Blacksmith forges ahead with useful art

A COLYFORD blacksmith tells the Herald what it takes to forge a career in the trade.

A COLYFORD blacksmith tells the Herald what it takes to forge a career in the trade.

Simon Connett, 34, says the only tools you need are a forge, hammer and anvil.

But, he argues, the modern blacksmith tends to be more creative - and has a burning desire to do the work.

He said: "You have to have a real passion for it, because I think, if you just approach it as a job, it could become a drag. I love going to work.

"As a blacksmith, you get job satisfaction because you create an end product, which will live on after you - it's a legacy, I suppose."

Simon says he does anything from welding handles to fixing tractor steps and repairing gates - to artistic garden sculptures.

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He gained practical training after working with a blacksmith in the Honiton area for nine years.

However, with a degree in Applied Arts, specialising in metal work, from Plymouth College of Art and Design, he believes blacksmithing can be functional and aesthetically pleasing.

He said: "We're no longer the village blacksmith who mends old kettles or horse shoes, though we still do that. Now we do artistic gates and more abstract work.

"I enjoy doing sculptural stuff, and would like to be able to focus on that. After eight years of art college, that's my background and what I love doing.

"I would like to start to get some work into local galleries and possibly in London. I like doing pieces that have a function, but also an elegance.

"However, I don't want to do art just for art's sake. I want to produce beautiful, yet useful objects - not to be put on a pedestal, but to be used on a daily basis."

Tools of the trade have developed over time, which make the work easier. But the job still carries risks.

Simon has visited the hospital several times for burns and metal flints stuck in his eyes. He said: "I don't burn myself much because I've learned to be more careful. But sometimes the colour of the metal looks like it is cool, when it's still hot.

"I wear goggles at all times but still some sparks will work their way in. I have had to have them picked out of my eyes at hospital, and having someone with a needle near your eye isn't nice."

Simon starts work at 8am and puts the forge on. He then lets the smoke clear, which takes about 10 minutes.

He heats the pieces of metal in the forge and uses the hammer and anvil to shape it. He said: "There are rules to what steel will do when you heat it, and how it moves when you strike it with the hammer. Once you understand them it becomes straightforward.

"I did three years of metal work at college to learn the basics, but I don't think you ever stop learning. There are so many more areas you can go into, and skills you can learn."

He then puts it all together, often using a MIG (metal inert gas) welder. Finally, he adds the finishing touches - such as painting, lacquering or wire brushing - before cleaning up.

For more information on Simon's work, call (01297) 22965.