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Masterpiece

Blacksmith, Hand forged, Design, Ironwork, Forge, Wrought Ironwork, Hot Forged, Blacksmithing

Burrows Lea Forge Sign in the firelight.

This is my Company signature piece I reckon. Its pretty good generally, as its sums up what I do in a glance.
The back story is rather different…. I made this sign when I was leaving my apprenticeship in1995 (I was 26 years old at the time) and was to be my ‘masterpiece’.

I had been using a drawing for my company logo and thought it a good idea to realise it into a physical example of what I could do as a qualified Blacksmith. As usual I left it to the last minute to make it, so much so, my Master Smith threatened to refuse me my qualification if I was late in submitting it.

That manic week in 1995 making it has stayed with me all these years and every time i look at this piece I’m reminded of working like a demon to complete it on time….. I guess that’s also sums up what I do! #blacksmith #blacksmithing #repousse #masterpiece

 

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Bread and Butter, Nuts and Bolts.

Hand forged Nuts & Bolts

Hand forged Nuts & Bolts

Writing on the last day of January it’s hard to believe Spring 2014 is seven weeks away!

Its been a very soggy start to the new year and nearly all our current work involves extensive site work (exterior), so we’re a bit behind as you can imagine. On the flip side the unplanned, ‘forced’ time in the Forge has been used productively to clean up, getting all those little repairs and ‘favour’ based work out of the way.

Fitting wagon axle staples.

Fitting wagon axle staples.

So, I spent Friday morning at the hearth, forging repair links to fix chains, making swivels for Heavy Horse harness and re-forging breaker points. As an apprentice and learning my trade this sort of work was tricky, but fun. In my middle years, with refined skills this was bread & butter work, reserved for Saturday mornings and was a tedious necessity, while I dreamed of artistic opportunities and great works. These days when a MacBook is my most useful business tool, the opportunity to do straightforward, old-fashioned Smiths work is to be relished and like riding a bike or playing a musical instrument (so I’m told), it all comes easily and is a total pleasure to revisit.

And so onward into the New Year and this year publicity is my goal; I realized a few years back that all the publicity and advertising I had undertaken in earlier years had paid off, having reliable, long term work to look forward to and a healthy client base. But traditional advertising and promotion has been overtaken by web based campaigns. To ignore this change is business suicide and I’ve been increasingly frustrated to witness less capable companies are getting opportunities purely on the basis they are shouting loader than the rest of us; now is the time to do something about it. I guess that’s a life lesson in general isn’t it, we all know of ‘loud’ companies/people and perhaps think of them first. However in most instances, there’s a far better, more reliable (quiet) businesses/person at the end of the road. Its a shame that its no one’s fault really except those quiet businesses if we don’t recall them; but if we do remember them and don’t give the chance for patronage, there’s a good chance (without a high street position) they might not be around for long. It’s sad that the term ‘use it or lose it’ is being repeated so often now!

With that philosophy & warning I advise  myself and others to shout as loud (or at least quite loud) as the loud ones via keyboard and Smart phone. Here, there, Twitter, everywhere, Instagram, Facebook and all the other emerging markets too. I personally have lots to show and tell. So starting as I mean to carry on, please check out the sidebars on this page and take a look at my Twitter and Instagram feeds and ‘Like’ me on Facebook, if you dare. ‘Follow too’ on any of these and the this website if the fancy takes you. It all adds up these days!

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Restoration of ‘Tijou’ Gates at Petworth House.

Acanthus Rosette

Acanthus Rosette on existing Gates in need of Conservation

September 2012 Burrows Lea Forge Ltd. won the tender commissioned by The National Trust to Restore the ‘Tijou’ Gates at Petworth House, West Sussex, England,

The Contract is signed and the Purchase Order complete. This is a dream job for us and probably most British Blacksmiths (the ones that actually hot forge their metalwork that is!). The Gates need Conserving and Restoring to their former glory.

Tender test piece 200 x 200mm x 12g, mild steel, Acanthus Rosette made by Nick Bates

Despite being known locally as the Tijou Gates, they are in fact Victorian opposed to early Georgian. That doesn’t mean they are any less in character or quality. In fact I believe Victorian Acanthus Work of this quality is in a league of its own, being almost perfect in charachter and execution, without the wasteful  excess of the Master Ironworker ,Jean Tijou.

The reason they are known as the ‘Tijou’ gates is that they are based upon his design, a design the man himself used on three occasions at Hampton Court Palace. The most notable is the last incarnation, commissioned by George I, known as the Lion Entrance Gates facing Bushy Park.

