WRITER | JULIE FORD
PHOTO | BAVARIAN BLACKSMITH EXPERIENCE
Forging an Experience of a Lifetime in Frankenmuth
While five-year-old Josh A. Weston was walking with his mom, he spotted a knife and begged her to let him take it home so his dad could teach him how to use it. Decades later, he became the fan-favorite champion on the History Channel’s Forged in Fire and appeared in several seasons. Today, he shares his forging talent and enthusiasm with the public at the Bavarian Blacksmith Experience in Frankenmuth.
“I have been fascinated with knives for a long time. When I was young, I whittled nonstop, and as a 12-year-old, I was hammering scrap metal down to what I imagined as knives – really gnarly things,” Weston says.
Weston opened the Bavarian Blacksmith Experience last June as a pop-up shop, and by November, also opened a store in the Frankenmuth River Place Shops.
“We are not a demo – we don’t forge and tell people what we are doing. We put the hammer in their hands. You are the blacksmith at our shop,” Weston explains. “We get you hooked, and then we suggest attending a folk school to get better.”
Guests of all ages and skill levels can choose to make daggers, knives, wands, or rune pendants, and projects are updated frequently. Some are formed from rail spikes, while others are created from horseshoes. As the Bavarian Blacksmith Experience creative director, Weston leads a team of experienced blacksmiths who personally guide each guest in making the item of choice.
The experience begins by calling ahead or going online to reserve a time, as only a few spots are available for drop-ins. Guests sign a waiver, select a project to forge (prices range from $30 to $175), borrow safety gear (it’s best to wear long pants and closed-toe shoes), and are handed a ticket and a chunk of steel. They then proceed to the project’s forging station. A blacksmith places the guest’s metal in the fire and, while heating, reviews safety instructions. Smaller projects can be taken home immediately, while others (knives, daggers) are ready in about an hour.
For Weston, the art and physicality of blacksmithing has kept him sane through his life’s ups and downs. “We’ve got this pandemic, and there’s not a whole lot we can do,” Weston says. “What’s really selling right now is at-home projects, DIY home projects – it’s important to care for mental health, and this has kept me calm and centered.”
Opening a blacksmithing experience during a pandemic has some advantages – it’s outside and year-round. Requiring masks, social distancing, and constantly sanitizing equipment is the norm, and Weston’s introduction to blacksmithing is visibly changing lives.
“We had a couple who came back three times to do three things with us,” Weston says, adding how the couple had changed their wedding and honeymoon plans due to the pandemic. “They kept saying, ‘we will never forget this honeymoon,’ and now we are a part of their marital and wedding story forever.”
Weston had a mother write to him after her son attended a session. He had lost his sister earlier in the year, and the mother was very worried that he had stopped talking and interacting. Concerned about his mental state, she was looking for an activity and made an appointment for him to forge a project. He’s now making his own knives, and the mother thanked Weston for essentially saving her son’s life.
“This is what gets me up every day; I really like people,” Weston says. “When I get to see that effect on people, that’s what gets me excited every day.”