By Lee Noles
MONROE – For years, Billy Kiker spent his days trekking across the United States to create economic opportunity for his engineering business. When conference calls, emails and long hours in airports became too much for the Union County native, he knew exactly what he wanted for his second act.
Kiker learned blacksmithing during those years, and the love for the artisanship propelled him to begin Stony Knoll Forge a little more than a year ago.
“It’s really amazing,” said Kiker of the 3,000-year-old profession. “It’s the ability to take something that has been in one state and then manipulate it into something else.”
Kiker wasn’t sure if he wanted to pursue the artform after hearing the difficulty and cost that came with creating a piece. His thoughts changed when a YouTube video inspired Kiker to buy a brake drum forge to hold coals and a hairdryer to supply air for the heating process. Kiker quickly learned the complexity of what he was doing when he placed a piece of metal into the drum for the first time. The drum’s temperature hovered at 2,200 degrees, causing the metal to melt in 10 minutes.
“That got me hooked,” Kiker said of seeing the outcome. “It just amazed me to take a brake drum, some coal and three and a quarter inch by three and a quarter inch piece of metal and melt it.”
Undeterred, Kiker worked on his craft. He started by trial and error before taking a class from David Burress at the Calerin Forge Custom Iron and School of Ancient Craft in the North Carolina mountains. It was there Kiker learned the ins and outs of being a strong blacksmith. The biggest lesson wasn’t how to hammer, which requires the person’s dominant hand, but holding the tong and moving it around the anvil with a person’s off hand. Kiker compares it to trying to write or draw with your opposite hand.
“That’s one of the hardest things to do,” Kiker said.
Kiker mainly made things for his wife, Shelly, but he started to get requests from friends to create bottle openers, cooking utensils and tools. It was then he began to think about starting a business.
“They were telling me ‘you should sell this or make this,’” Kiker said. “And that is what sort of got me more interested.”
Kiker’s talent has even drawn national attention. He said representatives for the History Channel’s “Forged in Fire” contacted him to participate in the competition. The TV show has craftsmen recreating weapons used throughout history. Kiker, however, doesn’t consider himself a bladesmith and turned down the show not once, but twice.
“And my answer is probably never,” he said if approached again. “I’m a blacksmith.”
Kiker’s passion for his artwork runs so deep that he even got a tattoo on his left bicep of an anvil similar to the 340-pound one he uses to create his work.
“It will never leave me,” Kiker said.
Where to find his work
Billy Kiker’s work can be found at 47K Marketplace in Monroe. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, as well as Facebook and Instagram.