchewan, CANADA
Jim Jensen, Saskatchewan, CANADA
Charlie Sutton, Ontario, CANADA
Mike Boone, Colorado, USA
Robin Boone, Colorado, USA
Dorothy Stiegler, California, USA
Bob Patrick, Arkansas, USA
Pete Hill & Shona Johnson, SCOTLAND

Organizing Team/Contact

Western Canadian Blacksmith Guild, Saskatchewan Chapter


CanIRON 2 – Western The Saskatchewan Chapter of the Western Canadian Blacksmith Guild
The Western Development Museum
INLAND STEEL PRODUCTS INC. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
UVEX Safety
“SOLID SOUND” Professional Audio Visual Services Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
The Saskatchewan Craft Council
Saskatchewan Lotteries/SaskCulture Inc.
Saskatchewan Arts Board
The Chapel Gallery
North Battleford Chamber of Commerce
Battleford Tourism
Battleford Furniture
Broda Construction
Aim Supply, North Battleford

“CanIRON III is an official Saskatchewan Craft Council event”

CanIRON II – Fire & Design 99

Was Caniron at Calgary or was it Calcoolary? There are some things we can control, but thank heaven we can’t control the weather. The prairies are known for their warm summers, so why should we worry about the probability of rain, let alone the thought of snow warnings and road closures? The displays were inside the halls of the South Alberta Institute of Technology (S.A.I.T.) and the demonstrations were set up outside in five large tents, so the weather really didn’t bother the show.

Weather aside, CANIRON II was an excellent event. Hats off to all the people and businesses that helped in its creation and implementation. The dorms were available for the people who flew in, the RV lot held all the people who drove to the event, and the hotels took care of all the others from out of town, such as Francis Whitaker and company. The cook/chef preparation class provided the multitudes with three square meals a day for the event. The swimming pool and showers were open for all to use. The maintenance people from S.A.I.T. took care of all the mobility problems, by using their equipment and electrical services. Some of the steel supplies were held up getting there on time, so alternatives were created and demonstrators did what they could with what was available, and a few things were borrowed from the Vancouver Island Blacksmiths Association’s Flyin’ Forge. I brought my 50kg. Kuhn air hammer with its concrete bases and set it up in one of the tents next to the electrical distribution center. Bill Plante brought his 583-lb. homemade anvil and parked it near the entrance of the Campus Center, like a giant doorstop. Bill Pieh and his wife brought their library and some pieces from Centaur Forge. Norm Larson and his wife were there with their bookshop. Sid Suedmeier and his wife brought a couple of their 25-lb. Little Giants as well as tables full of the Little Giant parts. Richard Sheppard brought three of his Big Lick treadle hammers and one was used for the draw held on Sunday night.

Thursday was a busy day, with people setting up last minute things everywhere; setups being tried, people meeting people, people watching people working, people registering, people arriving, people asking where things were and people checking the sky. At the end of the day, ready or not, the time had come!

When things got going on Friday morning, a new demonstration schedule was used. Doug Newell had taken a fall at work and hurt his shoulder, so he had to cancel as a demonstrator. Doug had won the world championship, open class blacksmith competition, at the Calgary Stampede in 1998 and he won it again this year. Bill Fiorini started with the basics of pattern welding for blades and continued on over the weekend to make several patterned billets. He explained his simple system of forge welding using a touch stick of 1/4″ square. He kept the touch stick next to his billet, so when it stuck to the outside of the billet, it showed it was now time to strike the billet so it would stick together. His first weld was always by hand hammer, the second and third weld were by power hammer. Bill’s wife, Kirsten Skiles, was demonstrating her technique of repousse with steel plates. Mark Pearce was demonstrating layout all the way to finished product of complex scrolls, integrating one to another and maintaining proper perspective. Susan Hutchinson started with a slide show and a discussion about good design, doing the layout on a piece of sheet metal, followed by the creation of the drawing. She didn’t let the complexity of the project slow her down, she just got on with it. She forge-welded corners to gain mass, joining the two corners together to create a very bold 90-degree corner, followed by drawing the remainder of the material, twisting and curling it into a very unique music stand. Uri Hofi and his striker Amit started into their show as a team on the anvil and as a team working the power hammer to its max. From a distance, the Kuhn hammer sounded like a steam locomotive with a full pull on a steep grade when Uri was giving it a workout.

