GTPulse: Traverse City Blacksmith Thrives After Quarantine

Taking on a new skill can be intimidating, exciting and healing. Marshall Decker can attest to that. He’s spent the last six years teaching himself how to be a blacksmith and all of that hard work has paid off. He recently started Hammerhorn Forge, his shop and Facebook page where he puts all of his metalwork creations and in the few short months the page has been up, his blacksmithing work has taken off.

“I needed to be here in the shop because I didn’t have to go to work, and I couldn’t go to work. So, I had a lot of time on my hands during quarantine.”

Born and raised in Traverse City, Marshall works full time at a window shop. When the shutdown happened in March, his work was not considered essential and he suddenly found himself with a lot of time on his hands.

For Marshall, his interest in blacksmithing started with a little inspiration from his brother.

“I was messing around doing some crafting stuff. I had shown some pictures to my brother, and he showed me a picture of a knife that he had forged in his woodstove at home. It just got me hooked.”

Blacksmithing dates back to 1350 B.C. The basic idea of it is hammering heated metal into the desired shape. The Middle Ages were where blacksmithing really started to become a specialized craft. If we were still in the Middle Ages, Marshall would have apprenticed under a seasoned blacksmith. In the modern world, there’s YouTube.

“The first couple of things that I made were a knife from a railroad spike, and most of my tools that I’ve needed along the way, I’ve made.”

In Blacksmithing, it’s all about the tools. The core three that any aspiring blacksmith has to have are tongs, a hammer and an anvil. An anvil provides a surface for the blacksmith to work on manipulating the heated material. Whether they’re old or new, they’re expensive, and lately, not easy to get ahold of.

“When I was looking for one, I was looking for one that was used. I ended up getting mine for quite the deal actually.”

Marshall had been in counseling to get through a rough patch in his life. He had already been practicing forging at home a bit but hadn’t yet acquired the necessary anvil.

“I was in a counseling class. I was talking about blacksmithing and how I wanted to find an anvil and she said that her husband had one that he never uses and that she stubs her toe on it whenever she goes into the garage. I had her text him and he decided within that class period that he would sell it. I bought it for $150 and I’ve had people offer me $800 for it.”

He’s not selling it anytime soon. Marshall has made a range of metalwork items that have been happily bought up through his Facebook page. Knives, jewelry, hairpins and even a dandelion puller are all items that Marshall has made for sale.

“I’ve made jewelry, hairpins, this little Damascus heart pendant that I make. I had a guy ask me to make a tool that would rip out dandelions.”

A dandelion ripper might sound like a funny request, but it’s the kind of request Marshall loves. He enjoys the challenge of custom work and coming up with an idea for how to create something that he hasn’t before.

“People call me with crazy ideas and I just do what I can do. I’m not scared of failure, failure is just another opportunity to learn something new. Especially with steel. It takes a long time and a lot of practice. The more I’m out in the forge trying to make something for somebody else, the more I’m learning on my own.”

His dedication has paid off, and he hopes it will continue to. He has had to pick up with full-time work again but is working towards a career in blacksmithing. Although you can’t find him in local shops or markets yet, his work can be found and purchased through his Facebook page Hammerhorn Forge, and he is always open for custom requests.

“You heat something, and you manipulate the steel. That’s what I love most about blacksmithing, you create something out of nothing and sometimes, it’s beautiful. Hammering away at something with intention is very gratifying.”

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Categories: GTPulse