Robb Thak loved art and reading history and fantasy books growing up.
“As soon as I realized blacksmiths made all the armour, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
As a teen, he discovered that one of the top blacksmiths in southern Ontario lived down the road, and he offered classes: Thak took one and built himself a forge at home to practise.
Thak, who’s now 41, kept asking if he could work in the shop. He asked about four times before the blacksmith caved in and let him start sweeping floors for $5 an hour.
Over the next four years, Thak got his basic training as a blacksmith. He married young and had kids, and those were “lean years,” he recalls.
So he quit to sell insurance.
That did not work out. After a year, he got a night job at a factory and did blacksmith work by day at the shop he’d set up on his parents’ farm.
For six years, he honed his craft and built up a reputation. “These are not skills you learn over six months. It takes several years to get the hand-eye-coordination and the larger design and proportions right.”
Finally, he was able to quit and rent his own shop. A few years later, he began sharing space with his father-in-law, who ran an auto repair shop in Floridale, a tiny village near Thak’s home in Elmira. Eventually, his father-in-law moved to another location and Thak bought the building.
Now, Thak works from 6 a.m. until 5 p.m. six days a week. He takes Sunday off to be with his family (who also often help out in the shop).
Thak makes metal creations — mostly using steel, but sometimes copper and brass — ranging from small doorknockers to large, elaborate railings that sell for around $30,000.
His tools include a forge, which is a small and very hot furnace, a hammer and an anvil (yup, the thing Wile E. Coyote tried to drop on the Road Runner).
He heats up a piece of steel to around 2,000 F, which makes it as mouldable as clay. He has about a minute to use his hammer to shape it. Then it’s back into the forge, and more hammering. The shape of the anvil is helpful as a tool to bend the steel in various ways.
Thak and his on-staff blacksmith work at the forge for about three hours a day: It’s hot, exhausting work. For every two hours at the forge, a piece needs about three hours of additional work, including sanding, soldering and painting.
Diane Peters once hawked magic pens at the Canadian National Exhibition. She’s now a writer and part-time journalism instructor.