Montana blacksmiths forge metal treasures from history, tradition


POSTED: 8:38 PM May 20 2013   UPDATED: 10:30 PM May 20 2013
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

Walking in to Eric Dewey's Bozeman shop is like walking into the past.

He's a blacksmith who prides himself in doing things the old-fashioned way -- working the way Montana pioneers worked more than 100 years ago.

"Most of my work is interior work- lots of fireplace doors, fireplace tools, railing," he said.

Dewey makes his own tools and creates each of his pieces using old style handwork. That handwork, he explained, is the foundation of the craft.

"Until you gain good handwork skills, I think it's hard to say that you're really a proficient working blacksmith," he said.

Blacksmiths play an instrumental role in America's move west. They helped shoe the horses that would carry settlers and pull wagons, and created the tools to help build the first towns and cities.

But that tradition is fading, and fast becoming a piece of history.

"I didn't realize that traditional blacksmithing existed," said blacksmith Sacha Kozlow. "I thought that it went the way of the cobbler in this country."

Kozlow doesn't want to see the forges go cold. "It has a good chance of disappearing in this modern world," she said.

So she started the Montana Blacksmith School to teach others.

"She brings out the metal, we get in the fire, and get the tools out," said student Michael Tellis. "She shows us, and we do it. And I really like that."

At the school, students like Tellis learn traditional forging techniques. It's not easy, and it can be dangerous.

"Getting the right hit at the right pressure," Tellis said, of one of the challenges. "That sometimes can be a little difficult."

Working with 2,000-degree molten metal means there's always the possibility of something going wrong.

"People can get hurt if something's not being used properly," Dewey said.

Kozlow echoed "It can be dangerous. You need to pay attention."

They said to stay safe, they take precautions like wearing protective gear, and being mindful of how they swing their tools.

It's also important to closely follow the process. After the metal leaves the fire, they don't have much time -- just about 30 seconds to hit and sculpt.

After the metal is cooled down, Dewey said it's brushed, reheated and sealed with wax.

"It's a lifetime practice," Dewey said.

It's hard work, but satisfying. And it's helping keep a part of Montana history and tradition alive.

"It's an incredibly beautiful craft because it is so functional," Kozlow said, adding "everything I make is a piece of art."