Deep in the Westport woods — just north of the Merritt Parkway — stands a forge.
There a blacksmith tends a fire, creating knives, door hinges and other implements out of iron.
The blacksmith is not some old man, holding on to a lost art passed down through many generations.
No; Guerric Vornle von Haagenfels taught himself everything he needs to know about blacksmithing.
Even more remarkably, Guerric is a Staples High School senior.
Three years ago, as a freshman, he fell in love with woodworking. He took every tech ed (nee “shop”) course Staples offered, then did an independent study. This year he earned a fine arts award for a rocking chair he designed and built.
Three years ago Guerric — a Troop 100 Eagle Scout was was always fascinated by knives — took what seemed a natural step: working with metal.
“All you need is to feel confident with your hands,” he says, while stoking his fire and twisting red-hot iron.
“It’s not hard to figure out. You can learn anything on the internet. You just need a forge and an anvil.”
Guerric makes 7- and 8-inch knives, along with barbecue forks, a door knocker and (he’s promised me) an iron soccer ball for my desk. He gives them away as gifts, to friends and his very large family.
Friends provide much of his scrap metal. He also finds some at the free section of the dump, and occasionally buys metal bars at Home Depot. He was amazed to find a huge pipe on his own property, but could not use it. “Galvanized steel emits toxic fumes,” he explains.
While some blacksmiths use expensive propane forges, Guerric built his own coal forge from a drum. “It’s primitive, but it serves me well,” he says.
It’s just one ridge over from Charcoal Hill Road — where, more than a century ago, charcoal was made.
Guerric says, “I like working hard. It’s cool at the end to see what I’ve created. And I see progress — I can always improve.”
Blacksmithing will probably not be Guerric’s career. Neither will rugby or skiing, both of which he competed in at Staples. Nor will agriculture, though he’s spending his senior internship at Sport Hill Farm in Easton.
This fall, Guerric heads to Lehigh University. He’ll study engineering; exactly what type, he’s not sure. “College will be a completely new experience,” he says. “I’m open to anything.”
Spoken with the open mind, adventurous spirit and remarkable creativity of a teenage Westport blacksmith.