In the Town Council of Irixoa there is an artisanal forge where Álvaro Varela Rodríguez works as a blacksmith.
The craft of blacksmithing is one of the most deeply rooted crafts in Galicia. Blacksmiths were the ones who provided society with numerous tools, especially those for cutting and for farming. When the industrial products became cheaper, the volume of artisanal production of these goods decreased substantially. Today, some of these traditions are progressively disappearing, even though the craft is still alive. Thus, the craft is mainly dedicated nowadays to manufacturing decorative and artistic elements.
In the process of elaborating iron pieces, Álvaro works maintaining the artisanal methods. His work is carried out always – from the moment he receives the commission until the very end – following the process below:
He searches for the adequate material to carry out the work hi has been requested to manufacture
He cuts or reduces the material with a saw, shear…until he manages to give it the adequate size.
He raises its temperature in the forge to be able to shape it.
The modelling process begins until the final shape is acquired. For this purpose he aids himself with pincers, the anvil, hammers…The shape which is aimed for can be very varied: curved, elongated, bent, grooved, rounded, chamfered, etc. During this stage, the material can cool down, therefore, it might be necessary to re-heat it to reach the adequate temperature, so it becomes malleable (when iron goes reddish colour). However, always making sure it does not reach its melting point.
Once the work is finished, one should apply some sort of protective layer to it. This layer can be painted, lacquered, galvanized…all done with the adequate products. If the piece is galvanized, an additional layer of paint will be needed.
In a forge one can find the following elements:
The forge, where air is added to carbon to be able to heat the material. It must be in a scarcely illuminated room to be able to perceive better the colour of the material as the temperature rises. In the forge, there is also a bucket of water (to cool down the material, to temper it…) and a shovel for carbon.
Other materials which are used in the forge are: pincers, scales, calibres, squadrons, punches, shears, saws, metallic scissors, anvils, deburring machines, hammers, mechanical hammers, drills of different types, files, brushes, etc.
In the old days, in many places, blacksmiths were considered some sort of magicians (feiticeiros as they would call them in Galicia) with magical powers, who used the basic elements of fire and water to transform matter. Today, that magical aura which revolved the craft has disappeared, even though the idea that the blacksmith is a master craftsman with an enviable talent is still current. Álvaro Varela wants to do his bit to ensure that artisanal forge progressively acquires greater importance and so does the craft of blacksmithing. Following this aim, he elaborates his works in a completely artisanal way.
His training is mainly self-taught. However, his first steps in the profession were carried out alongside Antonio S.M., known within the area of Betanzos by the name of “el mañas”. He then carried out works related to welding, machinery to manufacture clogs, wells, etc. After that, while he was carrying out the Military Service, he worked at the Park and the Workshop of Artillery in La Coruña. He later set up his own workshop and specialized in artisanal forging.