At Robert Thomas Iron Design, craftsmen combine age-old blacksmithing techniques with technology used in the aerospace and automotive industries
“Our challenge for this project has been how to scale up a handmade process, and not lose the artisan craftsmanship,” says Robert Thomas of Robert Thomas Iron Design, who has been tasked with creating carbon steel woks for cookware brand Smithey.
With the help of a few unique tools and his staff of master craftsmen, the challenge was met with enthusiasm. The team decided to use a machine that is primarily used in precision sheet metal work, namely in the aerospace or automotive industry. “This machine was designed for like, making a fender on a 1965 Ferrari,” says Thomas. “And somebody’s got to sit there and shape it by hand and by eye.”
The machine features a reciprocal hammer, and the gap between the hammer and the metal it’s pounding can be adjusted with a foot pedal. It’s similar to the motion and speed of a sewing machine, but instead of a needle, there’s a giant hammer. Annie Cole Arthur, the team’s head of the cookware division, demonstrates how she moves a flat piece of sheet metal through and around the machine in a circular motion in order to have it create the rounded shape she’s after. “I’m making quick judgments with every single strike of the hammer to manipulate it and move it where I want it to be,” she says. “You’re really paying attention to the surface changes — how it’s arching, what the radius is. You need to know what it looked like before that blow, what it looked like during that blow, and what it looked like after that blow.” The finished produce is a smooth, rounded bowl that will serve as the main part of the wok.
Watch the video to see how the team uses traditional blacksmithing techniques to create the woks’ handles, and how they professionally season the instrument as well.