In high school, David Roeder was the only kid allowed to bring knives to school.When he did, he was usually delivering them to his teachers.
Roeder started making knives when he was 16, growing up in a “good old boys’ community” in Live Oak, Fla., “where everybody hunts, everybody fishes,” he said. Self-taught and learning by trial and error, he hammered out knives with a claw hammer over a bonfire using a railroad rail for an anvil.
Today Roeder, 38, lives in Richland, Wash., with his wife and six children and sells knives online around the world. In blacksmithing circles, he’s famous for starring on the History Channel’s “Forged in Fire,” an elimination-style competition pitting blacksmiths against each other. He’ll judge a regional blacksmithing competition June 2 at Flora School Days in Flora, Ore., an annual event celebrating pioneer skills.
“The word blacksmith is almost lost in today’s vocabulary,” said Nathan Thompson, the blacksmith organizing the contest. “People think they’re called blacksmiths because they’re covered in black by the end of the day. That’s not the case. The term denotes the type of metal used. We use black metal, iron, which comes out of the mill with a dark gray to light black mill scale on it.”
At Flora School Days, demonstrators exhibit an array of pioneer skills like candle making, weaving and Dutch oven cooking on the grounds of a remote, historic schoolhouse. This will be the first blacksmithing competition.
“We’re making sure we’re educating people, but at the same time we want the blacksmiths to get something out of it too,” Thompson said.
The competition is open to any blacksmith. They will have five hours to forge three objects on site: a wall hook, a two-pronged fork for carving or serving, and a fully functioning door knocker. The public can watch them work and ask questions. Under time constraints, they’ll need to balance functionality, aesthetics and artistic flair.
Roeder faced similar pressure on “Forged in Fire.” He was recruited to appear on the show’s first season in 2015, where he took second place. He was asked to return for season three, where he was declared a champion.
Besides experience, Roeder has acquired better tools over the years. When judging blacksmithing work, he said he looks for form, function and cleanliness, which shows proper skill with a hammer. He also has a preference for “nature,” which he described as an object that looks like it was “planted and grew,” versus being produced in a factory.
“Forged in Fire” has provided blacksmiths and knifemakers great exposure, Roeder said. “It opened the eyes of the world to the concept that not everything is made in the factory.”
For him it’s led to some notoriety. He’s frequently recognized. Monday, a stranger emailed him to ask if he would call his wife to wish her a happy birthday as they were both fans of the show. Roeder agreed to to so.
“It’s weird,” Roeder said.
He also hears from many people who say they want to learn to make knives.
“I say okay, great, but don’t quit your day job. I’m not going to dissuade someone from doing it, but you’re not going to get rich,” said Roeder, who has a 9-to-5 job in pest control.
More information about School Days and the blacksmith competition is available online at floraschool.org, by calling (541) 828-7010, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Flora School Days 2018
WHEN: Noon to 6 p.m. June 2, 2018
WHERE: Flora, Ore.
COST: Free. Food and other items will be for sale.
DIRECTIONS: Flora is about 50 miles southwest of the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. From Asotin, take Washington State Highway 129 through Anatone. The road becomes Oregon State Highway 3. After the top of the grade there is a marked turnoff on the right for Flora. Take this road for 3 miles.