Charles Lewton-Brain was demonstrating his fold-forming techniques. He was twisting, quenching, pulling, quenching, spiraling, quenching, bending and quenching with copper, brass and steel sheet metal. This is a system he says he invented and the creative effects let your mind visualize all kinds of very interesting patterns and shapes. Charlie Sutton was demonstrating Fundamental and Essential Blacksmithing Skills, which sounded very basic at first, but it wasn’t. There were all kinds of stories explaining the “whys” and the “why nots” of dealing with different layouts. Charlie has written a very good book, “Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree,” a definite plus for anyone’s personal library. Bill Plante was demonstrating all kinds of interesting little projects. The theme was “Using Whatever is Available to Make Whatever You Want or How to Make Something Out of Nothing.” Bill doesn’t let the thought of “can’t do it or it can’t be done” get in his way. Whatever his mind says to do, he just builds, like the 58-lb. anvil he welded together. Frank Turley demonstrated, in his own unique style, how to work with 1095, S-1 and S-7. If you weren’t awake at the start of his sessions, you definitely were in a few minutes. While working with S-7, Frank said, “Tool steel laughs at you when you make mistakes; mild steel just takes it and smiles.” He also advised to pre-heat tool steel before putting it in the heat, as this prevents thermal shock. He likes to use the phrase S.O.R. (square, octagonal, round): this is the method of drawing out anything to a round.

On Friday night there were demonstrations open to the public. Rob Valentine was demonstrating how to make armor. (see page 30). Richard Sheppard was demonstrating his Big Lick treadle hammer. Ceyse Harse was demonstrating her basket and bowl techniques, Brian Lyttle was demonstrating metal engraving on knife blades and other objects. Al Bakke was demonstrated how to forge weld and draw out a ten-layer billet for pattern welding. His method was using the quiet power hammer, an electric hydraulic press. There was no banging and hitting, just the creaking and groaning of the hydraulic press frame. He says that if you think it can’t be done, try it anyway – no miracles, no fuss, minimal noise – like it just grows that way.

The Gallery in the Alberta College of Art and Design was always open for anyone to visit. It was a room full of great creations that were brought for “Show and Tell.” Chairs, a garden arbor, a full suit of armor, a lady’s metal corset, lamps, knives, bowls, flowers and lots more. A photograph doesn’t do these articles justice; they were magnificent.

Saturday was a continuation of Friday, with so much to see all at the same time and so little time to try to take it all in. Francis Whitaker was busy talking to whomever came and sat down at his table in the commercial display room. He was proud to say he will be 93 shortly. He had his scrapbook full of pictures of many of his different projects and he answered questions as to how the projects were done. There were a few questions that he answered by suggesting the individual forward the question to the Francis Whitaker Foundation, to see if they could help. Saturday evening there was an auction of donated items that individuals had brought along, and also those items that were created during the demos. It took about four hours to complete and when the calculators stopped, they read in excess of $12,000. Francis Whitaker even asked that his taxi fare back to the hotel be auctioned for, and he donated the $40.00 to the kitty! Sunday came too early. Where does the time go when you are having fun? Everyone present had waited a long time for this event, and now it was almost over. The demonstrators were busily trying to finish their projects. Many friendships were made, e- mail addresses exchanged and ideas were budding. There was “cranium overload,” pens running out of ink, and camera batteries wearing out. The last event was the barbecue at the Campus Center on Sunday night. It was a pleasant way to wrap up an exciting weekend with lots of chatting, laughing and meeting still more people. A very big thank you to Rob Sadowski, Bob McRae, the volunteers, the Western Canadian Blacksmith Guild, and S.A.I.T. You all did a fantastic job and we look forward to Caniron III in 2001!

by Neil Gustafson

Published in the November 1999 Issue of Anvil Magazine


Dates: July 1-4, 1999
Location: Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT)
Host City: Calgary, Alberta

Following the success of the first CanIRON event, CanIRON II will be held at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and hosted by the Alberta chapter of the Western Canadian Blacksmith Guild.

