In existence since the bronze age, the metalworking industry has undergone the necessary metamorphosis to keep pace with an ever changing world.
Today, metal forming and fabrication technology features computer numeric control (CNC) machines that automatically perform a number of tasks that were once done manually. Modern metalworking professionals are more computer programmers than they are tradesmen.
The timeless craft of blacksmithing, though, continues to buck the trend; insofar as it continues to be virtually high-tech proof and its method of fashioning red hot metal into a variety of things has barely changed at all over the centuries.
There is no doubt that the role of blacksmiths in society has certainly changed.
At one point in history, their forges were arguably the epicenter of a town’s industrial base. Blacksmiths made and maintained the tools other tradesmen required. They provided shoes for the horses that drove the transportation and logistics of the day. Rather than fire up the engines of local economy, the modern blacksmith caters to a market niche that is looking for unique and durable furnishings and accoutrements.
The finished product is often an equal melding of artistry and functionality that sparks the interest and imagination of people like Tyler Kueper of Iron Butterfly.
A former ironworker and all-around jack of all trades, Tyler learned blacksmithing from his neighbor Al Healy in Mansfield. Al founded his company, Iron Butterfly, in 1999. In 2012, he passed the business along to Tyler.
Iron Butterfly’s market extends across southern Ontario and its offerings include. among other things, furniture, fire pit grills and pyramids, custom iron railings and artistic pieces.
“Blacksmithing is more my speed,” contends Tyler. “I get to be artistic and the business side of it allows me to meet and chat with people.”
The business has two other key human components in the persons of Tyler’s brother, Zane, who contributes his artistic and welding talents to the venture, and Nadia Pozzebon. Nadia is a designer who specializes in metal and wood, as well as being a part-time welder and woodworker.
Many of the furnishings coming out of the Iron Butterfly shop have a rustic theme that combines wood and iron. It specializes in the production of live-edge wood pieces with forged steel accents.
Iron Butterfly’s website (ironbutterfly.ca) describes its process as a collaboration of hot and cold energies and the result is such products as harvest tables, benches, coffee tables and wall art.
While much of what comes out of the shop might appear rustic, there are also offerings that appear quite regal. Iron Butterfly specializes in iron gates and railings that can give the entrance to a property that noble edge.
One of Tyler’s favourite projects was an iron gate to a wine cellar. “Incorporating all the grapes and twisted vines to the design made it extra fun,” he recalls.
There is also the hand fabricated, customized hardware that comes with a lifetime guarantee. Among the many hardware items designed and made are barn door tracking systems, door and window hinges and door knockers.
While the forge fires flame the manufacturing, it is the home fire that flames a significant portion of the company’s business.
For example, Iron Butterfly builds and sells fire pits and charcoal barbeques. While they may sport an old fashioned look, the company is cognisant of the need to be compliant with present day safety requirements and works in concert with the local fire department to ensure all safety standards are met.
Features include a fine mesh to capture floating ash and additional safeguards to the grills.
Blacksmithing has arrived at the point where the practitioners are artisans; an eclectic blend of tradesperson and artist.
Whimsy is often found within the artist and it is evident that the Iron Butterfly crew possesses a lot of that quality. This is exemplified by the commitment to construct the world’s largest potato masher.
When asked why this particular project is being undertaken, Tyler’s simple reply is “I just gotta do it.”
As long as there are people who value that mix of brute strength and beauty that constitutes ornamental iron work, or appreciate the durability of what comes out of the forge, there will be a need for blacksmiths to fill the bill.
“Life,” sums up Tyler, “it’s what you make it.”
Written by: Dan Pelton | Photography: Cory Bruyea