From his rustic 18th-century blacksmiths forge on the Eastnor Castle Estate in Herefordshire, Andrew Findlay creates bespoke ironwork, including decorative gates, railings, furniture, sculpture and garden art, inspired by his natural surroundings. Here, he talks to Homes & Gardens about his life as an artist blacksmith.
“As a child, I was intrigued by lead and would experiment with melting it and moulding it to make toy arrowheads. Then, as a young man, I worked as a fabricator for a lift manufacturer and, during my lunch hours, I would make small sculptures and decorative items. In my late twenties I discovered forgework after reading Edge of the Anvil by American blacksmith Jack Andrews. After that, I was hooked.”
Picture: Andrew Findlay in the entrance to his forge on the Eastnor Castle Estate, Herefordshire.
“I taught myself by reading books and using crude homemade equipment. Then I enrolled on a short course run by James Horrobin at West Dean College. That gave me enough basic skill to start making simple ironwork pieces.”
Picture: inside Andrew Findlay’s forge on the Eastnor Castle Estate.
“The techniques and tools of the artist blacksmith enable steel bars to be brought to life by heating the metal to near-melting point in the fire, before forging or hammering out tapers and shapes on the anvil and forming them into beautiful components.
“These are then joined to make a larger piece, either by ancient methods such as riveting and fire-welding, or by more modern techniques such as electric welding. Basic forging has remained unchanged for at least three thousand years.”
Picture: various sized tongs used by artist blacksmith Andrew Findlay in his forge.
“Much of my work reflects what I see every day in Nature, from delicate roses, the organic shapes of which are transposed into ironwork, such as decorative gates, to beautiful leaves which might be represented on an ornate window grille. Im also influenced by works of art.”
Picture: Andrew Findlay hammers a horse shoe into shape.
“The day usually starts at eight o’clock in the morning, when I deal with emails, order materials, make appointments to see clients and brief my assistants. I tend to start blacksmithing at around half past ten and try to continue until three o’clock in the afternoon. After that, my time is taken up with design work or appointments until the early evening.”
Picture: Andrew Findlay attends to one of his equine clients.
“Every project is engrossing, whether I am creating a large architectural piece or a fruit bowl. We are currently designing and manufacturing an elaborate metalwork scheme for a private villa in Dubai. This includes more than eighty window grilles, plus entrance doors and feature windows, as well as chandeliers and bathroom accessories.”
Picture: Andrew Findlay hand-forging at the anvil.
“Most metals are quite easy to come by, but bronze can be difficult to obtain in the correct formulation for forgework. If a metal section is not available from stock, we can forge larger materials to the size required. Tongs, hammers, chisels, punches and drifts are often made in-house to suit a particular job.”
Picture: a delicate metal leaf cools after being removed from the forge.
“I find it fascinating to work hot metal to its limits and discover new textures and shapes. Many pieces are now commissioned in stainless steel, which can be heat-coloured and mirror-polished by hand. These days, I am experimenting with abstract pieces too, reflecting the spirit of a plant, rather than producing its exact copy in metal.”
Picture: a bronze floral element for an ornate door.
“I started out in 1985, selling items on a market stall. My wife, Hazel, came on board a few years later and used her marketing skills to help develop the company. My big breakthrough came in 1993 when some of my work was exhibited in a gallery in London. There, I met David Bristow, a designer who commissioned me to make a staircase for one of his projects. Today, Hazel takes care of a lot of the business side, and gets involved in the design, so its a real team effort.”
Picture: Andrew uses ancient methods to join delicate pieces together and form elaborate metalwork.
“Not so long ago, there were just a few blacksmiths in Britain, making mainly reproduction 18th-century-style ironwork. But the creation of the British Artist Blacksmiths Association in the 1980s prompted a welcome renaissance in forged metal work. Although most modern blacksmiths have their own distinctive style, the versatility of the craft is astonishing.”
Learn about blacksmithing
West Dean College, 01243 811301, offers a variety of courses on blacksmithing and metalwork, from taster days to makings sculpture and conservation.