Written by Derek Halsey | Photos by Anthony Harden
Liam Hoffman, at only 21 years of age, is a gifted, award-winning blacksmith for the 21st century.
Pulling off onto the street leading to Liam Hoffman’s blacksmith shop, the road bends upward, as many side roads do in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina.
Hoffman lives near Newland, North Carolina, a town of about 700 people located at 3,600 feet elevation, in one of seven counties that make up the region known as the High Country. His small wood building contains walls lined with all of the tools needed to be a blacksmith, including the proverbial 300-pound anvils.
The concept of the anvil as a tool dates back over 5,000 years to the Bronze Age, when both the tools and the anvils were made out of bronze. Iron, however, is much harder than bronze. Iron was naturally found in meteorites that humans pulled out of the ground and used as makeshift anvils. About 1,500 years ago, however, humans discovered how to make iron on their own, and what is known as the modern-day anvil began to take shape. Hoffman’s anvils are of the classic mold, with their “horns” (cone shaped projections used for bending pieces that have been forged), “faces” (the flat top of an anvil), “throats” (to allow sufficient room under the horns to work), and “pritchels” (small round holes used for punching holes in the pieces).
As I walk into his shop, Hoffman is working on a new sword while heat-treating several axe heads. His hands and forearms are muscled up, reflecting day after day of pounding molten pieces of metal and grabbing red-hot axe heads out of a 1,500-degree oven with giant tongs.
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