By Jo Cole, Outdoor Work technician
On a chilly Saturday in January I stepped out of my normal role of laying fires, checking tools, stocks and equipment in the forge and joined some of our Block 5 and Sixth Form students for a day with our visiting blacksmith, Lucille Scott from Little Duck Forge.
The students aim was to work on their projects; mine was to learn a few basic techniques and make some latches for the barn doors.
There are no thermometers, gauges or apps indicating the temperature of the forges. Instead you have to learn to watch the colour of the coals and read the heat to judge the ‘just right’ moment to remove the work. Remove it too soon and you tire yourself out trying to hammer steel that is cold and won’t give. But leave it too long and you risk burning away the steel – and your efforts so far – entirely.
I didn’t take me long to realise that it is pretty hard work! Once hot, the steel is only malleable for a very short time. I needed to plan ahead to ensure I had the right tools immediately to hand and to rapidly speed up my decision making.
As I worked away trying to encourage the steel to yield to my will, I was inspired by the students around me. In the few months they have been learning they have absorbed a deeper understanding of blacksmithing than perhaps they realise, both through Lucille’s teaching and their own experiences.
They moved with ease round the forge, choosing the correct tools for the work in hand. They worked swiftly and adeptly, asking advice only where needed. The complexity of the shapes they were tackling was impressive.
Projects underway included an outdoor cooking tripod, a cutlery set and jewellery. They also include legacy panels inspired by the Bedales estate, which will be galvanised and possibility even gilded in places, before being set into the new timber-framed archway by the study in Outdoor Work.
Spurred on by the students’ work, I ploughed on. Sometimes with ease, but frequently not! By the end of the day I was definitely quicker and the correct technique was starting to click.
Many thanks to Lucille, Beau, Lila, Lucy and Rosie for sharing their day with me.