I have just completed what must be my sixth or even seventh blacksmithing course at West Dean. An incredibly enjoyable weekend course was spent under the expert tutorage of artist-blacksmith Melissa Cole. On previous courses I have tried to create something that required an articulated lorry to drag it home, but this time I decided to concentrate on quality not quantity and make a series of hooks and handles for my home.
Learning about the process of manipulating metal is fascinating and often quite challenging. People perceive it as a very physical activity but in fact it is technique out-weighs pure brawn. Heating the iron to the perfect ‘banana yellow’ colour is the key; often I would hear Melissa sing out ‘Not hot enough!!’ as I tried to sneak another amber-coloured metal spike onto the anvil. With hammer held high ready to beat down, I would lower it gently and shuffle back to the forge to get more heat into the iron. Such was the power of Melissa’s mantra, that I soon began saying it to myself each time I pulled the metal back from the fire revealing the ‘wrong kind of yellow’.
Blacksmithing is completely absorbing, there is no way that you can be thinking about emails or clients when you are totally focused on your piece of metal. If your mind does drift off into contemplating what you are going to cook for supper, the next thing that happens is that your metal fizzes and spits like a children’s sparkler. This may look pretty but it is not good news, your metal is far too hot and is burning, which results in a rough, pitted texture on your iron and lumps of molten metal in the forge.
I was thrilled with my finished work – several hooks for the house and garden and a classy curtain tieback. Not bad for a weekend’s forging and no articulated trucks required!