It’s an Ironclad Rule: Don’t Miss a Visit to the Ironsmith

A visit to Yossi’s blacksmith’s shop will take you on a journey back in time. Iron, the symbol of power, turns into liquid at 1530 degrees Celsius and submits to the will of the blacksmith, who transforms it into something new.

In an interview published recently in Globes newspaper, Yaki Vadmani, the CEO of the ACE Hardware franchise in Israel, shared his first insight about Israeli consumers: “I quickly understood that the Israeli public is less excited about the ‘do-it-yoursef’ aspect and more into the ‘buy-it-yourself’ idea.” It’s true; building furniture and other products with your own hands, from the stage of the raw materials until the finished product, isn’t a very widespread Israeli pastime. But things weren’t always that way.

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An Iron Bow and Arrow Set. Pieces made by the ironsmith.

The Blacksmith: The Star of the Yellow Pages in Medieval Times

The blacksmith was once one of the most sought-out service providers. It’s no coincidence that in medieval times, the blacksmith’s shop was located at the center of the village, where people would come to order nails, frames for doors and windows, horseshoes for their horses and more.

Since then, our lifestyle has changed - cars replaced the horses, furniture can be ordered online, and the need for a blacksmith as a basic service declined. It’s not that there aren’t any welders nowadays, but the blacksmiths of old have disappeared.  Yet here, in the middle of Ofra, is the Gur Aryeh Workshop, which is where Yossi creates his magic. When you step foot in this workshop, you feel yourself going back in time.

Yossi’s Workshop: Welcome to the Time Tunnel

The feeling you get when you enter the gates of this workshop is that it’s not a regular metalworks shop, although it has modern equipment. The atmosphere seems more authentic, more ancient, something from long ago. This sensation begins with the blessed absence of the odors of chemical substances and welding methods, continues with the strange looking set of tools that might remind you of frightening medieval devices, and finally ends with the coal furnace at the back. The temperature inside the furnace reaches the melting point of iron, which is around 1530 degrees Celsius.

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They only LOOK like torture devices from the Middle Ages...

“A blacksmith is a person who can take iron and change its shape, and craft with it. It can be as simple as a nail or handle, or as intricate as a work of art, such as special Chanukah menorahs or decorative pieces,” says Yossi Gur Aryeh, as he pushes an iron ingot into the coals in the furnace until its color turns to yellow, as if to say: “I’m ready!”

Yossi puts the burning ingot on the anvil and starts pounding it with a hammer with quick, measured blows. His hands are at work, but his mind is focused on the conversation as he explains that you can make anything you want out of iron, and even combine it with wood or glass. The process essentially involves heating the iron to its melting point and then flattening it with the hammer and anvil until it cools.

After a few minutes, he puts down the hammer and hands us an iron nail, the kind that could be found in any wooden door in a classic European village in the Middle Ages. The ease with which he works and the finished product that suddenly lies in the palm of your hand arouse thoughts of blacksmiths in the Middle Ages, metal cornices, nails and iron frames that we’ve seen in various countries. At the same time, you can’t help thinking about the fact that over just a few hundred years, everything changed.

From Blacksmith to Businessman: It All Started with a Hobby

“We don’t buy ready-made material and cut it; we make whatever your heart desires out of these iron ingots,” Yossi tells us, explaining that his advantage as a blacksmith is that he can even make his own tools. It’s all a matter of thinking about what you need, planning, and working with the iron. This explanation calms me down, at least partially, about the strange set of tools we saw when we first entered.

He started his love affair with iron after his wife surprised him with a week-long course with Uri Hofi, an internationally renowned blacksmith educator from Kibbutz Ein Shemer. It took him five years of practice before he dared call himself a blacksmith. The long period of time that the students are will to tolerate being called an apprentice is testimony of their modesty and the respect they have for experienced professionals involved in this type of art.

Although it started as a hobby, something to do for the soul, when his friends saw his work and asked to order pieces for themselves, he registered as a business while continuing to work at his regular job at a company that provides aluminum works. Nine years ago, the company was sold and Yossi decided to turn his hobby into his primary profession. He had the experience, and already had a nice clientele, which gradually began to build up even more as his reputation spread.

“Exactly a week after the sixth class, I start getting phone calls from workshop participants who tell me that they feel something is missing in their lives.”

Working with Iron: It’s Not as Easy as it Looks

What makes someone want to become a blacksmith? I ask Yossi this question after five minutes of attempting to take a piece of iron, stick it in the furnace and pound it with a hammer and anvil into the shape I envisioned. “A love for the material. If you don’t love it, you can’t be good at it or survive in this field,” Yossi replies, watching my inexperienced attempt to work with the material. I’m not sure who he’s more worried about - me or the iron ingot that I just tortured.

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The Blacksmith from Biblical times

According to Yossi’s instructions, I heated the iron ingot, placed it on the anvil and explained to him what I wanted to make.   My disappointment with the poor results of my handiwork caused me to realize that you need talent too, not just a love for the material. Maybe with some practice, I could manage to make an iron nail or even a candlestick. One candlestick. Because for me, making two identical ones would be essentially impossible.

Ironwork, Reproductions of Ancient Items and Workshops for the General Public

On a day to day basis, Yossi does iron work to order, such as special railings, home decorations, interesting menorahs, decorative objects, masks and works of art. He’s also built a weapon from Bar Kochba’s revolt. The weapon was found in archaeological excavations not far from Ofra, and Yossi received its exact measurements from tour guide Hezki Bezalel. A bit of work with the furnace, hammering and finishing touches, and today, Yossi can display an ancient weapon in his workshop. The reproduction process arouses interesting thoughts about the battles that once took place here.

Every year before Purim, he creates a unique mask, and before Chanukah - a creative menorah with a twist that can only be made out of iron. Some of his pieces are displayed at the shop and it would be worth visiting just to view them. Parallel to his iron work, Yossi teaches at the Einot Kedem agricultural farm and teaches at-risk youth at Haroeh Haivri. But the good news for us is that he is willing to share the secrets of the art of ironwork with the general public, beginning with a two hour hands-on workshop for couples or groups, or a series of six classes that are three and a half hours each, during which participants learn the techniques used by blacksmiths. I ask Yossi if people have any strength left in their hands after the sixth class, and he replies, “Exactly a week after the sixth class, I start getting phone calls from workshop participants who tell me that they feel something is missing in their lives.”

In these workshops, you won’t find electronic tools - just the three basic tools used by blacksmiths: a hammer, anvil and furnace. If you ask nicely, Yossi will also introduce you to wine produced in the region and a blacksmith’s favorite dish: smoked chicken, which is placed in a smoker (that Yossi built himself, of course) for an hour and a half until it is done to perfection.

Interested in visiting a real blacksmith, ordering an ancient iron piece or participating in a workshop? Click here, or just call Yossi: +972-52-8305801. Just be patient - if he doesn’t answer, he probably has a piece of iron in the furnace.