Meet the Master Metalsmith

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As reported by Harry Funk, November 29, 2004  in the Observer Reporter :

"An iron bar, in the hands of the right person, can become a work of art.

In the hands of Nigel Tudor, the process can take as little as 20 minutes.

Starting with a metal rod, putting it to the fire and shaping it with various hammers over various anvils, he'll emerge in short order with a decorative leaf, suitable for display in your curio cabinet.

And he makes it look easy, even if things don't go quite as planned every step of the way.

"The mark of a good craftsman is not that you don't make mistakes, but you know how to fix them," he said, explaining a bit of the philosophy behind his success as a blacksmith.

By a more accurate definition, he's a metalsmith: "Everything I make starts out as straight-bar stock, custom forged for each job."

Watching him fashion a leaf from scratch is mighty impressive to the casual observer, but that's relative child's play for Tudor, who at age 24 already has been working with the metal arts for more than a decade.

A look at his larger-scale projects shows the intricate detail he puts into such items as railings, hinges, bracelets and plant stands. His specialty is architectural ironwork, with examples like gates for swimming pools and grilles for wine cellars.

"I think of it as jewelry for buildings," said Tudor. "When you put ironwork on one, it will really set it off from the other buildings."

He's using his talents to run his own business, Tudor Ironworks, from his family's Independence Township farm, where he recently put the finishing touches on remodeling his workshop. The arrangement is cost-effective.

"My primary market is metropolitan areas on the East Coast," he explained. "Being here in Western Pennsylvania, my shop rate is half that of someone in Philadelphia or D.C." And he can pass the savings on to customers as a competitive advantage.

The business end of blacksmithing probably was far from Tudor's mind when he took a keen interest in the art as a youngster. His hands-on experience started at age 13 through a junior volunteer program at the Meadowcroft Museum of Rural Life, near the home he shares with his parents, Dale and Marcy.

Subsequent studies have taken him to courses at Touchstone Center for Crafts in Farmington and to the prestigious International Center for Metal Design in Aachen, Germany. Scholastically, he graduated third in the Class of 1999 at Madonna High School in Weirton, W.Va.

This fall, he instructed a course, the Joy of Forging, at Touchstone, much to the delight of Jim Campbell, manager of the center's blacksmithing studio.

"He did a beautiful job," said Campbell, a Uniontown resident who's volunteered at the center for 24 years. "He's very, very talented and has the ability to teach. Sometimes you bring in top-notch blacksmiths, but they don't have the teaching ability."

Tudor certainly knows his subject. He'll tell you how metalsmithing involves much more than hammering molten metal; an aptitude for disciplines such as trigonometry and physics also comes in handy for smiths as they make calculations for special touches like scrolls and tapers.

"You have to resolve issues on paper before you get to solid steel," he said.

On top of the scientific aspect is artistic talent, which Tudor seems to have in abundance. And he constantly seeks inspiration, from his extensive library of books on metalworking and especially from his growing collection of antique ironwork.

Some of his more interesting artifacts include 800-year-old stirrups from the Middle East, a 17th-century horse bit found in Colorado, and items from 1st-century Rome. Studying such pieces allows him to see how they were fashioned before the invention of modern tools.

As far as equipment, he's gathered quite an array for his workshop, including forges powered by gas and coal, respectively, for different types of applications. He also has a high-power forging hammer that dates from 1917 and another rather cryptically labeled "Defense Plant Corp., An Institutionality of the U.S. Govt."

"All the equipment I buy, even though it's old, is still considered state of the art," he said. "Everything pretty much gets finished by hand over the anvil. I use the machines to expedite the process."

Besides working with metal, Tudor also is interested in restoring vintage cars. His current project is a 1972 Jaguar XJ-6 that came to him in decent condition; he also is helping his dad with a '62 Jag in not-so-good shape.

The Tudors plan to build a garage to suit the projects, as Nigel took over the old garage to set up his workshop. After all, metalworking is his priority as, according to Campbell, it well should be.

'We're going to hear from him,' the veteran smith predicted. 'He's going to be one of the top blacksmithing artists in the country.' "


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Tudor Ironworks


Nigel Tudor, Metalsmith
1061 Sugar Run Road
Avella, Pennsylvania 15312

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This page was last updated on Wednesday, 04 January 2006