The Village Blacksmith

Some projects are thought up, and put into action in a heart beat, while others are a slow burn.. My latest photo shoot with the Village Blacksmith, Ian Thackray, has been over 2 years in the planning! The skill, hardwork and time it takes to become a skilled craftsman such as Ian is fast becoming a rare achievement in today’s fast paced world.

The Village Blacksmith, is based just outside Shaftesbury in Berwick St John. The 150 year old forge that he likes to call home is in daily use for Ian’s thriving business making everything from custom steel rose flowers to a bespoke metal balcony. Obviously photographing while the hearth is 1700°c+, and a craftsman is throwing around white hot metal and large hammers.. well let’s just say that safety is paramount.

Trust is a major factor when photographing in a dangerous environment, the photographer has to trust the client not to cause injury (or damage equipment); but more importantly the client has to be able to trust the photographer! Too many photographers are trying so hard to get the image that they ruin the experience for those in front of the camera. A balance must be struck so that I can get the best photography possible while interfering as little as I can with the work of the blacksmith. Read Ian’s quote after the photos below to find out if I succeeded in finding that balance..

The photoshoot below was planned for 2 cold days in November, and Ian would be making a large pattern weld knife that I would get to keep! I found the time in the forge to be very educational, especially the difference between Damascus steel and pattern welding.. quite simply, if it ain’t made in Damascus, it’s pattern weld.

The process of pattern welding a blade is heating the billet to the colour of melted butter (1700°c to 1800°c) but not burning the metal. The billet is folded and hammered together forcing the two sides to fire weld together. This process is done over and over to create the pattern weld along the length of the blade. You can watch the process unfold in the photos below.

The metal is then hammered into the shape of the blade it will become. The process of finishing the blade will continue in the future when I visit Ian again.

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