My name is Stuart Geisler. I am an industrial blacksmith who manufactures custom made tools for hand craftsmen.
As a ten year old boy, I was full of intellectual curiosity. Growing up in the New York projects, reading was the only escape from the daily vicissitudes of project existence. Reading provided a portal for my imagination and my soul. Rather than deal with the daily existence of crime infested hallways which intruded upon my sleep, and therefore my dreams, I could be anything and anyone I wanted to be, in the mind of a kid. Intellectual stimulation was my magic carpet which conveyed me from the dangerous and mundane elements of my life. I could hop from being John Glenn the astronaut to Kirk Douglas the Viking in my imagination. I was a happy child indeed!
My parents, striving for a better life for us, moved to Northeast Philadelphia, where my life drastically changed. This change allowed me to manifest every aspect of my imagination in concrete terms. Living in proximity to the beautiful Pennypack Park, I could build castles, tree houses, and examine the protozoans in a puddle with a microscope, which we could now afford for me. My father, who could now afford a 1957 Chevy, conveyed me to all sorts of interesting places in Philadelphia, from the Rodin Museum to the Philadelphia Zoo.
The place that absolutely captivated me was a little known treasure in the Philadelphia area, the Bryn Athyn Cathedral. Rising out of a small parkland setting, this place put me in mind of medieval castles seen in some of my favorite movies. Carved stone gargoyles sitting on parapets put me in mind of the movie The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This beautiful place absolutely stunned me in its beauty and magnificence. They gave us a free tour, and I was captivated by every nook and cranny. Each and every part of this edifice was hand crafted by master craftsmen, hired by the industrialist John Pitcairn from European guilds back at the turn of the 20th century. They still give free tours of this cathedral.
On our first visit, my father and I stumbled upon the craftsmen's buildings on the grounds of Bryn Athyn. This accidental discovery, little did I know at the time, would profoundly affect my life. There was an old world craftsman standing there, in the blacksmith shop, taking hot metal out of a fire and hammering it into different shapes on the anvil. His name was Al Walter. This looked like pure magic to me. This "Merlin the Magician" was altering a hot piece of metal, and forging it into the shape of an animal's head, with sparks flying and the clang of the work he was doing on his anvil. Every aspect of his work reminded me of sorcery; he was creating something from nothing, like an alchemist. I was so excited watching this man ply his craft, I could hardly breathe. This was one of the most exciting things I had ever seen in my short life. Al Walter, taking a short break from his work, explained to my father and I that he had served an apprenticeship as a young boy my age in blacksmithing, stone carving, and wood carving. This master craftsman, and "magician", was creating works of art for use in the cathedral that were pure beauty to behold. His kind explanation of the type of work he was doing had a deep impression on me. My father, very imaginative and full of curiosity like me, took me back to see this workshop many times as I was growing up.
Years later, while I was studying astrophysics as a graduate student at Villanova University in the late seventies, I was also searching for employment in my field. At that time, due to cutbacks in NASA, jobs in my field were hard to come by. Frustrated while looking for work, and being nagged by my dad to get a job, I perused the classifieds in the Inquirer. Looking in the "A" section for an astronomer's position, my eyes floated to the next ad for an "apprentice blacksmith position". My father was hollering-angry, saying "I didn't spend all that money getting you an education to become a blacksmith"! Like any future blacksmith, I suddenly developed a deaf ear.
Remembering my youthful encounters at Bryn Athyn in a pleasurable light, I was determined to land that position. While all the other applicants showed up in blue jeans and sneakers, I showed up in a suit and tie. During the interview, the master blacksmith of the shop was there, a man named Fyodor Czub, who reminded me of Al Walter. Mr. Czub liked the fact that I had enough respect for his knowledge and MYSELF to dress up in a suit. They hired me immediately.
I went on to serve a five year apprenticeship in this craft under Mr. Czub. Incredibly, Mr. Czub didn't speak one word of English, and I didn't speak one word of Russian. For five years, he taught me through pantomime and through Russian translators in the shop. I wanted to learn this craft so badly, that the language impediment was never a problem. In fact it was a bonus, because I learned by following his lead, just as he did as a young boy in Russia. The language we had in common was respect for this craft, and a love of iron and steel as a medium. Believe it or not, forging hot iron and steel still feels like magic to me. I went on to start my own tool forging business, grateful for the happy coincidences that allowed me to learn this craft. It is with profound gratitude that I remember the inspiration Al Walter and Fyodor Czub provided for me. Who would have thought, that a little boy with a profound imagination, would someday become a magician in metal!
|Stuart Doing a Public Reenactment at the William Trent House, Circa 1719
|Forging Tools in a Production Run Under a 19th Century Triphammer
|Stuart Forges Tools the Old-Fashioned Way, Using 19th Century Equipment and Technology
|Forging the Struck End of a Caulking Iron
|Complex Tooling Goes Into the Forging of these High-Quality Tools
|From Right to Left, Caulking Irons in Different Phases of Manuracture
|These Tools are Precision-Ground and Polished to a High Lustre
|These Tools are Precision-Ground and Polished to a High Lustre
The name of my firm is Snake Creek Forge LLC, which is located in a town in the mountains of Northeastern Pennsylvania called Montrose. My shop address is 22262 Pennsylvania Rte. 29, Montrose, PA. My land borders Snake Creek, hence the name.
I have been plying this trade for three and a half decades, custom forging tools for the cooperage industry, the boatbuilding industry, and the burgeoning blacksmithing industry. As I said, I learned this craft from a European Master, serving a five year apprenticeship in the late seventies under a Russian master who didn't speak hardly a word of English, teaching me either through pantomime, or through translators who also worked in the shop.
There have always been blacksmiths associated with the boatbuilding industry. Most of the East Coast shipyards, where they constructed wooden ships, had specialists, called "ship smiths", who fashioned tools like caulking irons and marlin spikes for boat builders. I still custom forge these tools, in various sizes, for the trade, patterning my irons (made out of high carbon tool steel) from antique tools that I have acquired over the years. Pictured below are caulking irons that I forge, and also pictures of me forging them. Because I use only the best of materials, and forge them by hand, each individual tool will last a lifetime. I am employing the same techniques in forging these items as blacksmiths used for centuries, guaranteeing accurate workmanship.
Not only did shipyards have blacksmiths, tall ships in the 17th, 18th, and 19th Centuries also had blacksmiths on board. The reason for this is that anchors were made in blacksmith shops, extended into the water using chain, which was also forged in blacksmith shops, which constantly needed repair. If you watch the movie "Master and Commander", starring Russell Crowe, you will witness an on-board blacksmith viewing the brain surgery done by the good doctor on board! I am also posting a picture of the blacksmith aboard the ship Scotia in its voyage from 1902-4, showing that particular blacksmith fashioning repairs aboard that ship.
You can contact me through this website, and I will be glad to answer all questions pertaining to my work.
Editor of The Burholme Stamp Club Newsletter