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Feeding the fire: Teen carries on tradition of blacksmithing

By David Talley | Published Wednesday, October 18, 2017
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At Work 1

AT WORK – Langham prepares to swing a hammer. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

It’s 45 minutes of turning a dial on a propane tank, a centimeter there, then two centimeters back. It’s holding your tongue just right while adjusting a Bud Light can sliced down the middle meant to catch just the perfect amount of wind.

Fires need fuel and oxygen, but not too much. The Langham family’s homemade forge can be fickle.

ON FILE – Luke Langham files a knife blade in his backyard blacksmith shop. Langham recently took an interest in the profession and has already forged knives and other utensils. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Luke Langham, a seventh-grader at Alvord Middle School, drops a flaming piece of wood into the forge’s opening. After its wool-insulated interior warms up, it can reach 2,400 degrees. The forge itself is just a welded steel box with an opening in two sides and a chimney, through which a propane tank sprays fuel. The aluminum can shuttles the wind and fuel down the chimney and into the forge. At the right ratio, the box starts to glow, the fire producing a dull roar inside the steel walls.

Despite the drawn-out startup time, Luke’s at his calmest when he’s in front of the forge.

“I would rather stay home from school and do this,” he said. “It kind of gets your stress out.”

With the help of his dad, Chad, Luke’s made knives and other utensils in the forge. Most of his work is in use around the family’s home.

Chad Langham started his career as a welder before moving into fabrication. He now owns his own shop, making equipment for the food service industry.

“I think it really wore off on Luke,” he said. “He’s always kind of been the other set of hands. He helped me build a rack for a truck pretty recently.”

Luke took to the work about two years ago. His family got on board last year, buying him a blacksmith’s apron for Christmas and a set of gloves for his birthday. But Luke’s family said he’s mostly been motivated to make or purchase his own tools and equipment. His current dreams include selling enough knives and other products to afford a power hammer, which would streamline the process of pounding metal flat.

The two worked together to build their first forge, one powered by charcoal. The current, propane-powered model sits on top of its predecessor.

“When he came to me and told me he wanted to do [blacksmithing], I told him I’d build him a forge,” Chad Langham said. “He didn’t want a gas forge to start with. He said, ‘I want to learn from the bottom up,’ That’s the hard way. Then I taught him the other way.”

At Work 2

Langham compares the finished product with its predecessor. So far, his knives have been built from lawnmower blades, but he’s expanding to work with rebar and other scrap metal. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

For Luke, who loves history, the first forge was enough to get him hooked on blacksmithing. But it wasn’t his first experience with fire. As a baby, he was severely burned in a house fire. Today, he’s still got scarring in several places, including on his right cheek.

“His whole motto for life in general has been, ‘If it bites, I’m going to bite it back and tackle it,'” Chad Langham said.

He pointed out that if his son decides to continue in the profession and open a business, they’re already thinking of potential slogans and catchphrases.

“Luke said his motto in his building when [he gets] it is going to say, ‘Forged from fire, forging with fire.'”

Langham’s already considering entrepreneurial ventures for his blacksmithing, planning out how to post the knives and other products on Facebook to entice buyers looking for custom items. That artistic drive started early. Karen Langham said her son started out asking for different things than most kids his age.

“He’s always been my artistic kid. When he was 8, his friends wanted video games,” she said. “He asked me for Christmas for a pottery wheel. That was the kid that I had. I had a friend who told me her kid was weird because he asked for a sweater for his birthday. I said, ‘I can top that.'”

The Langhams raised their kids to use their hands, blending Luke’s love of art with Chad’s metalworking skill. Whatever he ends up doing, they’re hoping to pass a little bit of that on to him.

“If I don’t have a piece to something, they’ll just go do it,” Karen Langham said. “This is something that’s very much needed today. There are people who have graduated from college and then said, ‘I’m not using my degree,’ and at the same time, there are trades that are dying. These baby boomers are going to retire and there’s nobody to take over those jobs that you can’t order on Amazon.”

Chad Langham agreed, it’s important to carry on the tradition of building things.

“It’s a lifestyle,” he said. “You’ve got to feed that fire.”

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