Future forged in the past
A GROUP of Ipswich blacksmiths have just celebrated 20 years of business, and founder-director Steve Wilson hopes the forge will keep firing for decades to come.
The blacksmith business, Dean-Wilson Iron, first opened for business on July 1, 1992.
Mr Wilson now works alongside his son Andrew, and Joel and Tim Dean - brothers who joined the business when their uncle Gary Dean was a partner.
Mr Wilson said he decided to start his own forge after learning the trade from an elderly blacksmith.
"I was trained by a 74-year-old who had 60 years of experience, he taught me how to fire-weld and screw and rivet as quickly as we can do it with electrical welders now," he said.
His respect for these traditional blacksmith practices still continues today.
"I think metalwork is always going to be popular, but I'm a bit concerned that the skills the old blacksmith taught me might be lost, you know, the finer stuff - making a hammer instead of buying one," Mr Wilson said.
"You can buy a hammer these day so it's a bit impractical now, but I think you shouldn't forget how to make tools - it's an important part of the trade.
"I've taught the boys the tool-making that I learnt, and I want those skills to be passed on."
Mr Wilson said the forge mostly took on architectural metalwork, as well as some furniture work.
His favourite jobs to date include the construction of the biggest gates built in Queensland, as well as work for heritage houses.
"We made the biggest decorative gates ever built in Queensland - that was in 2000," Mr Wilson said.
"They were a wonderful thing to build.
"The finished gates weighed 2.8 tonnes and were 6.5m high. They took us four months to build.
"The boys were doing their apprenticeships when we did that job and they got to learn a lot."
Mr Wilson said the gates were so large it took two men to bend each scroll.
The gates are located at a private residence in Brookwater.
He considers an Ipswich job to be "the job that launched us".
"It was for a house in Glebe Rd, and the fence required some really decorative work," Mr Wilson said.
"I still consider that one of my favourite jobs."
Mr Wilson said the rise of estates in Queensland made for fewer requests for heritage residential work, which was his preferred type of work.
"We don't do as many fences and balustrades for heritage houses as we used to, but we still get a few Ipswich people who want us to decorate their house in heritage-themed work," he said.
"Those sort of requests make me stand up to attention because I love that work and I love Ipswich.
"I like the (heritage) theme and the era; I think our era has a lot of superficial, plastic stuff and I like stuff that lasts."
Mr Wilson rattled off many other jobs, including work commissioned by mining magnate Ken Talbot, the Clark family of Crazy Clark's fame, and even ex-Bronco Willie Carne.
"We've worked for lots of very interesting and very influential people over the years, mostly business people but doing a job for Willie Carne was fantastic," Mr Wilson said.
He was looking forward to celebrating 20 years in the business this weekend, and said he wouldn't change his choice of career for the world.
"I started as an apprentice blacksmith because it was creative and you could keep learning," Mr Wilson said.
"Now we've built up to having two gas forges and a coal forge, anvils and leg vices and Queensland's largest operating blacksmith power hammer.
"Ipswich has been good to us, I started here and now we do a lot of Brisbane jobs, and we're also doing some work on a cathedral in Rockhampton at the moment. "
Mr Wilson hoped his grand- children would take up the trade.
"At the moment they're all under 10, but I think grandson number two, who is four years old, is showing a bit of an interest," he laughed.
Mr Wilson said modern technology had changed the operation of many forges.
"Over 20 years I've seen a few changes, for instance we used to fire-weld every day but now the kids do electric welding," Mr Wilson said.
"Now they just have to pull the trigger and it heats up."
The business also has a dangerous side.
"I've trained under a lot of blacksmiths and I've hardly seen one without a big scar over his face from steel that's flung up, but thankfully none of us have that," Mr Wilson said.
The younger members of the team - Andrew Wilson and Joel and Tim Dean - joined as apprentices while still in their teens, and Joel has progressed to the position of manager.
He said his profession did come as a surprise to some of his peers.
"People do get a bit of a shock, I suppose there's not that many blacksmiths out there so it is an unusual job," Joel said.
"I just like being able to make stuff, it's quite a skilful job and seeing finished projects is quite satisfying. "