We left Opinel in the XVIII century. One a goldsmith at Dole, the other an iron merchant cited in the members list of the Société Populaire de Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne in 1792. Is this the father of Victor-Amédée Opinel, born in 1799?
In any event, in 1817 - he was 18 years old - Victor-Amédée was on the road. He was a pedlar having learned the trade of blacksmith-edge toolmaker during his travels. According to some, he produced spoons and saucepans and so he was no doubt an enterprising individual. He wasted no time in setting up a forge. He produced nails which were intended to rim the shoes that the folk of Albiez made so well, as well as billhooks and different kinds of blades and knives. In 1856 he possessed a tilt hammer where the remains of which can still be seen on the outskirts of Arvan. Daniel, his son, took over the workshop and continued the work of his father. The power source was supplied by the Arvan through means of a channel that was often repaired and rebuilt. The river has a wild torrent and with each increase in its level it becomes a little stronger which meant the work could be transported. This continued for some ten years and everyone was happy.
In June 1980, the Swiss artist Christian Sigrist rebuilt a tenth of the size of Daniel's workshop, such as it was a century earlier. Simple but a robust building made out of wood on a foundation of stone and incorporating a square room in which could be found a sort of shed with a sloping roof. The river Arvan was the very heart of the establishment, the force which drove the hammer, stirring up the embers of the forge and making the grindstones turn. At the back of the main room, the feeder canal can be seen, a wide wooden duct with its vanes on a paddle wheels. In the left-hand corner, a water pump.
On the model can be seen a simple vertical tube, pierced with holes. On the inside, the water arrived under atmospheric pressure which then passed through a neck making the water travel faster with very powerful induction. This clever machine sucked up the air which was then directed to the hearth of the forge. An essential part of the unit, this forge occupied the left-hand section of the workshop, on the other side of the wall to the shed or main workshop. It can be clearly seen on the model with the coal, the shovels, pokers, hammers, pliers and pincers.
Next to the forge - in the foreground of the model - the assembly table, with files and chisels. On the vice the artist has included a billhook blade, here called a "goyarde", a formidable tool with the tip bent forwards. Mauriennais country folk skilfully made use of it in order to prune, clear undergrowth, cut wood or to sharpen a stake. A tool that was often used daily, but not as often as the knife, which was often hung from the belt with hooks fixed to the handle.
The centre of the room is occupied by the anvil, which is being used by the blacksmith to forge axes. The right-hand side of the workshop is the "mechanical" part: a paddle wheel drives four "artifices (devices)". In the background is a sandstone wheel on which a worker is sharpening a billhook. A simple but clever technique in which the grinder was seated on a board where he could press the blade exerting a minimum of effort.
Then there are the two hammers. On the model, a blacksmith is standing up in front of one of them, while a man sitting on a seat suspended from the ceiling is using the other. This layout enabled the blacksmith to swing the hammer around in order to always have the part in the best possible position. The two assembled sprocket wheels can be clearly distinguished, as well as the flywheel, on the drive shaft. These are the sprockets which rhythmically work the hammers. In Daniel Opinel's workshop, the varying distance of the sprockets enabled a specific rhythm to be attained for each hammer, corresponding to the different tasks that were to be carried out. The speed of the wheel could be adjusted of course : all that was needed to be done was to open the water arrival vane by a special lever.
Finally, in the foreground and worked by a crankshaft, there are shears enabling the blacksmith to cut the steel bars.
Placed against the main building, this adjoining room was the area reserved for the grinders. Worked by a paddle wheel, two very large grindstones bathing in the water of the outlet duct : the stone had to be always wet so as not to overheat the blades, which could harm the hardening process. The grinder worked lying on the bench, holding out the blade which was to be worked upon. In order to achieve maximum force, the worker could adjust the height and angle of his bench. He could thus compensate the wear on the grinding surface. This was changed when its diameter became too narrow. At the start, it was between 1.50 m and 1.80 m but two or three years later it was reduced by two thirds. Traditionally, the grinder chose his own grinding wheels which he carefully prepared himself and then put in place. He would not give the task to anyone else to do because the quality of the stone and its assembly had his life depending on it. Indeed, the consequences of this heavy solid mass fracturing when turning at 25 revolutions a minute would have dire results for the person positioned 30 centimetres above it!
In the model made by Christian Sigrist, a dog can be seen lying on the legs of the grinder. Indeed, it was traditional that the grinder, motionless on the bench and labouring in a humid environment due to the spray from the grinding stone, had a four-legged friend in order to keep the bottom part of his body warm as well as, perhaps, simply keeping him company.