Withstanding the test of time: Local metal shop preserves memories


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – Local businesses have had to adjust to the impacts of the coronavirus in many different ways. That includes a metal-working shop in Portsmouth.

Inside an unassuming warehouse, you’ll find a treasure trove of moments that have withstood the test of time. The walls are covered in a collection of memories and moments, preserved in metal.

“I was 10 years old when I made my first casting,” said Bill Bailey, the owner of Elfinsmiths. “Every time I make something right now, I go out there and I’m like, wow, that’s pretty cool!”

The shop’s name was inspired by Lord of the Rings. “The Elfin Smith is the character in the Tolkien book who worked on the king’s sword, so he was a metal worker,” said Bailey.

Bailey and his wife started the business back in the 80s.

“The very first order we did was for the Neptune Festival and we made a bunch of trophies in our garage,” said Bailey. “My wife and I didn’t know where the first paycheck was going to come from that week. That was quite the leap of faith.”

The leap of faith has paid off. The business has grown to include making medals, plaques, engraving, and more.

Bailey’s biggest client takes his metal work worldwide.

“The Navy sends me a picture of a crest and we’ve done about I guess in the last 10 years, 40 – 50 of those ships out there,” said Bailey.

He says that constant work has kept the business afloat.

“I’ve got a lot of little tools. We made a took for everything, most of these tools I made myself,” said Bailey. “I use the star ones with the Navy a lot…they all got stars.”

It hasn’t always been easy for Bailey. In the 90s, there was a devastating fire.

“The place burned to the ground,” said Bailey. “We lost everything, 1,000 of those hand-carved patterns over there that we have made through the years, so we had to start over.”

It wasn’t easy to rebuild, but they did.

Then 2020 brought another set of challenges.

“I thought the COVID was going to do us in last year,” Bailey said. “We had a rough couple of months, but ever since then, it’s been fine. We’re hanging in there.”

Through it all — a fire, the pandemic, and constantly changing technology — Elfinsmiths has weathered the storm.

“I’ve been told for 40 years, this is going to put you out of business,” said Bailey. “You know, it’s going to be this or this or this or this. I keep saying ‘oh well, if it does, okay,’ but so far it hasn’t.”

Bailey says he will continue to navigate the waters, creating moments that will survive anything.

“I love what I do, still come to work every day, a lot of people can’t say that,” said Bailey. “I look forward every day to something new.”

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