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Teen hobby forged in fire PDF Print E-mail
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Written by MITCH MAERSCH   
Friday, 04 August 2017 16:34

While many teens are playing video games on their TVs or apps on their phones, Taylor Stewart can be found his garage heating, hammering and twisting scrap metal.
Stewart so far has made knives, bottle openers, fireplace pokers, door handles and coat hangers.
For this 15-year-old in the Town of Saukville, the joy of blacksmithing comes from more than just creating new things.
“I like that I can turn something that people think is junk into something useful,” he said.
This week, Stewart, a 4-H member, was to present his process of making a coil spring into a bottle opener to judges at the Ozaukee County Fair. A few metal samples show his progress along the way.
Ironically, it was the reality show “Forged in Fire” that is keeping Stewart away from the tube and creating metal tools and décor.
“I thought that’s really cool,” he said of blacksmithing when he saw it on TV.
Getting started with the hobby took a month of asking his parents, who weren’t going to make the investment until they knew their son was serious.
“It was one of the few things he didn’t let up on. He does really want to do this,” his mother Erin said.
Taylor and his father, Bryan, made a coal forge a couple of years ago. The young Stewart instantly started making knives and sharpening them on a grinding wheel. Taylor’s first knife was put to use quickly. Erin keeps it in her chicken coop to open feed bags for her feathered friends.
He even made one from an old lawn mower blade.
It was hard to find an instructor who would mentor Taylor. Most don’t allow students younger than 18 or 16, but Taylor took a one-day, eight-hour class in Milwaukee taught by Kent Knapp, who was made famous by “Forged in Fire.”
“He made a fire pit out of the Death Star,” Taylor said.
Knapp went a little slower with one of his youngest pupils, starting with how to make bottle openers.
Taylor got a propane-powered forge for Christmas, and he upgraded from pounding out hot metal on railroad ties to an anvil.
Safety is not a concern. Erin said he has learned not to touch hot metal and she doesn’t need to remind him often to wear shoes rather than sandals when he heads to the garage.
“I love it, actually,” Erin said of her son’s newfound hobby. “It’s so old-soul of him. It’s amazing he discovered it on his own and loves it.”
With his new forge and an anvil, Taylor expanded his repertoire. Handles for a sliding barn door proved to be a challenge since he had to make two items exactly the same size and shape.
“We made the barn door ourselves. Can’t buy character, right?” Erin said.
Raw material has been relatively easy to find so far. A neighbor gave him a bin of old railroad spikes, and Erin said her son goes to the town dump “and digs in.”
Some material has come from Charter Steel in Saukville. Jiffy Overhead Door in Port Washington provided some old garage door springs that Taylor heats up and straightens out. Then he can twist and form the metal how he pleases.
“It’s cool he can recycle stuff,” Erin said.
Like most artisans, not everything Taylor has made has worked.
“It’s trial and error,” he said. “You’ve got to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong.”
He’s got bottle openers down to 20 minutes from start to finish, and he’s getting requests from family and friends.
Last year, Taylor made a piece of art from old silverware. He flattened the pieces to make them look like water and put a metal fish on top of it.
Stewart said he is excited to add a welder to his operation, which would allow him to make more items such as a shepherds hook and other lawn art, as well as tools he could use for blacksmithing.
“I prefer to make my own rather than going out and buying them,” he said. “You’ve got to get the right tools for certain jobs,” he said.
Taylor hasn’t charged for any of his pieces yet, but that could come down the road.
Taylor finds ideas in photos online, and then tries to make the item. He has learned to sketch drawings first.
“I don’t want to go into it not knowing what I want to do,” he said.
He has another source of inspiration as well.
“I send him pictures of stuff he should make,” Erin said.
A career in metal working and welding could be in Taylor’s future, but for now it’s a hobby he enjoys a couple of times per week.
“It’s better than playing video games,” Erin said.

 
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