We continue to support young blacksmiths in developing their skills. Over the last couple of months, we have been happy to have Matthias Kuhn, a German Journeyman continuing our tradition of placements. Matthias is in his 6th year of training. During January he has been using the workshop a couple of days a week to get his portfolio ready for applying to study at Steneby Institute of Craft and Design. Steneby is host to Europe’s largest academic metal/blacksmithing workspace and is a brilliant place to study for anyone interested in a career in ironwork.
Matthias tells how in Germany the traditional Journeyman is a familiar sight. Journeymen traditionally don’t use any technology including a smartphone. They cannot spend money on transport and rely on lifts, mainly hitchhiking. This means they meet many people on their travels and get jobs along the way. Exploring different workshops means they learn a wide variety of skills by seeing how smiths work differently across many settings. Journeymen have to remain 50km away from their hometown and they travel and work this way for 3 years and 1 day. Interestingly, Matthais has chosen not to do it the traditional way as he wants to travel beyond Germany and as people don’t recognise the tradition outside Germany it makes things difficult. Matthias is doing his own modern version! We wish him much luck with his plans for studying at Steneby and for the future, it has been a pleasure to have him at Ironart.
Following on from this we also have local, 16-year-old Loris Sarkissian on a work placement in the workshop, 2 days a week. Loris started studying at Hereford College this September, 3 days a week. He came looking for a work placement for the two days a week he is not at college, to get even more experience. We are happy to welcome Loris into the workshop.
We’re delighted to introduce Thomas Coffe. Thomas is from Beaumont-sur-Leze in the South of France. He is a journeyman blacksmith apprenticed to the Compagnon-du-devoir, also know as the Compagnons du Tour de France. (NB Only follow that link if your French is up to scratch…. and it’s nothing to do with the famous cycle race!)
The Compagnons du Tour de France is a French organization of craftsmen and artisans dating from the Middle Ages. The aim of the Compagnon guild is to train young men and women in traditional trades by acquiring experience trough travelling in various workshops throughout France and internationally too. Their traditional, technical education includes taking a tour doing apprenticeships with masters. A quick search on Wikipedia reveals this explanation…
“The word compagnon (companion) is derived from the Old French compaignon, a person with whom one breaks bread. For a young man or young woman today, the compagnonnage is a traditional way to learn a trade while developing character by experiencing community life and travelling. Until recently, the compagnons were all male. Today, they can be found in 49 countries across five continents, practising many different trades.”
We are delighted that Thomas has been chosen to come and spend some time learning under the expert guidance of the Ironart team. He’ll be here in Bath for one year, and we’ll track his progress and projects here on the blog, so watch this space for more news!
We can hardly believe it but James, who joined us as an apprentice architectural ironworker, has now been at Ironart for three full years. The apprenticeship became available thanks to a generous NADFAS grant. James is a hugely valued member of the Ironart team and throughout the last 12 months he has been working with increasing autonomy. “I’m now being tasked with interpreting individual projects from a hand drawn sketch. It’s down to me to choose the materials, make the piece from scratch and resolve details in a way that looks good”.
As well as project-managing bespoke ironwork commissions, James has been furniture-making and involved in several ironwork restoration projects. He has also been using his knowledge of CAD software to assist Andy with design. James says of his experiences:“This third year has been a positive experience. I’m happy that I made this decision, it was the right journey for the right reasons. The apprenticeship has opened more avenues and curiosities than I could have envisaged – the people I’ve met and places I’ve worked. I’ve gained a valuable insight into the processes around our craft. I’ve enjoyed the extra-curricular stuff we’ve done too, the day trip we went on in 2014 to Wolverhampton (to visit Legg Brothers steel mill, Barr & Grosvenor Foundry and a huge galvanising plant) helped to improve my breadth of knowledge.”
Jason Balchin, one of Ironart’s workshop managers writes…“James’ confidence and competence is at a very good level. He is able to work under his own instruction and complete jobs from start to fruition. He has come on in leaps and bounds. He has a consistent, high level of finish and attention to detail. He has a good technical mind, he is the main machinist, as an example he is our go to-man for any lathe work. James is a real asset to the company.”
If you are also interested in becoming a blacksmith there are various routes to get into the craft, read through our ‘Guide to getting into metalworking’ which we hope will give you a starting point. Don’t forget we run one-day blacksmithing workshops here at Ironart, follow this link for more information.
