By Gregory Daurer | May 10, 2021
Buena Vista, Colorado
Blacksmithing services and metalwork
Rudd says he gets plenty of referrals from the local hardware store. If a vacationer's RV has a broken piece that needs welding, or a part needs to be replaced that stores don't carry, they're often told -- much to their surprise -- to take their needs to the local blacksmith shop. "The whole county knows about me," says Rudd. Townspeople often bring in lawnmower blades that they need straightened. Saws, too -- and Rudd can even replace the teeth missing from them. He'll mend a broken shovel, fix a hinge.
Rudd says, "I can't fix a washing machine, but I'm the guy to go to to get the leg fixed on the washing machine so it doesn't rock and roll."
He'll sharpen knives. Or make them. Although he didn't win, he appeared on the blade-centric TV competition, Forged in Fire. "I've sold every knife I've ever made," says Rudd.
But he wants people to know that a blacksmith doesn't just make knives. "A bladesmith can't be a blacksmith," he says, "but a blacksmith can be a bladesmith." He sometimes conducts private classes for people who say they want to learn blacksmithing -- but mostly they just want to know how to make knives, he says disparagingly.
Rudd also does restorations for people, often matching the original patina on the antique. He can make a sign and paint it. And Rudd can make horseshoes; back in the early 1970s, he even worked at the onetime Centennial Race Track in Littleton.
Rudd used to spend a greater amount of time creating art pieces to sell at various craft markets, but he got tired of lugging them around. He says he's made as much as "$30,000 in 10 days" on the art-fair circuit.
How much work is there for a blacksmith in 2021? "I'm very busy with it," says Rudd. "The income isn't over the top, but it's certainly better than working as a laborer." In 2003, he built a larger structure for all the tools of his trade -- like his beloved hammers, punches, 100- and 500-pound anvils, scores of tongs, and welding equipment (he's also a certified 6G welder) -- as well as vast quantities of supplies and parts. "It looks like 20 people work in that place," says Rudd.
Garry Alpheus Rudd -- who goes by "Alf" -- calls himself a "10th Generation Master Blacksmith" on his website. He says of the work, "I've been doing it my whole life." He cites helping his mother fix chain links when he was six. His family's roots go back to the British Isles, before his ancestors reached the New World, eventually taking part in Revolutionary War combat in Vermont. His grandfather in Louisiana taught him techniques dating back centuries.
Rudd occasionally still forges steel with a coal fire, heating the metal up to bright white and neon red colors. With his hammering, he moves it in the direction he wants it to go, leaving an idiosyncratic mark or "tone" on the steel "like a signature." He doesn't wear gloves because, "It breaks the connection between you and the iron by wearing [them]." And he cautions people to never touch the implements in a blacksmith's shop. "If someone picks up your hammer or your tool, it's like picking up your toothbrush -- and using it," he says.
There's a "spiritual side" to being a blacksmith. In ancient times, people called blacksmiths "magicians," says Rudd. "I've been called that," he adds. Rudd is keen on the lore, surrounding the craft: "King Solomon had a throne next to him where his blacksmith would sit."
When Rudd teaches people his techniques, he wants them to see it as part of a legacy, which he himself inherited from generations of blacksmiths that came before him.
The greatest satisfaction of the job? "I get to see something working again," says Rudd.
Challenges: "The problem solving," he says. Each job requires calculating -- how to accomplish what needs to be done and, sometimes, whether it's even cost-effective for the customer to go ahead with the repair rather than buying something new. Rudd says that cheaper goods from China have cut into his work -- but those same items often break and need to be repaired.
Opportunities: Restoration work continues to bring him income. Rudd has taken an antique child's buggy and removed the corrosion, replacing wood and steel parts, making it usable again. And he's restored an old jail door, making a new key for the lock. Sometimes, he has to hit the books: "What did the part look like back in the 1890 or 1880? I have to research that and find out what that part would have looked like, and then make a part to match that."
Needs: Rudd doesn't have a plethora of needs. However, there's a dearth of blacksmiths doing what he does, which leads him to say, "More towns need them."