May 22 2013 Latest news:
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
GIVEN the chance to become a blacksmith for the day, Comet reporter Nick Gill took up the challenge - with mixed results.
I have never been one for making things. At school, armed with the choice of subjects such as design and technology, or graphics, I opted for food technology. That says it all really.
But that was a good few years ago and so when I was offered the chance to try my hand at blacksmithing, I decided to go for it – hammer and tong.
That offer came from Jo Fry, who after more than 30 years in the trade, has decided to start up workshops from his forge at Standalone Farm in Letchworth GC.
“I have had so many people ask me over the years if they could come and learn some techniques, that I thought it high time that I actually did something about it,” said Jo, who lives in Hitchin.
“It’s become a bit of a family trait actually, as my wife, Dawn, runs chocolate courses from the summerhouse in our garden, and encouraged me to do the same.”
Jo assures me that the courses he runs are for “all abilities”, which is somewhat reassuring given my only previous ‘smithing’ experience involved an addictive computer game in my early teens.
After I had received my apron and safety brief – which was later to be completely justified – it was straight to the forge where I was shown a perfectly crafted toasting fork which I would be attempting to make with Jo’s help. It looked an impossible task.
So we set to work on thinning (not the technical term) one end of the iron rod which would eventually become a curved handle. Jo would should me the process on his own prototype, which I would then attempt to replicate in my own way.
The skill Jo showed in crafting the metal using a hammer and an anvil was truly mesmerizing – how easily it could be manipulated when taken out from the coals red hot. The way it was broken down into steps that anyone could follow was impressive too, although the difficulty for me came in mastering the necessary technique quick enough. The phrase ‘strike while the iron is hot’ certainly rings true. During my relatively short tutorial I was surprised at the number of different aspects involved. As well as using different parts of the anvil to bend or straighten the metal accordingly, I also had to use a vice, a hacksaw and pliers to complete my fork. It turns out I wasn’t a natural and I even managed to burn my finger by holding the rod too far up – clearly given my history of clumsiness I should’ve worn the gloves offered to me.
But the workshop gave me a real insight into what is an unusual craft. With a bit more time even I might have gone some way to conquering it, and I could only marvel at the progress of Jo’s other apprentice on the day, Andy, who attended the workshop as a birthday treat. Alongside a superior toasting fork, Andy also managed to make a pendant, a coping saw frame and a ram’s head bottle opener.
Whatever I might have lacked in skill though, it did leave a big impression on me – and I don’t just mean the mark on my finger.
For more information about Jo’s workshops visit www.jotheiron.co.uk