Creating things out of metal has been the work of smiths since ancient times, making tools, jewelry, containers and artistic items. With new discoveries came new uses and new alloys: gold, silver, copper, tin, lead, iron and bronze, and each had its own distinct properties.
Man discovered that some metals were more useful for certain jobs than others. Gold and silver are very soft metals mostly used for decoration or made into items for trade. Copper could be hardened by hammering or forging, and it was used for tools like utensils, knives and scrapers. Bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, changed the world. It was stronger than copper, could be hardened by forging and could be cast into useful items. With this revelation came the Bronze Age.
The discovery of iron was a major step in man’s use of metals. Hard, yet easily worked and commonly available, it heralded the Iron Age. Weapons, horse shoes, stronger tools for farming, gates, hinges and knives were all created from iron and proved durable, strong and even beautiful. “Wrought iron” is iron that has been heated and worked with tools to make useful objects. One Anza resident has created both usefulness and a rare beauty from the wrought iron he produces.
“Nowadays, the wrought iron industry is being dominated by machine-formed iron and cast pieces brought in from other countries and slapped together by someone with a welder,” Nathan Cole, owner and artist of Nathan Cole Ironworks, said. “When it comes to decorative iron, my greatest satisfaction comes from forging pieces that machines can’t make, objects that mimic nature, like leaves, flowers, pine cones. Figuring out a way to recreate natural forms by hand forging is very challenging but ultimately rewarding.”
Cole studied industrial design at the Academy of Arts University in San Francisco. He realized that he was more interested in the creative aspect of designing for function or craft-based design; in other words, where the use and eventual form of the product is determined by the product’s creator. After university, Cole became an apprentice of a Czechoslovakian master ironworker and learned the techniques and workmanship needed to produce unique items of both function and incredible beauty.
After eight years working with this master, he started at Stone Manufacturing in Los Angeles. Three years later, he went out on his own, starting Nathan Cole Ironworks, producing gates, railings and other utilitarian objects. He also forges beautiful artistic items.
Cole produces some of the most interesting and unique wrought iron pieces with his forge, anvil and hammer. His ability to work metal into imaginative, yet functional products is simply breathtaking. He makes blades that are both pleasing to the eye and sturdy enough for actual use. Some say this is a “lost art,” but not to Cole. The methods are not as simple as people may think.
“Blade smithing has brought me to a whole new level. This is where the art and science really become one,” Cole said. “I could research for years on steel alloys, heat treating temps, quench times, quench mediums, temper times, hardness tests, but actually discovering the method that works, your method, becomes as rare and unique as the blades you create. Creating the greatest blade becomes the goal, and more than likely only few ever reach. I intend to reach it.”
The knife blades Cole coaxes from plain, gray metal are filled with intricate detail. Fine lines etch filigree-like patterns in the face of the smooth metal, and every one is unique. The handles are made from such materials as fine tropical woods, richly colored and adorned with brass fittings. These are truly works of functional art.
Knife collectors and enthusiasts will want to include Nathan Cole pieces in their collections.
“I intend to continue forging through the holiday season and will hopefully have some blades with sheaths at Mr. Happy’s Mercantile and surrounding gun and survival stores in Idyllwild, Temecula, Palm Desert and Hemet early next year,” Cole said. “I will also be launching my new site TheColeForge.com in the coming months. Until then, you can see my decorative iron at NathanColeIronworks.com.”