ART FORGED IN THE FIRE Working at night adds special glow as artist hammers metal into shape


BRADDOCK HEIGHTS -- Ed Stockman likes working the fires at night, the embers hot and glowing on the brick hearth as he pokes and stirs the coals.

The blazing reds and oranges are rivaled in their intensity only by the bright scarlet of the steel as it is thrust into the fire, removed, pounded and shoved again into the searing heat.

"It's more romantic or mystical at night," Mr. Stockman said as he raised a hammer to pound the steel.

The 30-year-old artist has created works in metal for nearly a decade. The Middletown native, who now lives a short distance up the mountain in Braddock Heights, is a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.

For the past seven years he has been working in downtown Frederick. Built in 1947, the structure has always been used as a blacksmith shop, Mr. Stockman said.

He has fashioned gates, furniture and sculpture, mostly of iron, and a little more than a year ago, branched into making steel knives.

"I like doing gates and furniture," he said. "But if I was picking one thing to do as a living it would be knives."

Anybody can take a piece of steel and make it sharp, but achieving a structure and design elevates knife making into an art form, he said.

"It's not like an abstract art form, it's very nature-oriented," Mr. Stockman said. "If you follow the harmony in nature, things happen for the best."

Mr. Stockman said his mentor is Bill Moran, a world-famous knife maker from Middletown. A yellowed newspaper story about Mr. Moran hangs on one of the shop walls.

"I learn by reading and talking to Mr. Moran," he said, adding that he would like to go to a special school in Arkansas, devoted just to knives, to learn even more.

As part of the process, he gets to work in wood and leather in addition to steel.

The knife handles, many of them carved from burl walnut, curly maple or ash, are decorated with vines and other details, making them works of art in their own right.

Mr. Stockman also designs and crafts the leather sheaths, carefully lining the inside with bass wood and felt so as not to scratch the blades with their mirrorlike finish, or allow the knife to come through the leather.

It takes him two weeks to a month to complete a knife, with the final step being the placement of his initials on the metal near the handle.

Sometimes when he opens the building's overhead front doors, curious passers-by will stop and watch his progress. A carpenter friend also works out of the large room.

Mr. Stockman burns coke -- coal with the sulfur burned out of it -- in the fireplace where he works. The fire's temperature is critical, he said, with the steel heated to about 1,800 degrees. Metal tongs of varying sizes are lined up nearby, ready to be used.

Mr. Stockman starts with a flat bar of steel, placing it in the heat and then pounding it.

"The closer you can get it into shape by forging, the less grinding you have to do," he said.

The hammer comes down with a satisfying clang, and a small spark of oxidized metal scale flies off the end. Again there is a resounding clang of metal against metal.

"I work out a lot of stress," he said.

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