Portrait photography of the last remaining blacksmith. “Rain or shine, in winter’s cold or summer’s heat, at 8.30 am Mr. Nguyen Phuong Hung is at his forge on Lo Ren Street in Hanoi. Long ago, this street in Hanoi’s Old Quarter was synonymous with blacksmiths. In fact, the name Lo Ren means “Smithy”. Today, only Mr. Hung’s forge remains. As he adds coal to the forge, Mr. Hung chats about blacksmithing, a trade practiced by three generations of his family. His pride and openness are evident. “. Text by Nam Anh (Heritage MAG) – Photos by Binh Dang 

Having been trained as an automobile mechanic, Mr. Hung never expected to follow in his family’s footsteps. At the age of seven, he helped his father to stoke the forge, brush the anvil and do miscellaneous tasks. In Grade Seven, he became an apprentice, tasked with forging molds for the smithy. He officially took over the family business in 1997 when his father grew weak and wanted an heir to keep the forge ablaze. His father said: “You should pursue our family craft and never worry about earning your livelihood again.” This convinced Mr. Hung to keep the family business alive.

 While Mr. Hung’s grandfather specialized in making bolts and screws and his father specialized in theatrical props such as blades and swords, Mr. Hung switched to making spare parts for construction tools. This proved a wise move that fit the changing times. Many people asked why he performed such a “strange” craft instead of renting out his street front Old Quarter house for big money. His answer was simple: he worked out of passion, while aiming to earn a stable income. When his children saw him struggling to earn a living, they strove to study hard and mature. This was the most priceless gift bestowed upon him.

 In his early days on the job, he found it hard to be tied to the smithy, forge, hammer and anvil all day long. When things fell into place, and after hearing the wise words of his father, he realized that this craft requires responsibility above all else. Having absorbed knowledge from his formal schooling, Mr.Hung does not make mass-produced items, but only special-orders. He mainly crafts drill heads, hooks and chisels. Drill heads are crafted with great skill and care. His customers recognize his skill and keep coming back. A blacksmith’s value depends on his skills and a good one is never short of work. His skills were garnered from practice rather than at school. He cherishes and breathes life into every part he makes.

 “The most crucial factors are the temperature and the handling of the hammer. The heat must not be too high or too low, which thins objects out, while the hand grasping the hammer must be slanted at a proper angle to craft objects beautifully.” Our chat was constantly interrupted by clients asking Mr. Hung to make products or fix their drills and chisels, etc.

 In some ways Mr. Hung is peculiar. If someone asks him to perform a task that’s too simple he will refuse the job. But for those who respect his craftsmanship, he will fix their items at any cost. He works alone without an apprentice, perhaps because he is demanding and wants to perfect every product himself. Mr. Hung takes pride in being known to international visitors as well as locals. Many visitors to Hanoi seek out his smithy, delighted to find this rustic corner in our millennia-old capital.