Hot metal, cool stuff
On a rare day off recently, me and Mr C headed to Standalone Farm near Letchworth — not to coo over ducklings and feed the lambs, but to spend the morning having a go at being a blacksmith.
Jo Fry — or Jo the Iron — has a forge at Standalone Farm, and has worked there for the best part of donkeys years. He makes all sorts of interesting stuff, and will take commissions, but he also runs courses for those of us who fancy having a go at something new. Mr C and I jumped at the chance.
I had ditched the stilettos for a pair of sturdy boots (seriously, if there’s a chance of me dropping something on my toes, I will), and as we strapped on the long leather aprons and donned the goggles, it felt properly exciting — and a bit nerve-wracking. The fire in the forge is, well, it’s hot, right? (Obvs.) And the metal gets yellow-glowing hot at the hot end and toasty warm at the other end. And I am very clumsy.
Jo is a great teacher. He’s calm, he talks you through everything clearly, demonstrates what you’re going to be doing, and then steps back and lets you get on with it. He’s there if you need him, though, but he’s definitely all about you doing it yourself. And that’s as it should be. He only has two people there at a time, so you’re able to focus on what you’re doing — not worrying about what everyone else is up to — and his attention is right there on you both.
There’s something deeply satisfying, I discovered, about hammering a piece of hot metal and watching it change shape before your very eyes — when minutes before it was a piece of cold steel that wasn’t bending for anyone. We started off with long straight rods of mild steel and bent them, twisted them, tapered them, and split them — and there’s something really cool (except they’re really hot) about that.
We made matching (almost) toasting forks — which is about right for a beginner in a morning. Yes, my twisty bit in the middle is a bit wonky — and Mr C’s prongs aren’t as even as they should be, but we’re both inordinately proud of what we’ve made. Honestly, he took his into work for ‘show and tell’ and I’ve been waving them at everyone who comes in the house.
I tell you what, if you’re looking for something other than socks or beer to pull out the hat on Fathers Day this year (yes, it’s coming up soon), then you could do a lot worse than a morning with Jo the Iron. Both Mr C and I had a great morning and came away with that real sense of accomplishment that comes with grubby hands and something solid to show off. As sneaky during-the-day dates go, it was hot-hot-hot stuff (in an entirely PG-rated way).