Master blacksmith Caleb Nolen began learning blacksmithing at age 14. He has studied under several renowned blacksmiths including Tsur Sadan from Israel and the renowned Granfor Bruks Forge in Sweden, at which Caleb honed his axe-making skills. An instructor for The Ploughshare Institute, Caleb crafts both tools and custom furniture and received recognition by his peers with the 2010 Texas Furniture Makers Best of Show award.
- Caleb Nolen
Overview of Heritage Forge
We started Heritage Forge in the mid 1980’s and built our current shop in the Homestead Craft Village at Homestead Heritage in 1996.
At the Forge, in short, we make tools, knives and a variety of home furnishings; we teach blacksmithing classes; and we give public tours.
Stop by for a visit. We’d be more than happy to show you our shop, demonstrate some blacksmithing and discuss metalwork with you.
About Homestead Craft Village
Homestead Craft Village is a collection of fine craft shops, gift shop and cafe in an agricultural setting. For more information about the craft village and our other shops, visit the Homestead Craft Village website.
History of Blacksmithing
Up until the middle of the 20th century, blacksmiths had an integral role in local agrarian communities. Curling smoke rising from the coal-fired forge was a common sight, and the rhythmic sounds of metal being hammered and shaped were a familiar part of the melody of life in towns and villages throughout the country.
The Blacksmith’s Role in Agriculture
For those whose livelihoods were found in the fields, the blacksmith’s role was crucial. It was here, in local blacksmith shops, that farmers brought every sort of horse drawn implement to be repaired, serviced, modified and sharpened. Blacksmiths prepared plows and harrows for the next planting season, and forged, repaired or sharpened iron tools of all sorts and types. Many blacksmiths were farriers on the side who hammered and shod shoes to protect and give traction to horses that would be traversing the hard, often treacherous roads. The carriages, wagons, and sleighs these horses pulled also found their way into the blacksmith’s shop, where they could be skillfully repaired or modified.
The Blacksmith’s Role in the Homesteading Household
The blacksmith’s contribution to a homesteading household was essential. Before the onset of the Industrial Revolution, and the mass production model that followed, the blacksmith crafted many of the much needed housewares and tools. In fact, before a home was even completed, the building site had been cleared using axes that had been hand forged, and saws that had been sharpened in the blacksmith’s shop. Logs and timber were hauled using chain that had been hammered and linked in the forge. Hammers, iron spikes, nails, various nuts and bolts all contributed to the building process. Hinges, latches, locks, hooks, pulls, racks, handles, and hardware of all types, as well as railings, fences and gates, all bore the marks left by the hammers of the local forge. Fireplaces and cook stoves were used and maintained with various forged tools, as were the gardens and surrounding landscape, where shovels, pitchforks, hoes, scythes and other tools all found essential uses.
The Blacksmith as a Toolmaker
The blacksmith’s role as a toolmaker is perhaps one of the more overlooked facets of the trade. In fact, many other craftsmen relied on the blacksmith to craft the tools of their trade. Stonemasons looked to the forge for sharp, hardened chisels they could use to deftly carve architectural stone. Woodworkers of all sorts, including barrel coopers, wagon and wheel wainwrights, and even general carpenters found that nearly all the tools they relied on, came by the hand of a blacksmith.
The Death of A Trade
Sadly, one of the end results of the Industrial Revolution was that it almost completely destroyed the role of the traditional blacksmith from local community life. Cheap ironware, mass produced in factories, was soon available by mail-order catalogs and could be delivered relatively quickly to even the remotest of towns. The introduction of the tractor to farming was quickly followed by the demise of horse farming. The once essential blacksmith was soon no longer needed to provide the services that were so highly valued in the days when horses still plodded the fields. Ultimately the tool-making trades and hardware production would follow a similar course, both engulfed by the momentum of a techno-industrial movement that placed the highest value on production efficiency, unable to find much use for a trade that now suddenly seemed archaic. So by the mid-20th Century, the age old fires of the forge were now ashes, and the hammers sat silently beside empty anvils in the shops that were shutting their doors.
Rebirth of Blacksmithing
The last few decades have witnessed a significant revival of interest in traditional blacksmithing. Schools that emphasize instruction in these traditional trades have begun to spring up in various parts of the country, offering instruction to those who want to experience a piece of the past while learning a valuable and useful skill. This rebirth of interest has found its way into the architectural and design worlds as well, and a growing number of artisan blacksmiths are now able to make a living crafting custom work. Situated here in the midst of the Homestead Heritage community, where horses & mules are still used to plow, disk and mow fields, the blacksmith’s traditional role has been restored as an integral part of village and community life.