Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Grid Method of Making a Garden Arbor

(first published in The Anvil's Ring, the official publication of the Artists-Blacksmith's Association of North America, Inc. Volune 39, No. 4, Summer 2011) by Karine Maynard

On the technical how-to's of blacksmithing, I would not consider myself an expert. As I work with my husband every day in our shop I am learning and as soon as I feel I've “mastered” anything we are on the next project and I'm already busy gaining humility.

One skill that I use in our blacksmith shop, that I actually obtained from my training in the Fine Arts, is how to use the grid method.  I've shared this with other smiths, because I've thought some of you may stop sweating over your transfer drawing abilities and find this technique useful. I've read dozens of books on smithing techniques & watched plenty of videos, but have never seen it referred. I use the grid method to transfer my sketches onto to my work table, just the same as I use it when preparing to paint a canvas. In a nutshell, the grid method involves drawing a grid over your reference drawing, and then drawing a grid of equal ratio on your work surface (or work table). Then you draw the image on your table, focusing on one square at a time, until the entire image has been transferred. Once you're finished, you simply ignore the grid lines on your table (“see through” them), and start working on laying out your pieces, which will be now be in very accurate proportion to your original sketch.

In the case of this arbor, we were commissioned by a local gardening club. My husband forged and built the frame out of 1” square solid stock while I assembled vines and layout. 

 Once I transfer my sketch to my table, I can measure the lengths of various round stock to cut. I actually don't use string to measure what my scroll length will be, but instead roll along a tape measure like they taught me to do in elementary school with a ruler. With my shear list cut, we're finally back to the fun stuff of putting the pieces in the forge to taper & texture each piece with a spring swage in the air hammer.
 As I complete the rough forging of each component, I lay them out in pairs on my table (as the arbor has two sides) over the soapstone guidelines drawn earlier. After all the pieces are textured, I start bending and fitting them into place, making two of everything. Traditional techniques in joining can be used or not, but the options often depend on our clients' budget. You also may notice in my pictures, that all the actual working on the table will wear off the soapstone drawing after time, so I always keep a copy of my original sketch in the shop to refer back to with any questions.
 Now in the case of an arbor, if your sketch is asymmetric (not identical on both sides, if you drew a central line right down the middle) you'll have to reverse your image, and start again. My sketch is indeed asymmetric, so after the first side is assembled, I clear my table, erase any lines, draw the grid and reverse my sketch, & start assembly again. You can reverse your sketch easily, by using a computer program you may have (ex: Photoshop), or you can use your pencil : a glass table top with light underneath, flip your paper over & re-trace it.

 With both sides of my arbor assembled, I can slide them over to the frame and finish the vines that wrap around parts of the frame. They are all permanently attached at this time to the frame, and I finish my welding. You may notice our frame has four long posts under the bottom horizontal. These are 1” square stainless tube steel extensions for cementing into place on site (a.k.a. “in situ”).
The finished Arbor


  1. Thanks for sharing your work process!

  2. Yes, thanks! I'm a beginner 'garden art' welder, and this was very helpful and informative.

  3. Thank you,I really enjoyed it

  4. I love this arbor!!! Is it for sale?