Blacksmithing is one craft that technology will never be able to replace. So says master blacksmith Paul Gilbert from Crediton who has won numerous awards over the years for his wrought iron skills. "Every good blacksmith I know uses traditional blacksmithing skills when they can." The 42 year old continues adding that the techniques used hundreds of years ago are the same as they are today.
"All you need is your hammer, anvil and your forge or fire - those are your main tools." he adds, admitting that he also has a couple of big electric hammers to help him create his magnificen wide-ranging portfolio of bespoke ironwork. "In the 16th century, blacksmithing was at it's best," he continues. "Every lord and lady wanted the best ornate gtes." It's a sentiment not dissimilar to that which fuels the demand today. Gates are requested most of Paul, but his work encompasses a spectrum of commissions from exquisite dragon, owl and butterfly sculptures to slightly more sensible fences and railings.
"Some of the work done back then was so fascinating," Paul says. "I look at it and think, how did they do that? Blacksmithing has become more artistic," he adds, explaining that blacksmiths these days are blending artistry with traditional skills and the best craft are those who practice traditional techniques.
"But there are a lot of people who call themseleves blacksmiths when they go out and buy evrything and then jus weld it together with electric. This works out so much cheaper, but its not real blacksmithing. I try to stay away from fabrication work - cutting and welding - this isnt traditional."
The father of three first entered the world of blacksmithing aged 22 in a factory near Exeter making metal shop displays, where he was trained up in the skill of welding, before moving to another company where he made metal furniture.
"That's how I really got into it," he explains adding that he set up his own workshop at the forge at Powderham Castle in 1997 before relocating nearer home to his workshop in Crediton in 2009. Extraordinarily, Paul is entirely self taught. "There are courses you can go on," he says. "But I learnt through experimentation and just giving things a go. I learnt a lot from blacksmith John Bellamy as well - if there was something I wanted to know i'd pick up his brains and then try it.