Student forms works of art out of simple scrap.
By Kyle R. Cotton
Just east of San Antonio in Adkins, the loud ring of a hammer meeting an anvil rolls across the countryside as if Hephaestus himself was striking one of his many creations.
But it is not the Greek god of blacksmithing.
It is anthropology sophomore Alex Ruiz pounding away at his anvil and forging in intense heat at Volundr Forge, his home-based blacksmith business.
His strong desire to work with his hands led him to the craft after seeing a few detailed bottle openers he wanted to make.
“I got into it as a hobby, saw a couple of things I wanted to make and thought, ‘You know what? Maybe I can just do it myself,’” Ruiz said.
“Originally, I wanted to buy them, but they were really expensive,” he said. “I looked up designs for a forge, welded it together myself, bought an anvil and started making most of the tools here.”
He made his own tongs to turn the hot metal in his forge and several chisels used for varying degrees of detail work based on size and shape of the metal.
To heat the metal for molding, Ruiz built a small forge from fireplace bricks and placed a blower beneath the coals to fuel the fire to increase its heat.
The metal needs to reach 500-1,500 degrees Fahrenheit to be shaped, but the forge can produce temperatures up to 3,000 degrees, which is about the melting point for steel. Ruiz is old school in his approach to the craft.
While other blacksmiths use tools such as plasma cutters, welding torches and gloves to create their pieces, he uses a steady hand to detail and form his creations.
Brokkr, the Dwarvish blacksmith who created Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer from Norse mythology, would be proud.
“Gloves get in the way and that’s the last thing I need,” Ruiz said. “Slip of the glove, slip of the hammer and it wrecks my piece.
“After a while, you get really tough hands,” Ruiz said, exposing burns and scars caused by slag bits, excess pieces of hot metal that fly off with each strike of the hammer. “It’s just an occupational hazard.
“These slag bits flying off are probably 1,800 degrees or so. They hit your hand or whatever skin and just incinerate,” he said. “Sometimes a big enough piece will get stuck to your skin, and you have to wait half a second before you try to peel it off, or you might rip off a bit of skin, too.”
Ruiz gets his metal from Ashley Salvage Co. at 4918 Roosevelt Ave. where he can buy about 50 pounds of steel for $20, compared with 10 pounds for the same price at Home Depot.
“It’s all a matter of chance when I go there,” Ruiz said of Ashley Salvage. “I don’t always end up with the metal I’m looking for and just work with what I get.”
Ruiz said teaching himself the ways of the blacksmith involved a lot of trial and error.
His first setup was basic: His forge was a hole in the ground with wood instead of the standard coal for a fuel source. He used a hair dryer to keep the flames going.
His anvil was constructed from half a railroad beam and an I-beam fused together, and it had almost no “life” in it.
He would hammer on the anvil and instead of reverberating, all the force from the strike would go through the anvil and die.
For the past year, Ruiz has had a properly equipped forge in the workshop behind his garage. He now feels comfortable with his work.
“I pick up on stuff really quickly,” Ruiz said. “I’m at a point where I’m confident in my work and the level of detail I’ll put into it.”
Ruiz’s work is heavily influenced by nature with the image of plant vines showing up in many of the items he crafts, but it’s time consuming.
“The mark of a good blacksmith is the ability to replicate nature in your work,” he said.
His steel rose takes three hours to heat, form and detail each of the individual pieces to form the final product.
Ruiz makes a variety of pieces, from bottle openers, flint strikers and pendants to knives, axes, rings and machetes.
Most are small pieces that range between $10-15 and weigh less than a cell phone, but the weapons and the more demanding projects cost between $20-$50.
Ruiz said prices could go higher if he used more steel than usual for a project.
Anyone interested in picking up the trade should know that “starting out is a huge investment of time and sometimes money,” Ruiz said. “Coal and metal can get expensive if you’re only doing it as a hobby. For me, it was well worth it.”
So while the countryside may not thunder with the echoes of blacksmiths of legend, their spirit does reside in Ruiz’s heart.
Ruiz accepts commissions on his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/volundirsforge?fref=ts.