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My Fireplace Poker

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I started forging when I was twelve. Back then I thought that I was the only person on the planet still interested in being a blacksmith. I began collecting the tools I could find in the summer and by late in the fall I was forging everyday in the back yard using a homemade forge made from a brake drum and an anvil that I bought from a friend of the family. “I'll pay you back in a few months making tomahawks” is what I told my dad as he paid the $150. It took a bit longer for me to get the hang of tomahawks than those few months.

One drizzly fall day I was outside forging when my grandparents drove up from Alabama for a visit. My grandfather was a craftsman all his life, first growing up on a farm and then becoming a carpenter and cabinet maker. He had worked on movie sets, the Panama Canal, even built the bookshelves for Warner Von Braun. And he had done a little blacksmithing when he was a teenager.

My grandfather had brought me a bundle of old 3/8” round bars used for making concrete forms. I wanted to try my hand at making a fireplace poker. I spent most of the afternoon trying but could not get the weld to set. My grandfather came out, watched a while and then stepped in and showed me how to watch the heat for a weld. I was not getting it nearly hot enough, but he showed me the signs to watch and sure enough that weld “took”. I finished the poker and was as proud as a kid could be.

I still have that poker and use it in my shop now. It is quite possibly the ugliest fireplace poker ever made in the history of forging. But to me, it is still beautiful. Not for what it looks like, but for what it is. As I've gotten older I've begun to let go of things that I thought I should keep because of it's value and instead keep the things that bring me joy. I've owned fireplace pokers made by smiths who have fireplace pokers in the Smithsonian, but they do not bring me joy like my simple poker made all those years ago.

There's no real point or tie in to this story. No “buy tomahawks from us” undercurrent. The story is this: Making things is what I do. For some, making knives or designing tomahawks is a job, a career or maybe a hobby. For me it is a lifestyle that I started long before I could drive a car. It is a love affair, and the shop “is a harsh mistress”. I am fortunate that I have a receptive audience for my work and can make a living at it – but even if I didn't I would still be making things, piling them up in a closet or in a box. Whether it is modern tomahawks or period pieces, hickory sticks, jewelry or knives, creating things with my head and hands is what it is all about.

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