We recently met up with award-winning blacksmith Matt Jenkins at his small workshop on Cloverdale Farm, a plot of land northeast of Winnipeg, Manitoba that has been in his family for 5 generations. Matt grew up on Cloverdale Farm in a beautiful two-storey log cabin that his parents, Tom and Pat Jenkins, built for their family. His father was a self-taught blacksmith that created historic reproductions of hardware and other metal products at Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site, and he introduced Matt to the craft early on in life.
Matt moved to Montréal to study Mechanical Engineering in university, but spent his summers close to home, working as a blacksmith for the same fort that his father had. After completing his degree, Matt spent a year and half at the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina participating in a work study and student host program, while taking classes in blacksmithing, woodworking and other crafts. He has since returned to Manitoba, but continues to visit the Folk School regularly to teach.
Matt Jenkins in his blacksmith workshop at Cloverdale Farm.
When he’s not busy with his day job, engineering and drafting architectural metals for a company in Winnipeg, much of Matt’s time is spent at Cloverdale Farm creating custom metal art for clients under the name Cloverdale Forge. He also teaches blacksmithing courses on the farm as part of the Craft School he started with his mother, who currently runs a bed and breakfast out of the family’s log home. Cloverdale Forge continues to grow, and Matt hopes to run his business full-time and develop a product line. A bigger shop is already on the horizon.
Matt describes the process of blacksmithing like this: Get it hot. Hit it hard. Quit when you’re done. These words are quoted from Francis Whittaker, a well-known blacksmith whose work spanned the gap between the death of blacksmithing in 1910 and its revival in the 1970s. There is, of course, much more to the craft. Matt talked about the art and science behind it, and we were surprised to learn how much crossover there is between his engineering education, and his artistic work as a blacksmith.
Get it hot. Hit it Hard. Quit when you’re done. - Matt Jenkins quoting Francis Whittaker (American blacksmith)
A blacksmith uses 3 main tools: a forge, an anvil, and a hammer.
The forge is the place where the fire is kept. Metal is weakest at its hottest and thinnest points. To make it pliable, the blacksmith heats up the metal in the forge, until it has turned almost the same colour as the fire (leaving the metal in the forge any longer will burn it up). The blacksmith removes the metal from the forge and brings it to the anvil. The anvil is the blacksmith’s work bench, but it is as much a tool as the hammer. Matt recited Newton’s Third Law of Motion¹ several times during our visit. Every action has an opposite and equal reaction. Applying force to the metal with a hammer against the surface of the work bench means the anvil will exert the same force back.
There are many other tools and equipment that a blacksmith can use, and Matt has amassed an impressive collection. Many of the tools were passed down from his father, and decorate the walls and floor of his workshop.
The main anvil in Matt’s shop is a 294 lb Peter Wright.
Matt cools a thin piece of metal in an old water crock to strengthen it.
Matt’s favourite projects to work on are always the ones he’s working on right now, but he typically enjoys working on pieces that allow him to show more artistry. He’s worked on custom gate designs (see here and here), and would love to work on more projects like this. He’s also currently designing and making a set of garden tools, featuring continuous pieces of metal, for strength, and carved wood handles. The project combines Matt’s skills in blacksmithing and woodworking.
Garden tools in progress. The wood handles are also Matt’s work.
Interior of log cabin built by Matt’s parents. They also made the staircase and shelf unit pictured above.
Matt made the shaker boxes pictured above at the John C. Campbell Folk School.
Check out Matt Jenkin’s Tumblr blog at cloverdaleforge.com to learn more about his work, and visit cloverdalefarm.ca for details on upcoming classes. You can also follow @cloverdaleforge on Instagram and Twitter.
1. Wikipedia.com, Newton’s laws of motion.