School of Craft: Firing up their art | HCTC

School of Craft: Firing up their art

iron being pouredBy SHARON K. HALL
It was 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit in Hindman last Thursday. At least it was that hot in a special made furnace at the Kentucky School of Craft. Students from Hazard Community and Technical College s Hindman, Jackson, and Hazard campuses participated in the three-hour event. The Kentucky School of Craft prepared two years for the first annual Iron Pour gathering supplies and building a furnace capable of melting metal.

Michael Flynn, HCTC Kentucky School of Craft program coordinator for the Associate of Fine Arts Program, and others worked long hours preceding the event to have everything in place. A team of people including Flynn clothed in leather attire, fireproof gloves, and hard hats with plastic facemasks participated in the actual iron pour. The event drew a crowd of approximately 100 people outside the School of Craft facilities (formally Hindman High School) to watch liquid metal poured into molds.

Flynn said about 45 students from the three campuses were involved in the project. Nineteen of the students were enrolled in Flynn s jewelry and metal class. They spent part of the semester choosing, creating a design, and making their own mold. The block shaped mold was made of sand that was held together with resin. Students chiseled and carved their design into the block.

Students came up with different designs for their molds, said Flynn. Some hand drew their design while others developed their design on a computer. The decorative art items, like mantle pieces, may be taken home with the students in a day or two.

Hand-carved blocks were stacked near the coal-powered furnace iron for the casting process. Pertinent materials brought onsite were bags of sand, scrap iron, and coke a bypass of coal.

General Manager Bob Weaver and Quality/Processor Jimmy Griffey of Jewel Operations at SunCoke Energy in Oakwood, Virginia brought 1500 pounds of coke to Hindman for the event.

Weaver said, We like to support these things, anything with education. It is good to have this type of training. There is going to be a shortage of welders and crafters so we are glad to see it.

A recycling center in Berea donated old cast iron bathtubs to be used for the metal. Volunteers and staff broke the old tubs into small pieces heaped in a pile close to the furnace. The day of the event a set of scales was used to weigh buckets of the iron pieces. Each bucketful of scrap iron weighed 50 lb.

With the site set up and the furnace heated to extreme temperatures, the event began. A person clothed in leather jacket and pants with a plastic masked hard hat stood on a platform above the furnace. Orange flames leaped out of the top of the furnace as he dumped the scrap iron from buckets into the opening. Chunks of coke were added to fuel the fire. Iron liquefies when it is heated to 3,000 degrees.

A few feet from the furnace Flynn and a pour team readied a massive ladle. Flynn used a propane torch to quickly heat the ladle. When the metal in the furnace was hot enough to stream into a liquid like substance two men carried the preheated ladle and placed it under a spout where a bright orange liquid flowed. The pour team filled a ladle with the hot metal and poured it into rows of molds.

Between iron pours sand balls were used to plug furnace holes to keep the molten iron from escaping. A carefully orchestrated plan had someone with iron rods poking out the sand balls for the next pour cycle.

Cycles of iron pours continued until all the student molds were filled with the molten iron. Once cooled and hardened the sand casings were chipped away to free decorative iron art pieces.

Designs ranged from religious symbols, nature scenes, to fraternity icons.

Retired elementary teacher Patricia Draughn of Larkslane talked about the class she was taking in Hindman. It is so exciting. I have made a necklace, locket, and broach. We have learned how to solder. We learn a lot every day. Now we are dong the iron casting project. My design is three crosses, one bigger than the others.

Christine Coburn of Mousie designed a scene with a butterfly, cricket, cattail, and frog.

Helen Brunty of Hazard Community and Technical College is auditing the jewelry making class and explained the current class project. We put silica sand and resin in a cement mixer. We shaped it into a cinder block. It tooks a lot of steps. We even used baby powder. We let it set up and carve a design. I used a pick for most of mine. I also used things like a nail to chisel. I made a Sigma Chi Fraternity logo. My son is in that fraternity in college.

The iron artists had varied designs but they all shared something. This was the first time they had participated in an iron pour and they were excited to take their iron art home.

Flynn said this first event was like a test. He was pleased with the event and expects next year to be bigger.

--From The Troublesome Creek Times

reprinted with permission