Shawn Gilley’s interest in blacksmithing came about like most others’ interest in the centuries-old occupation. “I wanted to make a knife,” said Gilley, a Washington native.
“And from there it just kind of took off. I met a guy up in Salem and I worked under him for two years to learn as much about the trade as I could.”
Now, a decade later, Gilley is the proprietor of Serenity Forge Blacksmith shop and works tirelessly in his business located just outside of Washington creating masterpieces out of metal. Some of the most popular items the former serviceman makes are Damascus knives.
“Right now, I have a three year waiting list to have the knives made. All pieces for the knives are made in-house,” said Gilley as he fired a metal rod into the coal-fired forge. The forge, he said uses over 500 lbs. of coal in three weeks on average.
Gilley also makes garden gates, dinner bells, railings and other decorative items. “I can make pretty much anything and it’s all guaranteed to last and if it doesn’t, I’ll fix it.”
There is one item he does not make though. “Horseshoes. I’m not a farrier, but I did make horseshoes for one of my son’s classes. I just don’t make them for horses.”
Many of the pieces he makes are made from recycled metal. “There are some things I have to use new metal for but I try to use as much recycled metal as I can. Even if it is rusty, the fire will burn off the rust.”
While some blacksmiths purchase the tools of their trade, Gilley prefers to make the majority of the tools he uses. “I make tongs, hammers. I like to make my own but I’ve picked up a few from other blacksmiths too. One thing a lot of blacksmiths won’t make is there own tongs.”
Gilley said on average, most tongs take between 10 and 30 minutes to create. “Tongs are probably one of the easiest things to make,” as he picks up the hot metal rod from the forge with a pair of tongs he made at his shop. This pair I made in about 10 minutes but some blacksmiths will only make certain things.”
The majority of the tools in Gilley’s shop look like something one might see in museum. “Even with modern technology, there are still some things that are best done or can only be done with a forge and an anvil,” said Gilley. “Blacksmiths have always been very technologically advanced though,” he said.
”They created the tools that towns needed and also did things we wouldn’t think about a blacksmith doing now like pulling teeth.”
Carrying the hot rod over to the anvil, a large metal block with a cone-shaped end, Gilley began to hammer the once glowing orangish-red rod until it turns black as coal. “The heat goes out of pieces this size pretty quick and it has to then be re-fired each time.”
After several additional firings and strikes on the anvil, Gilley began to mold the once pencil-thin rod into a delicately shaped rose and began running a wire brush over the blackened surface. “This creates a textured finish.”
Keeping the blacksmith trade alive is very important to Gilley who demonstrates the craft each year for local elementary schools. “My hope is that when I go into the schools, one of the kids who sees me doing this will want to do this too. My kids are also interesting in it.”
Gilley has plans to teach others the craft as well. “I have five or six forges coming and I have people now that I work with. Anyone can learn. I try to be very open minded when people approach me about wanting to learn.” And he said he is always in search of good anvils. “A good anvil is worth a lot more to blacksmith than what a scrapyard will give you for it.”
For Gilley, being a blacksmith isn’t just about providing a service. “This is peaceful me. I can come out here and relieve from stress. The same Serenity Forge says a lot. This, working in here, is serenity for me.”
For more information on Serenity Forge, contact Gilley at 486-9113.