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Under a spreading chestnut tree...

Apprentice blacksmith learning ancient trade

January 11, 2014
By Beth Christian Broschart - Staff Writer , The Inter-Mountain

"Under a spreading chestnut tree

The village smithy stands;

The smith, a mighty man is he,

Article Photos

The Inter-Mountain photos by Beth Christian Broschart
Montrose resident Joey Mullenax demonstrates his blacksmithing techniques as he makes a decorative item at his shop.

With large and sinewy hands;

And the muscles of his brawny arms

Are strong as iron bands."

- "The Village Blacksmith," Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

MONTROSE - Life-changing events can occur when we least expect.

Just ask Joey Mullenax of Montrose.

He had one during a field trip to Prickett's Fort, near Fairmont, when he was in the eighth grade at Elkins Middle School.

He explains: "There was a blacksmith there who showed us how to make a flat-tipped screwdriver. I was fascinated, and I still have that screwdriver. It intrigued me to be able to move hot metal and turn it into anything."

He was so intrigued that he wound up attending the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, N.C., where he learned the basics of blacksmithing. His schooling took about two years.

In a non-competitive learning and community environment, he took classes on fire maintenance and hammer control and learned basic techniques such as hand-forging tapers, bending, upsetting, and punching, then advanced techniques such as forge welding and traditional joinery.

Students also learned ornamentation with decorative twists, chiseling and scrolls, and they planned class projects with ample time to work independently on personal designs.

"I learned how to forge-weld, making two pieces of metal into one," Mullenax said. "I also took two historical classes, learning about Scandinavian and Celtic weapons."

He said he met people from all over the world during his 15 blacksmithing classes.

"There were people there from Australia, Canada and Alaska," Mullenax said. "There were people there from all across the country."

He's now a blacksmith apprentice and is putting his shop together. Then he'll work under another blacksmith. He plans to become a fully-certified blacksmith in about 10 years..

His shop, near his home in Montrose, is named Green Cap Forge. The name comes from a green cap he has worn for years. The shop for his forge was built from the ground up by him, his brother and his dad.

"The grant that I got from the Division of Rehabilitation Services helped me purchase some of the tools I will be using," Mullenax said. "I use hammers, files, grinders, anvils, heat- treating ovens and two different types of vices and drills."

At the moment, the weather is interfering with his work, but he said he hopes to complete some projects in early spring.

"Right now, I am making small camp-gear items, small axes, hooks, forks and small items I know by memory," he said. "I am working to complete a deer hanger for a client."

In April, Mullenax said he will add a few new pieces of equipment to his shop.

"I will be getting a working block and stakes to use with sheet metal," he said. "This will be used to make bowls, spoons, soup ladles and tin helmets."

As Mullenax worked on a small decorative hook, he pounded hot metal.

"You have to strike while the iron is hot," he said. "That is the key to blacksmithing. We learned lots of the phrases associated with the sayings. Another phrase that came from blacksmithing is 'don't put too many irons in the fire.'"

Mullenax has made many decorative hooks, camping aids, hinges and handles. He made the inside door handles for his shop from two railroad spikes. He also made decorative door handles for the outside of his shop doors.

He explained the difference between a blacksmith and a farrier.

"Blacksmithing and being a farrier are basically the same thing, only a farrier works with shoes for horses and the other works with decorative items and tools." He added, "The farrier is another joint off of the blacksmith."

Mullenax said he is happy to be working in a career he loves. He said many of his middle school and high school teachers inspired him and helped him achieve his goals.

"Many of those teachers that inspired me were from my vocational education," Mullenax said. "I enjoyed the hands-on working.

He said Randolph Technical Center instructors Jeff Broschart, Steve Purdum and Bruce Lambert really helped. "They made sure if I missed a class, that I caught up and that I had my paperwork completed. If I needed help, they made sure I got it."

Mullenax said he also owes a lot to Elkins High School instructors such as Jean Schmidt, Gary Grose and Tina Hinrichs, who encouraged him.

He said he has advice for those who know what career they would like to pursue. "You can do anything if you put your mind to it."



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