Nadfas Grant recipient Cecilie Robinson has just returned from a five day visit to Sheffield Forgemasters International, which is a massive industrial metalworking business and the biggest foundry in the UK. Sheffield Forgemasters make vast component parts for things like offshore oil rigs, submarines, ships and nuclear power stations. They have a whopping 800 strong team of people working a 24 hour operation with three rotating shifts.
Cecilie spent time in the pattern shop, where the scaled up drawings are turned into vast wood and filler patterns, then in the foundry where the team make sand moulds on a huge industrial scale. Cecilie had a go at welding with their team too, where she experimented with various rods – and modestly admitted she did “pretty well!”
Cecilie also visited the meltshop where recycled steel is melted down and elements are added to it. The day she was there they were making stainless steel components for a nuclear project. Pouring from a furnace into two 104 tonne ladles. The team at Forgemasters use computer programmes to simulate these pour processes, and their technicians can predict where issues will occur, such as problematic differences in cooling rates, air bubbles etc.
Then 12 hours later (late at night) these molten ladles were poured into the mould. This was apparently then going to take up to twelve weeks to cool and set! Ultrasound is used to indentify impurities in the casting which are then gouged out and rebuilt where necessary.
Amazingly the Forgemasters foundry is on a different site to the melt shop so the molten steel has to be transported on a flat bed lorry prior to the pour which is huge feat of logistics in its own right. Sometimes they pour up to six ladles per project. The whole experience was a real eye-opener and really worthwhile. Our thanks to the team at Forgemasters International for showing Cecilie around their impressive set up and making her feel so welcome.
Our restoration specialist Martin Smith and NADFAS apprentice Cecilie Robinson made this beautiful replica glazed fanlight a few weeks ago for a Georgian terraced house on Prior Park Buildings in Bath. Martin matched his design to a photograph he had been given of an existing glazed lantern from the terrace. If your house used to have a glazed fanlight above the door and you would like us to match to a historic design, we’ll happily give you some advice and a no-obligation quote so please get in touch. Please note we also restore and repair historic metalwork items like this.
We’ve just restored this beautiful bench for a private customer in Tenterden, Kent. This bench had been in their family for some time and was much loved and in need of repair. Martin Smith and Cecilie Robinson (Nadfas intern) made a full assessment of the repairs needed once the bench had been stripped of it’s paint. Incidentally this bench was the focus of a blog article I wrote a few weeks ago, because we found what we believe were the remnants of the original Coalbrookdale green colour right next to the cast metal. The bench was finished in Mid-Brunswick Green paint and looks very handsome back in situ.
Today the Ironart team welcomed Judith Quiney, the Promotions and Marketing Director at NADFAS. Judith and Jane visited our workshop to film James and Cecilie for the NADFAS website and AGM. Two years ago, Ironart was generously awarded two Patricia Fay memorial grants towards an apprenticeship for James Cuthbertson, and more recently a restoration internship for Cecilie Robinson. The short films following their progress will be edited and released in May. Our thanks again to Karen, Judith and the entire team at NADFAS for their support.
We often repair railings after cars and vans have collided with them, and here’s a good example. We made repairs to a set of lovely and unusual railings in Chalford, near Stroud a few weeks ago. These railings are cast iron and of high quality, sadly they had been damaged by a large vehicle. One whole section of railings had snapped off just above the lead collars, the top strap had broken off and so had the forged and cast finials.
The restoration team, headed up by Martin Smith carried out the works, pictured here is Cecilie Robinson (our NADFAS grant student) who is understudying Martin at the moment. This one proved to be a real head-scratcher, with Martin and Cecilie working out the pieces like a jigsaw puzzle in the workshop!
If you would like to talk to us about the restoration and repair of wrought iron or cast iron railings, please get in touch, we’re happy to give advice and guide you in the right direction.
We have a beautiful Coalbrookedale Lily of the Valley bench in for restoration at the moment. Martin Smith and Ironart’s Conservation Apprentice – Cecilie Robinson have carefully disassembled it in the workshop ready for cleaning.
We are regularly asked what colour these benches would originally have been painted, and have done a fair bit of research on the subject. The Museum of Iron at Ironbridge where these benches were made, have no surviving examples of the original colour schemes so it’s been impossible to colour-match the original paint. In her book ‘Decorative Ironwork’ author and Curator at the V&A Museum Marian Campbell states that Coalbrookedale benches were “originally painted brownish to imitate bronze or green for patinated bronze”.
This bench (yet to be accurately dated) has revealed two shades of dark bluish-green right next to the metalwork – tucked away underneath where it wouldn’t have been bleached by the sun. This is certainly the closest WE have come to being able to accurately specify an original colour.