This a big job for us, at least 30 weeks. So my Blogs from now on will consist mainly of notable previous work, no less interesting though. There are still a few new things in the pipeline, namely our Conservation of The Durdan Gates at Epsom, UK and our latest Public Art commission for Guildford Borough Council. at Burpham, Surrey, UK.

I’m writing a separate Blog for the ‘Tijou’ Gates as it will take up so much of my time, please take a look though if you are interested Petworth Gates.

‘Tijou’ Gates Circa 1900

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The Batsman Gate and Railing, Guildford, UK.

The Batsman gate and railings was commissioned by the Radian Group in early 2012 and installed at the end of June 2012. The Public Artwork commission made up Radian’s S106 planning obligation linked a new housing development opposite Surrey’s Cricket Ground in Guildford, Surrey. Radian had the foresight and trust to offer us an open brief regards to design. Radian gave us a sensible completion date which we dutifully met with time to spare. I’d like to thank Radian’s senior project manager Rob Cummins for the opportunity to create this work and their builders Leadbitter Ltd. for their support enabling us to deliver the project on time and within budget.

I chose to tell a story with our Artwork. The Artwork imagery compromises of a Cricket Batsman caught in the act of hitting a ‘six’. The sculpture tells the story of an incoming fast ball, the skill of the batsman converts the fright of a  fast bowled ball into the delight of a hard hit ball that no-one can field to safety.

The hope was that children and inevitably adults will want to touch and try to ‘pluck’ the ball from it ‘final resting place’ buried in the ‘damaged’ the railing (they won’t be able to of course!) The intent was realized within minutes of the work finally installed, when a member of the public patting the ball ‘lodged’ in the railing as they passed by. The Batsman and stylized cricket balls have a lot of suggested movement in their forms, although I designed the structure to be totally rigid and tamperproof.

The contemporary styled sculpture is made from hot forged mild steel and is reasonably ‘heavy’ in appearance. Hot forging by its nature imparts life, and suggests an organic and natural feel to what is otherwise a dead metal. There’s a contrasting surface textures, smooth rivet heads, heavily mottled textured bars etc. The sinuous, twisting body of the Batsman is at the foreground of the gate, fixed to the front of the gate frame, behind him are (intact) cricket stumps and behind that is the outline of a giant, stitched seam cricket ball. The gate frame copies the twisting action of the Batsman. The layering does not add up much depth, perhaps only 100mm, but compared to an ordinary gate it will appear deep and rich.

Material density also varies, the ‘balls’ (which are hollow spheres) will sound hollow when rapped with knuckles, whereas the batsman and stumps, rigid and unyielding. The artwork is viewed mainly from passing traffic and pedestrians walking past on both sides of the road, so a substantial build is desirable.

The steelwork is hot dipped galvanized and treated with Phosphoric acid, the surface is then cut back with a light abrasive. We then sealed the resultant effect with a hard wax. This is not a permanent process, just one that speeds up the final effect.

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Tree Seat.

Tree Seat

Tree Seat looking out onto the Surrey Hills

Timber and Iron always compliment each other well.

Furniture is the obvious choice for mixed media items, although it works well in gates and fencing too. The Tree seat featured in this article is one we designed , made  and eventually fitted in June 2011. The brief was to design a light looking seat (‘As if floating!’ I think the client said) but to use wood as the seating material, that’s not an easy trick to pull off, timber alway adds visual weight, so you have to offset that with good detailing and light colouring. The Ironwork is fairly simple as is the timber slats that make up the seat and back rest. The seat slats are tapered to match the radial development of the circular bench. The timber was selected and machined perfectly by my good friend James Steer, from Oram Joinery.

As with the Sime Memorial Bench we installed last month, the timber we chose is a tropical hardwood called Iroko, which is a bit like teak. It is very stable and looks great when it is oiled. We use a horribly expensive product called Osmo oil which is organic, so its impact on the environment is minimal.The oil does the job well, although it does take 4 -5 days to dry properly when you first apply it. The metalwork was galvanised and phosphate washed, as a lot of our outside work is, giving a maintenance free finish. The timber will have to be cared for and recoated in the Osmo oil from time to time but thats the difference between wood and galvanised metal!

Tree seats always offer great photo opportunities as you can see, despite being in the shadow of the tree and on an overcast, showery day,  the beautiful coloured timber sets it off a treat. Here’s a photo of the whole thing.

