By Eric Peterson | May 01, 2023
Salt Lake City, Utah
Blacksmithing classes and products
The driving force behind Wasatch Forge, Danielson is a giant of a blacksmith. At 6'7" and 310 pounds, he got into blacksmithing while he was growing up.
"I got into blacksmithing when I was 14 -- I'm 40 now," says Danielson. "That was just me hitting pieces of hot steel out of an old, cast-iron stove in my dad's shed, trying to burn it down."
"There are two primary factors that sparked my interest. Number one, my dad's a bit of a survivalist nut job, and that rubbed off on me a little bit. I wound up wanting to have skills that were based in crafting that didn't require electricity. . . . Then of course, I was a geeky kid, playing D&D since I was six, and wanted to make swords and knives."
Danielson apprenticed at This Is The Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City while still a teenager. "That moved on to me trying to do it professionally, and failing miserably," he says. "Then I just started working at a steel warehouse, and as I did that, I became less and less a professional blacksmith and more of a hobbyist."
Initially, Danielson and his since-departed co-founders envisioned Wasatch Forge as a job shop. "We decided we were going to get together and make a little blacksmiths' shop so we could all get out of our tiny, little, crappy shops on the side of our houses. We rented a location for a little consortium job shop."
But the model changed after the University of Utah approached Danielson about being part of its continuing education program in 2014. He was still working at the warehouse full-time, but had moved into sales.
"The little blacksmith in the back of my head said, 'No, I can't do this. I've never taught big group classes. There's no possible way I can do this. Thank you, but no, I don't have any interest.' But my salesman filter said, 'You know what. That sounds like an interesting prospect.'"
After Danielson took the leap, education quickly overtook contract work. Wasatch Forge, a sole proprietorship, now has four contract blacksmiths who rent time in the shop and help teach classes to about 1,000 students annually.
However, the exposure from the classes catalyzed the contract work. "Now, we've got a lot of interest in the job shop side, so we're doing that as well," he says.
"We do an awful lot of campfire cookware," says Danielson. "High West Distillery, we do their hand-forged bottle openers for their Main Street store. We're still trying to find a budget-oriented knife that fulfills our requirements for quality and their requirements for price point. . . . We're moving into kitchen knives, because there's some money in that."
Where does blacksmithing fit in the modern manufacturing world? "It doesn't, not at all," answers Danielson brusquely. "Quite literally, it's the aesthetic and the history and the story behind the item."
He adds, "It is the most durable craft that we have. You have woodworking and pottery and all of this other craft -- which I separate out from art. Art is beneficial for itself, craft is beneficial because it combines art and utility."
That said, blacksmithing can be an entry point to a manufacturing career. "Our junior smith program that we have for about ages 11 to 15, I offer at half price just to get the kids away from the screens," says Danielson. "That's one of the things you look at today: No one has ever swung a hammer to make anything."
Challenges: "I've got to have a centralized location where I've got enough people that will travel for the class," says Danielson. "Nobody's going to travel 45 minutes for a three-hour class."
"With the current commercial property situation that Utah is experiencing, I can't get a location. I want to buy my own spot, I want to have my own little, very modern blacksmiths' shop, but I can't find a quarter-acre to put up a steel building at a reasonable price."
Opportunities: "The main goal of Wasatch Forge is to create franchises of hot-work makerspaces," says Danielson. "That is my dream and my end goal of where I want to wind up."
He sees potential for additional locations on the Wasatch Front, and many more outside of Utah. "I think the population can handle one Wasatch Forge everywhere you've got 2 million people in a 50-mile radius."
The educational component is the driver, says Danielson. "There is something about this craft that scratches an itch that can't be scratched anywhere else. Making something permanent with fire and force is really addicting."
Needs: The location challenge dovetails into a need for an upgrade from the current 1,200-square-foot shop, says Danielson. "I'm renting right now, and I don't want to be renting. I want to buy a little piece of property and spend money enriching the business rather than enriching somebody else's real estate portfolio."