On March 27, [we] went to a Hmong blacksmith
shop in La Crosse.
Many people come to this shop to see the blacksmith work
and to talk with each other about life, funny things, and
stories. The blacksmith shop is a place where Hmong people
can come and relax.
The master blacksmith there is Tong
Khai Vang. He learned the art of blacksmithing when he was
The master blacksmith is the best and most experienced blacksmith.
Our guide, and one of the blacksmiths, was Yue Vu. …
The blacksmith makes all sorts of things. Spirit-callers for
shamans, hoes, hole cutters for trees, things to hold hot
metal, knives, crossbows, and many more things. The spirit-caller
takes sixteen to eighteen hours.
It was one of the most exciting, interesting,
and powerful experiences we had on the trip.
[Yue Vu] showed us a lot of tools that
a blacksmith would make. There were various tools used for
working on a farm in Laos. One tool that interested
me was a small curved blade for cutting single grains of rice
off a plant when the rice is new. There’s a larger version
of that for cutting lots of stalks of rice at one time, a
tool that is used for drilling a hole in a piece of wood,
and another for rounding it out to put rice in.
[One of the tools] was for a shaman but
it wasn’t a knife. It was a ring with smaller rings
that had zigzagged edges. In shamanism, it is used to communicate
with the spirits.
After that, [the blacksmith] took us to
the blacksmithing room. There was a big fireplace where Tong
Khai sticks the metal in to be hot. There has to be a guy
pulling it back and forward to make it hotter. The hotter
it is the better it is. Every time the master blacksmith sticks
the metal in, the [helper] will pull it back and forth. After
that he pounds it. The more you pound it, the stronger it
gets, so if you pound it a lot of times, the knife will be
When the metal was glowing red with
heat, Mr. Vang took it out with tongs. Then he put it on a
metal thing used for hammering tools into shape, and then,
still holding it with the tongs, he started to hammer it into
shape. When the metal first came out of the fire, I thought
it looked like an unbreaking coal! When the metal wasn’t
glowing red any more, Mr. Vang put it back in the fire amongst
the coals. Then he took out the glowing metal to hammer. This
he did eighteen times, until the blade of the knife was finished.
Then, after cooling it down, he passed the blade (which wasn’t
sharpened, all you mothers out there) around for each kid
to hold. It wasn’t hot; it was just warm!!
While he hammered, little
black flakes flew off of the knife. Those were bad pieces
of metal.… Tong Khai would sell that knife for about
The blacksmith was very cool. He started
out with a piece of metal (usually from a broken down car),
got it hammered into shape, and then (I think) he would sharpen
it. They use special natural charcoal made out of wood. The
bellows were a long tube with a handle used to pump air to
the fire. This was a great experience and I want to do another
trip next year.
Sounds of red hot iron
The blazing flame launches
Smoke fills the air.