Red-Hot Hobby

Larry Burks Discovers the Historic Art of Blacksmithing

What started as a spark of interest from viewing a television show has grown into a beloved hobby for West Chester Township Administrator Larry Burks. He has now moved from the screen to the shop, where he enjoys crafting all kinds of items from hot metal: railroad spike and s-hooks, brackets, kitchen knives, handles, bottle openers and decorative leaves. Larry discovered a new hobby in a historic art.

In a scene all too common in the early days of pandemic and quarantine, Larry found himself on the couch with his kids, watching television. 

“My sons and I would watch a show on History Channel called Forged in Fire, a show where they make historic weaponry,” Larry explains. “We said, ‘That would be so fun to try.’”

A Google session later, Larry was signed up for a 10-week class in metal arts at Blue Hell Studio, the Cincinnati home to artist Chris Daniel.

“I signed up for a class and after day one, I was hooked,” Larry shares. “I went all in on it.”

Larry is so hooked, that he added a forge, a small hearth for heating metals, to the shop in his garage. Using the same techniques and tools as in the Iron Age, blacksmiths heat and soften metals until they can be bent, hammered and formed into tools, knives, railings, gates and other objects. 

“I am fortunate enough to have a wife that lets me have my side of the garage for what I want,” he says with a laugh. “She’s just glad I’ve got something cool to do.”

Many of us sought out productive ways to pass the time during quarantine: baking, sewing, gardening or painting. Forging metals was a great escape for Larry, as it allowed his mind a much-needed break from everything else during these stressful days. 

“You really can’t concentrate on much else when you are holding glowing, red-hot steel in your hands,” he says. 

Larry learned that one of the appeals of his new hobby was its artistic side. 

“It’s not just all tools and bolts and nuts and cutting and drilling and grinding. There’s an artistic element, as well,” he says. “It is right-brained: numbers, measurements, calculations—and then it’s also the left side of the brain: heart, experimentation and an end product that you may not have had in mind at the start,” Larry explains. “I learned to make a leaf out of steel. It’s probably the toughest skill I learned.”

The benefits of this new hobby extend beyond filling time. Larry is engaged in a fresh way and continues to learn and perfect his blacksmithing skills as he crafts useful and decorative items for his friends and family. 

“It’s addictive, it’s therapeutic, it’s artistic, it’s physical—it’s everything you want to help you sleep at night,” he says. “And I tell you what—it has worked! Other than me waking up at night with project ideas…”

Larry recommends learning something new, as he literally forges through this stressful year.

“This was something totally out of the box for me,” he says. “I would encourage everyone, it doesn’t have to be forging, but it could be crafting or knitting or whatever–to find something to take their minds off of things. It is so important.”

This modern-day Renaissance man has discovered joy in a red-hot hobby that is also cool.

“This is a wonderful option for me,” Larry says.

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