HomePeopleThe man behind the metal

The man behind the metal

Birdwood blacksmith Will Sexton combines traditional and modern techniques to create wrought iron and hand forged pieces that have gone to cities around Australia.

Swinging a hammer to a piece of metal glowing red at 1000C is when Birdwood resident Will Sexton is happiest.

The craftsman has made a name for himself as a talented blacksmith – one of the world’s oldest professions – shaping metal into household items, tools and decorative pieces.

For Will, the ancient trade is a “beautiful creative outlet”.

“It’s really satisfying creating something from just a normal bar of steel, especially when you’ve devised an idea yourself from the start to finish and you think, ‘well, made that from nothing’,” he says.

For more than a decade Will has learnt traditional and modern techniques to create bespoke metal items that end up on display in the homes, gardens and backyards of people in his hometown and beyond.

His creations have included birdbaths, benches, jewellery, fireplace tools such as fire pokers, and much more.

“The majority of (my clients) come to me through word of mouth and they’ll want all sorts of things,” Will says.

“Some people want suits of armour, some want gates, sculptures, fences or fire tools.

“Others just want a repair job on an old antique or piece of equipment.

“The diversity of requests I get is really cool.”

Will was first exposed to blacksmithing at the age of 14 after his mother spotted an advertisement in the newspaper looking for people to join local blacksmith workshops.

Feeling intrigued by the concept, Will signed up to the event led by renowned craftsman Andrew Hood, who shared his knowledge and wisdom.

Andrew combines traditional and modern techniques to create wrought iron and hand forged pieces that have gone to cities around Australia.

“Ever since then we’ve been catching up, making things together and bouncing off each other,” Will says.

“He (Andrew) is my mentor.

“He’s taught me everything I know and has become an invaluable member of my life.”

The first piece Will made was a fire poker.

“It didn’t look like a fire poker,” he says.

“Compared to my skills now it’s chalk and cheese.

“I always look back on those early days and think, wow, that was shocking, but you have to put it into perspective.

“It’s now 11 years down the track, so of course I’m going to be better.”

In 2020 he helped improve public safety at the Birdwood weighbridge in the town’s main street by creating a steel barrier around the site for the Adelaide Hills Council.

The barrier features 118 hand-forged wheat stalks in a nod to the weighbridge’s history alongside the old flour mill which is now home to the National Motor Museum.

The project took five months to create.

Some people want suits of armour, some want gates, sculptures, fences or fire tools.

By day Will works as a fabricator in the defence industry and by night and on weekends he can be found mastering his craft in his workshop.

Using fire and force to shape and form steel into creative projects, the work of a blacksmith is a hot and laborious process.

Blacksmiths heat pieces of metal at temperatures of around 1000C, allowing them to bend and hammer it into shape.

The risk of burns is high and it can be a dusty and dirty job. Despite this, Will has managed to escape serious injury.

“The most dangerous part is when the steel goes black.

“So, it goes from an orange colour to red when it’s really hot, then it starts to cool down and turns a dull red to brown and then that normal, black colour of steel.

“If you put that side by side with another piece of (cool) steel, it’s hard to tell which is which.

“That’s when it’s the most dangerous because you might put it down for a bit to grind something else.

“Then you come back to it and forget which end is hot, and you’ve got the wrong end.

“I always wear gloves when I can.” Despite it being an ancient skill, Will believes blacksmithing is far from a dying art.

“I think that there are many people who do it, maybe not in a professional capacity, but as hobbyists or just for fun,” he says.

“I wouldn’t say it’s dying, I’d say it’s re-emerged.

“People want things to be made, handcrafted and completely personalised to them.

“They don’t want the mass-produced stuff and they don’t want what the neighbour’s got anymore, they want better.

“Personal expression is a massive thing.”

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