It’s an overcast morning in late February, and Missoula’s northside neighborhood is quiet except for the backyard of Mark Vander Meer, where embers pop from a fire pit and iron clangs against steel. Vander Meer, blacksmithing hobbyist and owner of the Missoula companies Bad Goat Forest Products and Watershed Consulting, LLC, has been leading MUD’s Blacksmithing Workshop for 10 years, and blacksmithing for more than 30.
“I was living off-grid in the Swan Valley when my tractor broke,” Mark explains, recalling his first foray into blacksmithing. “Instead of driving to town for the very expensive part, I spent 3 or 4 days building a forge and making the part myself. It’s still on the tractor today!”
Mark’s resourcefulness and savviness for upcycling are apparent in nearly every aspect of his backyard workspace, where sheds crafted from repurposed lumber are adorned with sawblades and other hand tools that double as art.
Today, participants in the Blacksmithing Workshop are fashioning coat hooks from iron spikes donated by Gary Delp of Heritage Timber. They crank the handles on their forges – one wood-fired Whitlox forge and two forges fueled by charcoal that Mark makes himself in his backyard – releasing a whoosh of air that fans the flames.
Their goal is to heat the iron spikes until they become red-hot and malleable. Then, in a process requiring equal parts finesse and brute strength, they use a hammer, anvil, and tongs to transform the spike into a hook that is coiled and flared, complete with two holes to affix it to a wall.
“Yeah, this is awesome!” one participant exclaims as she pounds her red-hot spike with a hammer, watching it morph and flatten with every hit.
“I feel like I’m really connecting to my inner boy scout,” another comments.
It’s not long before the projects begin to take shape and the once-cautious participants now wield their hammers with confidence. As the morning draws to a close and the clanging subsides, the aspiring blacksmiths head home with their coat hooks and their newfound skills – both worthy of hanging their hats on.
In addition to blacksmithing, MUD offers many other hands-on workshops throughout the year. Check out current offerings here!