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The smithy in Karpacz
An old blacksmith and his workshop in the south of Poland

The smithy in lower Karpacz

(c) 2009 Jan Sjöholm


When I was out for a walk someday around year 2000 I passed by the old smithy in lower Karpacz*. It is not far from the old and now abandoned train station, just four or five minutes by foot, if you just are strolling. It was not the first time I walked this way and I have many times wondered how it looked inside. It is not a big smithy. It looks more like a large garage in a two store building. I believe that the blacksmith himself lives in one of the small apartments.

This time it was how ever a little different. My private interpreter in the mysSmedjan i Karpaczterious polish language had joined me for the walk, or perhaps I had joined her? As my wife speaks fluently polish I, an asset that I really appreciate as the only sentence I know in polis is “I’m hungry.” Outside the smithy I asked her if we could halt and have a chat with the old man him selves. He turned out to be very happy to have someone to speak to and he happily showed me his workshop.

 In the blood
The darkness within felt familiar and I felt my selves transferred some 40...50 years back in time. At home, in the south of Sweden I have the blood of a blacksmith family in my veins. Instantly I felt the itchy, somewhat sweet smell of burning charcoal, although no fire was lit in the fireplace. Beside the fireplace, in a small bin, the coal glittered in the light from the open door. Antracite have a almost hypnotic gloom, like black crystals. This was real stuff, perfect in size, like walnuts, perhaps a little larger. It was not as the sturdy rough pieces used for heating building, stuff like can be found at the coal dealer near the train station.

Open space
The floor of the smithy was covered with flat stones, and as in most smithy’s very cle
an, no unnecessary stuff on the floor please, I you can’t move your clogs when accidents happens you can get hurt, -badly. A lesson learned early by most apprentices. The anvil, yes, the anvil, a worn beauty, perhaps it one day will end up in a skilled hobbyists workshop. It is a real heavy piece, with metal enough for several dozens of bicycles, but most likely it one day will be melted down and the iron formed to reinforcement bars meant for some concrete construction. I shivered and let my eyes continue to the worn and overloaded workbenches covered with stuff, well you know, just “stuff”.

Everything was so familiar. At the homemade drill press I had to halt. It was hardly the dream of an industrial designer, and it would never pass a safety inspection, not even in the middle of the night, but I had to admire the ingenuity and simplicity, a sample of state of the art DIY*. Another strange device caught my attention. It looked familiar, but I just couldn’t place it. The blacksmith smiled, looked at me and asked if I know what it was, but I had to admit that I didn’t and after several tries to guess, every attempt resulting in a laugher sounding like distant thunder from the old man he revealed it’s secret. It was a device to shrink the iron lining on wooden horse wagons. Of course! The ring of iron on the wheels lived a harsh life. Every time the wheel hit a stone on the road it was like a blow of a blacksmith’s hammer and every hit would forge the iron thinner and thinner and also making
the ring bigger. Sooner or later the ring will fall off and then it is time to visit the nearest wheel repair shop, in this case the local blacksmith. He will take the iron heat a part of it glooming red, put the ring in the strange contraption and compress the heated part. This is repeated a couple of times and the ring is so small that it would no longer fit on the wooden frame. Now it is time to heat the whole ring, it will then extend and it can be tut on the wheel. When cooling the iron will shrink and the ring fits tightly. Put the wheel back on the wagon and the blacksmiths job will be finished.

Drill bits
Under a workbench I found a large pile of drill bits, the type used in motorised hammers by construction workers. Large bits, several kilograms. I knew the well as I had forger tips to many such devices and tempered the steel many times, not much, just the tip. It is a little tricky. Too hard and the tip would brake like glass, too much and the whole drill will be ruined. It takes a craftsman and I was only an amateur.
On my question of how old he was, the answer was something around 80, I don’t really remember. He complained over the pension and how Polish private enterprises was handled. Private craftsmen were not very appreciated by the post-war government. What happened next gave me a scar on my lip. I can still feel it ten years after. I suggested that he should open his smithy during tourist season. Young post industrial stupid German tourists would most certainly happily pay for the view of the ancient but still living craft of forging hot metall.

German roots
He became suddenly very serious. It turned up that he had German roots. He had stayed behind when the Germans evacuated Silesia* at the end of the Second World War. He had learned Polish; withstand the harassments and abuses of his new countrymen. He had adapted and finally been accepted in the society. I bite my lip when realised the unnecessary use of “stupid German tourists”. In front of me stood not only a skilled craftsman, but also a proud survivor. We parted after shaking hands. No hard feelings, but I still have the scar on the lip.


*Karpacz, a small mountain village in the southwest of Poland.

*DIY  Do It Yourselves, often with whatever you find in the backyard.

*Silesia and Pomerania became a part of Poland after WWII as a compensation when parts of the eastern Poland was transfered to Ukraine and Belarus..