Blake Smith wakes up a bit after 9:00AM. Owning his own business allows him to set his own hours, and he doesn't really care about "catching the worm."
He makes a quick cup of coffee for the road—he's got a morning meeting with a new a client at his studio, and Starbucks is too far out of the way. He takes a second to admire his kitchen table as he passes it; it's one of the first pieces he created after leaving art school.
At the time, he was specializing in historical blacksmith wrought iron work from the colonial period. Since then he's started focusing his efforts on modern ironwork pieces for interior design furniture stores. He just doesn't make 'em like he used to.
He drives to his studio and, after opening up, jumps on his laptop (not literally…those things are delicate) to access some new light fixture designs for a client. His client wants a chandelier with design elements from the medieval period, but with modern light bulb mounts.
Blake uses a 3D modeling software program to map out a few designs. He finishes three separate ones before he hears a knock at his door.
"Gosh, they're early," he mutters.
Luckily, the knocker isn't the client. It's a UPS deliveryman with the blacksmith coal that Blake ordered from Pennsylvania. Blacksmith coal is different than the kind people use for grilling out in their backyard. This type of coal burns hotter and is made of clean burning bituminous and anthracite.
"Got anyone to help out?" the driver asks. "These are fifty-pound boxes."
"I've got a wheelbarrow in the back," Blake says.
"You working for Santa Claus or something? If so, the guy's got a major naughty list this year."
"No, it's all for the forge," Blake replies, laughing.
Blake built his first forge with bricks, a two-basin stainless-steel sink, a shop vacuum, black furnace cement, riveted sheet metal, and a whole host of other materials he purchased online and through local hardware stores. You know—the same way most of us built our first forge.
It wasn't long before that forge was no longer adequate enough to support his business. As soon as he could, he invested in an antique forge to supplement it. Blake loves modern designs, but like many in his profession, he's still romantic about the colonial style forges he saw as a kid.
An hour passes before Davis, his apprentice, shows up. Davis is a striker, basically the guy who pounds objects with sledgehammers.
"Hey, Davis. Ready to fire it up? We've got several things on the books today. That hotel in Miami wants to order another art deco railing."
Davis fires up the forge by wadding up sheets of newspaper into tight balls and adding them to the firepot. (Who knows what they'll do when the last newspaper closes its doors—web pages just aren't as flammable.)
He slowly adds coke (as in the fuel made from coal, not the stuff your dentist tells you to avoid) to the pot. When the coke starts burning, Davis starts adding coal on top of the fire. He first adds dry coal and then starts spreading wet coal. Maintaining a specific temperature is essential.
Matthias Thompson walks in for his appointment with Blake at 12:45PM. Matthias is opening a nightclub and wants to purchase some light fixtures, railings, and balusters from Blake to incorporate an arabesque look. He's brought a tribal rug for Blake to use for inspiration. It's not long before Matthias finds himself enthralled watching Davis pounding hot metal over the anvil's face.
The bright red metal is an impressive sight. In fact, Blake had to build an addition to the studio to meet with clients because it was starting to get hard to get their attention when Davis was forging projects.
"Where can I learn how to do this?" Matthias asks.
"Well, I have classes here twice a month. Would you like me to enroll you?" Blake asks.
"Sounds entertaining," Matthias says, following Blake to his office.
Blake started teaching people and taking on apprentices a couple of years ago. He was surprised to find out that so many people were interested in blacksmithing, and though he feels at least a little conflicted about training up potential competition, watching the joy on their faces when they hold something they created more than makes up for it.
After his appointment, Blake picks up some Wolf-Jaw tongs and heats a bar until it's pliable. Using a vise, he twists the metal. An hour later, he has the first piece of railing for his Floridian client. He'll make another and another—even for a blacksmith, this is monotonous work.
At 4:00PM, Davis heads home and Blake decides to shelve the railing project for the day. After all, he's ahead of schedule and won't gain much from pushing himself without his apprentice.
He spends the next three hours shaping a small iron horse out of scrap metal, meticulously crafting tiny joints into the knees and ankles. Next, he makes a small man, a knight in shining steel armor holding a small lance that's not quite as straight as he'd intended, but...so what. His daughter is going to love it anyway.
He rotates it in the light as the forge cools. Sure, he wasted a little time at the office today, but tonight, his kid will be just a little bit happier than normal to see him when he comes home for dinner. Totally worth it.