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Learning to Blacksmith - Making a Rose

I have been learning the art of blacksmithing for the last two Saturdays with The Blacksmiths in Rosemount. The Blacksmiths - AKA Luke and Jules - are husband and wife duo known for their beautiful public art around Australia as well as their privately commissioned work found in a variety of homes.

In this blog post I'm going to be talking about the first Saturday where I learnt a variety of techniques that allowed me to create a big beautiful rose out of aluminium!

When I first got to the studio I was given a tour of the space and given a thorough run down on the instruments and how to operate them safely - after the run down it was straight into action!

Luke first taught me how to use the plasma cutter, a tool that cuts through electrically conductive materials - aka a lightning cutter! The jet of the cutter can reach temperatures of 22,000° C - pretty damn hot - I was terrified! The sparks have a mind of their own but thankfully I safely and successfully cut out the pieces for my rose.

The pieces you get straight from the plasma cutter are... iffy, to say the least. They need a bit of TLC to get them looking pretty. To achieve this, I used electric buffers, polishers and files to define the shape of each individual petal and leaf. Once I was happy with the shape I used both the swage block (pictured below) and the anvil to hammer the petals into a curved shape that would give them a three-dimensional look once assembled. This was a long process that left my hands feeling like jelly!

We needed to join the stem and the leaves of the rose together - by welding! I watched Luke weld the pieces together (with appropriate PPE!) so I could understand how tig welding worked. For this type of weld you have your welder in one hand and a filler metal in the other - so you have to be good at multitasking! You can see a photo of me tig welding on a piece of scrap aluminium below

Once I had my petals and leaves looking shapely it was time to add holes through the rose petals and a thread to the stem, allowing me to screw the rose together once completed. Then it was on to sandblasting! I had never sandblasted before and thought you could go to any old beach and grab a bucket and start blasting away - I was wrong! The sand is made from garnet and is hard, sharp and creates minimal dust. It is also very ouchie when it comes into contact with your skin.

The sandblasting gave the rose a textured surface, allowing primer to stick to it once applied. Using a primer on the metal stops it from oxidising (rusting) and allows the metal to be painted using ordinary acrylic paints. Phew - finally a part where I knew what I was doing!

Once the primer was applied it was on to assembly and then my rose was good to go! Yippee!

Please enjoy the completed work below. I am still on the fence about whether or not to paint it, I think it looks fantastic now but would also look fantastic painted! I am ecstatic with the result and feel so very lucky to be given such a wonderful opportunity by Luke and Jules. I will post my other creation in the next few days!


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