The Powerhammer

Recently our powerhammer came home to rest on a nine tonne floating concrete block in a pit in Col’s workshop that he had dug 13 years earlier. In fact, she was in the workshop long before we actually met her. In Col’s mind she was always there – it just took a while for this vision to become reality. And perhaps this is the mid point in our powerhammer’s journey. She is a grand old girl and I like to imagine that, in another 90 years, she will still be banging away with all the grace and vigour she has now. Inspiring yet another generation of sculptors and blacksmiths.

This is a little hammer by industrial standards – just 100cwt – and was made in the 1920’s by “Alldays and Onions Pneumatic Engineering Co” of Birmingham and shipped to Melbourne. Brand new and beautiful, she was dropped on the docks and her casing cracked. It turned out to be cheaper to recast her casing at McPherson’s Machinery Merchants of Melbourne rather than get a new one shipped so she has a unique cast scar in the moulding and no longer has the Alldays and Onions logo.

The powerhammer started working life at the Hawthorn Men’s Institute until the Institute merged and became the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. It was moved to the Melbourne campus of RMIT where apprentice blacksmiths continued to learn their trade on her until the early 1960’s when she was replaced by a bigger model and came to rest on the landing. She then became the smoko spot, where students gathered around her, resting their cups on her ample form.

One of those students was Daniel Jenkins who bought her when he left and took her to a new life at Whitehall Enterprises, and arts collective in Footscray. Around about that time Col and I were moving from Melbourne to a bush block in Gippsland and starting to make work together. When Daniel moved to East Gippsland he sold her to Tony Summers in Central Victoria, who kept her safely under wraps for a decade but never installed her. By then, across the other side of the state, we had moved from our bush block into the heart of the tiny (but very arty) town of Briagolong and Col had built his workshop. He had decided that, one day, he would own a powerhammer so had included a 2.5m x 2.5m x .6m pit in the floor of the workshop. He explained that in the pit there would be a floating slab of concrete with very special sound and shock absorbing rubber insulation. No one knew what he was talking about, it all sounded a bit far fetched – but sure – you can have a pit if you want a pit Col.

It became a bit of a running joke – Col and his boarded over pit – as a decade passed and we raised children and worked in other careers. But all the time, Col is talking to blacksmiths and looking at powerhammers. Now, there arent too many powerhammers around nowadays – at least not in Australia – people tend to hang on to them. And the ones that he could find were all too big, too small, too expensive or not solid enough.

Then, early this year, we visited Little Newsham Forge home of Artist Blacksmith Brian Russell, and what an inspiration that was! They make extraordinarily beautiful work there. We had turned up right at the end of the day in Little Newsham – which is a little town in the north of England – and the only light left on in town was at the forge. They were just packing up and so Brian showed us around and demonstrated his hammers. We talked about how we were in the middle of town and he said “Oh, well, you need one like this then” and showed us his 100cwt Alldays and Onions. He then heated up a piece of metal for Col and said “Have a go on her”. And that was that. Col fell in love with the hammer. As he described it, it is still a beast – still able to do the hard work, but very ‘touchy feely’. It had a degree of manageability that you can lose with a bigger machine.

When we returned to Australia, Col started asking around the blacksmith networks to see if anyone had a 100cwt Alldays and Onions, and eventually struck gold!  He bought the hammer from Tony and we started the journey of transporting her across the state and installing her on the (logistically quite tricky) floating concrete slab.

But that is another story.