Yesterday found the Scribblaire at a blacksmith’s forge in Wiltshire. A friend and I spent the day at The Forest Forge Studio near Marlborough where we were taught how to forge, bash and bend metal to make a piece of work to our own design.
The course is run by Melissa Cole, an incredibly talented artist blacksmith. Some of her work can be seen on the gallery section of her website. The Scribblaire particularly fell in love with ‘fleet of foot’, which was on show in the gallery next to the forge. It took all my willpower not to buy it there and then.
The day started with a cup of coffee and a safety briefing and the issue of gloves and an apron for each of us. The one-day course is restricted to two people and each of us was allocated an anvil and hammer which would be our workstation for the day. I was surprised by how tidy the forge was. My idea of a blacksmith’s forge is a dark, cramped, sweaty place with a sooty-faced strongman pumping bellows and wiping his brow whilst he works. A bit of a romantic image I know, but that’s what happens when you read too much Victorian literature! The forge is in an idyllic setting on the edge of the family farm, with views from an open door across to Severnake forest. In our coffee and lunch breaks, we sat in the sun looking across at the views, which was a perfect contrast to the hard work in between breaks.
Our session started with Melissa teaching us how to make an ‘S’ hook. We learned how to make a pointy tip and a flat tip at each end of a 6mm wide piece of steel, then curled the straight rod into a lovely ‘S’ shape using nothing but the fire, a hammer and the anvil. Mine ended up a bit longer than intended since I cut it in the wrong place. I also burned the metal a bit, which I think makes it look more rustic! Once finished, the hooks were coverered in wax and left to dry.
After a well-earned coffee break during which time we discussed ideas for our own project, we set to with a slightly thicker piece of metal. I wanted to make a treble clef, which meant that I had to start with quite a long piece of metal. This was quite awkward to move around, but with one end on a bracket so I could move the other end between the fire and the anvil, it worked quite well. It gets very repetitive moving between the forge and the anvil as the metal has to be heated in small-ish sections so that each bit is worked in turn. Everytime another bend was put in place I needed to check on progress against a template I had drawn out in chalk beforehand. Patience is not a trait The Scribblaire is known for, so this was a bit of a challenge for me. However, it was easy to see that progress was being made at each step, so it was worth the time taken to check.
The first couple of hours flew by and Melissa’s patience in supporting both of us in our projects was great. At each point, she was available to show us the next steps, to help when I couldn’t remember how or where to bend the metal and encourage us to keep going.
I can recommend hammering metal as a great way to relieve stress! Each of us had a section of our work which was hammered flat (ish) to add contrast to the finished shape and it took a long time and repeated trips to the fire to achieve the desired finish. We finished the day covered in soot, hot and with aching feet from standing up for most of the day!
By about 4.30 p.m. our work was nearly complete and we added a few finishing touches. I decided not to wax the finished product as I thought it would work as a garden ornament. I cleaned it up a bit and sandpapered it to get a bit of a shine. My vision is that it will rust a bit over time and give it a bit of an antique feel. When I got it home we had some discussion about whether it should be in the house or in the garden – the jury is out.
It was a fantastic day and the gift was received with enthusiasm. I may well do it again someday!