Forging a name for himself
by Marguerite Cline, columnist
March 14, 2014 12:27 AM | 1391 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
While a student at Cherokee High School, Canton resident Ben Bradshaw took three classes that eventually resulted in his life’s work.

One, metal fabrication, was taught by Luke Fann. Another was an art course taught by Dr. Helen Stone. Additionally, he learned how to make furniture.

Having the ability to create a finished product was satisfying to him.

Earlier in his adult life Ben worked in family businesses. But something kept drawing him back to metal works. Merging his talent and training, he was directed toward what would be his career. He opened Bradshaw Metal Works, where he works as an artist and a blacksmith.

Ben joined a local blacksmithing guild and learned much about the craft. Plus, he went to the Ozark School of Blacksmithing in Missouri where he worked under Tom Clark, a master blacksmith and tool maker.

Working with helper, Lance Zeigler, they now create works of art for customers. While they talk about the pleasure they get from their work, they also talk about some things that are not as much fun. That includes the heat that comes with blacksmithing.

Although they have the doors and windows open and big fans blowing, on hot summer days with temperatures between 90 and 100, they sometimes must shorten their day. Inside the shop the temperature is often much higher than outside.

It takes immense heat to get iron and steel to a hot enough temperature it can be bent and shaped. Although they wear protective clothing, there is still the possibility of getting burned or hurt. An essential part of their gear is special helmets to protect their eyes when welding.

Ben describes his signature piece as vine-shaped railings. The purpose of railings is to guide, assist and contain us. While the railings he makes do all of that, they are also interesting. He describes his railings as creative, organic and flowing. Many have tree bark forged into them.

I describe them as beautiful and elegant.

Customers usually have an idea of what they want when they contact Ben. Then he designs the work around their ideas.

Many of his customers live in Cashiers or Highlands, N.C. He also has delivered his work to Kiawah Island and even one in Italy.

One of his biggest orders came from North Carolina. A connoisseur of wine was building a huge house and wanted a wine cellar with racks to hold 3,000 bottles. After studying the architectural drawings, Ben made more than one trip on site to take additional measures. One of the big tasks was to calculate the exact angles of how the bottles would need to be displayed.

The wood used was a local product. After an oak tree had fallen on someone’s property, they gave it to Ben. He had it cut, planed and cured. It was perfect for the wine cellar.

Ben and Lance deliver most of their finished work themselves. They load it in the back of Ben’s Dodge Ram pickup truck and are on their way. That truck must be one of the best ever made since Ben has driven it for about 500,000 miles and it is still going.

All the work done at Bradshaw Metal Works is custom made and includes furniture, lighted tree sculptures, metal gates, aluminum dolphins, etc. Also, they restore vintage pieces like iron gates.

Sometimes they find themselves having to work long hours to get a project finished on time. They laugh about being under the lights of a fast food restaurant late at night painting a piece that had to be delivered right away.

Some of the things Ben makes are for his own enjoyment. He has an iron nail that is about eight feet long. Other blacksmiths have worked on it and each has added a thumb print. Prep work is being done now for submitting it to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Another fun thing he makes is a spork. More than a foot long, it has a spoon on one end and a fork on the other.

After Ben’s mentor, Clark, made his last of 4,000 hammers, he told Ben it made him the biggest hammer maker in the world. That gave Ben the idea of making one huge hammer and telling Clark it made him the biggest hammer maker in the world.

As you probably know, high school seniors in Georgia must complete a senior project to qualify to graduate. It must be something that will be valuable in their chosen career.

Remembering how his art, metal fabricating and furniture making classes led him into his career, he allows one student each year to work with him for their project. His current student is building a complicated decorative lamp out of mica glass and steel.

Other blacksmiths have recognized Ben and his work in various trade publications. You know you are good when your peers so highly value your work. No doubt about it, Ben Bradshaw is a blacksmith and artist who does.

Marguerite Cline is former mayor of Waleska.
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