Frank Verga can make iron bend to his will. Of course, he does so with the help of a massive fire, which burns at temperatures approaching 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit — as hot as lava. A working blacksmith who also teaches his trade at the American College of Building Arts, Frank forges wrought-iron gates, railings for staircases and even some light Star Wars cosplay. Recently, Frank invited us to his smithy to show us what it means to be a blacksmith—burns and all.
On the dangers of working with fire: “A coal forge can heat up to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. We work the steel at temperatures between 1,100 and 2,000 degrees. The most common injuries are minor burns. It’s simply the price of doing business. With as much as we play with fire and hot metal, you’re going to get sizzled sooner or later.”
On when you know you’ve mastered the craft: “There’s no hard-and-fast rule as to what defines a ‘master blacksmith.’ It takes years of making mistakes. But when your peers begin referring to you as a master, that’s a decent sign.”
On his most memorable projects: “I once made a Jango Fett (from Star Wars) costume out of stainless steel. I’m currently doing research for a suit of fifteenth-century Italian armor as a personal project.”
On other movie characters that inspire him: “It’s not Iron Man. Sorry Robert Downey Jr.! I’m more low-tech than Tony Stark. My favorite movie is actually Big Trouble in Little China with Kurt Russell.”
On trying this at home: “It’s pretty impossible. The tools you need—like A BIG FRIGGIN’ FIRE—are difficult to use in a typical house or apartment. If you really want to try becoming a blacksmith, I’d recommend finding a local group or craft school. A lot of people have a romanticized vision of what a blacksmith does. So you need to get your hands dirty to see if it’s something you actually want to do.”
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