Sounds of metal on metal — clang, clang, clang — reverberated around Fort Croghan’s blacksmith shop in Burnet on a recent spring day. Kainon Baumer paused his hammer work, studied the piece of steel he was beating into shape, and tucked it back in the flames.
“That’s one of my favorite things: how the medium works,” Baumer said as he cranked on a blower that pushed air into the forge, sending a burst of flame upward. “Yeah, I geek out on that.”
Blacksmiths are the original toolmakers, Baumer said. The blacksmith shop was the heart of a community’s manufacturing as practitioners designed, built, and repaired things such as wagon wheels and farming implements.
That role has certainly changed over the years as blacksmiths have hammered out a niche among hobbyists and artisans.
During his stop at Fort Croghan Grounds and Museum in Burnet in May, Baumer pounded out a hook the facility needed for one of its displays. As it was a few days before Mother’s Day, he also planned to forge a gift for Mom.
Working on the hook, Baumer alternated between heating the thin, steel rod in the fire and shaping it on the anvil. The clangs varied in tenor between heavy strikes and light, precise taps as he fashioned an “S” shape, a combination of brute strength and finesse.
The 26-year-old Tow resident picked up blacksmithing 10 years ago after his family moved from Spokane, Washington, to Cedar Park, Texas.
“My computer died,” Baumer said. “I was looking for something to do when that happened, something that was not so technologically dependent.”
He found blacksmithing, an ancient skill with no need for electricity, software, or an internet connection.
He began to learn the craft at Balcones Forge, a nonprofit group of Central Texas blacksmiths ranging from expert to beginner. Being a teen, Baumer couldn’t help but fall back on the technology he had previously shunned.
“There’s a lot of things you can learn online,” he said, adding that YouTube videos have been a big asset in his learning process.
Baumer’s mother agreed to let him dig a small hole in their Cedar Park backyard for his first forge. He knew he was hooked the moment he put the makeshift forge to work. It was a simple start to something that’s become a big part of his life.
When Baumer picks up a piece of steel, his preferred medium, he doesn’t always know what he’s going to make. He discovers the piece as he works the metal. It’s one of the things he enjoys most about the process.
“I think that’s part of the fun, just seeing what a piece turns out to be,” Baumer said.
Once finished with the hook for the Burnet museum, he began heating and hammering another piece of steel, this one for his mother. An idea took shape in his mind with each swing of the hammer, each plunge into the fire.
Despite the rising heat coming off of the forge and the warming afternoon temperatures, Baumer smiled throughout his work, pausing to take questions from Fort Croghan visitors.
“I like talking to people about what I’m doing,” he said. “It’s nice that people think this is interesting.”
During the past decade, Baumer has improved his craft, but he still has a lot to learn, he admitted. He plans to build his own blacksmith shop but, until then, works the Fort Croghan forge every chance he gets.
“I like it out here,” said Baumer, taking a quick look around at the tipi, the corn crib, and other buildings on display on the old fort’s grounds. “I like the history. I like talking to people when they come by. It’s good to be able to, you know, share something about blacksmith(ing), especially here.”
Conversation over, he turned back to the anvil, raised his hammer, and struck a piece of metal glowing orange with heat, working it one blow at a time to form a delicate piece of jewelry for his mother.