Chil­dren fas­ci­nated by black­smith

DAILY GRIND Black­smith Richard Neville has forged a long ca­reer out of the age-old trade of met­al­work­ing and now he shares his skills with visi­tors to Mo­tat. He tells re­porter Danielle Street the se­crets of a good smithy.

Central Leader - - NEWS -

The sum­mer sun is beat­ing down out­side and Richard Neville is bent over a blaz­ing coal oven in his dark work­shop.

Ea­ger eyes watch as he ham­mers a piece of steel and hot sparks fly out and bounce off the ground.

It’s fair to say black­smithing is in his blood.

His grand­fa­ther was a coach­build­ing black­smith and as a child Mr Neville sat on the work­bench and made trin­kets while ab­sorb­ing an­ces­tral wis­dom.

‘‘My grandad told me the se­cret to black­smithing is to be more stub­born than the metal you are work­ing with,’’ he says. ‘‘ And if you ask my wife she will agree that I am very stub­born in many ways.’’

Mr Neville has been work­ing as a black­smith for the last 25 years, hav­ing trained un­der some of the coun­try’s best.

How­ever, a se­ri­ous in­jury five years ago meant he lost strength in his left shoul­der and now he can only work part time.

So for the last seven months he has held the role of black­smith for the Mo­tat his­tor­i­cal vil­lage in Western Springs. His job in­cludes restora­tion work for the mu­seum – things like fix­ing tram brakes or mak­ing spe­cial bolts and han­dles.

‘‘The guys will daw­dle up to the win­dow, plonk some­thing down and say ‘fix this’ and it might be some­thing I’ve never seen be­fore,’’ he says. ‘‘The smith that made it is long passed over, so you have to have quite a var­ied skill level to in­ter­pret what needs to be done and what tools need to be used.’’

Mr Neville will try and use old­fash­ioned meth­ods to create a piece which will be seen as the gen­uine ar­ti­cle for the mu­seum.

‘‘We don’t cheat very much. As you can see ev­ery­thing in here is pretty much by hand. There are no power tools.’’

One of his favourite parts of the job is shar­ing such a tra­di­tional skill with young mu­seum visi­tors.

‘‘The kids are amazed at what you can do with a piece of metal.

‘‘Some of them don’t even know what a piece of coal is, they don’t know what it’s used for and they don’t know you can bend metal. It’s al­most a mag­i­cal con­cept for them.’’

His­tor­i­cally a vil­lage black­smith would be re­spon­si­ble for mak­ing ev­ery­thing that was made of metal – potato peel­ers, ap­ple cor­ers, nuts, bolts and door latches. They also mended items like pots, pans and tools.

Mr Neville says that while in­dus­trial black­smithing has sim­mered down be­cause of cheaper mod­ern con­struc­tion meth­ods, it is a trade that should be handed down to today’s chil­dren.

‘‘New Zealand has quite a proud his­tory in met­al­work. This coun­try was carved out of the bush by im­mi­grants like gumdig­gers, tim­ber­work­ers, farm­ers and black­smiths. And that tra­di­tion needs to sur­vive.’’

How­ever, he warns that there are down­sides to the trade.

‘‘It’s very hard, it’s very hot, and it’s very dirty,’’ he says.

‘‘Your jeans get to the point where you al­most don’t wash them. You wash them by hand and you never make the mis­take of putting them into the wash­ing ma­chine. You’d just de­stroy the in­ter­nal work­ings of the wash­ing ma­chine.’’

Mr Neville also cre­ates art­works and forges pri­vate com­mis­sions.

Pho­tos: DANIELLE STREET

Hot stuff:

Black­smith Richard Neville ham­mers out a fire poker in the dark­ness of his work­shop at Mo­tat. Skill set: Some of the dis­play items forged by Mr Neville.

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