Blacksmiths still in demand
Blacksmiths David Borbely and Walt Gardner of Norfolk Forge, work on a piece of metal over an open fire during a public display at the 46th annual Rotary Friendship Festival this past weekend. (MONTE SONNENBERG Simcoe Reformer)
Every time blacksmith David Borbely drops a piece of metal into the forge, he learns something new.
It's been that way since he took up the ancient trade 13 years ago.
Borbely, 48, is formerly of Simcoe. Today, he operates Norfolk Forge out of Oakland. He was invited to the Simcoe Rotary Friendship Festival on Sunday to give a public display of his craft and answer questions from curious onlookers.
With the help of Walt Gardner, of Port Dover, Borbely had the coals in Clifton Park cranked to about 3,200¯F. This was more than adequate to bend and shape iron, which has a melting point of 2,750¯F.
"It's become a hobby/business," Borbely said. "It starts out as something you enjoy doing. And then word gets around. As you become more skilled, you become more marketable."
Borbely's interests span the width and breadth of the Industrial and post-Industrial revolutions.
He bends and shapes metal in his shop part-time. He's also a part-time instructor in the millwright program at Fanshawe College. As for his day job, Borbely is a full-time researcher with Xerox Canada in Mississauga.
Norfolk Forge has done much of the iron metalwork on display at Whistling Gardens in Wilsonville. Restoring a 150-foot, 180-year-old iron fence at an estate in Niagara Region is another of his recent commissions.
During the years he has hunched over his forge, Borbely has been surprised to learn that every piece of metal seems to have its own personality. A blacksmith, Borbely said, is always trying to guess the best place to heat, the best place to strike and the best place to bend.
"A lot of it is perception based on experience," he said. "It never gets easier. It just gets quicker."
The province recognizes smithing as a Red Seal trade. Papers can be earned in industrial blacksmithing or as a certified ferrier. For his part, Gardner - a construction fabricator - is working with Borbely as a friend and also to expand his insights into the ways of metal.
"It's interesting to learn how things were done back in the day," Gardner said. "Today - if you want to make a hole - you drill it out. With this, you have to punch it. After 30 years of working with steel, I'm still learning from the old techniques."
Borbely was in Simcoe because the Rotary Friendship Festival has identified a demand for exhibits of this kind through visitor surveys. Fest-goers have signaled that they want to see skills-based exhibitions on subjects they are curious about.
Quilt Junction of Waterford mounted another hands-on display in another section of Clifton Park, also on Sunday. A potter was also in attendance showing visitors how to throw and shape clay.
"It's interactive, it's not complicated and it's homegrown," says Dan Hill of Simcoe, chair of Simcoe Rotary Friendship Fest.
Hill reports that this weekend's festival went smoothly and according to plan. Organizers couldn't have asked for better weather, with moderate temperatures Saturday, Sunday and Monday and hardly any humidity to speak of.
519-426-3528 ext. 150