Friday, Jul 29, 2016
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Blacksmith group is forging ahead to preserve the past

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Derrick Bliss, 16, left, hammers a steel rod into shape during the Northwest Ohio Blacksmiths open forge meeting at his shop in Ida, Mich. Derrick is the youngest of the 80-member group.


Bob Willman goes at his hobby with hammer and tongs. Literally.

The Wood County retiree is an amateur blacksmith. He can be found at his forge in the red barn behind his house outside Bowling Green. Hammer and tongs are the tools of the trade.


Bob Willman heats up an iron pole in his forging barn in Bowling Green.


Blacksmithing can be hot and dirty, but Mr. Willman says he finds great satisfaction in making something with his hands.

"Most of the people with jobs today don't make anything. They push paper. This is different," he explained.

Mr. Willman belongs to the Northwest Ohio Blacksmiths, a group of about 80 blacksmiths whose focus is on "preserving the craft," as he puts it.

Each month at least some of the group gathers at a member's home for an "open forge," at which they work on projects. Saturday's open forge was at the Ida Township home of Derrick Bliss, who, at 16, is the organization's youngest member.

Mr. Willman fills his forge with soft coal, applies a match, and mechanically fans the pile into a glowing mass that can reach 3,000 degrees. Blacksmithing coal is low sulfur and fires up easily with the help of a few pages of newspaper.

Mr. Willman wears a long leather farrier's apron for protection from sparks. This, however, is the extent of his connection to horses.


Ron Loveland of Ida, Mich., heats a steel rod during the Northwest Ohio Blacksmiths open forge meeting.


A blacksmith often is believed to be a person who shoes horses. Not so, explains Tom Ferrenberg, another member of the blacksmith's group.

"In small towns, many years ago, blacksmiths did shoe horses," he said. "But actually the farrier and the blacksmith are two different trades."

Using tongs, Mr. Willman takes a piece of steel stock and sets it in the flames.

"When the steel is bright orange or yellow, it's ready," Mr. Ferrenberg said.

Getting the metal this hot takes only a few minutes in Mr. Willman's forge. Mr. Willman hammers, bends, and twists the glowing metal and in a little while has an S hook that's as attractively ornamental as it is practical.

The blacksmiths' group has been around since 1985, when it had only a dozen members. Today, people from all walks of life belong, Mr. Ferrenberg explained - "doctors, engineers, and plain old blue-collar guys. We even have a blacksmith who is a woman."

And one who is a high school sophomore.

Derrick says he was bitten by the blacksmithing bug while watching a demonstration at Hartwick Pines State Park near Grayling, Mich.

He has a forge, made by his grandfather, in his mother's pole barn. His shop also is equipped with a 230-pound anvil.

He plans to be an iron worker once he finishes high school, but he'll continue to blacksmith as a hobby.

"I could never do a desk job," he explained.

"I like being out in the shop. I like working with my hands. My mom likes it too. She says she knows where I am."

Contact Carl Ryan at

or 419-206-0356.

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