Back to basics
Collier Keeping lost art of blacksmithing alive
Should the town of Henderson see a zombie attack, it will be well armed as new aged folks are learning olden day skills at David Collier’s Broken Hammer Forge.
Is Collier particularly into zombies?
Not really — his zombie knives mostly go to work afterwards clearing brush around his family farm, but it’s one avenue for exposing folks to what he does love, which is blacksmithing.
Drawn into the craft himself on a whim and peer pressure at a church picnic for him to help demonstrate the making of an “S” hook, he has been hooked ever since.
Though he’s had an artist’s mind from a young age, something about the “old school” skills caught his attention.
A few years later and that craft became his profession.
He does have modern tools for fabrication jobs and the like, but the majority of his shop space is devoted to an old fashioned forge as his favorite jobs are that of traditional techniques or challenge.
How does a modern day blacksmith spend his days? Sure, some days he’s using modern equipment to do custom jobs but there’s also still the need for old school skills as well.
As the Eastern Shore is full of historic buildings, when something like a door hinge breaks you can’t simply repair it from one at a local big box store.
Replacing such pieces using the same equipment and techniques keeps the buildings looking as if they are frozen in time.
One of the most challenging yet interesting projects was being hired to make a wedding band set out of an actual meteorite, by the groom’s request as a surprise.
It became quite the undertaking as the material was costly per ounce, the best methods needed to be researched, and of course, no pressure for making sure it would be future bride-approved.
And of course, there’s the sentimental projects, like a knife made from his great grandfather’s bamboo fishing rod.
But as the saying goes, the “Cobbler’s kids have no shoes,” so his wife may point out her tasks are always the last to get done, though he did fabricate railings for their home.
Passing the Torch
David is one of several blacksmiths on the Eastern Shore, which actually seems to be a hotspot for the activity as it continues to grow.
He hosts a variety of classes in his workshop and he draws all sorts of crowds to come try their hand at something they otherwise would never be exposed to.
He’ll go over a quick history, safety practices, demonstrate, then off to their maker’s stations to give it a go.
There’s a few reasons the classes have been so popular.
Shows such as History Channel’s “Forged in Fire” get people exposed and wanting to try it for themselves.
And of course, there’s the “back to basics” movement in general that has people doing everything from growing their own food to knitting.
The zombie knife class attracts “Walking Dead” and zombie fans as well.
In the summer, he leads a class for the Boy Scouts to earn their metalworking badge and you’ll see him pop up at children’s and other events.
He even has art students from a few different places make the drive to hone in on their photography skills with the sparks from his forge.
Other great candidates for a class? As it ties back to math, science, and just about any type of history, classes are great for teenagers because they will be secretly learning while they are thinking their parents finally sent them to something cool.
“Shop Math” uses lots of things they’ve rolled their eyes to saying they’d never use it in real life.
Then there’s the two smaller leather aprons hanging in his shop.
His 8-year-old son is of course living every boys dream of being allowed to do something somewhat dangerous to end up with a knife and has been easing into creating his own things under the watchful eye of his dad.
And then there’s the tiny little apron with a pink flower, so perhaps a princess project will also be in the works.
Outside of his business, David is also the Vice President of the Mid-Atlantic Smith Association, where fellow craftsmen Eric Harvey of Easton leads as president.
He says their meetings also attract anyone and everyone.
“You’ll see people with PhDs as well as young guys who are into steampunk,” Collier said. “It’s a great group to swap ideas and techniques, with people who are willing to share in an open and relaxed atmosphere.”
“When blacksmithing first came around, everything was extremely secretive,” he explains. “An apprentice would work for years before and prove himself before learning the trade secrets.”
These days, he claims that 90 percent are purely hobbyists.
The folks he finds in his classes or at meets are often times stuck in a cubicle or non-creative jobs during the week and taking a beginners’ class or knife making class a chance to unleash the other side of their minds and make something with their own hands.
David himself is part of that mix and match crowd — he was planning on pursuing a career in Physical Therapy.
Besides David, who is the most famous man in blacksmithing?
Nick Offerman who plays the manly man Ron Swanson on the show “Parks and Recreation” uses it as a creative outlet as well!
Intrigued to try it for yourself? Visit David’s website at Brokenhammerforge.com or follow Broken Hammer Forge on Facebook for his latest projects!