Stepping into the blacksmithing studio at the Jackson County Green Energy Park in Dillsboro last Saturday, the continuous sound of hammers crashing down on metal echoed loudly out of the warehouse and into the high peaks of nearby mountains.
“And when I hear that hammering, I know we’re on the right track,” said Timm Muth, director of the GEP. “It’s a fantastic thing for us to see this, because this is what we’re here for — to give artists a place to work, to bring in people from around the community and far away, people who want to learn these skills.”
David Burress wants to live forever.
Not necessarily in the immortal sense though. Burress is an accomplished blacksmith. And for him, it’s all about sharing and perpetuating the sacred traditions of working with the elements of the Earth — fire, water, metal, wind and coal.
In a classic case of the student becoming the teacher, Brock Martin signed up for his first blacksmithing class at the Jackson County Green Energy Park and began apprenticing soon after.
That was four years ago.
Now, he has been teaching classes at the park for a little more than year.
“I was always interested in it,” Martin said.
However, he did not quite know how to get started or if anyone really lived as a blacksmith anymore. After a high school teacher introduced him to a group of medieval re-enactors, he began seeking out more information about the art.
Martin, 23, blacksmiths as often as he can, teaching classes or creating custom pieces for sale. A resident of Hickory, near Asheville, he makes maille jewelry and armor, among other things.
Creating something from metal can be a long process.
Students start with a metal rod, which they regularly heat to up to 2,300˚F.
The progression of the heat turns the metal from yellow to dark brown to blue to black to red.
“Once it gets red, you can really start getting it to do what you want it to do,” said Martin.
Then, they begin working the metal with all variety of hammers — ones with flat, square heads, ones with spherical heads and ones with wedges heads. Each makes a different impression on the metal, works it in a different way and can be used to make a myriad of objects. It all hinges on the angle of the metal versus the angle of the hammer’s blow.
“It’s a misconception that you have to be strong,” Martin said.
Depending on the project, shaping and perfecting an inch-long piece of metal can take more than an hour. The rod must be reheated to make it more malleable, but students must watch that thinner portions don’t get too hot. Steel begins to melt at 2,500˚F.
To temper the heat, they must immerse the thin and more easily warmed part of the rod in water so they can continue to heat thicker portions of it.
Beginning blacksmithing classes are offered about once a month at the Jackson County Green Energy Park. The park is part of a county government initiative to use the old Dillsboro landfill gases as well as promote sustainability and various educational opportunities.
The beginner classes are “very gradual” compared to the intermediate level, Martin said.
Students move from station to station, trying to master individual skills before they tackle the end goal of actually creating something.
The class sizes are generally small, making them more hands on. At a recent intermediate class, three people independently worked on projects as Martin moved from workstation to workstation, offering help and tips.
Although the class was only their first or second attempt, the three burgeoning blacksmiths have all spent time working with their hands.
Todd Sagy, 48, diligently worked on a metal toilet paper holder. As a welder, metal work is second nature, but blacksmith permits more creativity.
Blacksmithing allows him to “take something that’s nothing and make something out of it,” Sagy said.
There is a fine line between working the metal too much and not enough, said Jesse Johnson, a 22-year-old construction worker.
Johnson spent much of his time twisting the small steel rods, with which he worked, to craft a necklace holder for his girl friend’s birthday.
“It’s not that bad, really, if you are used to working with tools,” Johnson said. “Mostly, it’s just a lot of fun.”
After taking his first class, Jesse got his twin brother Josh to join in as well. Both said they had been interested in learning to blacksmith for a while but actually decided to take a class after their mother took a glassblowing class at the energy park.
Dustin Cornelison of Haywood County has turned his belief in living a sustainable and frugal lifestyle into an actual business.
Drawing upon his past experience as a sustainability technician for an environmental education center and his skills as a welder and blacksmith, Cornelison, along with his wife, Sara Martin, have put together a plan to turn their farm, Two Trees, into a model of sustainable practices.
“We are selling the farm life style,” Cornelison said. “We hope to demonstrate self sufficiency and furnish people with the tools and knowledge to live off their own land.”
While still a student at Haywood Community College, Cornelison’s business plan was chosen as the 2011 winner of the Sequoyah Fund Community College Business Plan Competition. Cornelison received $10,000 to help him make his business a reality. The Sequoyah Fund encourages and financially rewards students who aspire to start businesses in the seven western-most counties of North Carolina and the Qualla Boundary.
Cornelison founded Sustainabillies, a company that promotes sustainable gardening and living through example, education and artistic recycling and retooling of scrap metals and used objects. He plans to create and sell a variety of custom garden tools and accessories, with the emphasis on using as much recycled materials as possible.
“Designs may be simple and functional using entirely recycled elements or they may be more artistic and use a combination of new and recycled materials,” he said.
Cornelison’s welding shop is located on Two Trees farm.
“I want to incorporate found objects in my designs as much as possible,” he said. “I can re-purpose heirlooms to create unique functional pieces.”
Some of the crafted items that will be for sale are a variety of trellises, trellised planters, compost barrels, rain barrel stands, rain barrels, raised bed components, fire rings, decorative hand rails, fences and gates. Cornelison will also sell artistic handmade benches and indoor and outdoor furniture as well as a line of home goods such as towel and pan racks. He will carry a selection of tools such as knives, hoes, axes and custom/specialty hand tools. He will also do commissioned specialty metal work and forging for clients based on their designs or needs.
“All of the items I make are of the highest quality. They are intended to last a lifetime,” said Cornelison. He can also fabricate new pieces based on old designs or tools.
As another component of Sustainabillies, Cornelison is planning a portable welding shop. “I can come directly to a client’s property to fix equipment. A person won’t have to worry about loading up heavy equipment and hauling it somewhere to get it fixed. I will be able to fix it on the spot,” Cornelison said.
Sustainabillies also sells small apple cider presses designed for home use. With the press, people can harvest juice from apple trees in their yard—another sustainable practice advocated at Two Trees Farm.
The business will offer several services such as the installation of permaculture, and the design and implementation of native, rain and edible gardens. It will offer all aspects of implementation, from tilling and planting to harvesting and preservation. Consultations on sustainability audits and the best use of a property will also be offered.
For now, the blacksmith and welding shop is open for business and Cornelison and Martin are making plans for other ways to use Two Tree Farms as a resource for their community. By next summer, the couple hopes to have farm tours once a week and to also offer a variety of workshops on sustainable living.
“We want to show people that you can live a normal, comfortable lifestyle-sustainably,” Cornelison said.
By Anna Fariello • Guest Writer
William Rogers has been a professional metalsmith for more than 25 years, but nothing could have prepared him for the work he is doing at the Jackson County Green Energy Park.
By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer
Deep in the mountains that surround Jackson County’s Tuckasegee community, the sound of metal on metal rings out with a sharp ping as blacksmith David Brewin begins to shape a steel rod.
The rod, heated in a propane power forge, glows red, its tip approximately 2,000 degrees. Brewin deftly raises and fells his hammer, steel bending around the anvil’s curved edge and forming a graceful curl.