Robert Schultz is a blacksmith and farmer in the heartland of organic farming, the Driftless region of Wisconsin. The land he and his family live on had no buildings when they started, and the farm they have built up is a testament to the work our hands can accomplish. They take water from a spring, farm with horses, and raise goats, pigs, and cattle (and maybe others species hidden away somewhere that I missed). This is all in addition to a commercial farm selling vegetables to local cooperatives and markets. Oh, and Robert works in the blacksmith shop.
During my visit I spent time making sheet metal brackets – some of the first sheet metal work I’ve done – and fixing one of the horse’s harnesses. I forged with charcoal for the first time. There was an evening in the fields planting onions. As with many labor-intensive lifestyles, our days were chock full even as on paper they seemed simple. But what a nourishing fullness that is, the feeling of engaging in daily life so intensely that the soul sings and the body sleeps deeply through the night.
Getting ready to attach the forged piece I made onto the horse’s harness.
Some of the sheet metal work I did.
Laying out the brackets in their corners.
Robert showing me a sweet little trick for making homemade rivets.
Lots of onions
The house on stilts I stayed in
Lastly, for those of you that do not know this about me, I drink lots of water. I have a water bottle I bring with me everywhere that has served me well, traveling to 10 different countries and carrying about 4500 liters of water to my best estimation. It looks rough, but it sure gets the job done:
Colin Fung runs Functional Forge out of his home workshop in northern Illinois. From the moment I pulled up he was boisterously welcoming, a mood that lasted my entire stay of more than a week. Colin is known for making quality hammers and other struck tools for blacksmiths, and also has a passion for the artistic and experimental. We spent a good bit of our time heating up big chunks of steel and squishing them in interesting ways in his hydraulic press. I learned yet another facet of how hot steel moves, on a scale I didn’t understand before. This instinctual feeling of the material is a large part of the mastery of blacksmithing. I am slowly working towards this understanding, and my time with Colin was a leap forward. I also made my own hammers, a must for all blacksmiths!
Punching the eye of a hammer under the press
Colin drifting out a hammer eye
The hammers I completed, a straight peen and a cross peen
A pretty badass hammer I helped Colin make
Working a big chunk in the press. Slow and steady wins the race.
Colin’s playtime project
Pete Braspenninx of Phyre Forge is a true innovator. He identifies as an artist, with metal as his medium. Three days visiting him left me astounded at his creativity, artistry, and skill. He combines high standards of forging with ingenious artistic vision, creating pieces that, to me, push this craft forwards in leaps and bounds. I am intensely grateful for the opportunity to meet him, learn from him, and get a slow-release dose of inspiration.
Prepare to have your mind blown.
Pete’s table of “sketches”
Drifting a square hole for a wedge joint.
My finished version of the wedge.
A finished piece of Pete’s. Following are some details: