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School Life: Summer session
Metalworking with blacksmith Dan Rado
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Dan Rado stands in his blacksmith shop at the Northeast Georgia History Center in Gainesville. - photo by Kristen Morales

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Rado talks about the fun he has with schoolchildren he meets on tours through the Northeast Georgia History Center

Rather than sit during his breaks as a docent at the Atlanta History Center and listen to his female co-workers prattle on, Dan Rado played with fire.

"I said, c'mon, I can't listen to this. So I went down to the blacksmith," Rado recalled. "I said, ‘I can't stand this, sitting upstairs with these women.' He said, ‘OK stick with me.'"

A few months later, Rado was on his own in the blacksmith shop at the Atlanta History Center, making candle holders, utensils and all sorts of old-fashioned tools for a farm or a home.

He spent 18 years as a blacksmith at the history center, and recently relocated to Gainesville. Today, Rado introduces the world of blacksmiths to children during tours at the Northeast Georgia History Center.

He reminds students who come into his shop that blacksmiths created all the metal products families used in their homes. There's no machinery in the blacksmith shop, he tells them. Just fire, metal and some tools.

"Tongs are the most important things in a blacksmith's life. He can't touch anything without tongs," Rado said.

Blacksmiths started a project with either metal rods or flat metal pieces of different widths, and the tongs were built to perfectly grip the various widths of metal.

"So, you have hammers, tongs, coal and iron," Rado said of the basic tools in the blacksmith's shop. "And in order to make it, you get a fire going. How am I going to get that fire hotter, bigger?"

When he poses that question to the kids, he gets lots of answers - more coal, gasoline, wood - until the teacher whispers something and the correct answer comes out.

"Ah! Air!" Rado said. "I tell them, ‘you cheated.'"

Then he takes the metal and hammers it on the anvil, where he can bang holes in it, twist it into shapes or make it flat as a pancake.

"I keep saying to the kids, ‘you don't see any machinery in here, do you?'" he said.

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