A few people have asked me why I have travelled to Britain for research when I could just as easily turn to books and the net for information and images. Yes, I could do that, and many authors using such sources for their research have written wonderful books. I actually do use these resources myself, but feel that I need to be here to experience the landscape close up for authenticity. Watch how mist crouches in a Welsh valley or threads through pine on the mountainside, or how rain changes from drifting to dropping to hammering to shifting side-to-side. Hear the sound of running water along a straight section of river, one end a rush and gurgle and the other end a sliding clinking, with silence in between, though the water itself crinkles and flutters. Feel my boots sink deeply into heather or slip on moss-covered rocks. Then, there are those moments when I gain a nugget of information that I could not have obtained through print and pixel sources, because of something said in passing in the local pub. Other times, opportunities for experience come unexpectedly and I know I have no choice but to take them, because I may not be in this place again.
Veronica, who established and manages Stiwdio Maelor, often runs miles to the house after being dropped off up the road. A couple of weeks ago, she was running through Aberllefenni, which is two miles down the road, and stopped to chat with the owner of two dogs that had protested at her presence. He gave her a brochure for his business and a little later I noticed it in her studio: Blacksmithing Introductory Courses. Given the main character of my novel is the son of a blacksmith, I knew I had to go on one of these courses. I had watched blacksmiths at work back in Melbourne, at The Australian Blacksmiths Association forge in Coopers' Settlement, but to actually get hands-on experience was, as the TV ad goes, priceless.
|The Celtic Forge|
So, yesterday (Sunday, 25 Sep), after a pleasant walk along Afon Dulas, I arrived at The Celtic Forge, which is in the building that used to be the machine ‘problem solving’ place for the old slate quarry that was shut down in 2002. Lez Paylor, a former stonemason and now a passionate and knowledgeable blacksmith of many years’ experience, was to be my guide and teacher. Four and a half hours later, I emerged from the forge with an appreciation of blacksmithing skills and history, the delight in having practiced some of those skills through creating a piece I could take home (with Lez tidying up flaws and giving it a final polish), and several pages of intriguing and stimulating notes for my novel. I learnt about beach forges, soft anvils and mallets, what a tui and a bic are, how to be a striker, how nothing is wasted in a forge, what sort of work dark ages blacksmiths would do and what equipment they used, and why some blacksmiths tap the anvil in between their blows on the piece on which they are working. Specific techniques I practiced while making my double-twist fire poker were 1) tapering, 2) upsetting, 3) punching and drifting a hole, and 4) stock twisting.
|Lez cutting a section of mild steel rod for one of our fire pokers|
|Starting the forge fire|
|Turning on the air blower to get the forge fire really going|
|The two rods being heated up|
|Lez about to work on the tapering for his fire poker|
|Lez working on the hole end of the fire poker, using the bic and hammer|
|Fire pokers ready for heating for the stock twisting.|
Punch used for making the holes and the tool used for raking the coke and digging out clinker/slag.
|The soft anvil and soft mallet|
|My fire poker pushed through the coals, to heat the section that will be twisted|
|Lez polishing up my fire poker|
|If you look closely, you might see the mist rising from the fire poker cooling down after being treated with beeswax,|
which helps to slow down rusting.
|My finished fire poker|
Funnily enough, though I feel enormous pride and satisfaction in having created the fire poker (which I plan to show all and sundry back home ), the main thrill I took from this amazing day occurred virtually at the start of my efforts. I was holding the length of mild steel with my left hand, at an angle to the anvil, and hammering the red-hot tip. After the first couple of blows, the metal began to flow towards the taper shape, was doing what I wanted yet was also moving of its own accord. Pliant metal was becoming more than itself, a blend of wonder and will that conveyed to me in that magical instant something of the mystery and mystique of the blacksmith’s craft and art. No wonder the blacksmith was regarded with awe. From such moments, all the tools for livelihood and defence were created.
As always, any comments are appreciated.