The sad news reached us over the weekend of the passing of Don Blocksidge, an engraver whose work has featured on many top custom scooters and motorbikes over the decades.
Don was one of those people who are today sadly rare, a true craftsman. His name first came to my attention, as it probably did with many scooterists, as the person behind the engraving on custom scooters created by Jeremy Howlett in the mid to late-80s such as Dazzle and Spirit Walker.
Of course Don wasn’t the only person to be engraving parts for custom scooters back then, but he was – to the best of my knowledge – the only one to be doing so by hand.
I first met Don in 1999 when together with Sticky we visited him to talk about his work for a magazine article. In his workshop he showed us his tools and demonstrated his work on scraps of metal he had to hand and a broken Vespa hub Sticky had picked up the day before.
In 1946 Don started an apprenticeship at gun manufacturer Webley & Scott and spent 12 years there learning the trade of hand chasing. As the name suggests, instead of using an electric gun as almost all engravers today use, hand chasing involves using your hands to cut the metal. Depending on the effect you want and metal you are working with, different gravers and chisels are used, some simply pushed along in the cup of your hand, chasing the design through the metal, others tapped with light hammers.
I remember listening back to our dictaphone tapes a few days later at the office down in Weston-super-Mare and for a few minutes all I could hear was gentle ‘tap, tap, tap’ as we both watched Don at work. He stopped and asked if he was boring us, to be met by both Sticky and myself watching, open-mouthed in admiration. As a birthday present, Don kindly engraved a Zippo lighter that Sticky and his family had bought for me, a gift I rarely took out with me even when I did smoke and still treasure to this day.
Don worked in the jewellery trade for the next 20 years or so until he left and set up on his own. He continued to engrave guns, jewellery, even suits of armour, but also branched out into bike and scooter parts. Custom motorcycle builder John Reed, aka Uncle Bunt was one of the first to commission Don in the early 80s and even name a bike he built ‘Old Don’ after the master engraver.
The list of scooters Don has worked on over the years is incredible and includes Pseudo Satisfaction, Hunter and the Hunted, The Sentinal, Ceremony, Revenge, Majestic Realms, Meat Is Murder, Pulp Fiction, and more recently (as seen on the pages of ScooterNova magazine), Way of Life, Real Gone Kid, Phantasmagoria, Dazzle 3 and Wake.
And these are just a small number of them. The amount of show-winning bikes and scooters featuring his work is countless, a testament to the skill and craftsmanship of the man.
I last spoke with Don a couple of years ago for a small piece we published in edition 10 of ScooterNova about him, following his work on the restoration of Wake for Jason Stephenson. When we first spoke in the late 90s I recall he mentioned hand chasing was a dying art, even then. In 2018 he told me he was still being commissioned by people in the UK and as far away as Canada and the USA to hand chase parts for scooters, motorcycles and guns. Sadly however, it seems few, if any, were interested in learning the skills required to become a craftsman like Don and create a “luxury product” in the 21st century.
RIP Don Blocksidge, a gentleman, a craftsman and considered by many to be “the Master”, whose name and skills will live on in the amazing work he has created over the decades.
**ScooterNova is an independent scooter magazine, produced and published by scooterists, for scooterists. Edition 26 is published on 25 June 2021 and available now from all good scooter shops, or you can subscribe and purchase directly from our online shop by clicking here.