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Zen and the Art of Blacksmithing by Tim Bell

Zen and the Art of Blacksmithing by Tim Bell

Zen and the Art of Blacksmithing

I arrived at The VRI community space early on Saturday morning to check out a blacksmithing workshop run by one Patrick “Paddy” McKenzie. Obviously somewhat of an introvert by nature, he chain smoked hand rolled cigarettes using rolled up cardboard as a filter. He told me he only really smoked in anticipation of workshops, and when he drank. We talked a bit about politics, philosophy, art and life.

“You've got to either be the hammer or the anvil” Paddy proclaimed with down-to-earth confidence “Either you're strong enough to beat the shit out of something, or tough enough to take the beating… and God help you if you're the shit in the middle.”

In a world of mass produced consumer goods it's easy to dismiss traditional methods of crafting as a pointless exercise. On a deeper level, though, it's easy to dismiss the entirety of existence as pointless. Sometimes it's good to do things for their own sake.

“It's therapeutic” said one participant, Jeremy, who had forearms like Popeye. “Even if you don't get anything done, it makes you feel relaxed.”

The first project Paddy had the participants work on were a pair of tongs, which involved using tongs that had already been made to handle red hod rods of metal. To me, this raised an obvious question:“What I'm wondering is how were the first pair of tongs made?” I asked one of the participants, David.

“A lot of melted flesh.” he responded with a smile.

As the group went back and forth from anvil to furnace I couldn’t help but notice the zen nature of the craft. It reminded me of Japanese rock gardens, an activity done purely for its own meditative and aesthetic pleasure. All in all, despite being surrounded by red hot metals that represented potential burns, I felt very at ease the entire day and it was an extremely relaxing way to spend a Saturday.