When he was 14, what interested New Albany High School senior Lesley Redelinghuys the most about blacksmithing was the idea of turning raw metal into something else.
“You can make something out of nothing,” he said.
Now 18, Redelinghuys decided for his senior-seminar project this past summer to learn the trade he spent four years learning and reading about. Senior seminar is a New Albany High School graduation requirement in which students research an idea and create a product or complete a project; they must document 80 hours of work.
Redelinghuys had read articles and watched videos and documentaries about blacksmithing, but he wanted to actually try it, he said.
His father, Chris Redelinghuys, found a place at which his son could learn: Macabee Metals, 1376 River St. in Columbus, owned by blacksmith Adlai Stein.
Redelinghuys said he was able to trade work for Stein’s mentorship, cleaning and performing other tasks in exchange for the opportunity to learn blacksmithing.
The two worked together from June 3 through July 18, with Redelinghuys visiting Stein on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays for about six hours each day, Redelinghuys said.
He typically would arrive at 11 a.m. each day and perform such tasks for Stein as cleaning and cutting down metal, he said. After that, Stein and Redelinghuys would work together doing hands-on activities.
The first task Redelinghuys performed was cutting bars of steel down into 1-by-1-inch cubes in order to make a pair of dice.
Redelinghuys learned to take the cubes and place them in the forge, he said.
After they were glowing red, he would remove one with tongs and use a press on the cube to make the dice dots, he said.
On that first day, he made about 10 dice, he said. He used a grinder to smooth the cubes’ edges and a belt sander to round off the corners.
The dice spent 24 hours in a tumbler with steel pellets and rods to make them shiny and smooth. After that, he sprayed them with a clear coating to prevent rust, he said.
During his time with Stein, Redelinghuys learned to make hooks, coat hangers and an herb chopper, too. He would heat the metal, remove it to work, reheat it some more and remove it to work on it some more, he said.
Working with metal is easiest when it’s glowing red hot, he said. As it cools, there’s more chance to damage or break the metal.
Redelinghuys said he did not realize how easy it would be to manipulate steel by hitting it with a hammer. Even so, his first hook took him about three hours because it was a new task.
Repetition, he said, is key to learning blacksmithing. He estimates he made more than 50 pairs of dice, and he could see the quality improvement progress from his first to last pair.
“Over time, I got better and better at it,” he said.
The herb chopper was the most challenging to make, Redelinghuys said. He began with a 4-inch piece of flat steel.
He made the handle, the most delicate part, by cutting a small groove in the 4-inch steel piece and taking the resulting 1-inch-wide piece of metal to the side and thinning it, he said.
The knife’s curve was made by the way the steel moved from hammer strikes, Redelinghuys said.
Since finishing his training with Stein, Redelinghuys said, he has returned twice to his studio, making more dice and a bottle opener.
Although Redelinghuys is finished with his blacksmithing apprenticeship, he has no plans to leave behind the world of trades.
He plans to attend Ohio Technical College in Cleveland after graduating from high school to study automotive mechanics in an 18-month course, he said.
The area of study is one that his father is familiar with: Redelinghuys said he has memories from childhood of his father working on cars and bikes.
But Redelinghuys still entertains the idea of returning to blacksmithing someday, including someday building a home forge.
Stein, who has been blacksmithing for 30 years, the last six of them full time, said Redelinghuys made a good first impression when he met him and seemed excited about the opportunity, if a little nervous.
They treated the interaction like a job interview, with the two men discussing their expectations, Stein said.
For Stein, his profession started out as a hobby and grew into his day job.
In addition to making his own products to sell, he teaches classes on blacksmithing and bladesmithing at his business, the Central Ohio School of Metalwork in Franklinton.
When he worked with Redelinghuys, Stein said, he wanted to introduce the business part of his trade to the high school senior in addition to just teaching him how to hammer metal. For example, he had Redelinghuys accompany him to the Columbus Arts Festival last summer.
Safety and muscle memory are the most challenging aspects of learning blacksmithing, Stein said.
Hammer control is important, he said.
“It’s not about brute strength – it’s about accuracy,” he said.
Stein said Redelinghuys was an enthusiastic and dutiful blacksmithing student.
“Oh, my God, the kid never stopped moving,” he said.