The next generation of blacksmiths hit the forge

Blacksmith Ramsey Rude gives a demonstration during the Vintage Power Machines 2019 Threshing Festival south of Prince Albert. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Ramsey Rude started the day trying to build fireplace set, something that could hold the spade, the tongs and a fire poker.

It’s almost quitting time, and although he’s still sweating away in his forge on a 20 C day, he’s only managed to make four small pieces. The fireplace set won’t get finished today, but it’s not his fault. Work often grinds to a halt as the questions come fast and furious at the 2019 Vintage Power Machines Threshing Festival.

“This hotter the metal is, the softer the metal is,” Rude tells a group of festival attendees as he places a flashing red metal rod onto an anvil.

Another blacksmith, Hubert Smith, calls out from his seat near a table filled with decorative trinkets and stacks of photograph books.

“It’s just like you playing with Play-dough,” he tells two young boys who’ve gathered to watch.

Rude and Smith are the closest thing to a master and apprentice setup you used to find in blacksmith forges across the world. At age 20, Rude is part of the next generation of blacksmiths working to keep the tradition alive. Smith is more than happy to pass his skills on.

“It’s a fun thing to do, especially when we do school tours with the kids,” he explains. “(It) makes it worthwhile.”

The connection is Rude’s grandfather. A few years ago he bought some decorative pieces from Smith, and thought his grandson would be interested in the trade. The pair agreed to meet and the rest was history. Rude even went for his drivers license specifically so he could drive to take lessons.

On this day they’re both hard at work making decorative pieces that range from fireplace sets, to commemorative benches for parks and farmyards. For the larger pieces, patrons will pay hundreds of dollars.

“His grandpa said he thought we would get along good together,” chuckles Smith, who turns 83 in October. “We have so far.”

“I’ve always been really interested in making things and the creative process,” Rude adds. “In blacksmithing, you get to combine hands-on practical work with thinking.”

Blacksmithing isn’t the type of thing you tell your high school guidance councillor you want to do. Although archeologists, fantasy novel fans or historical re-enactors all have their reasons for getting into the forge, it’s not an indispensable necessity anymore. Still, it’s profitable enough that Rude runs and operates his own custom blacksmithing business.

Obviously things have changed over the years. Nobody comes by with orders for scythes or ploughs or horseshoes and nails, but there’s still a steady demand for other goods made under a careful eye by a skilled craftsman.

“These days it’s more artwork and decorative stuff,” he explains. “If you do get something practical made, like an axe, it’s decorative.”

Rude isn’t the only young person taking up the trade either. When he attended a national blacksmithing conference with Smith, both were pleasantly surprised by what they saw. Not only was the conference littered with young faces looking to learn more about the trade, and in some cases even teach.

The youngest instructor there was a 17-year-old teenager from England. He started out at 13.

“There’s quite a few people my age trying to get into it, but they just watch T.V. and they think it’s cool,” Rude says. “They’re not that great, but others, they’re 17 and 18 and really good. It’s nice to see.”

For photos from the 2019 Threshing Festival, see the Thursday issue of the Daily Herald.