Meet London’s 21st-century blacksmith

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Blacksmithing — a career for the 21st century?

No, really.

Ian Gordon has turned Fire & Iron in Old East Village into a solid business that’s about to expand into a bigger space.

“I am the village blacksmith. I’ve even pulled a tooth in my shop. That’s one reason that people went to the blacksmith. He was the guy with the pliers,” said Gordon.

Technically Fire & Iron is a custom metalworking shop that uses plenty of modern tools, including plasma-welding torches.

“My plasma cutter sits right next to my anvil,” Gordon said.

But at its core, it’s a direct descendant of the blacksmith shop.

Gordon has a coal forge and five-burner gas forge that’s one of the biggest in Ontario. He also employs Bradley Murdock, a third-generation blacksmith.

On Canada Day, Gordon and Murdock went to Harris Park to show off their skills and products for the crowds.

“If it’s metal-related, we have our hand in it . . . but the hammer and anvil stuff is a good portion of our business” Gordon said.

Gordon’s career path has been circuitous.

He started as a bicycle messenger and mechanic, a job that led him to become a professional competitor in the bicycle-messenger racing circuit. Gordon raced in the North American and European circuits and lived in Frankfurt, Germany, for four years.

He came back to Canada and renewed his certification as a welder and went to work for a series of small manufacturers specializing in metal fabrication, building everything from furniture to fencing to industrial tricycles.

When the manufacturing sector soured, Gordon decided to strike out on his own. He completed a course at the London Small Business Centre in 2013.

He set up Fire & Iron in the former Mike’s Welding shop at Dundas and Rectory streets after owner Michael Pispidikis retired after 35 years. Gordon called Old East Village a perfect fit for his line of work.

“I love the community here, it’s so inclusive. It’s based on inventive business people and has an artisan flavour.”

Gordon said his products are a mix of artistic and practical pieces. One of his most popular products is a metal table base for “live edge” furniture artisans who work with salvaged trees.

He does a line of garden art, including metal flowers, obelisks and plant hangers, as well as more practical items such as gates and railings.

Then there are trailer repairs and tire racks for the auto racing market. The business even sponsors a racing division at Delaware Speedway.

Fire & Iron uses traditional blacksmith techniques to produce items such as coat hooks and knives that are crafted from recycled railway spikes. Gordon says the key is to make products that are unique and customized to the customer’s wishes.

“Everybody has a picture in their head of something they need or want made. We are able to translate that vision into a thing.”

Many of the products use recycled scrap because Gordon said the older steel is better quality and has fewer impurities.

“A lot of the ordinary metal work we do is artistic-based and the artistic stuff is for structural needs, so we blur the lines,” he said.

He recently crafted a metal bench for Dave Cook’s new Pickle Social Club. It includes metal railings from the 1950s.

“I go out of my way not to see stuff get melted down,” Gordon said.

Gordon said the business is so busy he is looking at expanding into a 600-square-metre building at Charlotte and Dorinda streets and hiring more staff. But he may hold on to the original location to use as studio and seminar space.

Although he practises an ancient craft, he is also adept at posting on social media and other new technology. His most high-profile artistic piece is a sculpture that stands at the Vimy Ridge memorial at Hale-Trafalgar roundabout, with steel donated by Zubick’s Scrap Metal and Recycling.

“We do as much as charity work as we can. We believe in being part of the community. I like to say we are a karma-based business.”

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