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Tim Russell - Forging Beauty Beyond the Blades...

Story and Photos by Allan Detrich

​The forge of Tim Russell looks like any other little pole barn in the rural landscape of southwest Michigan. A freshly laid coat of lake effect snow covered the ground, five inches of white fluff covered the underlying layer of brown grass and dried leaves. The only sign of life was the trail of footsteps leading to the building’s door and the steady flow of grey smoke from the stainless chimney on the roof. 

The cold temperature outside stood in stark contrast to the forge interior, heated by a wood-fired cast iron stove and the roar of a propane fed forge. The metal horse-shaped cleaver glowed red, gripped by three-foot long tongs, to avoid the radiating heat. Sparks flew from horse as Russell quickly pounded the metal with an eight-pound hammer on the anvil. “My blacksmithing begins about 2011 a good friend of mine had two anvils that he had his whole life, and an old coal forge, and he had always wanted to blacksmith, and at the time I was when I purchased this anvil in the fullers from him I was probably about 47 at the time.” 

“Life was very busy and work was crazy, and the forge sat in a corner of this pole barn until 2011. I was flustered because it was something I'd always wanted to do. Once I got it, I was really intimidated by it, now I have the stuff. What am I gonna do? So, it sat, and it sat, in 2011, I finally fired it up.” 

Russell will forever remember his first forge project. “I took an old ball peen hammer, I threw it in the forge, and I'm like I'm gonna make a tomahawk, and believe it or not was fantastic looking when it came out.” 

Russel has a folk-art style, a rough, ancient look to his forged pieces, an old soul feel. “From that point on, it consumed me. I mean, it's just as if I have done it for hundreds of years, and I mean that it's like it's in my DNA. It's just I don't even have to really work at it just kind of comes to me.” 

Russel has a wide variety of items he creates in the pole building forge among the ancient, weighty anvils. Russell purchased them through the years from around the country. Some coming from as far as other parts of the world. Russel tells the stories of how the forges are hand-made by artisans, foundry workers who’s skills have been lost forever, and are outlived by their creations which are still being used today. Used the same way they were over a hundred years ago. “I just like the diversity of what you can do, what you can make, the only thing you really limited to is your own imagination. What I don't ever say is, ‘I can't do it,’ once you do that, you're right, you can't do it. I try to keep an open mind on stuff, so I try to be open to lots of different suggestions. 

“I've gotten probably 4 or 5 other guys into it, they've come over, they see my shop and it's like they walk through, and you see that spark in their eye, turn into fire. It’s the same thing with me, it gives me chills when I think about it, it just it's such an amazing feeling, it takes over your life in a way. I try to stay in really good shape, said Russell, which you have to be, or it would be very difficult. The heavier the hammer, the more metal you can move quicker, so I mean you want to be able to swing a heavy hammer very accurately. If you're going to do a lot of blacksmithing. You can start out with smaller projects and as you do them, you'll become stronger you'll learn more, and more ways to finesse things. 

“All of that's the learning curve, I unfortunately never had a teacher. If I would have had a teacher, it would have helped me learn a lot of things, a lot quicker, but by learning and teaching yourself, your stuff will only look like your stuff. You didn't have somebody else show you what to do so you're not going to copy what they do. You'll find your own way of doing things, which in the end gives you completely different look.” 

“The guys who I work with always say whenever I talk about forging, I just light up.” Russel says as he pounds his Thor-like hammer onto the glowing red metal resting on the anvil. “I have to watch it to some point, because I mean all I want to do is blacksmith. Blacksmithing touches every bone in my body, I mean it's just connected to me in a crazy way, so I keep doing it, and I plan on doing this until I take my last dying breath.”

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See Tim Russel's Etsy page buy some of his work. - CLICK HERE

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