Children fascinated by blacksmith

HOT STUFF: Blacksmith Richard Neville hammers out a fire poker in the darkness of his workshop at Motat.
HOT STUFF: Blacksmith Richard Neville hammers out a fire poker in the darkness of his workshop at Motat.

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.

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.

SKILL SET: Some of the display items forged by Mr Neville.
SKILL SET: Some of the display items forged by Mr Neville.

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

His grandfather was a coach-building 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 explains.

"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 old-fashioned 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."

Outside of work at the museum Mr Neville also creates artworks and forges private commissions.

East And Bays Courier