Tucked between the Mathewson Exhibition Center and the horse barns on the Missouri State Fairgrounds, visitors will find a group of Missourians dedicated to keeping the blacksmith trade alive.
The Blacksmiths Association of Missouri has had a tent at the Missouri State Fair for many years, and will be set up all 11 days of the 2015 fair, offering items made by members and demonstrations throughout the day. BAM’s more than 600 members range in age from 14 to 80 from across the state.
“Some of the guys bring stuff that they typically sell at various events like craft fairs and things, and they make a lot of stuff while we’re here too — that’s part of the purpose is to do the demonstrations so people can see the hot steel being formed and shaped,” said Bob Stormer, of Dixon.
“Our main goal is to promote blacksmithing through all the generations,” he added. “We’ve got some people that are in their teens and it goes all the way to the 80s for sure. The whole purpose is just to keep blacksmithing alive because it’s an important part of our heritage.”
To help with that promotion, BAM has a Mobile Training Station, stocked with five forges and five anvils, that travels around the state about three times a year to host classes at various locations. Stormer said the initial learning process isn’t too difficult, but being a blacksmith takes patience.
“It’s not that hard to learn, you just have to be patient with it. You can’t expect to come out and make fancy things the first few days — there’s a lot of technique, hammering techniques and planning,” he said.
Stormer said he became interested in the blacksmithing trade 17 years ago when he wanted to learn how to make knives.
“I got interested in making knives, and to make knives you have to do almost the same thing blacksmiths do. Blacksmiths used to make all the knives, so that’s what got me into blacksmithing,” he said. “Since then, I make knives but I also do decorative, ornamental-type blacksmithing.”
Stormer said they are “very encouraged” that more younger people are becoming involved in the blacksmith trade.
While most of the members are adults, there were a few younger members working in the tent Wednesday, including Sedalian Colton Kiso, 14, who had just finished making a fork before speaking with the Democrat. Like Stormer, his interest in blacksmithing started by wanting to make knives. He’s been part of the trade for four years.
“I taught myself. I wanted to make a knife,” he said. “I needed a good knife one day, and I figured I’d make one instead of spending money to get one.”
Also at the tent was one of BAM’s newest members, Ben Embree, of Sedalia. He joined BAM just last week, and has spent his time at the fair learning from others.
“About a year and a half ago a friend invited me over to blacksmith a little bit and I was intrigued and really liked it,” he said. “So I talked to another friend whose grandfather used to be a blacksmith; she fixed me up with some tools like an anvil and vice, forge spot. So I came out here to learn more. These guys have helped me a lot.”
Stormer noted being at the fair not only helps educate the public, but it also allows members with more experience to teach newer members some tricks of the trade. Kiso said the members have taught him a few things while at the fair, and Fred Arhnold, of Bates City, has helped Embree increase his blacksmithing tool supply.
“(Arhnold’s) helping me make some tongs, the tools you hold the hot metal with. I don’t have any tools, but I’m about to,” Embree said with a laugh. “These guys said, ‘well, just make some.’”
“Blacksmiths historically made all the tools,” Stormer added. “You start with something, obviously, but if they needed a specialty tool they would make it and it would be around for the next time they had that job.”
For more information about BAM, visit bamsite.org.
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1482 or @NicoleRCooke.