WAYNESBORO, Va. (AP) — The constant clinking and clanking of the molten metal is annoying to most, but for some, it’s a joyful noise.
One of those drawn to the noise is Dale Morse, a blacksmithing instructor and co-founder of the Virginia Institute of Blacksmithing, who has done blacksmithing since he was nine years old as a volunteer for the National Park Service.
“A 9-year-old getting to play with fire and making sharp pointy things,” Morse said jokingly. “I mean, it was a match made in heaven.”
Virginia Institute of Blacksmithing in Waynesboro introduces youth to blacksmithing, but they must always have a parent or guardian with them.
“You never approach a fire without respect,” Morse said. “You respect that it’s dangerous, risky, and can hurt you, so keep that in mind when working with any of this stuff.”
One of the beginner-friendly blacksmithing forging techniques Morse teaches in his course is to make a small rose or flower-shaped sculpture from a scrap of metal. Members of the class drew what kind of design they wanted to bring to life on a whiteboard. Morse then heated a forge chimney.
“My hands are pretty tough at this point,” Morse said whenever he touched the fire in the forge. “It has to be pretty darn hot for me to worry too much about it.”
The forging process began with heating a metal scrap. Then, Morse used his hammer to beat the metal flat and manipulated its shape. Depending on the design, some forging processes can take 20 to 30 minutes or months to complete, he said.
“We’re creating something that just kind of comes from nothing,” said Victoria Gaudin, the institute’s communications coordinator and former student.
The trade school does not limit itself to blacksmithing. Morse founded the institute in 2007 along with an investor, but then became a fully-certified trade school in 2020. The school relocated to North Augusta Avenue from the South River Mills area in April. The school offers 16 forging stations, with courses on weekends and weekdays. In addition, the school offers year-long certification courses in professional and artistic blacksmithing, bladesmithing and welding, the only certification program in the country to be approved for the GI bill.
“There are universities and community colleges out there that have blacksmithing in their programs,” Morse said. “But, it’s not a focus on blacksmiths.”
Due to the primitive nature of blacksmithing, Morse thinks the skill is an art form in itself and wants to keep it alive. Therefore, he encourages those who do not wish to attend a four-year university or learn something unique to give blacksmithing a chance.
“You can apply as an artisan making artistic functional items, which was most of my career,” he said. “It’s needed in a contemporary economy because it’s minimal and a luxury item.”
“Things can be hand-pressed, like a lot of the kitchen knives that you’re using from Target; those aren’t hand-forged,” she said. “However, you can get a beautiful hand-forged blade that is just like buying a hand-crafted leather jacket. You have to appreciate that art form and the value that’s in it.”
Morse hopes to introduce blacksmithing to younger generations. To accomplish this, he took Gaudin under his wing as his tech-savvy sidekick, and they have begun posting on TikTok, Instagram and Facebook.
“In this community, people don’t know about this resource,” Gaudin said.