Smithy and how I became a blacksmith
‘I have longed to have a wife, a home and a smithy before getting too old.’ is a rephrased verse from one of Jan Vyčítal’s songs. I started ‘thrashing’ iron while still at primary school. Well, not exactly there but at home, in the room where the stove was. There we had a coke stove, which had a little door for ashtray. There you could stick a piece of iron directly through and into the compartment where combustion took place. I used the chopping block, which my grandfather would sit on when cleaning the stove, so as to fix one big hammer there, with nails. Another small one I used to hit the red-hot iron so fiercely that the room was shaking to the foundations. I crafted a few arrowheads, a bracelet, a substandard knife, and maybe more. However, I managed to melt the coke and overheat the stove. So my grandfather called me up to carry out some other noble tasks.
It was firs at the technical college that my ambitions of an amateur blacksmith could become reality. There was a smithy, and working there was one of the compulsory components of the curriculum. However, you could not ‘bend’ the curriculum to suit your purpose, so we had to make nails, hook nails and some little things. Nevertheless, some of us would sneak into the smithy whenever possible. There it was that I first crafted a dagger blade and a sword. The sword was confiscated by our conscientious gaffer.
Then, working for Metrostav as a boiler operator, stoker and a watchman meant golden age to me. Materials were plenty; it was shortly before the Velvet Revolution, stoves and coke at hand, and no one interfering. The supervisor was reconciled to this as he realized it was better to employ me, who would be crafting something all the time there, rather than some lousy, idle drunkard. So I got a blacksmith vise, swages, swage block, and a blacksmith bib, and started forging pliers etc. And I also started forging whatever possible – spikes, arrow heads, sword cross guards, buckles, and whatever came to my mind. I mastered medieval blacksmith craft and started touring battle re-enactment events and medieval marketplaces. Master blacksmith Melč helped me enormously. He showed me what it means ‘to be a blacksmith’. Over the time I have come to realize that real smithery is only for a few lucky, chosen ones who have been brought up in the families where smithery has run in for many generations. Even wrought iron fencing and gates, and horsehoes cannot be made without proper equipment and facilities, without a workshop, welding place and many others.
Thus have I specialized in making items which nobody else wanted to make. Various enthusiasts have helped me to find my niche through their attitude and approach to living history, blacksmith welding in the forge without any industrial machines, brushing and sharpening on grinding stone made of sandstone, etc. The only thing that did not work and fell by the wayside was production of wrought iron. So anyone happy with ordinary steel, Damascus steel , or something more noble, is welcome.
The portfolio of products will be listed in the catalogue. Just a few examples: Forged jewellery, bracelets, rings, pendants. Pegs, candlesticks and candelabras. Celtic spears and axes. Traditional spears and arrow heads. (I take pride in making some of the best arrow heads available on the market as I am an archer myself.) Various little animals, bells, little daggers and knives. Various kinds of forks, flint and steel. I have also made some curiosities, such as a dwarf, piano and Christmas tree. Some of my work that I consider to be a masterpiece are a forged crucifix, and a Japanese dagger made by a traditional method, including quench tempering, brushing and sharpening, set and assembly. Only polishing was done in a non-traditional way because of lack of traditional tools (stones). Unfortunately, it was stolen from my stall in Brno, and that‘s that and no harm done.