August 13, 2019
Back to Basics : Roundhouse Blacksmith
I don’t know about you…. but, a beautifully crafted serving piece always adds an extra special touch to any table or family meal. When I teamed up with Eric Dennis from Roundhouse Blacksmith, I didn’t realize just how much work goes into crafting something so simple, yet so beautiful.
Blacksmithing can be viewed as a lost art… we, as a society, have historically looked for easier and more convenient ways to do things. And, once we found those easier ways of manufacturing things like serving utensils, blacksmiths, as a profession, seemed to fizzle out. That is, until now, when folks like Eric Dennis long for the ‘good ol’ days’ and dare to be different and bring back such ‘old school’ practices.
See what Eric had to say in this intriguing interview and learn a little more about blacksmithing. Looking to snag one of his one-of-a-kind pieces of art?! You’ll find his contact information at the bottom of this article!
- What are some rewards and difficulties of running your own business?
Some of the rewards of running my own business is having the flexibility to create my own schedule, which includes the freedom to experiment, be creative, and shift the work I do to what I find interesting. One major challenge is that no one is responsible except for myself. If there is large order that needs to get done, for example, there is no one but me to do it. There is also all the “business-y” stuff that goes into running a business. Lots of computer time replying to emails, etc when I would rather be at the forge making something.
- What exactly do blacksmiths do? How do you create your art pieces?
Traditionally the word “blacksmith” means someone who works with the “black” metal, which is the color of iron while you in a forge. I heat up bars of iron in what is known as a forge using coal as a fuel source. Once the iron is glowing yellow-orange hot (over 2,000 degrees F) it’s ready to hammer on an anvil. At that temperature iron becomes quite ductile, like clay, and can be formed, bent, and even fused with other pieces if iron to create any form I imagine. Once the rough form is created, pieces can be filed, connected with rivets, and decorated to create a final piece.
- What is the difference between a piece that you create versus the mass produced serving pieces?
The pieces I create are unique. Each is literally created by hand and their slight differences give every piece a character and a story. Handmade craft is rooted in traditional technique that is used not to make an object faster and cheaper, but to make an item strong, effective, and beautiful. Supporting traditional craft is supporting art, human history, and intentionally well made objects that will outlast their mass produced equivalents.
- What is some of your proudest accomplishments, either within the industry or outside of it?
The past two years I’ve spend much of my free time learning the tangential craft of “bloomery smelting”. This is the original (think 3,000 B.C!) way humans created iron from the earth. This involves building a small clay furnace and “smelting” ore along with charcoal to create a large spongy mass of iron. I’ve recently successfully smelting local iron-ore and used the pure iron to craft some really special pieces. Taking rocks from forest and turning them into a usable iron is as good as it gets in my opinion.
- How long have you been a blacksmith?
I’ve been doing metalwork for about 10 years. I’ve been a full time blacksmith for 4 years.
- What road did you have to take to become a blacksmith?
My learning has come from a mix of directions. During mu undergraduate years I focused on welding, sculpture, and drawing. I apprenticed for 6 months at Peters Valley School of Craft in the Delaware Water Gap in New Jersey. As a craft school it involved a lot of teaching, which turns out is a great way to become a better blacksmith yourself. My time there also allowed me to meet some of the best and most influential blacksmiths in the United States and really showed me the limitless possibilities in working with iron. After I finished the apprenticeship I continues self-teaching while running my own business from my shop in Vermont.
- What made you want to peruse blacksmithing?
There are a few things that made me want to pursue blacksmithing. After college there is a lot of societal pressure to go out and find a job or work for established companies . I don’t really like being told what to do so I thought I would prefer to work for myself and create something that I WANTED to be doing; something that I could support myself doing while at the same find fulfilling and actually have the desire to wake up and do every day. At this point blacksmithing is not just my job, it’s one of my passions and is definitely ingrained in me.
- What is your favorite piece to make?
My favorite things to make are things I’ve never made before. If it involves learning a new technique or modifying an existing design I find that to be most rewarding and interesting. At the moment I’m obsessed with crafting these realistic forged mushrooms and putting them on everything I make. I just put up for sale these really cool door handles that are composed of four entwined mushrooms. You grab the stems and it feels like you’re grabbing petrified mushrooms!
- If you could have one super power, what would it be?! (Just for fun!!)
Time travel. Specifically back in time. I think our culture is obsessed with thinking about the future while at the same we are forgetting really crucial wisdom that our ancestors lived with in the past. I think it’s pretty important we slow down and look to our past instead of worrying so much about how we can become more “successful”. I want to go back in time and experience life in 3,000 B.C.
- Since, we love talking about food, what would be find in your fridge right now?!
Well, I’m a vegetarian so you would find kale, tofu, sprouts, goat cheese, nice local bread, and yogurt. Oh, and local eggs. Lots of good eggs.