"One day we will all cherish the memory of having blacksmiths on every corner." -George Singleton
We may no longer have blacksmiths on every corner, but we did recently visit an amazing metal forge on the corner of Morgan Oak and Middle St. in Cape.
Ironman Forge in Cape Girardeau officially opened its doors in March of 2020. Born right at the start of the 2020 shutdowns this modern version of a profession that was thought to be long extinct beat the odds and not only survived but thrived during one of the toughest times for small businesses in recent history.
Impressed with the courage, determination, and unwavering optimism of this 21st century smith, we had to know more about Cape’s Ironman.
Meet Steve Watkins
Owner and proprietor of Ironman Forge in Cape Girardeau, creator of Ironman Knives, and a true genius in the art of metalworking, Steve has a passion for bladesmithing that is unmatched, and creates rare and amazing pieces on a daily basis in his full service workshop on Morgan Oak St. in Cape Girardeau.
573: Steve, tell us about your family.
“My mom and dad moved to Cape in 1971. Dad took a new job here and they’ve stayed since. My sister, her husband and their Son’s family live in Cape where they are building a new rice mill. They also farm just across the river in Southern IL. I lived in Charlotte Nc for 23 years and upon moving back to Cape I wanted to bring a little Charlotte back with me. I renovated an old feed store into The Forge Venue upstairs and my shop downstairs. It feels like a Charlotte/Nashville loft.”
573: How did you get started in metalworking?
“Before moving to NC I trained and shod horses all over Southeast Missouri. That's where I learned how to move steel with a hammer and an anvil. Horse training took me to NC, and after 20 years of it I was ready for a new adventure. I reintroduced myself to my tools and found a knife making school in the Mountains outside of Nashville. Since then I have been a full time Bladesmith.
In 2015 I submitted a knife to the Garden and Guns magazines “Best of Made in the South” and was awarded the best knife maker in the “Home” category. Recently I have entered into a contract with the USSNC, the most decorated Battleship of WWII. The ship is undergoing renovations to the Hull and Decks and I am making knives using those original materials. It is very cool to hold that history in your hand!”
573: Tell us about opening Ironman Forge in Cape Girardeau.
“I opened for business slowly as renovations to my building were being completed. I was fully open as of March 2020 and we all know what happened then!! But despite the shutdowns, business immediately started to grow and Cape has shown quite an interest in my work! I just finished up a 3 day Bladesmithing clinic which was very well received. So much so that referrals from the clinic have started filling spots for the next 2 I have planned. The next one being October 8th, 2021.”
573: Tell us about your knives.
“My knives are my art, Functional art. All my knives are made of Carbon steel as opposed to Stainless Steel. Carbon provides superior edge retention and lends itself much more to the forging process.
The top knife, is made from the Hull of the USSNC also known as BB55, the most decorated battleship of WWII. The handles are made from the original teak decks. The BB55 knives each come with a certificate signed by the Captain. They are a limited run of 30 and priced for serious collectors only. They can be purchased here. The next 2 blades are a Damascus Cleaver, used for breaking down meat, and a Traditional Japanese Nikiri or Vegetable knife. Both are made from 180 layer Damascus steel, made in house, with burled maple handles.
The last 2 are large French Chef knives. Made from a single piece of O1 Carbon steel. The handles are brown and blue Curley or Flame maple.
Forging is an age-old process of forming steel and the art has started dying out. Myself and a small group of makers are keeping the art alive and hope to continue passing along these skills. Most people only know stainless knives so when they hold and use a well crafted carbon knife, they are blown away by the difference!”
It was awesome watching Steve work as we chatted during our visit, and though seeing this artform on every street corner was never a part of my personal past, I can see how it would be greatly missed by those who experienced the sights and sounds of a local blacksmith in their daily life long ago. The bright sparks with a life all their own, the rhythmic and wonderfully simplistic clanging of the hammer falling on the blade, the feeling of something very real, noble, and lasting...I felt so alive just watching it happen that I decided me and the family just simply cannot miss the next Ironman Forge bladesmithing clinic. Join us in learning more about this fascinating art, but reserve your spot now, before they’re all full! The next one will be October 8th, 2021.
Until then 573, be happy, be healthy, be well!