TANG tang tang, tang tang tang, tang ting. Georges Erdos is at the forge heat-treating a piece of metal. Tang, tang, tang, walloping it with a mallet, writes Carol Miers.
But leave the nostalgia to others, as Georges Erdos is an angry man, not a peaceful artisan, frustrated more than satisfied.
"I used to love this," Georges says. "Now making a knife from a forge is finished. For myself, there is maybe five or six years. Afterwards people who want things, a château railing or a gate, well there won't be anyone to do it. It is dead."
In the 90s knife-making and metalwork gave him great pleasure, because you have it all, the forge, the heritage of the blacksmith, the chemistry of carbon and steel, the way of making knives.
As a martial arts (Ju Jitsu) teacher in Paris, Georges began metalworking in the late 80s, making tanto knives, then, as his passion grew, he learned his trade at the Salon de Couteau d'Art et de collection taking courses, night school and training alongside experts, making everything, working every weekend, studying the history of weapons in museums, learning about the Damascus steel used to fashion Napolionic gun barrels and Samurai sword making.
Little by little he learned and eventually set up on his own. Back then, in the 1990s he had one steel supplier, the price was steady, but now the suppliers have varying stock and it gets more expensive.
And clients always want to know how to cut the prices. If he makes a railing, they want to know the reduction if they use two less rods. Back then the machines and materials made good knives but now the machines are often Chinese rubbish, he says. There again the steel is too hard and the rods and sheets are not in the sizes he needs.
"My trade in France is finished," Georges says. Yet in his display are knives with mammoth tooth handles, sculptured dragons, iron grills. This man took ten years training before setting up in Villefranche du Perigord, a quiet corner of south west France fifteen years ago.
Watching Georges at work over the forge, making a paper cutting knife, seeing the molten metal and electric grinder, you have to shield our eyes from burning shards. George points to the power hammer.
"Since the invention of electricity and mains power we have created new, electrically powered machines but that very same machine the marteau pilon that strikes the molten metal, has existed since the Middle Ages," Georges says.
"Down at the local Lemance river there were mills, the upper and lower mills and these had their own furnaces and there they had the same power hammers for beating the metal. Now we still have the supporting armature, the same hammer and the same striking action, the same arm movement."
Georges Erdos's voice is strong and indignant.
"I have to have these iron rods, fer des rons, for measuring. Then this you faire des rompes hit with a marteau like this. Well that is now made in a factory, for the stairs or for a gate. They are metalworkers, if they are lucky then they get an apprenticeship for six months through the CFA (Centre de formation pour apprentis).
"It is rubbish but no one is going to suggest to someone they make it the old way when it costs a thousand euros," Georges Erdos said.
There are stories. A supplier ringing up to tell him when there has been a larger than usual increase in steel prices. A family of three generations of blacksmiths who once supplied him with steel in Northern France, has 'hung up the key and closed' thanks to AcerolMittal and cheap industries in the Middle East.
Then there is the tragedy of Sabatier knives having to use Inox, or stainless steel, now that the EU has banned carbon steel due to safety concerns because it rusts.
"We have used carbon steel knives and eaten with them for twenty centuries, now, oh no it is dangerous," Georges said.
"They cut very well. But if you are a butcher or a cook, it is now illegal. Now Sabatier knives do not rust but they do not cut. They are forced to make rubbish."
Four years ago in 2009, Georges Erdos was a proud member of a metalworkers association. More than sixty professionals including wheelwrights, blacksmiths and knife-makers belonged to Les Métallies. In May 2008 they met at St Aubin de Lanquais and cast a new bell, called Marie-Laurence, watched by 9,000 people.
Today Les Métallies association is no more, and there is little future for Georges Erdos and metal working, and none for an apprentice Georges cannot pay, or teach, with over tight safety regulations and no government support.
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