Featured Blacksmiths

Frank Turley, New Mexico
Susan Hutchinson, North Carolina
Uri Hofi, Israel
Charles Lewton-Brain, Calgary
Charlie Sutton, Ontario
Bill Fironi
Kirsten Skiles
Mark Pierce
Bill Plante

Organizing Team/Contact

Western Canadian Blacksmith Guild, Alberta Chapter


CanIRON 1 – Vancouver Island Blacksmiths Association
Southern Alberta Institute of Technology

Event photos and info in the Anvilfire report

CanIRON I, a retrospective

On the 28th-30th June Canada’s first major blacksmithing conference was held at the O’Keefe Ranch near Vernon, British Columbia, Canada’s most western province.

Vernon is located in the Okanagan Valley. This is a picturesque area filled with lakes, vineyards and fruit trees. The North Okanagan was first settled when Cornellius O’Keefe began raising cattle near what is now the town of Vernon in 1867. By the turn of the century he and his partner owned 20,000 acres of prime Okanagan farmland. Just fifty acres and the original ranch buildings remain at the historic O’Keefe Ranch, which is open to the public from Spring to Fall. This was an excellent location for the conference. Besides being a wonderful backdrop for the forging it also provided a number of activities for other family members not so interested in smithing.

The canopy-covered forging stations were adjacent to the camping area where a few tents shared space with a large number of motor homes, some of which were more like mobile hotels. Most people had come to make a holiday of it, some from as far away as Scotland (Pete Hill and Shona Johnson). The south east side of the camping area was bordered by a churchyard where the last few generations of O’Keefe rested undisturbed by the commotion in the next field.

The organisers had equipped the forging stations with a propane or coal forge, anvil, leg vice plus some areas had a treadle hammer. Demonstrations began on Saturday morning. Demonstrating away from the comfort of the home shop always presents a challenge, and those of us who have attended several gatherings of this sort have witnessed many feats of improvisation.

I first attended a demo in the “Public Area”, that is the recreated forge building of the Ranch. Here Darryl Nelson, a versatile blacksmith from Eatonville Washington and a veteran demonstrator if ever there was one, was confronted with a chest-high anvil and a foot-powered bellows which required thighs of steel or two normal people working in unison. After a few minutes of dismay and a quick demo by Joe Delisimunovic the resident smith of the ranch, Darryl began a demo which drew in a big crowd of museum goers and blacksmiths. As always a good demonstrator makes it look so simple. Darryl made a ram’s head followed by a dragon with a horse head for an encore.

That afternoon I returned to the main demo area where a line of pavilions sheltered demonstrator and spectators from the beautiful Canadian sun, a welcome sight for those of us who had come north from rainy Seattle. In the first tent John Adolph, a technically minded smith from Maple Ridge B.C., was demonstrating the forging of a pair of log tongs. These giant pinchers were forged of 4140. This is tough steel and I was aware that I was watching a very good smith who had made hundreds of these tongs. Handicapped by a gas forge which wouldn’t get very hot and another chest-high anvil (are all Canadians seven feet tall?), he was forging red hot tool steel while balancing on his tool box in a way that showed he meant business. All the onlookers were impressed as he refused all offers of help and showed us the finer points of forging a tool that would function for years and never miss its grip.

Down the row of tents Dorothy Stiegler from Carmel, California was showing her methods of forging flowers. Surrounded by a small garden of her creations and a circle of attentive listeners, she was giving an excellent running commentary on each progressive step. If her listeners were taking note they should be assured of success when trying to make flowers of their own..

In the half of the tent separated by a wall of fabric from Dorothy, Darryl Nelson was at work again, this time assisted by Alice James, his part-time helper of several years. Darryl was forging a lynx head out of a 1«-inch square bar, assisted by Alice when a second hammer was needed.

When not striking for Darryl, Alice forged the horizontal and vertical bars of the wall-mounted coat rack they were making. Working together again they offset the bars in a way which made them self-supporting when woven together. In fact they fitted so well it took both of them to pull it apart after the demo.

Saturday evening all present trooped down the hill to a restaurant which is part of the O’Keefe ranch visitor centre.

