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A new skill with an old craft

A few Sundays ago we went for lunch at the Rose of Denmark in Hotwells. I understand the pub’s changed ownership a few times over the last couple of years and the food’s been on an up and down journey. The roast we had on that Sunday was one of the best I’ve had, anywhere, ever! It rivals the Rummer, and that set a high benchmark. Wonderful moist meat, crunchy roasties on the outside with a fluffy middle, well cooked and flavoursome veg, a rich gravy and huge Yorkshire pud’. Steph had the veggie option and that was also excellent. We’re thrilled to have this fantastic option on our doorstep!

On our way home we took a shortcut through Underfall Yard where they had an open day including a number of demonstrations- one at Fire Iron Art Blacksmithing. Admittedly I was a few drinks in, but I’m certain that even if I weren’t I would have been just as captivated watching a simple and dull bar of metal being turned, no- expertly crafted, into a beautiful and functional tool in the space of just a few minutes. The fire was also very mesmerising! To my delight I learned that the blacksmith, Joanna Williams, runs day courses where you can try your own hand at the art of the blacksmith. I was instantly sold, and a couple of weeks later, on a fresh, late October morning, I arrived at the forge excited and ready to learn!

I’d been advised beforehand what to wear- some good sturdy boots and long-sleeved tops and full length trousers, to protect from burns- all leather and cotton- no flammable synthetics in the foundry please! After a thorough but necessary safety talk (this is a potentially very dangerous environment after all, and it’s quite physical work so you need to do it right), I was given a good chunky leather apron, goggles and a glove (you don’t wear a glove on your hammering hand).

Joanna gives you a good tour of the forge- the blacksmiths workshop, an introduction to the hearth (where the metal heating goes on), and to the tools of the trade. We also looked at some of the items we can make during the day.

Then we got straight on with a first project, which is demonstrated first, along with a running commentary, and then it was straight over to me to get hands-on and have a go! An ornate wall hook gives you the chance to try some basic techniques- flattening a round rod section, making a point and bending. I had the opportunity to make a couple, the first one guided whilst I learned and got comfortable with heating the metal and using the hammer and anvil, and then I did a second hook more independently to reinforce my learnings. Throughout Joanna gave useful tips and advice.

Next up I decided to get a bit more ambitious and try to make a fire poker. Some of the techniques like making the point, bending and flattening a section were carried over from the hook creation, but the detailing of the leaf feature I opted to incorporate, and the twisting of the shaft were new to learn.

I was enjoying myself so much that a short lunch break came as a surprise, and afterwards I was keen to get back to another project: I went for a different style of fire poker using some different techniques.
I was surprised to learn that the metals were finished in bees wax, to give them a lovely dark, even look.

I had a fantastic day and was delighted at the quality and number of products I produced, under Joanna’s expert guidance of course! I learned so much and feel really inspired; the day was great value and an amazing experience. Joanna runs experience days regularly, and is always happy to discuss commissions if you don’t want to get so hands-on yourself. In the run up to Christmas an experience day would make a great gift, and for me I produced a couple of personal and hand crafted gifts which might make it under the tree this year. You can also buy a great range of pre-made gifts; pop in or have a look here http://www.fireironart.com/Fire_Iron_Art_Blacksmithing/Welcome.html

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