Full view of Tree Seat

Full view of Tree Seat

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Fire Dogs & Baskets

Norman Shaw Repro Fire Dogs

Reproduction Fire Dogs – Richard Norman Shaw

We design and make a lot of Fire related Ironwork.

Straight away we need to discern the difference between Wrought Ironwork and Cast Ironwork in this article. We at Burrows Lea Forge work in the medium of Wrought Iron/Mild Steel, which can be forged, bent and generally manipulated by heat in a Blacksmiths Hearth, it is ideally suited to ‘limited batch’ production and ‘one off’ bespoke items. Cast Iron like the name implies, is cast. In a Foundry molten Iron is poured into a pre-formed sand or ceramic mould this process lends itself to be ‘batch/semi mass’ market. Confusingly hot forged Mild Steel is often referred to as ‘Wrought Ironwork’ even though it is Wrought Iron-less…… its very confusing I know, I have to explain it all the time, sorry for that!

Fire dog & basket

Hand forged fire dog and basket.

With that over, back to my Blog, the most obvious Wrought Ironwork fireside items are Fire Baskets and Dogs. The ‘Dogs’ are traditionally separate to the Basket and can be used to support/position large logs while they are burning in the fire, but they can be used in conjunction with the Basket to burn a more wide variety of combustibles. Quite often we have orders for ‘statement’ Fire Dogs, just to create a fire place setting even when there is no intention of using a Basket or ever lighting a fire in the hearth. Fire Dogs and Baskets need to be heavily made; they have to withstand the rigours of heat, weight and the caustic conditions the fire’s ashes create.

We like to design specifically for each Hearth; every fireplace has an individual character and it’s a shame to just put in any old grate you find. Good quality Fire Baskets don’t come cheap and should be seen as an investment. A well designed, solidly made Fire basket will last a lifetime and should have an heirloom appeal. At Burrows Lea Forge we always design in serviceability to our work, so you can be sure no matter the use/abuse your Ironwork suffers we can always fix it.

Period Wrought Ironwork Fire Dogs & Baskets are now in great demand as authentic items are scarce on the open market. Period styles fetch high prices, Gothic Revival, Arts & Crafts, Art Deco and Art Nouveau in particular. We like to replicate these styles as they are interesting from a historical point of view, they were designed to look good first…. And fulfil their function second. Before these historic period styles, Fire Basket and Dogs tended to be more functional units as they tended to be used in working (cooking, cottage industry etc.) environments where looks came a poor second place to getting a job done.

The other classic and distinct styles are Medieval Gothic, Tudor, Stuart, Baroque and Rocco (There is of course as everything before and in between, but that’s quite subjective). We have never been restricted to period styles and are quite happy to design and make contemporary fire furniture and in the spirit of 19th/ 20th century styles, looks are the priority.

Contemporary designed free standing Fire Basket

Contemporary designed free standing Fire Basket

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A ‘Finished’ Gate

A finished Gate

A finished Wrought Ironwork Gate

This article follows the completed journey of the gate that we were riveting up in the last but one blog ‘Making gates’.

After that video clip was taken, the gate was completely hot riveted up. The locks and fittings were checked for correct alignment and operation and all the ground markers and set up indicators chiselled in.

During the time between that and this article, the gates had been delivered to specialist finishers. The finishers shot basted the metal to clean and create a ‘key’ for molten zinc to be sprayed manually on to the surface to create a cathodic protective layer (Hot zinc spraying). This layer provides electro/chemical protection of the mild steel gate frame….. I’m conscious not to be too technical here.… meaning most of  the zinc has to be corroded away before the mild steel gets attacked by rust.

The gate is then primed, undercoated and top coated in the conventional way, we use synthetic based vinyl paints, but with the cathodic protection in place, you could specify any suitable coloured exterior finish. Whatever the finish, as long as the zinc coating is not exposed too much to the elements by way of a sensible maintenance schedule the Ironwork should unlimited service and exceptionally longer than a painted finish alone.

Time to install the Ironwork, with the paint finish cured and safe to handle, we fitted the gate into its final position as seen it the photo above, in this case we dug holes and concreted the hanging panel and closing post in to the ground. We use a product known as PostCrete, to which we add large aggregate and water, having already spaced and levelled the ironwork ‘tails’ in the holes we hard pack the dryish mix in; within 30 minutes the ironwork structures are ready to accept light/controlled loads. We always ask the client to limit  use during the first 48 hours, so the foundations have a chance to cure properly.

