I should probably explain… I was never told by an elderly relative that if I don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing. I should have been, it would be a fair excuse for keeping schtum for 4 years. But that’s all water under the metaphor now.
I was busy enough, making stuff, trying to sort out the wreckage of the old shop, tidy up sheds and keep rotten old vans usable, looking after Mother, you know – the usual stuff. My Mothers health got worse, my health got worse. Look, it all turned to rubbish. And then C-19 arrived. I’m still making things, its taking longer than it used to, everything is trickier now but everyone knows that. Simpler the task, the harder it seems to be now. What happened to Post Offices? If I can work out how to post a pic again I will show you some of the new things I make now. Vegetarian taxidermy. Furniture. Garden screens. All sorts. It will be worth the wait.
You’ve all seen the Hearth Vader by now, (You haven’t? you really should..) as has a visitor to The Smithery (you should really see that too…) but he wanted something a bit more indoors. And less hot. We are always happy to make what the customer wants so here is a smaller, altogether shinier Dark Lord. This one has had the fire replaced with a 2.5w LED and braided three core cotton covered flex which is a touch on the light side. Suitable for a shelf or window sill, but if you wanted to hang one on a wall that could be arranged. This ones best not used outdoors, due to the electrickery and such.
The forging continues to be what I want to do, but there are all these distractions… I have been making all manner of things, Many of them far too big for the long suffering Focus, so I now have a very characterful old Transit, which has aided deliveries, and also helped no end with dragging rusty old derelict machines home for resurrection. I now have a Fly press and far too many pillar drills. Thanks to the grotty old van, I’ve also had loads of practice welding thin steel.
One of the first things to get a ride in the van was enough tables, benches and counter to open a bar. This is the biggest project I’ve taken on so far, and I’m very pleased with how it looks in use. More importantly, so is the customer.
The only drawback to making bigger things is the size of the workshop, which I cant do anything about, and the amount of ‘Stuff’ that is in it, which I am hoping to sort out. I’m blessed in that I have a good number of sheds to play in at Grump Towers, and equally cursed by the amout of ‘Stuff’ already packed into them, and the general state of them. Some work needs doing here. This week the lovely old character corrugated tin came off one of the sheds, to be press-ganged into being an addition to a very trendy eatery, the character and woodworm infested wood work was consigned to a bonfire, and now some very bland, but hopefully waterproof new tin is going on. If you are as old as me, you may remember those small puzzles with 8 squares and a space so you can moves the squares around to make a picture. I hope fixing the shed will give me that all important space so I can start moving some squares around.
lying the very lovely Smiths at The Smithery on…. anyone?… anyone? on Smith St.
And in case you were wonderingwhat a Fly press is, it’s nothing to do with torturing insects, It’s a wonderful device that applies a huge force in a slightly more delicate manner than hitting it with a big hammer. I’m learn a little bit of subtlety in my old age.
Last year, I started turning a dilapidated shed into a workshop as part of setting up working from home as a blacksmith. The forge has been here since 1840-something, but I needed somewhere to put all the more modern machinery.
The work started early in January and being environmentally aware, the first thing I noticed was it wasn’t very warm. Some sort of heating would be required if this workshop was going to be year round.
The work started with tip runs and bonfires because all good sheds eventually become dumping grounds for things that may come in handy. And once they are log-jammed with paraffin heaters and enamel vases for showing flowers (that is, for putting flowers in to show them, with judges and such, not to say “Oi, Dahlia, look at these vases!”) and bits of wood too long to throw out and old rope too short to use, they become rat-infested hell holes.
It is the way of things.
The tin roof leaked, the walls had worrying cracks in them, the back had fallen out and the front was about to go.
By the time the weather got better, the shed was sound, dry, secure and looking a lot better, but I hadn’t done anything about heating it. “Wood burner?” you say…
Well yes, in an ideal world, that would be ideal, but have you see the price of wood burners?
“You’re a blacksmith, why don’t you make one, then?”
Now we are getting somewhere. I’m not one for plans, so looking around the interweb, asking silly questions and being nosey went on for a while. There are some really nice homemade wood burners about out there, so if they can make one, so can I.
So I did.
While all this was going on, I kept seeing burners that passed a reasonable resemblance to certain film characters, but they weren’t very good. I don’t like things that aren’t very good. Something had to be done about this..
Pictures were printed out, and entire episodes of Blue Peter’s worth of card, tape, marker pens and a grown up with a sharp knife were assembled.
Several prototypes later, I had a set of templates. In the fullness of time, these proved to be miles off, but you have to start somewhere.
The next step is the big one. In order to make a gas bottle stove, you need to make a hole in a gas bottle. Gulp.
This is not for the faint-hearted.
The bottle was vented, flushed, flushed again, left, come back to, flushed again, and eyed suspiciously. A small hole was slowly drilled. Tea was drunk.
It was left to once side again for a bit.
But there comes a point when you just have to do it so… I cut a large hole with a plasma cutter. This basically creates an electrical arc, and then blows it out at some speed through “anything that conducts electricity”. I’ve not tested that aspect, but it keeps you on your toes…
The actual temperature and speed involves lots of zeroes, so if it hasn’t gone bang by the time you have cut through, it never will. That’s a relief…
The card templates were also cut this way, but without the elevated blood pressure.
There was grinding, shaping, swearing, a number of parts were remade, some more than once. Slowly, a familiar face appeared.
At times other faces appeared, and I may come back to them later.
Eventually I had a garden burner. In the meantime I made an enclosed wood burner for the shed, in case you thought I’d forgot about winter coming back…
Would you like one of these? I make them for others, too, you see. Otherwise I’d have a garden filled with heavy-breathing wood burners…
They would, as you would expect, shoe horses, but they would also repair almost anything. The idea of replacing something just because it is broken is one of those modern silly ideas.
Some of these repairs would be invisible, some better than new, and some done in a quick and cheap manner that doesn’t bear close examination.
Then the car came along and this changed everything for the blacksmith.
Some turned their skill with metal to repairing cars and selling them fuel, some used this new found mobility to work away from their reputation and some to enlarge it.
Some shut up shop and worked for others. This would have been something of a trial.
In this village my family supplied the blacksmith. We resisted progress as long as possible and my grandfather finally gave up around 1961. My Mother shod the last horse here, and the forge became just another cold shed.
Showing a distinct lack of imagination it took me until 2010 to think about clearing out the forge and seeing what was left. It was rammed to the rafters with an unimaginable amount of junk.
It took two years’ worth of spare time to empty it. Once emptied, we found the forge itself, the anvil and quench tank, a set of bellows that still worked…
Well there was only one thing to do: light the fire.
Except we couldn’t, because back in the 70s the chimney had fallen off in the storms, and it was capped off. Arranging a new cut-stone chimney and some frankly terrifying scaffolding took a little while and a lot of money. Still, the house doesn’t look lopsided now.
Now, I’d never set foot in a proper blacksmith shop… but we had some steel about the place and it was a wet day, so why not have a go?
I spent five hours in the forge, mangling and burning bits of steel, and myself knowing the shape I was after, but having no idea how to get this straight piece of 6mm bar to behave…
By the time I gave up, I had ruined about 30 feet of steel, I was burnt, bruised and exhausted, but I had learnt more than I have ever learnt before in a single day.
Oh, and I had five simple hooks, and I was well and truly hooked.
I can make you some hooks, if you’d like. Or almost anything else, in fact. You can get in touch with me here.