Northern Story #1· Felip Arès, BLACKSMITH

The valiant bench

Photography: Roger Casas

Saturday, 08:15.We go to Taradell, a village near Vic, where Felip is waiting for us.
Almost an hour from Barcelona by car. Dani speaks, Joan sleeps. I go over a few questions for Felip until I stop worrying; better to let everything follow its own course.
We stop midway in a petrol station. It’s cold, but fortunately the sun is hotter each time. Winter sun.

About to arrive, from the window we can see the imposing walls of Cingles de Bertí and some traces of mist. The landscape is mixed with absurd conversations about Joan’s hair.


Arrival in Taradell

We agreed with Roger to meet at the entrance to the village. He was coming with Carla and her dog. Roger is an old friend of Dani, and he’s going to take the photos today. We’re all here.
Together we show up at Felip´s house. He´s been rooted in Osona all his life. And he’s a blacksmith. Felip is going to show us how to make a bench.
“I wanted to be a blacksmith since I was in sixth year of basic education. My father was in charge of Taradell’s water and my mother was a teacher.”

“So you were clear about it from then onwards?”
“Yes”


“Is there anything else you would like to do in life?”
“No”


Sawmill

On the outskirts of the village, piled up trunks of pine, walnut, cypress, elm, cedar… Josep keeps watch over them, knows them and explains to us:
“This is a special sawmill because of the origin of much of the wood that comes from abroad.”

We pick a thick board of French oak from Burgundy and we cut it with the carriage saw, leaving on one of the sides the wave of the natural cut of the wood.
Felip: “I’m showing you one of my best secrets and then you’ll steal my work!”



Carpentry

We prepare the wood in Pere´s fusteria , or carpentry workshop.
Everything’s camouflaged in a sawdust monotone: buried work boots, some nails in a biscuit box, different grades of sandpaper in a tin.
We go over the board several times with an ordinary sander and then with a belt sander. The oak looks clean and clear with a soft grain. The wood has become smooth.


Pere frowns: “No-one does it like that anymore”.


He shows us photos of his work, enormous nails recuperated from ancient beams and an old horse and carriage that his father made, who also worked on wood.


Workshop

“I studied forging in the School of Arts and Trades. Then I began to help my teacher and when I turned 23 I set up my own small workshop. Now there’s four of us working here, although today we´ll be more.”
Felip speaks clearly and concisely. No excess words. As in his work, he doesn’t like to waste anything.
Basically he does industrial work but he’s dedicating more and more time now to his own creations: furniture with straight lines, solid and austere, that combine wood with iron.

To work on the bench we decided that we’d use a ferro dolç, or sweet iron, easier to bend and more resistant than the usual ferro colat, or cast iron.

Felip gave the order: “Now you’ll get to work”. Dani and Joan follow his instructions. First cut the handrail for each bench leg; then mark each of the points where the holes must be made; drill these points based on the notches made with hammer and puncheon… While Joan finishes bending the handrails, Dani starts to weld and the workshop fills with sparks and glowing metal. Finally we smooth it all off with the grinder. 


It’s almost three in the afternoon. We’re finishing cutting and welding the last bar that joins the legs. We notice Felip is accelerating the rhythm. “És que tinc gana” (I’m hungry). We agree.
On a small electric stove we heat up turpentine and beeswax. It’s an old-time varnish that gives the wood a very natural finish. We apply it and it begins to dry.


And we´ve finished. We´ve made a bench.

Felip observes the result of a morning’s work. He checks the strength and resistance of the bench: “És valent”.


Lunch

Felip and Judit seem to live by one rule: take care of all that you have, it doesn’t matter what it is… We’ve seen this while working with Felip, and we notice it now in all the details of the house, in how their dogs, Antoine and François, are treated, in how we prepare lunch together. Why do something in a way that you don’t like?
Sitting next to the chimney place you can see the garden. We drink a little wine and Felip comments that a cold wave is expected over the next few days. The dogs play. Roger notices the details in metal, wood and other materials.
The meal stretches out as it gets dark outside.

I try to take full advantage of the last moments, throwing out a question from my list for Felip to answer. After two categorical yes’s and two categorical no’s, I gave up. In his vocabulary there are definite, well rounded yes’s and no’s. Something curious in a world of “maybe” and “perhaps”.

“I would live in the middle of a mountain with no-one around, alone, with my horse”.

Home again
The car smells of varnish.
¿What do you think has been the most difficult thing about making the bench?
“Welding”, says Dani.
“The mathematics” says Joan.
“Yes, for me too”, I add.

We lower the windows so the smell of varnish can dissipate. It’s cold.

I drive and become absorbed thinking about the story of our “valiant bench”.