Heritage Forge in the Homestead Heritage Traditional Crafts Village north of Waco preserves the ancient art of blacksmithing
Heritage Forge in the Homestead Heritage Traditional Crafts Village north of Waco preserves the ancient art of blacksmithing. A blacksmith moves and molds the hot steel with a hammer, says Lynn Fritzlan, the village smithy. On the other hand, a welder uses a filler to bind two pieces of metal. Both may be craftsmen, but there is an artistic method to blacksmithing that shows in the strength and longevity of the finished product.
That's not to say that Fritzlan doesn't use modern equipment in his barnlike shop. He uses a band saw to cut out basic shapes and welding to assemble some pieces. "Using just the forge limits you," he says.
The forge sits in the front of the shop like a large kitchen stove. On top of the brick structure a small coal fire burns under the ventilation hood. A few pumps of the bellows and the fire roars to life. Fritzlan uses a small amount of a special coal that burns hot but gives off a dirty smoke.
It doesn't take long for the coal-fired forge to heat the thick metal red hot. Before the metal cools, Fritzlan shapes it using a large hammer on an anvil as if he were working with modeling clay. Depending on what he is doing, some objects have to be heated three or four times before the shape is completed.
A couple of years ago he built more than 300 feet of wrought-iron fencing. Using the forge, he shaped the tops of the fence posts into a fleur-de-lis design. The vertical bars were inserted through holes punched in the horizontal rails by heating the metal and using a chisel to cut the hole.
Many of Fritzlan's punches and chisels he made himself from coil springs off of junked cars. "Making tools is a big part of blacksmithing," he says. He also makes his own jigs and patterns. Showing visitors how the shop works is part of Fritzlan's job.
Not only does he make fireplace tools and kitchen fixtures sold in the village's gift shop, but Fritzlan does a lot of custom work. He has made everything from branding irons to ranch gates. Former Sen. Phil Gramm has ordered a chandelier from the blacksmith, and working with stained-glass artist Brian Stanton, Fritzlan made the lighting fixtures in the lobby of the Driskill Hotel in Austin and at the Badlands Hotel in Lajitas. Every stained-glass window has to have a solid frame. "Brian is a great designer," Fritzlan says, "and he depends on me to bring some of his designs to pass."
Born on the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, Fritzlan has been working with metal since he was 14 years old. A big, burly guy with a shy smile, he worked as a lumberjack and oil-field welder before moving to Austin nearly 20 years ago. "If the blacksmith shop wasn't part of the (Heritage) Village, then I would probably be a welder," he says. "I love the ingenuity that goes into making something work."
Homestead Heritage Crafts Village is a Christian community of craftsmen and farmers dedicated to a simpler way of life. In addition to the blacksmith shop, the village includes a potter, furniture maker, and grist mill that are all happy to give visitors a demonstration of their crafts. The village has a large gift shop selling the work of area craftsmen, including soaps, candles, quilts, and other fine crafted items. The Homestead Farms Deli & Bakery serves all-natural meats raised on the farm, fresh desserts and bread, and homemade ice cream made with organic ingredients.
Homestead Heritage offers special guided tours to groups by appointment, or visitors are welcome to visit the shops. Woodworking and blacksmithing classes are offered throughout the year by the resident craftsmen. The village opens Monday through Saturday, 10am to 6pm. To get to the village, exit I-35 at Elm Mott north of Waco, take FM 308 west to FM 933, and go north about 11½2 miles to Halbert Lane. On the weekend after Thanksgiving the group holds a crafts fair with an emphasis on children's activities. For more information, call 254/829-0417.
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