Forging new talent: Downtown press maker celebrates opening of educational center

Nathan Brandt and Andy Davis started their forging business with a shared passion for creating and inventing things.

In a 600-square-foot barn in Brandt’s back yard, the duo experimented with a variety of parts and welding methods to build their first C-frame hydraulic forging press. From that first device, they fashioned additional presses, selling 10 of them in their first year of business.

As word of their product spread among the blacksmithing community, demand mushroomed.

“The next year, we sold 100 presses,” Brandt said. “We built everything ourselves, and we just grew and grew and kept trying to innovate on what we understood.”

As the business that would become Coal Ironworks grew, Brandt and Davis soon moved to a 43,000-square-foot warehouse just north of Anderson’s downtown. In the process, they discovered another source of enthusiasm: teaching their craft to others.

“It became more about getting in front of more and more people to teach them about making and building,” Brandt said. “We wanted to teach them about creativity and expression and understanding themselves.”

Last December, Davis died of complications from brain cancer, leaving Brandt and a staff of about 18 to carry on with the business and memorialize his desire to educate and pass the profession along to others.

The first tribute to that legacy was celebrated over the weekend, when Coal Ironworks hosted the Andy Davis Hammer-In, a two-day series of metal forging demonstrations and workshops. The event featured a ribbon cutting to officially open an educational center that will provide specialized training from some of the country’s best bladesmiths.

“It’s just a great source of positive energy,” said Levi Rinker, an economic development specialist with the City of Anderson. “This started with two guys from outside the community who had an idea and a need for space. These kids have gone from just a small dream to having nearly 20 employees working for them.”

The center has a partnership with Anderson Community Schools’ D26 Career Center, which provides student interns with a chance to gain experience in the manufacturing world with an eye toward trade schools or other vocational opportunities.

Brandt said the new education center could offer the chance to expand that partnership, but he also hopes to gauge response from the surrounding business community.

“I think invigorating our community with an access point, especially for youth, is absolutely a component of our long-term vision,” he explained. “We want to make sure that we are providing a place of experimentation and expression where they can come and see what they’re capable of.”

Current plans include offering six classes in 2023 before assessing and tweaking the curriculum. Eventually, accreditation for trade schools and other specialized programs could also be part of the center’s offerings.

“We’ve not really thought that far ahead, necessarily,” said Evan Williamson, marketing director for Coal Ironworks.

“Having this (facility) here, I’m hoping, is going to reinvigorate some of that interest in the art, especially for kids. (Blacksmithing) is a dying art, it’s a dying community, and we’re trying to reinvigorate it, expand that as much as we can.”

This article appeared in The Herald Bulletin.