After a quick drive around the block from the Dakota Discovery centre I found myself at a workshop tucked away in a suburban alley. This place was interesting from the moment I spotted it, a forge set up outside, a massive metal workbench and a vast array of metalwork loitering around the doorway, it almost felt like home.
Working away inside the workshop I found Clark Martinek and his friend Freddy Rodriguez, a visiting Blacksmith from Columbia. Inside this place was like the Tardis, there was so much to see in a relatively small space. My timing could not have been any better as the forge was stoked and ready to go, what was going to be a quick visit soon grew into an international play in the forge!
Clark’s work was interesting to see, he tackles most jobs but by the looks of things his bread and butter work is decorative items. Freddy, who came across quietly confident is a fire welding genius who has an amazing talent with welding various metals in the forge.
Getting to meet these two fantastic Blacksmiths was a great opportunity, especially when it was time for a beer… Remembering that the forge was still alight I was invited to ‘have a go’, obviously under scrutiny as a visiting tradesman. I was, of course, shy and happy to watch Clark and Freddy work first. We had been discussing various welds with different metals and got onto the topic of welding coins together… not naming any specific denominations or currencies… Some coins are rumoured to weld together easily in the forge as they have high quantities of nickel in their alloy. So we found some coins and had a go, Freddy’s weld was of course the most successful, this man knows his fire welds! Never using flux he still manages a perfect clean weld every time! Flux is generally used in most forms of welding to help produce a clean weld, something that I thought was a necessity with fire welding and I have been truly surprised to see this is not always the case.
After successfully welding a mixture of copper and nickel coins together into a billet Freddy then forged it into a beautiful horse head pendant (and then gave it to my fiancee Emily, putting a massive smile on her face).
It was then Clark’s turn to make something interesting, a scorpion bottle opener. I had seen one hanging around his workshop and admired the intricacy of the work required. Clark of course said it was easy to make these, and he did make it look easy (in the way practiced tradesmen do). The whole thing was forged from a lag bolt, an ingenious way of achieving the legs and the required amount of metal to shape the head etc. I was lucky enough to be handed this as a gift, along with an iron billet taken from an old Rockafella wheel tyre. British Airways are going to give me some strange looks when they x-ray my case on return to England, as I have been gradually gathering an eclectic mix of gifts along the journey.
Now it’s my turn… and there was no way out of this! I had decided to make something I was quite comfortable at making back home, a bodkin arrowhead (there is probably nothing more straightforward to make so little chance of getting this wrong). Back at home I would use 8mm (5/16″) round bar but here steel stock is quite limited and Clark only had 3/8 to hand (which is slightly larger). No problem though as within a few minutes I had completed a couple of arrow heads, albeit a tad wonky (no excuses but the larger steel threw me a little). As I also found whilst working with Jymm Hoffman, it is strange picking up and using someone else’s tools but still a great experience.
As the forge cooled down and the conversation heated up we sat around in the workshop with a (well earned) cold beer and Clark’s wife and brother. Time flew and before we knew it was late evening and time to leave ready for an early start travelling the next day. I had a fantastic time and it was an experience I would be eager to repeat in the future.
Next stop The Journey museum, Rapid City…