Blacksmithing isn’t just a man’s world, as Charlotte Pearson finds out.
Working in an office for nine years of her career Jo Dench never expected she would do anything else, until one day it all changed.
“I just decided I wanted a career change,” she says. “I spoke to my mum about working as a farrier and doing a horseshoe course but she said that it would get monotonous, and encouraged me to join my dad as a blacksmith.”
The fourth generation family business T Miles and Son, based in Henfield, was set up by Jo’s great grandfather, and has seen both her grandad and dad join the business over the years.
“It was something that during my teens and 20s I never even considered as an option,” admits Jo. “I did odd jobs painting gates and railings when I was a teenager, basically so that I could get some money.
“I never thought in a million years I would end of working with him.
“When I first mentioned it to my dad I think he was surprised and never expected me to stick it out. I think he is really proud now, but it is a hard and very physical job.”
Initially just working Saturdays to see how she got on, Jo became hooked and after a few months quit her office job.
“I do a few days a week and it fits really well as I am a mum,” she explains.
Having grown up seeing her dad work as a blacksmith, Jo says that although she knew it would be hard work there were still some surprises.
“I didn’t realise how strenuous is would be until I started,” she adds. “It is a very physical job, some days my body hurts so much like I have been doing a six hour workout. I have grown muscles I never knew existed.”
But she is quick to admit that this is nothing compared to what it would have been like back when her great-grandfather Tom set up the business.
“Back then they didn’t have all the machines that make life so much easier now,” she explains. “If they needed to cut a large part of steel they would have used a hacksaw, so it would have taken a couple of days to do two cuts. Now we have massive saws we can use.
“It would have been a lot more physical, I don’t think I would have been able to do it back then.
“I think that is why now many women believe they can’t do it, but there are so many machines which can cut and hoist the metal up. Also you do get stronger the more you do it.”
By training on the job Jo will be doing courses in welding, as due to health and safety restrictions, she is unable to do anything which is structural.
“At the moment I do a lot of drilling, and cutting. My dad will weld as he is far better than me, at the moment, and then I will clean it up and paint it,” she explains. “I really enjoy every minute of it. It is hard, but I love it. I can’t imagine going back to working in an office now.”
While to many blacksmiths are something seen in ‘westerns’ who tend horses, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
“It used to be that a blacksmith would do horses and its hooves,” she explains, “but it split a couple of years ago into farriers and blacksmiths.
“You can be a farrier and do blacksmithing but you can’t be a blacksmith and tend to horses I think.
“A lot of businesses now call themselves ‘fabrication specialists’ and deal with steel.”
And what would Jo say to someone thinking of becoming a blacksmith?
‘Do it,” she smiles. “Just give it a go, you have to be determined but if it is something you want to do just go for it.”
What is a blacksmith?
A blacksmith is a metalsmith who creates objects from wrought iron or steel by forging the metal, using tools to hammer, bend, and cut.
Blacksmiths produce objects such as gates, grilles, railings, light fixtures, furniture, sculpture, tools, agricultural implements, decorative and religious items, cooking utensils and weapons.
A forge is a type of hearth used for heating metals.
T Miles & Son, Station Road, Henfield, West Sussex, BN5 9UP, 01273 492921