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The orange glow of molten iron, Jeff Bridgers hammers salvaged steel from an automotive leaf spring into a hand-crafted knife, the high-pitched clang of hammer against soft, hot iron echoing across the horse pastures that surround his shop. Heat from the propane forge fills the space as he moves back and forth between the flame and the anvil. A briarwood pipe hangs from his mouth, and an aura of sweet-smelling English tobacco hovers around his head.

Bridgers is a blacksmith, a craftsman, an artist. As the son of a welder, it could be said that the passion for shaping hot metal is in his blood.

In older times, a blacksmith’s role in the community was much elevated. The blacksmith was responsible for forging a range of simple machines and tools and, in many cases, even acting as the town animal doctor. Expected to perform such an array duties, the blacksmith truly was considered the “master craftsman.”

Today most blacksmiths delve into the creative arts, while only a handful stay true to origins of the craft by forging their own tools from scrap. Bridgers is one of the few, making a living by creating custom pieces for a variety of clients. With a soulful approach to life and work, Bridgers makes it a priority to be a part of the entire process when he creates a piece. It’s unarguably the more challenging approach, and the pursuit of remaining true to the roots of the craft keeps Bridgers in tune with the arduous process of molding the metal.

His shop, Forge and Foundry, is a Quonset-style building; inside, a large anvil is placed under an industrial exhaust vent and there’s a large coal and propane forge. On the walls are relics of old tools and plans for future projects camouflaged in the sea of deep reddish-grey oxidizing iron. Various piles of old projects, scrap metal and future masterpieces are neatly sectioned throughout the shop, but he knows exactly what is what and where to find everything.

He remembers an old, broken file he made a while back, pulls it from one of the piles and places it on the hot embers of the propane forge. Pulling out the bright orange metal, he goes to work hammering over the anvil. He is re-purposing an otherwise useless trade tool, breathing life back into the scrap. That’s how it is around here: A piece of iron that would have likely gone unused forever will become a blade, an elaborate piece of art or a frame for function-inspired furniture. Bridgers sees things differently than most; in his eyes an old car part, a rusted screwdriver or a broken bed frame are ingredients for something else.

A closer look around the shop reveals that it’s more than just a work space, more than a pile of scrap metal waiting to be melted down and hammered into another shape. The tiny nuances of Bridgers’ personality are forged in iron. The hinges of the giant shop doors were shaped out of necessity and bear the signature of the craftsman. Muscle and a swinging hammer created these details that most people would just pass by, and these signatures are all around the space.

Even in the uncomfortable heat, there is a relaxed atmosphere in the shop.

“[Blacksmithing] is my therapy,” he says, “It gives me a spiritual feeling every day that I work.”

And he works hard — hand-cramping, sweat-pouring, bone-grinding, muscle-aching hard. Yet there is an air of refinement about Bridgers. He is poised, and from his well-maintained haircut and full manicured beard, you can tell he takes pride in his appearance. This desire to be well-groomed is what led Bridgers to build something else — a lifestyle brand of men’s grooming products and accessories called
Forge & Foundry.

The approach that “necessity is the mother of invention” is one of the roots for Forge & Foundry. Bridgers recognized that he is not the only one with a need for grooming products that can hold up to a hard-working environment. He recognized that men’s fashion has evolved to include the uniqueness of the craftsman, and that even for the blue-collar worker, there is a desire to be presentable while working hard, to invest in the way you look while keeping in line with functionality.

At first, Bridgers began creating items he would need daily — the knife on his belt, the straight razor, a pipe, even the grooming products and balms crafted from local bee’s wax and fine-tuned proprietary recipes. Touching on the adage of “Why buy what you can make yourself?” Forge & Foundry is basically a catalog of items that Bridgers uses daily in his life. Some of his most beautiful creations are his knives and razors made from automotive scrap with handles fashioned from deer antler, wood or even old ground denim.

While the Forge & Foundry brand reflects Bridgers’ personal lifestyle, it is applicable to any man who is seeking quality products that fall in line with his daily routines, such as hair pomade, beard and mustache wax or even the hardware to maintain sharp grooming practices. Outside of grooming products, Forge & Foundry offers skinner blades and camp knives, balms for tattoo healing and heavy-duty mechanics soap for cleaning up after a long day of working with your hands.

There is a deliberate style in Bridgers’ work. He aims to stay true to the credo of his profession as the master craftsman in all aspects of his life, from carpentry to metalworking to soap and balm chemistry.

Article and photography: Jason Hudson