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Grantee: Columbia Fire and Iron

Project Title: Mobile Blacksmithing Outreach and Education
Year awarded: 2018, Round 3

The blacksmithing craft is seeing a resurgence of interest, greatly fueled by the popularity of reality television shows like “Forged in Fire,” “Milwaukee Blacksmith,” and “Iron and Fire,” but many aspiring smiths struggle to find a way into the field. Beginning blacksmithing courses are rare and they range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, making it expensive to try out. The cost to set up one’s own blacksmith shop is prohibitive for most and the equipment and tools can be difficult to find.

Since 2013, Columbia Fire & Iron (CFI), a 501(c)(3), has volunteered hundreds of hours teaching and demonstrating traditional and modern blacksmithing around the Spokane area, giving the community an affordable way to try blacksmithing for the first time and offering continuing education and guidance to those who choose to pursue the craft. CFI is the only blacksmithing organization within a 200-mile radius of Spokane — the closest similar groups are in the vicinities of Seattle, Portland, and Boise. As the local blacksmithing community has grown in size and enthusiasm over the last five years, CFI has grown with it: investing in additional anvils, forges, and other tools and materials as they are able, and borrowing tools from their personal shops or other local professionals to try to meet public demand at their events.

Despite their efforts, CFI’s stock still isn’t enough to give adequate time at the anvil to the growing audiences at each of their three annual “Hammer-In” events. In addition, as the demand for their expertise, and their body of forges, anvils, tools, and materials grows, CFI faces the immense challenge of storing and transporting that heavy and (currently) widely-dispersed equipment. As CFI describes it: “Preparation for our events includes gathering all of these tools from their various locations. Imagine loading numerous heavy anvils, forges, vises, anvil stands, and buckets of hammers, tongs, and other tools into trucks, and then unloading them at the event site, AND THEN having to do the same in reverse at the end of the event. We must move all of this equipment twice as much as we would if we possessed a dedicated trailer where the equipment could stay when not in use, not to mention all of the drive time that would be saved.”

With support from SAGA, CFI will be purchasing an 18- to 20-foot, heavy-duty tandem axle trailer to securely store and transport their forging equipment. The group will also be acquiring six additional, locally-cast anvils and tools for students so that CFI no longer has to borrow from the community to provide instruction. The ability to transport their equipment in a single vehicle, instead of the many individual vehicles of the participating teaching blacksmiths, means the group will save days of collecting and logistical issues for each event.

CFI states, “This considerable reduction in prep time and simplified logistics will make it possible to put on more frequent forging events. We will be more nimble too, with one or two CFI smiths being able to put on an event, instead of everyone having to participate and gather equipment. In addition, we would like to add more community outreach events in 2019 that would focus on reaching underserved communities.”