So, why hot zinc spray? We want our work to last as long as economically possible (as do our customers), Hot Zinc Spraying offers delicate or detailed mild steel structures the best balance between protection against rusting and retention of hot forged detail. The last thing we want is our beautiful work covered in a thick coating of ‘whatever’; this may be ‘very’ desirable for lesser craftsmen, but not us! So in short, painted, quality exterior Ironwork where detail and textures are important, always specify Hot Zinc Spraying prior to a paint system being used.

An Important note to Professionals and Specifiers!  Hot dipped Galvanising or Electroplating should not be specified as an acceptable alternative to Hot Zinc Spraying. It should be specified for the reasons in ‘Why hot zinc spray?’ (previous paragraph). Hot zinc spraying is sometimes  referred to as Metalizing and is related to a thermal process known as Sherardizing. Electroplating is a cold process and uses a surface application of zinc to inhibit corrosion on iron and mild steel, but due to the very thin coating of zinc applied it is not suitable for long term exterior applications. There is a limit to  the size and shape that can be treated in Plating and Sherardizing processes and to a greater degree the Hot dipped Galvanizing process,; there is no size  limit to Hot zinc spraying, as the treatment (and its prep-process, shot blasting) is brought to the metalwork opposed to the metalwork being presented to the treatment.

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Arts & Crafts Gate.

Hurst Lea Gate

Hurst Lea Arts & Crafts Gate

To follow on from the last blog, I picked out of our archive a very fine gate  that we designed and made in 2008. Needless to say it is hand forged in the way as I mentioned in ‘Making Gates”

It was inspired by the striking Arts & Crafts house it belongs to. The arched top of the gate appears frequently throughout the building’s architecture. The adjoining garden needed some sort of entrance/frame/pointer so it was a natural choice to include it in the design. The in-fill was an open brief so I used a few signature shapes and scrolls, bearing in mind all the time the Arts & Crafts style. I left the middle of the gate fairly open to allow a clear view through and to frame the garden vista.

The gate is mounted on a pair of solid 40mm square posts. The ironwork was hot zinc sprayed to provide cathodic protection and the finished in a conventional manner. The last coat of paint applied was graphite loaded, so the ironwork could be polished to add a graphite  patina lustre.

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Making Gates.

Forging a gate.

Hot riveting the dog bars on a traditionally made gate.

You can get a gate made pretty much anywhere that work with metal.

Burrows Lea Forge is not a general workshop, we’re Blacksmiths and we hot forge our work, there is a big difference! When you forge iron and steel, you improve the quality of metal. When a blacksmith makes a product such as a gate its assembled from many individual bespoke components, each one tailored to fit not only into the design, but interacts physically to its jointed companions.

The crafted assembly acts as one complete unit and if done well, is far superior aesthetically and mechanically to one made by other methods such as arc welding. The end product very different, even if its function is the same, there is of course a difference in price,  it takes time to make all those components fit perfectly, not to mention the individuality that goes with that process. To arc weld a gate together takes no time at all and doesn’t demand much skill or resource apart from having a steady hand, something to cut metal with and an Arc welding unit.

Here’s the link to the video we’ve made to partly explain the difference in the way our gates are made, as time goes on and the opportunity arises we’ll add more to this site and youTube.

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Sidney Sime Bench

Sidney Sime Bench

Sidney Sime Bench

We finished installing this bench this morning in the beautiful sunshine. It was commissioned by Worplesdon Parish Council and Guildford Borough Council. Its a mixture of Public Artwork, Signage and Seating. Its eclectic as was Sidney Sime, this is the man the Bench is dedicated to, it is to celebrate his life and works. There is a very interesting Gallery at the Village Hall with many of his papers and works of Art; the Bench acts as Signage to the Gallery too.

The design is based upon one of Sidney Sime’s sketches. I interpreted it and drew full size drawings to enable the structure to be made. These sort of 3D structures need to be draw to full size otherwise they can be near impossible to make economically. The main structure is Mild Steel and there is some beautiful hot forged detailing, namely the leaves and roses surmounting the sign boards. The metalwork has been hot zinc sprayed (cathodic protection) and powder coated in a very dark grey. The seating is made from Hardwood Iroko supplied and machined for us by Mayford Joinery, it has an oiled finish. All the fixings are made from Stainless Steel.

I’d like to thank my good friends Andy Quirk and Graham Hart who helped with the manufacture…. thanks guys for getting getting the work done on time and for putting up with me!