Monday, August 13, 2018

Unschooling Burning Stuff: Forging

The other day my son wandered past where I was working, and said in passing, "I made a little alloy". I admit I wasn't fully attending, so he tried a little harder: "Mama. I made a little alloy of tin, zinc and bismuth."

I still wasn't really paying attention. "Oh that's cool."


I realized I needed to be more present, and tried to get there: "So how did you do it?"

"I melted them together."

"Oh yeah. That's cool."

This kind of thing isn't unusual for him, and my mind was on whatever I was doing at the time. So my daughter piped in - loudly: "Mama he used his blow-torch!"

"Wait---WHAT!? There's a fire-ban!!!"

"Oh no, it's OK", he said. "I did it in my bedroom."


This announcement, during the hottest week of the year, when our whole province is plagued by forest fires and evacuations and SMOKE to blot out the blazing sun... oh yeah... and a complete FIRE BAN... was followed with: "it was very safe. My blow-torch is small. It's the one I found at the recycling depot."

Welcome to my life, unschooling a kid who likes to burn stuff.

Unschooling has always been a struggle for me. I believe whole-heartedly that experimentation and exploration are the key to development in every aspect of our lives, but to just sit back and blithely watch as my kids make choices that terrify me? This is not my strong suit. There are times I have left the house because I can't bear to watch anymore. There are days I get none of my own work done because I'm constantly running around checking that nobody needs medical attention. And yet - most of the accidents and injuries we've experienced came from the most innocuous-seeming activities. I'm trying to remember that. So here, in forest fire season, I'm posting a little celebration of my kid's penchant for burning stuff. In the past couple of years this has leaned towards forging.

He began with materials he could find around the house and yard: First the fire pit, then some cinder blocks to create a hotter fire, and eventually his father's ventilator fan, re-purposed with a metal dryer vent to feed air into the fire. He ended up covering the fire with a fine mesh screen to keep sparks from flying out, and eventually he upgraded from burning wood to burning store-bought briquettes. He used his father's little anvil, and some hammers from around the house, until he decided that the anvil was bouncing around too much, taking most of the force into the ground instead of into flattening his metal. Then he found a much heavier salvaged piece of railroad and began using that, instead.

For blanks he initially used nails, and created a series of hooks and other useful things, but as his ability to burn hotter grew, so did the size of the metal he worked with. Eventually he moved on to huge nails, using them to make a chisel and then a small knife, and then further onto pieces of rebar. Recently he found a bunch of discarded files, and has begun experimenting with various cutting and shaping techniques, including the saw-blade you can see on the bottom knife in this photo.

I am coming around to this whole thing, as I see his safety precautions developing. I told him he had to stop forging this summer, as our poor province is up in flames again, so he revamped his fire-pit forge and sent photos to the local fire-chief, asking for permission to proceed. And he got it! I figure if he has the wherewithal to create a forge out of salvaged materials and get official permission to use it during a fire-ban, I can probably stop worrying, now.

Here's a video he created about some of his process:

Forge ahead, young man! Or forge a head. Or something. (Ha ha ha.)

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