2018-08-11 / News

Chad Osborne Opens Interactive Blacksmith Shop at Surrey Hills

By Marina Lindland

Chad Osborne holds a piece of super-heated high carbon steel for William Potter to shape his new pocketknife. Chad Osborne holds a piece of super-heated high carbon steel for William Potter to shape his new pocketknife. Chad Osborne has spent most of his life in front of the flames of the forge. His passion for metalwork has driven his career, and even brought him in front of a national audience on the History Channel’s “Forged in Fire.”

With his new Surrey Hills business, Forge a Memory, Mr. Osborne now can use that passion to give Island visitors and residents an experience unlike any other.

Customers at Forge a Memory can make knives with Mr. Osborne by pounding out their own highcarbon steel blades. After a blade has cooled, the handle is formed and the blade is sharpened. The process, if there are no crowds, takes only about half an hour. With four people at the forge at a time, it takes about an hour to make each knife.

His father also participated in the trade.

“He made me my first knife when I was six,” said Mr. Osborne. “I made my first sword when I was only 10.”

There were knife-making schools where one could hone their abilities as a weapons blacksmith, but Mr. Osborne was unaware of them. He, instead, learned from his father and eventually launched a farrier career that lasted 23 years.

“If I had known those existed, there’s no telling where I’d be now,” he said.

Mr. Osborne enjoyed shoeing Mackinac Island horses, but he always had wanted to make swords for a living. That dream was kept alive, he joked, by playing the board game Dungeons and Dragons so often. Because he had the equipment, Mr. Osborne could dabble in sword making in his spare time and during the winter. He became more serious about blade smithing about 10 years ago, he said.

“The thing is, with every knife you make, it just turns out better and better,” he said. “You can visibly see the improvement. Then you can move on to more technical and difficult skills.”

In 2016, Mr. Osborne was featured on season two of “Forged in Fire,” and ended up making it to the finals. He and his competitor were charged with making shotels, a curved Ethiopian blade designed for foot soldiers. Although he didn’t win, he was brought back for a “fan favorites” episode two seasons later.

“Those types of blades can realistically take up to three months to make perfect, depending on the design,” he said smiling. “On TV, you have to do it in five days.”

Mr. Osborne not only has the ability to create intricate and functional blades, he has been training for years to correctly use these blades. He has taken courses held by the Michigan Medieval Combat Association and has competed in tournaments during the winter.

“TV isn’t accurate at all,” he said. “They jab around in this weird dance. That isn’t at all what it’s like. The blades are heavy and it takes a lot of work to use them.”

Mr. Osborne credits his success in fighting with his physique, primarily his “massive” forearms.

“People don’t realize that just holding out a blade in front of you like this,” he said, demonstrating by pointing a fresh blade straight ahead of him, “can really wear you down. My arms don’t get tired as easily because they’re so big.”

Mr. Osborne initially was uncertain about leaving his job as a farrier to start his new business. In this economy, he said, he was hesitant to step away from a steady salary and take on the risks of owning a business. Opportunity arrived in the fall of 2017, however, when he approached Dr. Bill Chambers, the owner of the blacksmith shop on Surrey Hills, to see what was going to happen with the property.

“I told him the idea of the store and he was thrilled about it,” said Mr. Osborne. “He came up to me this spring and asked me if I was still interested. It was really around April when everything got started.”

The first two days were slow and Mr. Osborne wondered if he made a mistake. Once business starting picking up on day three, however, his confidence grew.

The knife-making experience can be for everyone, he said. It even works with five-year-old children with whom he helps create keepsakes. His ability to assist others comes from years of experience – and plenty of burns to go with it. He makes sure customers wear safety glasses and aprons for protection from injuries.

“The forge gets up to about 2,000 degrees,” he said. “This is propane; coal forges get even hotter. You don’t get used to this kind of heat. Sometimes I’ll dunk my arms in the water barrel just to cool down.”

The process of knife making involves a number of considerations. Each blade has its own balance point related to is shape and intended use. Some metals melt faster than others. Metals of various types react differently to chemicals. Mr. Osborne has to evaluate all of these factors when making a product.

“There’s a lot more to blacksmithing than just heating up metal and pounding it flat,” he said.

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