I was worried as I walked in to the metal shop I might be wasting my weekend. Two days from now, I would be wielding my own handmade Viking shield, but the jury was still out whether campus security would let me keep it in my dorm room.
Compared to the other medieval weaponry workshops at Dillsboro’s Green Energy Park — forging a Viking axe or war hammer, for instance — the shield seemed the most likely to pass muster. But my bigger doubt was whether I could make something like this at all.
That’s when I see a man in a kilt hefting a mallet the size of a sledge-hammer like it was a kitchen knife, and I know I’m in good hands.
This kilted man is Brock Martin, the head of Warfire Forges, whose reputation as a metal smith in the world of medieval weapons proceeds him. Martin hails from the foothills of Hickory, where he beats out hand-forged swords, axes, spears, knives and even chainmaille armor. His authentic craftsmanship is highly sought by the LARPing community — a pastime where grown adults dress-up in Renaissance attire and run around in the woods, known as “live action role playing.”
Martin is a veteran instructor at the Green Energy Park, an artist cooperative in Dillsboro that harnesses methane from an old landfill to fuel the forges, kilns and glass blowing furnaces of its resident artists.
“It’s just a lot of fun. You get to meet a lot of cool people and see their creativity come out, and you get a lot of ideas working like that,” says Martin, 29.
Martin brought an assistant with him, Levi Lathrop, who boasted a braided beard to compliment his kilt. The class is small but diverse. Joining me on this quest is a young man fresh out of high school, a professor at Western Carolina University and his two sons, aged 11 and 13. We encircle Martin, eager to learn.
He begins with a brief lesson on the history of shield making. Martin assures us the work is more monotonous than difficult.
The process is indeed simple: we heat a metal disc, hit the center with a hammer and then work our way out in a spiral. Again and again, we repeat the motions, for the better part of the morning.
Blacksmithing is a hard-labor art form, so as Martin makes the rounds inspecting our work and offering reassurance, he’s continually checks in on our hydration and energy levels. While exhausted, we never lose morale. Martin’s energy is tireless, and he looks more at home with a hammer in his hand than without.
We end the first day a little sore but brightened by the progress we had made. Our homework is to think about a color scheme and design to adorn our shield with. Decorating was our chance to separate our shields from the pack.
Sunday is a flurry of small steps as we race toward the finish line with our shields. We shift through the workshop, cycling among stations as tools are freed up.
When the first student hoists their assembled shield in the air, we welcome it into the world with a hearty yell. Soon, we are all wielding shields, staring each other down with our best warrior faces and generally making fools of ourselves. 14 hours of swinging hammers, calculating, measuring and assembling have all paid off.
After photos and mock battles, we each shake Martin’s hand and leave the Green Energy Park with heads high and chests puffed out, proud owners of our very own Viking shields.
Dillon Jeffrey is a senior at Western Carolina University. He is the sports editor for the Western Carolinian student paper and a loyal Goodwill customer.