We talk to Paul to find out a little more about the craft and learn how the SS Great Britain was built from fire and iron.
What inspired you to become a blacksmith?
It started when I was at school, when we were taught metalworking. I was amazed by the engineering and scale of the ship on a visit to Brunel’s SS Great Britain, the mass of iron and metal really inspired me into the craft.
How was the SS Great Britain built using metalworking?
The SS Great Britain is held together with almost 200,000 rivets, all of which which are hand set. I don’t know the exact way, but it’s a lot of tonnes of iron. It’s an incredible achievement for 1843, the sheer strength of the iron structure and the iron hull is a really strong solid construction.
Tell us a bit more about chain making?
Modern chain making is done on an industrial scale by very large machines, they can belt out a link in a fraction of a second. Traditionally this was done by blacksmiths, one link at a time, this was a very laborious and dangerous process.
How do you make a traditional chain?
Watch Paul and Elliott demonstrate traditional chain making in the video below
A chain link starts with a straight piece of steel, this is called a straight link. We use a traditional blacksmith’s forge to heat the metal to about 800 degrees celsius. We then use an anvil to bend it into a ‘U’ shape and scarf the ends of the bar. Once it’s scarfed, we link it onto another chain link. We close the link up, heat it up to almost 1000 degrees celsius and hammer it together, this fuses the steel together to make one solid link. We repeat this to make a nice long length of chain.
What was blacksmithing like in the Victorian age?
Traditionally, chainmakers were predominantly women, especially when making smaller sized chain. They were professional chainmakers, working long hours and making a chain link in about 90 seconds. When the SS Great Britain was built, they didn’t have steel, only wrought iron which is hand-beaten iron. The material isn’t available these days, it’s very hard to get hold of and expensive.