ONE: Back In The Day, I’d Still Be A Little Bellows Boy
My name is Nick Moreau, I am a human and a blacksmith and some other stuff. Here's proof:
I grew up idolizing my dad who is a framer - that is - one who frames houses. Here’s me and my butt crack one summer in the act of framing.
I used to dream of having a sweet set up of tools and knowledge of building. I’d see tradesmen in their beat-up trucks, weathered skin and Marlboro red 100’s (that’s extra long cowboy-killers) and I’d think of my pops and how he was cool enough to grunt and scratch his balls in the right synchronization to communicate with those dudes. Maybe my balls don’t scratch the same way, but I was never able to master the language. Whenever I was “hanging with the dudes” on the jobsite I usually felt like a pretender, like I was this keen Bob the Builder caricature. “We need another box of two- and-a-half T25 deck screws, can you grab them from the trailer?” What the fuck are you talking about?
The summer after my first year of college I flew down to Florida to stay with my Dad for the first time. I was excited to finally work with the old man and learn to be a real carpenter. I packed my Tim’s, because that’s what real men wear on the jobsite, just like in the slow motion ads where ripped guys in hard hats are using chains to lift and drag large ambiguous machinery. Boots are legit for looking cool and thug, but rough for climbing on roofs, or on top of walls. Or ladders. Or most things. My coworkers - consisting of my dad who was the boss, and another father-son duo who called themselves the ‘A-Team’ – wore a pair of $8 WalMart Velcro sneakers (my dad is also frugal) and matching VANS skate shoes (the A-team liked to match).
My dad and the A-team also had tans. The younger A-team member had a six-pack and would frame with no shirt on. I thought I would increase my cool factor by catching up on the tan, wearing cool lax pinnies (I should probably mention this now, I am a straight white male from New England who played lacrosse) and rocking the guns sans suntan lotion while I got my frame on. In addition to getting my frame on, I also got sun poisoning that first week and spent the rest of my time that summer ‘framing with the guys’ carrying around a giant jug of scented Aloe vera gel that my stepmom gave me. I had to take a timeout from getting my frame on every 20 minutes to apply this gel to the area of my shoulder where my skin used to be.
When I started metalworking full-time, it took me a while to say I was a blacksmith when someone asked me what I did. For one, when I say blacksmith, people usually ask if I make one of two things: horseshoes or swords. If you learn one thing today, you asshole, someone who shoes horses is called a ferrier, and someone who makes swords is called a bladesmith.
Another reason is I do not see myself as a professional: I didn’t go to art school or trade school or blacksmith school (yes, those exist). I can’t even draw (it’s pathetic, the sketches I have to show to clients sometimes).
My workshop started in my grandparents' garage. I couldn’t hammer on Sundays because the neighbors would walk through their backyard to complain about the noise. I only apprenticed for one year before I began my own shop. I know my work is good, but I know in a lot of ways I am still pretending to be a professional. As my commissions have gotten bigger and my business has grown, so has my confidence. But I'm still waiting for that feeling to go away, and I wonder if it ever will.
I think about if this were back in the day, I wouldn’t even be allowed to be the guy hammering yet. I’d be the kid with the sooty face in the back working the fan to keep the coals hot. The real blacksmiths would probably call me Skippy and tell me to fetch things for them.
Sometimes I get embarrassed by my silly set-up and my lack of experience. I think I’m just playing blacksmith, like a little kid sliding on the roof in his Tim’s, trying to be just like his Dad.
Sometimes when someone compliments my work, I think they are stupid for complimenting an apprentice in training named Skippy whose only skill is making a mean cup of tea for the real blacksmiths. But compliments feel nice.
Nick Moreau is an artist blacksmith and big fan of hand-pulled noodles. For recreation, he enjoys putzing around and watching 'Star Trek.' His business is Wicks Forge.