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Golden History Museums
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Recycling may seem like a modern practice, but when it comes to reusing metal, blacksmiths of the pioneer era made the most of every precious scrap.

"Before the railroads came to towns, you couldn't get steel easily," says Matt O'Callaghan, head blacksmith for Golden History Museums. "So out of every used horseshoe, you could make several other useful objects."

O'Callaghan and other modern-day blacksmiths will demonstrate their skills by handcrafting metal objects such as hinges, hooks, tools and kitchen utensils during today's Blacksmith Demo Days event at the Clear Creek History Park, a living history museum in Golden complete with a blacksmith shop and a late-1800s homestead.

Colorado's pioneers had to make many of their tools on the range, so a blacksmith was crucial.

"They not only did metalwork," O'Callaghan says, "but woodwork and leatherwork, as well."

He compares the pioneer blacksmith's role to that of a combined hardware store and mechanic's shop today.

"Think of a wheelwright," he says of one type of specialized blacksmith. They "made wagon wheels from scratch, from the wood spokes on the wheel to the metal bands around the wheel and the bolts to hold it all together."

Blacksmiths sharpened plows, created axes, hammers, chisels and nails, and were in high demand among settlers. O'Callaghan sums it up nicely: "If you had a carpenter and a blacksmith, you could build a town."Golden History Museums

Nowadays, blacksmithing is more about the art and craft of metal working. But O'Callaghan and others like him relish the chance to illuminate the history of their craft. Clear Creek History Park's blacksmith shop includes such historic working pieces as a 1900s shop forge and a smaller riveters' forge, plus post vices, mechanics' vices and an array of mixed-era tongs and tools. "With a hammer and anvil, you could make everything else you needed," O'Callaghan says.

During the Demo Days, visitors can watch the one- to three-hour process of forging cabinet hinges, soup ladles and the like. And anyone who prefers hands-on learning can grab a pair of safety glasses and an apron.

"We use coal fires operated by a hand crank blower, since there was no electricity," O'Callaghan says. "And we'll talk about how you use the fire."

When he's not volunteering for the museum, O'Callaghan keeps busy with his company, MO Contracting, creating commissioned hardware and metal sculpture.

"I do restoration pieces for historic homes and custom sculptures," he says. "But there's not a blacksmith I know who doesn't want to teach and share the craft."