Travelling blacksmith keeping historic craft alive in Kamloops, Okanagan | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Travelling blacksmith keeping historic craft alive in Kamloops, Okanagan

Will Leonard working on a project.
Image Credit: Instagram - @the_forge_co_cdn

A blacksmith is coming to towns around the Okanagan to bring smithing lessons to communities that don’t have opportunities to learn the historic craft.

Will Leonard has been a blacksmith for six years, but he started travelling around Western Canada teaching lessons two years ago.

“I started out doing local things like going to campsites and doing demos, the odd little class here and there. I thought why not expand a little. I hit the road and did some travelling and it worked out great,” he said. “This year I figured I’d go gangbusters with it.”

Leonard is based in Leduc, Alberta where he has a workshop and does regular classes and commission work during the winter before setting off to tour Western Canada in the spring and summer. 

Leonard is teaching classes for $130 in Osoyoos, Penticton, Kelowna, Vernon and Kamloops and other locations in April.

“As far as I can tell I’m the only travelling blacksmith in Western Canada, if not all of Canada,” Leonard said.

READ MORE: Blacksmithing is alive and well in the Okanagan

There aren’t other travelling blacksmiths for a reason, smithing requires a lot of heavy equipment.

“Usually I have a minimum of two forges with me and eight to ten anvils, hand tools and grinders and things like that. If we’re doing like the railway spike knife making class I have bench grinders that we use to finish off a knife with,” he said.

“I have a trailer with some living accommodations in it and all my gear in the back. I do two classes a day when I’m on the road and I’m very tired at the end of the day.”

Even though it’s a lot of work, Leonard said it’s worth it to meet all sorts of people and see the impact learning an ancient craft has on them.

“The best part is just meeting different people, you meet some real characters sometimes, and everyone leaves with a smile on their face. You know you helped them do something they never would have thought before. It’s something they can talk about around the campfire or the fire pit, or wherever,” he said.

Students after a knife making class at Leonard's workshop.
Students after a knife making class at Leonard's workshop.
Image Credit: Will Leonard

He gets fulfilment from seeing the positive impact blacksmithing has on people.

“I’m doing some classes for veterans at the veterans ranch near Ashcroft. I go up there every summer and I put on classes for veterans. I'm a veteran myself so it’s my way of giving back to the community,” Leonard said.

He tries to incorporate the history of the craft into the lessons.

"I get people who just want to try out an old craft and learn the history behind it and I try to teach as much of the history as I can. They just want to pick up some old skills that are slowly fading away," he said. "A lot of the tools I use are antiques, they’re over 100 years old and I try to keep them working as much as I can."

People can sign up for Leonard’s classes on his website while spots are still available.

Leonard said it’s not as easy as it looks on TV or in movies.

“They think it’s really easy to make a knife and it’s not,” he said. “I do knife making classes and they’re two, six-hour days and they’re full. Everybody is busy during that time.”

Some chunks of metal heating up in a forge before becoming something useful.
Some chunks of metal heating up in a forge before becoming something useful.
Image Credit: Will Leonard

There are a lot of safety precautions that go into working with hot steel, like protective equipment and procedures.

“I am super safety conscious because we are dealing with forges that are 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. I’ve taught 1,500 people over the last few years and I’ve never had an incident,” he said.

Leonard said everyone is welcome to come down and just watch if they’re a bit timid about trying it themselves.

“We get people from all walks of life and all ages that are interested in it. You’re hitting hot steel with a hammer and making things so that appeals to a lot of people,” he said.


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