From shaping metal tools and creating intricate balustrades to designing ornate sculptures, Wayne Lewis is a metalsmith at the top of his game. Wayne’s business, Iron Fist Forge, serves as the backdrop for his talent, with hard-beaten anvils, fire, smoke and the ringing of metal on metal an accompaniment to the amazing pieces Wayne crafts. It’s art of a different kind, and there’s no doubting Wayne absolutely loves his work …
Hi Wayne. What’s your background?
I grew up in Wauchope. My family has always been involved in the timber industry, going back to my great grandfather, who ran a team of 26 bullocks hauling timber out of the Mount Seaview area. My grandfather had a log truck company in Wauchope for 40 years; my father and uncles worked in the family business. My wife and I have been living in the local area for over 30 years and have two sons, whom we raised at Telegraph Point, before moving recently to Port Macquarie.
Although my family history is in timber, from a young age I was always interested in the old ways of forging iron.
How does one train to be a blacksmith? Did you have an apprenticeship? Mentors?
I didn’t do a formal apprenticeship as a blacksmith, because there were no opportunities available for general blacksmithing. However, these days there are some opportunities for apprenticeships as an industrial blacksmith, which covers much larger processes in the metal industry and not so much hands on smaller and artistic projects.
I have been mostly self-taught and have also found valuable mentorship from other like-minded people, who have sought out the secrets of forging and manipulating steel from the few smiths that could still pass on the trade. Together we founded a club which had its base at Timbertown, called The Artist Blacksmith Association of NSW, and through the club I gained knowledge and camaraderie from other members, particularly Keith Towe and Doug Mosely.
When and how did you establish Iron Fist Forge?
I established Iron Fist Forge in 2000. By this stage I had gained the skills and acquired the equipment to go out on my own, as there had been a resurgence of interest in artistic ironwork and I found that most people need a blacksmith at some stage, whether it be for a decorative piece or something more practical.
You’re able to make both functional and artistic items. What are some of the objects you’re most likely to be working on at any given time?
My days can be really varied. I could be working on balustrades, ornate gates, fire pits, fire tools, coffee tables, beds, decorative hinges and handles and sculptures, all the way through to crow bars, pinch bars, repointing jack hammer tips and general repairs and fabrication.
It would have been commonplace to see blacksmiths/metalsmithsply their trade 100 or so years ago, but it is a bit more of a rarity these days. What are your thoughts on the metal working industry and where it’s heading?
The metal industry in Australia is still going as strong as it ever was. Today we have boilermakers, which have grown out of the blacksmithing trade. Back in the day, a blacksmith had to be able to make anything from kitchen utensils to farming implements, but now there are specialised trades for each area. The industry is moving along with the advancement of technology and computerisation, and this opens up different avenues for the next generation.
What are some pieces you’ve created that you’re most proud of?
I most enjoy making one off pieces that I can put my heart and soul into, for people who appreciate the hard work that goes into producing something that can be handed down to their grandkids – and is a quality product that will last in this throwaway society.
You recently collaborated with Francesca O’Donnell to help create Lady Lola, one of the gorgeous koalas we can see on the Hello Koalas trail. How much did you enjoy this process?
I very much enjoyed working with Francesca. We have worked together on other projects, and I find her easy to work with. I love to be able to bounce ideas off someone like her. When two creative minds get together, anything can happen; things can evolve from a simple idea into something entirely different in the end, but the results are always interesting.
What keeps you fired up and enthusiastic about your work?
I love to go to work, because every day is different, and when I create something I have the satisfaction of looking back on the day and seeing that I have made something with my own hands.
What are some future projects you have planned?
I would love to do some restoration on historical projects to preserve the authenticity of the ironwork. In the future I would like to continue to work with local artists and help build a strong local arts community in our area.
Where are you located?
For the last three years I have been operating out of a workshop at Wauchope, but I am currently waiting to move into my own premises in Chestnut Road in the Port Macquarie industrial area. I can be contacted on 0406 386 574 or email@example.com – you can also find IRON FIST FORGE on Facebook.
Interview by Jo Robinson.