Ancient craft brought back to life by Beachburg man

·4 min read

A Beachburg-area man is putting a contemporary spin on an ancient craft.

Mike Whitmore, who established Whitewater Forge in 2020, is using the tools of the blacksmithing trade, which once was an integral service to produce farm equipment and keep it functional, to create custom-made knives, coat racks, sculptured table décor, housewares such as potato mashers, cheese knives and serving spoons and forks, bird baths and custom-designed furniture combining forged components and wood.

After watching the history channel’s Forged in Fire series for many years, Mr. Whitmore decided to try to make something forged. In September 2018, he constructed a “pig” forge (referring to crude or “pig” iron) made out of a metal ketchup can.

“I used 1¼-inch bolts for the legs and lined it with a mixture of plaster and play sand,” he said. “I made my first hook out of a rusty nail. It looked pretty rough, but I was ‘hooked’.”

He researched and followed several tutorials on-line, such as: The Essential Craftsman Blacksmithing course.

“As I completed the assigned projects in the course, I learned how to draw out metal, chamfer (bevel) and how to do full and half hammer blows,” he said. “Since then I have made numerous items and have continued to learn the skills required to make quality forged items. I converted an unused building on our family farm into a shop, so that I can continue to work on my craft.”

He made coal-fired forge from an old brake drum for larger projects. A smaller propane-fired version is used for smaller items. He opened Whitewater Forge in 2020, and has made several commissioned works and sold many other forged items.

“I continue to learn and I am looking forward to making ornamental ironwork,” he said.

Earlier this year he became a registered apprentice with the American Bladesmith Society. Currently he is working towards becoming a Journeyman Smith, a process that takes three years, with the ultimate goal of becoming a Master Smith, which takes another three years.

Whitewater Forge bridges the past and the present, not only with the skills of the trade but with its surroundings on his family’s farm. His studio is what used to be the original blacksmith shop when the farmhouse was first constructed in 1840. His vise, which he found online, was made in 1886. And his anvil came from the Whitmore family farm at Greenwood and was owned by his grandfather, Hayden Whitmore.

He is a member of the Ottawa Valley Blacksmithing Guild which has 14 members; two who operate as a business and the others who pursue the craft as a hobby.

Right now 90 percent of his business comes from custom knives.

“I have handles in over 40 different materials,” he said. “When somebody pays $500 to $600 for a knife, they want it to have a cool handle. I enjoy working with exotic materials such as marble.”

He applies a beeswax coating to the heated finished items to keep the iron from rusting.

“At 400 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit the beeswax bakes onto the steel,” he said.

For maintenance after use of items such as kitchen utensils, a light application of mineral or canola oil is applied after washing.

“Treat it like cast iron,” he says.

He enjoys creating custom-made items according to the wishes of the customer, even though that process is time-consuming.

“It usually takes me an hour or two to make a prototype,” he says. “My first marshmallow fork took about 45 minutes. Now I have it down to 25 minutes.”

He encourages people to come to him with their ideas.

“If you need something for the house, such as a pots and pans rack, come and see me about having it made,” he said. “Don’t go to Amazon first.”

Whitewater Forge can be reached at 613-582-7442 or by emailing whitmorem@icloud.com. You can also see a gallery of products on the website at http://whitewaterforge.ca/ and you can also connect through Facebook and Instagram.

Products can also be purchased at the Cobden Farmers’ Market open Saturday mornings until mid-October, the Rusty Lantern Barn Boutique in Eganville, the Lakeside General Store in Cobden, O’Kenny Craft Spirits in Pembroke, and the Joanne Gauci Gallery in Beachburg.

Marie Zettler, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader

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