It takes me a while to get hold of Kees – the sound of his phone doesn’t exceed the sound in his workshop. And then it is still a relatively quiet day because he is working alone.
‘Forging is a team sport’
Normally he works in Smederij Zwolle with his two partners, Pim van Hoeve and Taru van den Born. Together they provide daytime activities for a number of young people with social problems and supervise trainees from metalworking training courses. But due to corona, the days look different now.
“During the first wave in March, we sent the boys from the daytime activities home. It was unclear what was and was not allowed, it was a sensitive issue,” says Klaassen. “But we saw that they have deteriorated considerably during that period; fortunately they now have an exceptional position.”
That does not make collaboration any less difficult, he adds immediately. “Forging is a team sport, you have to do it together. There is a lot of noise in the workshop, so you quickly bend towards each other to be understood.”
The fact that he now has the smithy for himself more often also has advantages. “When you are trying things out, it is difficult to concentrate with so many people around you. I am now making kitchen knives and experimenting with damask patterns, those flames in the metal. I currently have one assignment for a chef. , hopefully the knives can be used for that. “
Because the individual assignments currently provide the bread on the shelf. The income from the daytime activities cover the costs for the workshop. Most of the other activities of Klaassen’s company In Kees of Metals – workshops, company outings, to fairs and festivals – ‘are now completely dead.’ “I also use this time to build up a collection, so that I will have something to show during demonstrations.”
Before Covid-19 broke out, it was a rollercoaster, Klaassen says. “It is very hot again to make things myself. At the moment I am also quite busy with forging axes. We make our own tools and we work together with, for example, the woodworkers of Vers Hout. We supply them with the head of an ax; they make the stalk with it. “
Workshops in the forest
Because he makes and uses many tools himself, Klaassen has a good feeling for their proportions and shapes. He translates his own design for an ax into an accurate digital design that can also be repeated. To do this, he uses a computer-controlled cutter that cuts a stem in 12 minutes.
It normally takes him a few hours to make an ax; a basic ax costs about 150 euros. “You have to look very carefully at the products you make, so that you are not struggling against production in low-wage countries, for example. Delivering custom work, customers with specific issues: that is actually my research and development.”
Basic ax for 150 euros
For De Zwollenaar, the growth of insight into his profession is addictive: the more often he makes an ax, the more instruments he comes up with to speed up forging and grinding.
“I like to watch the forges in the jungle of Cambodia on Youtube and I sometimes give workshops in the forest, without electricity. That takes a lot more time, but if you do that downshift and then you are back in your workshop … “
The village blacksmith of a few centuries ago was also an innovator, Klaassen thinks. “Farmers came to him with specific problems, for which he was looking for a solution. The village has now become the world, with social media you can have a lot of reach. I want to tackle that in 2021.”
Klaassen is convinced that he can create his own market if he looks at his work in a strategic way. “To become technically good, you have to take a critical look at your work. If you want to sell it, you have to promote it. Then I can be the Puritan perfectionist, but you have to be able to let go of that.”
The plan now is to post a lot more on Instagram in the new year and set up its own Etsy store. “In the meantime, I have never finished learning from a technical point of view. I now immerse myself more in metallurgy, so the physical principles behind the working of metal, of which the kitchen knives are a good example.”
Thinking in solutions
With some fitting and measuring Klaassen can make a living from the forging. “As a rule I try to keep an annual salary separate. In previous years I sometimes bought a nice machine for the workshop. Now I save the money for the really meager months.”
Until now it has not been necessary for him to do other work alongside. “If you are flexible, there is always work. Welding construction work is always there. Long before I really hit the bottom, there are possibilities. I try to think in solutions, problems can easily be collected. But I do want to remain realistic. : this work is a marathon, not a sprint. “