A hobby forged in fire for Lustfeldt

Gifford’s Larry Lustfeldt works the forge at last week’s Historic Farm Days, Penfield. More photos of the farm show appear in this week's Rantoul Press

PENFIELD — For Larry Lustfeldt’s 16th birthday, his father gave him an anvil.

And Lustfeldt was delighted.

Lustfeldt doesn’t play golf for a hobby or collect coins. He loves the smell of heated metal in the morning.  

The Gifford resident and two other blacksmiths put their abilities on display at last week’s Historic Farm Days, sponsored by the I&I Antique Tractor and Gas Engine Club, at Penfield.

While fellow hobbyist Lary Whitesell of Tipton, Ind., crafted a metal cross, nearby Bill Corey of Cartersburg, Ind., was creating a dog out of metal to the delight of a youngster. Lustfeldt, meanwhile, was forge-welding a fire poker for camping at the request of a show-goer who stopped by the blacksmith shop.

The blacksmiths are glad to make items for the public. The only cost: They ask if they would make a donation to the shop for the purchase of coal or other material.

Lustfeldt got into blacksmithing in a roundabout way. He became a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a group involved in researching and re-creating the arts and skills of Medieval life. The group has a combat area that makes armor “and beat each other with sticks,” he said. “I got into that when I was 13 or 14. I got into making armor.”

By 16 Lustfeldt was into the “hot work” type of that crafting.

“There was only one good book back then, ‘The Edge of the Anvil’ by Jack Andrews,’ and I kind of taught myself out of that and collected some tools.”

But he didn’t have an anvil, so his father bought him one.

As for a career, Lustfeldt’s original intent was to enter law enforcement. He enrolled in that area at Southern Illinois University. One day while at Dairy Queen, he overheard “two grubby guys” talking about blacksmithing.

They told him there was “’this blacksmith thing at Fulliam Hall.’”

“They said, ‘You can get a master’s degree in art metals,’ so I finagled my way to two semesters of that,” Lustfeldt said. “It grew from there.”

As much as anything he learned he’s “not the only crazy person doing this. There’s a whole host of people doing it and doing it professionally.”

Lustfeldt’s favorite thing about blacksmithing is the creativity — “how you can take a lump of steel and hit it with a hammer and make it into a delicate, beautiful thing.”

It’s not an easy craft, he said.

Most people, Lustfeldt said, don’t realize “how hard it is to do. They see a smith at the anvil and working with the hammer. Every time I get somebody new, it’s amazing how slow it is to get the iron to the anvil and hitting it so light. You have to be fast.”

If you are too slow, the metal cools and hammer blows are erratic.

“The good thing about being a good blacksmith is you can make your own tools — tongs, punches, chisels,” Lustfeldt said. “There’s an old saying, ‘All things are made from the hand and the hammer.’”

Now an electrician at the University of Illinois, Lustfeldt worked full time as a blacksmith for two years. He made gates, railing, fireplace sets and “did the craft show circuit.”

But he decided to leave that life, and instead made blacksmithing a hobby.

“I know several smiths that are full time,” he said. “Some are architectural blacksmiths, where they do nothing but gates and railings and household-type issues. Some of them do decorative things and repairs.”

He is a member of the Illinois Valley Blacksmith Association, with membership of more than 400.