When it came time to restore the imposing front doors of the Lummis Home, the century-old Highland Park residence of author Charles Fletcher Lummis, one of the many jobs included replacing damaged or missing iron nails that had been hammered into the doors cut from yellow pine and red birch. The need to be historically accurate meant the crafts people working on the $10,500 repair job could not just pick up some new steel nails at the Cypress Park Home Depot. Instead, a blacksmith was needed to make those nails from scratch. Where to find a blacksmith in Los Angeles? It turns out the repair team only had to travel a few blocks on Figueroa Street and look for the teepee that marks the spot of Steel Crazy, the Highland Park studio and blacksmith shop of Heather McLarty.
It was a small job – only about 14 nails. But the nails needed to closely resemble the originals. In addition, McLarty, who is accustomed to working on larger projects, did not have much experience making nails. Still, she was up for the challenge.
“It’s one of the smallest projects I have done,” said McLarty. But, “I was excited to be working on the Lummis home because it’s in my neighborhood.”
Most nails today are round, smooth, machine-made rods of steel mixed with carbon. But the Lummis nails – which were about 1-3/4 inches long – appeared to be made from pure iron or what’s called nail iron, McLarty said. The Lummis nails are also shaped like square spikes that taper down to a point.
After creating a working drawing of the nail from one of the originals, McLarty clamped rods of iron to a vice and used a blow torch to heat the metal to about 2,000 degrees. At that temperature, the iron turns to putty, and McLarty said she had to mold, smush and hammer the rods into shape. She was able to make six nails with small heads fairly quickly. But eight nails with heads that were about seven-eighths of an inch wide proved much more challenging and took a few days. When she was done, McLarty stamped the nails with her diamond-shaped stamp. The nails were later engraved with “2011” to distinguish them from the original nails.
“A lot of the work I do is with traditional methods,” said McLarty, who finished the nails about a month ago. “I was able to use comparable materials and use totally period techniques to make the replacement nails that they needed. They seemed to be happy with them”
On Sunday, the Historical Society of Southern California, which operates the Lummis Home, will honor McLarty and the other workers and consultants who worked on the restoration of the doors.
Photos by Martha Benedict