The Blacksmith

Posted by admin in Local Stories : The Craftsmen

Growing up just outside of Townsville in the 1940s, farrier and blacksmith Des Bosworth was always surrounded by horses. “Everyone had horses back in those days,” he says. “I shod my first horse when I was 14 years old – that was about 54 years ago.”

As the years have ticked over, Des has shod the hooves of countless steeds, forged thousands of horseshoes and “belted a lot of steel” to become the master craftsman that he is today. And while the world might have sped up, not too much has changed in Des’s work since those early days in Townsville. “It’s still hard work and hot work,” he says, but as Des will tell you, the rewards are plentiful.

His farrier skills were all self-taught, and Des managed to learn enough in the beginning to shoe his own horses at home, and over time gradually picked up enough new tricks to start doing it for other people. “No, I didn’t have a teacher, I kind of just did it,” he recalls.

Once he’d established himself, he later turned his hand to blacksmithing, which was a comfortable transition and a very natural fit for his skills. He got his first proper training through “an old English chap called Malcolm Paine,” himself an accomplished farrier and blacksmith from Margaret River. “He used to come over from Western Australia every year. He was very, very good at it – a very good teacher. In fact, he’s still doing it now at 84,” Des tells us.

He remembers that learning to become a blacksmith required a lot of focus and persistence, and it took several years before he felt he’d really “mastered the craft of it.”

“It’s something that you’ve got to put a bit of time into – some fellas come here and they think they’re going to learn it all in two days, but it takes four or five years just to get anywhere with it. The work requires a hell of a lot of patience; if you haven’t got any patience then there’s no use even starting,” he says.

Today, Des shoes everything from racehorses to polo cross horses, Shetland ponies and draught horses. His work day is generally split between driving out to the farms of his customers to shoe their horses (“I have to re-do them about every five weeks”), and spending time back at his home workshop in Clifton, south-eastern Queensland where he forges tools and horseshoes and “a few other creative bits and pieces, for a bit of fun.”

Surrounded by 76 acres of farmland, the tool-filled workspace is lined with a collection of over 200 old axes (some dating back to the 1800s) and an assortment of forged steel hand tools – all hand made by Des and all precisely grouped, just the way he’s always done. He’s got five forges, all of various sizes – to suit different jobs, and there’s a stack of trophies from competitions that he has won over the years. “Yeah, I’ve got a few here. I’ve entered things in shows and competed in shoeing competitions all over Australia,” he says.

To keep his skills sharp, Des says he likes to constantly create new challenges for himself. “Yeah, you’ve got to. I like to just keep pushing the boundaries. That’s where I’ve learnt the most – no doubt about it. You’ve got to step outside of your comfort zone.”

So there must be a lot of satisfaction that comes from seeing the end product of a job well done? “Oh, I don’t know about that. I usually just look at it and think “how could I make it better?” There’s always some way you can improve things, he says.

“You get better at it as you keep doing it, and you develop a vocabulary of skills that you can draw on each time you make something new,” he says. “My aim is to one day make something that I’m 100 per cent satisfied with.” Spoken like a true craftsman.