By Nathan Koh,
Sophomore Liam Donahue has a less-than-typical passion: blacksmithing. Donahue began working at his forge, which is in his house, at the age of 15.
“I saw a video online of a Hollywood blacksmith, Tony Swatton, making weapons and armor and I thought it was really cool,” Donahue said. “I found something that was really cheap and I’ve come a long way from [that first] $30 angle grinder.”
Donahue says his parents were hesitant at first because of all the safety hazards.
“I had a large propane tank hooked up to a homemade burner. It was scary turning that on the first time because it might blow up the house,” Donahue said.
However, Donahue’s parents came to support his work, as long as he wore his safety goggles and leather work gloves.
To pursue his passion for blacksmithing, Donahue has had to fund his own projects, as the materials aren’t always cheap. In order to make money, he worked a job at his uncle’s company, Epic.
“[Epic is] an app in the Silicon valley that [offers unlimited children’s books] and I would do quality checks,” Donahue said. “I would do an hour or two a day and slowly but steadily save up for my [materials].”
Despite the expensive cost and the strenuous, long hours at the forge, Donahue continues to find a sense of satisfaction and happiness through the process.
“It’s just really satisfying work. You start off with a piece of steel or a block of wood. It’s a really intimate art because you have such small material that there’s really rough moments and fine tune moments. You go through a wide range scale of emotions. Seeing the finished project is always fantastic,” he said.
Donahue has preferences in what he likes to make in forges both for his own interest and his family’s.
“I like to make chef’s knives,” he said. “Personally, I prefer to do more of Japanese-style cooking knives. My family really likes cooking so they ask me to make miscellaneous kitchenware.”
Donahue has sold knives to family friends in the past but has stopped selling recently because he does not want to sell work that is flawed and not his best possible product.
“I don’t want something with my name to be out there if it’s not truly as good as it can be. I always see little flaws in my knives when they’re done,” he noted. “Even if others can’t see them I can see always little nooks and crannies here and there that others don’t notice. I’m just trying to get better.”
Donahue also enjoys sharing his passion and offering advice to others interested in the craft on his blog, modernbladesmith.weebly.com.
“Blacksmithing at first seems really intimidating,” Donahue acknowledged. “People think blacksmithing and immediately think hammer and anvil [but] you just need a file and some scrap metal. Start with something small and work your way up.”