Kevin Thompson’s blacksmithing shop doesn’t use thousands of dollars worth of equipment or cutting-edge methods.
In fact, the tools of his trade are a set of tongs, a pile of metallurgical coal, a large blacksmith bellows more than a century old and a couple of anvils in a dirt-floor shop outside of a hand-hewn wood building. In that shop, Thompson forges long strips of iron into any number of products: candle holders, fireplace tools, decorative items and many others.
He splits his time equally between Hagood Mill Historic Site at 138 Hagood Mill Road in Pickens and his Anderson home, and while he enjoys working on projects as his primary source of income, he also passes on the craft with classes at the mill.
An ancient art
Blacksmithing is a trade that goes back at least 4,000 years, and it complements Thompson’s love of history.
“This is where modern manufacturing began, for sure,” Thompson said. “This is the one event that pulled us out of the stone age.”
But it was his interest in Revolutionary War reenactments that helped forge his love of blacksmithing.
He started blacksmithing about 28 years ago, and he got serious about it 16 years ago. He now runs Electric City Forge, where he both teaches classes on the ancient art and creates handmade products.
When it became his main source of income, he had to travel to a number of craft shows around the region to get his name out. After he was able to earn some recognition, he was able to settle into teaching more.
The popularity of the TV show “Forged in Fire,” a reality show where competitors forge bladed weapons for a $10,000 prize, has led to a resurgence in blacksmithing, Thompson said. Moreover, he said he believes people value their dollars more and want to buy something with a lot more durability.
A basic fireplace set may run from $30-$40 online, but Thompson said his can start out at $250 and up, depending on how decorative a customer wants it to be. And while other fireplace sets may be substantially cheaper, he said a lot of his customers are realizing something more substantial is actually a better value in the long run.
Getting down to forging
The blacksmithing process is deceptively simple. Thompson gets fire hot enough — about 1,900 degrees — to bring the metal up to a nearly white glow. He’ll pull on the bellows a number of times to stoke the fire, and when the metal gets malleable, he takes it to the anvil.
As he pounds the metal, sparks fly off as the color quickly dims to a dull crimson. The metal goes back into the fire and the process starts again until he’s finished. While he doesn’t have anything against more modern gas-powered forges, he sticks with the old ways.
“When I manufacture things, I try to do things as traditionally as I can,” Thompson said.
Blacksmithing 101 with Kevin Thompson
- Classes: small group, private, youth, full day
- Price: $100-$600
- Website: www.hagoodmillhistoricsite.com/classes
- Telephone: (864) 898-2936
- Location: 138 Hagood Mill Road Pickens, SC 29671