Sunday the demonstrations continued. Berkley Tack continued his service of informative demos with one on forge welding which was a success in spite of some of the worst coal I have ever seen. Berkley, who came up from Oregon, also explained the identification of scrap tool steels and the forging of a traditional door latch.

Account by Japheth Howard (Seattle) and Doug Newell (Alberta)
Source: British Artist Blacksmiths Association


Dates: June 28-30, 1997
Location: O’Keefe Ranch
Host City: Vernon, British Columbia

The first Canadian biennial blacksmith’s conference, CanIRON will be held at the O’Keefe Ranch north of Vernon, British Columbia, Canada and hosted by the Alberta chapter of the Western Canadian Blacksmith Guild.

Featured Blacksmiths

John Adolph
Derry Cook
Jerry Culberson
Joe Delisimunovic
Hank McEwan
Daryll Nelson
John Smith (Kootenay Forge)
Dorothy Stiegler
Berkley Tack

Organizing Team/Contact

Vancouver Island Blacksmiths Association (VIBA)
Ron Greig, Chairman of the Board of CanIRON 1
Derry Cook, registration
Pat Cook, treasurer
Ed Parker
Ed Cushing


The O’Keefe Ranch
NorthWest Blacksmithing Association (NWBA)

The Story of CanIRON

In the Spring of 1995, Vancouver Island Blacksmith Association had a guest demonstrator, Joe Delisimunovic. Joe was the resident blacksmith at the historic O’Keefe Ranch, just past Vernon, BC. Joe came to Vancouver Island to do a two day demonstration of different blacksmithing techniques. During the weekend conversation, an Invitation was made by Joe to come up to the O’Keefe Ranch on the July 1st weekend and have a picnic and camping trip with a little Blacksmithing thrown in.

About 12 VIBA members, with their families, made the journey and had a very enjoyable weekend. After the weekend and everyone had time to think about what just happened, someone had a thought during a VIBA monthly meeting, “What if we invite members of our neighbour North West Blacksmith Association, to the O’Keefe Ranch for next year?”. Everyone thought it was a good idea and at the next NWBA Fall Conference, an official invitation was made.

The same bunch of people from Vancouver Island went up to the O’Keefe Ranch for the July 1st weekend, which worked good for the U.S. members of the NWBA who attended, for their July 4th weekend. A lot of the people who had wanted to come up cancelled because they were going to New York for the ABANA Conference in Alfred, New York. It was a very enjoyable weekend for all who were there, but the crew from VIBA were a little disappointed due to the low turnout.

After everyone went home, Ron Greig had a thought, ‘What if VIBA hosted the ABANA Conference in Canada?’. Ron contacted ABANA and he was told that we would have to post a $25,000.00 us bond before ABANA would allow VIBA to host an ABANA conference. To Ron this was out of the question! Ron continued thinking about it and then thought, “What if we hosted a Canadian Blacksmith Conference on the odd-numbered years, because ABANA conferences were all held on the even-numbered years?”. Ron got together with Derry Cook, Ed Parker, Barry Schaeffer and Ed Cushing, who were all VIBA members.

They started organizing for a conference similar to what the NWBA has every Spring and Fall. The first CanIRON Blacksmith Conference was underway for 1997. A lot of the financing was from the pockets of the organizing group, VIBA also helped out with some finances. The invitation went out to anywhere in the world, that the group could think of that were part of the blacksmithing network.

There were some tense moments when they got to the O’Keefe Ranch a week before the event to find that the field they were to use had not been hayed yet. There was a huge scramble to get it hayed, so they could have access to the property. That was the start of the learning curve in the time of crisis. Every hurdle was eventually solved, even if it meant sleep took a back seat. By the time people started showing up, most things were in order and a great time was had by all the participants.

Jerry Culberson was one of the demonstrators and he was also the auctioneer. Before the auction, the
organizing group were in the hole. Jerry managed to sprinkle some ‘pixie dust’ on everyone who was at the auction and by the time the Auction was over, they were no longer in the red. The other demonstrators were, Darryl Nelson, Dorothy Steigler, John Adolph, Derry Cook, John Smith, Berkley Tack and Joe Delisimunovic.

The suggestion had been made earlier that the CanIRON Conference should go from the West to the East. And so it began!!

by Neil Gustafson

Read more about the roots of CanIRON on the History page