The last thing you would expect to find in the middle of Galway city is a skilled craftsman practising the ancient trade of the blacksmith.
Stephan Gleissner comes from generations of blacksmiths that ended with his grandoncle in the years following the war. Traditional methods made way for machine tooling and the working horse became obsolete.
Stephan is now reviving those lost skills and making some very practical and useful tools for gardeners. His interest in the trade goes back to his childhood when as a child of eight or nine he was experimenting at the furnace in his parents' basement in his native Bavaria. A man of many talents, he found it difficult to source suitable tools when stone sculpting and began to make his own.
"There is no point in making the larger tools that are widely available" he says, "so I concentrate on specialised hand tools. I particularly like to make blades. There is a lot of skill and judgement required in the forging process. I forge blades at lower temperature than it is usually done - one can hardly see the dull red glow. This technique, called 'Austenite Forging' takes more and harder hammer work to bring the steel bar into the desired shape; also care has to be taken not to crack the steel - but it results in a finer crystal structure which means a tougher and sharper edge. In addition a so-called 'progressive temper' leaves the edge harder than the backpart of the blade so that it will combine flexibility with a hard and sharp edge".
In the beginning Stephan turned the wooden handles for his tools but now he hand carves them.
"The handle should be an extension of the tool and fit well in the hand" he says. "It must be comfortable to hold". One of the tools that gardeners would find particularly useful when planting from modules is his hand planter. He has also made a willow cutter for basket weavers, a tool that would be very difficult to source elsewhere.
In addition to tools Stephan makes ornamental brackets and hooks that last a lifetime as well as looking decorative. Working with iron and steel is a hobby that Stephan loves and he is willing to undertake any commission that he feels able to carry out.
Text from an article by Cait Curran in 'organic matters' nov/dec 2002, p.13