Suffolk-based blacksmiths Paul Stoddart from Kingdom Forge and Daniel Goodwin from Firehound Forge showcased their traditional skills at the Royal Armouries as part of our Dangerous Arts summer. We caught up with them to ask a few questions as they made a one of a kind replica medieval arming sword for the museum.
Tell us a little bit about the work that you do.
Dan: I’m from Firehound Forge and we’re located over in the West Midlands, we make everything from weather vanes to wedding rings, historical reproductions to swords for the Royal Armouries. Generally, whatever people ask us to make we’ll give a good shot!
Paul: I’m Paul Stoddart from Kingdom Forge, and we design and create high-quality metalwork using both traditional and modern blacksmithing techniques.
How did you become blacksmiths?
Dan: That’s a very good question, sometimes I forget myself! I came out of university about four years ago. My degree was in Archeology so I’d handled and studied many historical artefacts during my studies. I actually wrote my dissertation on arms and armour in The Bronze Age, so I suppose my interest in ironwork peaked at university. When I graduated, I knew I wanted to do something practical with my hands and as I live quite close to Herefordshire which is where the National School of Blacksmithing is based, it seemed like a natural progression to start learning the trade.
Paul: So, I became a blacksmith around about 6 years ago. At school, I was taught metal working and at the end of my GSCE’s, I heard about the National School for Blacksmithing through a very famous blacksmith. I had to stay in education until 18 so I looked up the college, I applied and I very quickly decided that blacksmithing was what I wanted to do full time. Shortly after joining the course, I met my business partner Elliot Harrison and we developed the business from there.
What sort of challenges do you face with your work? Are there any aspects of your work that are more difficult than others?
Paul: I’d say that when we’re doing large-scale jobs like large gates and railings, being relatively new into the craft makes it a little more difficult to be able to go and survey a property, discuss with the client exactly what they want and get accurate measurements and readings. It’s definitely something you pick up over time. It’s not exactly something they really teach you in college but I’d say it’s the most difficult part- being able to create a large scale forge work accurately and precisely.
Harrison: The biggest challenge we’ve had in the past couple of years is finding somewhere to work. It’s usually quite expensive, say for an industrial estate lot. In the ironwork itself, it’s figuring out how best to go about your work. The blacksmithing community in the UK is absolutely fantastic though– we tease, taunt and take the mick out of each other something ridiculous but the moment you need to ask a question, someone will always come to your aid. I’ve found there are not many problems you can’t figure out by asking somebody!
What’s your favourite type of thing to work on and what’s the best thing you’ve ever made?
Paul: The best thing I’ve ever made would be a pattern welded Viking sword which I made last Christmas. That is my favourite kind of thing to work on. It wasn’t exactly to any measurements, just a kind of free form blacksmithing. So, forging to what you think is right and to the specification you see fit really. That is my favourite kind of way to work. You just start with a piece of steel, heat it up and hammer away.
Dan: I’ve made some very cool things but my favourite has got to be the wedding rings I made for two of my close friends. They probably weren’t very impressive but to have someone trust you to make something they’ll wear for their whole life is quite an honour.
Any tips for aspiring blacksmiths?
Dan: Yes, definitely. It’s quite a difficult trade to establish yourself in but there are some absolutely fantastic blacksmiths around the UK, around 2000 of us! So my advice would be just to run a Google search on blacksmithing courses in your area. A lot of Blacksmiths run taster sessions and short courses so it’s a good idea to try your hand that way.
Paul: I say just respect your customers and try to vary your work a lot. Don’t tie yourself down to one particular job, and always try to keep a good broad variety of skills.