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Bricklayer-turned-blacksmith Solomon Marshall. Photo/Ken Downie

The Auckland blacksmith who taught himself the ancient craft of forging steel

As a kid, Solomon Marshall loved making swords and shields. “I guess it’s something I never grew out of,” admits the 25-year-old, who still has a fascination with medieval times. “My big dream was to have my own armoury one day.” When he got a bit older, he began tinkering around, eventually teaching himself the ancient craft of forging steel. “It was really just a matter of watching lots of YouTube clips – and about five years of practice.”

Quitting his job as a bricklayer, Marshall set himself up as a blacksmith, converting an old Skyline garage out the back of his parents’ home in central Auckland into a workshop. But initial experimentation with a coal forge didn’t go well. “It was very smoky,” he says. “No one around here could hang their washing out to dry whenever I got fired up.” In the interest of neighbourly relations, he needed a more suburban-friendly system, so he switched to gas.

Apart from the anvils, which he bought on Trade Me, Marshall has made just about everything in the workshop, including the forge (using fire bricks in a welded steel frame). His first piece was a punch, followed by a pair of tongs, then a hammer. “I love making tools – I’d rather make something than buy it.” Nothing gets wasted; there are no sparks, offcuts or shavings. Forging is more a process of “squashing” the steel into shape, he explains – “a bit like manipulating very firm play dough”. Knives and frying pans are his current speciality. “I like the rustic, old-fashioned, unfinished look,” he says. “These are handmade products. Each object tells a story, and no two knives are exactly the same.”

Marshall sells his wares online, runs blacksmithing courses and hosts visits to his workshop (see soloblacksmith.com or @thesoloblacksmith on Instagram). As for the armoury he once dreamed of, Marshall admits it’s just not practical for 21st-century living. “I still haven’t made that sword.” You get a taste of Marshall’s medieval flair from his website, though, where his work is described as being crafted from four elements: “Fire, steel, strength and sweat.”

A selection of knives made by Marshall

Photos by Ken Downie

This article was first published in the November 2019 issue of North & South. Follow North & South on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and sign up to the fortnightly email for more great stories.