The modern-day blacksmith keeping a dying art alive

Blacksmith Jediel Kimathi.
It’s rare to encounter a blacksmith outside of books and movies these days. But in the outskirts of Gakoromone market in Meru lives one.

Jediel Kimathi, 55, runs his business from an unassuming shack on the southern edge of the biggest market in Meru. Together with his two assistants, he’s open for business from 6am, which is when they source for metal and coal before customers start streaming in.

Kimathi uses a ‘nkunei’ machine to heat metal before cutting it into the desired shapes. The machine is a remake of what traditional blacksmiths used to use.

The father of four says he’s been a blacksmith for more than 20 years and learnt the trade through apprenticeship from a friend, Karabui, when he lived in Karatina, Nyeri County.

“I was living in Karatina doing odd jobs like construction and carrying luggage for people when I made friends with Karabui. He’d inherited the blacksmith trade from his father, and he taught me everything he knew and gave me a job until I’d made enough money to start my own business.” Kimathi says.

The secret

In 2001, Kimathi started his own business, and its grown steadily since then. He registers sales of at least Sh5,000 a day. In a week, his profits range between Sh18,000 and Sh26,000, he says.

“I learnt early on that the secret to making huge profits lies in buying coal waste instead of actual coal. A sack of coal waste goes for Sh200 while actual coal sells for Sh1,200 a sack, yet coal waste lasts longer.”

From his business, Kimathi has educated his four sons and earned enough to build a nest egg. He also mentors young men, training them and giving them seed money to branch out on their own after they’ve gained the experience. But he’s not willing to teach his children the trade, despite the fact that six of his mentees now run booming businesses of their own in Meru.

“Metalwork is very hard work and requires a lot of physical exertion. I’d never want to see my sons suffering like I do. I’ve taken them to school so they can get white-collar jobs that are more respectable and pay more so that they can take care of me when I can no longer work here.”

But despite this white-collar future he foresees for his children, Kimathi says he’d never dream of leaving self-employment for a job because “no one can pay me better than I pay myself given my academic qualifications”.

Gakoromone marketMeru County