It’s like stepping into medieval history, or perhaps even onto the magical set of Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings.
A visit inside Thak Ironworks in Floradale, On. is an encounter with both history and fantasy, brought to life.
“My shop is a unique place where imagination becomes reality amidst fire, smoke, sweat and thunderous noise,” Blacksmith, Robb Martin says.
His shop, an old farrier house, is transformed. Heavy Metal music is heard from the forge.
Upstairs, old wooden shelves in the armoury, house an infinite collection of books from works of history and classic literature.
A long wooden table sits amongst a vast array of armoury, costumes and props, some even used in movie sets and on television shows.
One can only sit down and imagine a group of knights sitting around the table in celebration after a successful battle or Jon Snow from Game of Thrones seated with his men planning for his next mission against the deadly White Walkers.
But Martin hopes that his work is not only entertaining, but educational.
“I’ve always been a book worm. I love history and classic literature from ancient Greek and Roman, all those eras fascinate me and reading about them, inspires me,” Martin said.
“I needed an outlet to express my creativity and this is the one thing that really made sense.”
Martin creates everything from artwork to armour, costumes, weaponry, props for films, sculptures and customized creations for homes including doors, gates, railings, chandeliers and rangehoods.
Over the years, people have come with their ideas and Thak Ironworks has worked to bring their dreams to life.
“When I see something, I deconstruct it and reconstruct it in my mind. I’ve done this ever since I was little,” Martin says.
“When I see it, I just want to make it.”
Martin began his career in blacksmithing in 1987 and in 1989, Thak Ironworks Inc. came to be.
With an interest in blacksmithing, medieval armour and sculpture, his metalwork encompasses many styles from traditional to contemporary, as well as futuristic and fantastical.
“I grew up on a farm just a couple miles up the road from here. When I graduated from high school, I had no plan. My dad was a farmer and he saw me as a farmer or in construction,” Martin said.
“I knew that I loved history and art. And well, I like getting dirty and listening to heavy metal music. I’ve really found something I like. It’s holistic for me and it’s physically as well as mentally challenging. For me, this is where I get the most fulfillment.”
Martin began with a course in blacksmithing in St. Jacobs where he was then hired. He spent the next five years learning the fundamentals and his love for the trade grew.
“Running my own business really became a dream come true. It’s amazing to be able to express myself and do so many different things,” Martin said.
This includes a passion for sculpture.
“I really enjoy it. At first, I though it was armor but sculpture has grown for me and I find it so challenging,” he said.
But Martin says, running his business isn’t always as glamorous as people might think.
“People keep saying, you are living the dream, and yes I am but that comes with everything else that’s involved in running a business. It’s a big commitment. I still have to do the administration and everything that comes with that,’ Martin says.
“To me, you have to have a skill set along with creativity, but you also need to have that business sense and work ethic. And today, everything changes so quickly. You have to change with it.”
It’s a trade which is believed to have been started in 1,500 B.C. in what is now Syria. Blacksmithing began with the Iron Age, when primitive man first began making tools from iron.
As a master blacksmith, master armourer, sculptor and instructor Martin specializes in one of the oldest trades, but he must stay on top of a changing world.
“The business world is changing so I wanted to be present and to keep my business running with it,” Martin says. “And I knew I had to do it now.”
So, Martin and his son began airing a Thak Ironworks YouTube channel where Martin is able to share his own bladesmith techniques, television appearances and class experiences.
“It’s important to focus on the future. I want to stay relevant with today’s technology by bringing the old technology of what I make to people,” he says.
“I have to embrace it by balancing new technology but still retaining the mystique and magic of the old.”
Martin employs one other full-time blacksmith.
He also has two sons, the oldest now works as his full-time videographer and his youngest, has a passion to create also.
“My oldest son really wanted to give the YouTube channel a go. He especially understands the young generation and knows how to keep this relevant to them,” Martin said.
“And my youngest, took a couple courses with me and has worked here part time He’s been doing this since he was 8-years-old.”
Martin offers courses for participants 14 years and up, about every three works.
They can learn how to make a knife or even a sword.
“Making a sword, that seems to be the most popular,” Martin says. “It’s magical and mystical.”
Courses run for 2-3 days.
With shows like Forged in Fire, the idea of becoming a Blacksmith has certainly grown recently.
“Blacksmithing appeals to so many different people. It amazes me, the different types of people who take my courses from carpenters, to professors to young gamers, they come from all sorts of backgrounds,” Martin says.
“I think people today, in many ways, feel useless. They have no tangible skills. It’s a rare thing today and people are so disconnected from it. It’s empowering for them to make something with their own hands and they are so proud at the end of it.”
And for Martin, being able to bring ideas to reality, ‘with fire and hammer’, is what its all about.
He holds up an ancient Greek shield which he recently made.
“I always wanted to see the world. But it’s amazing because I brought the world here. The first 15 years were tough with two kids and working in something so obscure,” he says
“But this is where I’m staying. There’s lots I still want to explore and lots of things I want to try. I’m going to maximize this.”
Inside the forge, Martin shows off one of his newest creations, a direwolf from the Game of Thrones series.
“I’ve just turned 50 and I’m going to focus on staying healthy and staying excited. I’m lucky to be here. It’s a great place with great people in a rural industrious community,” Martin said.
“This has become a lifestyle and I’m connected to it.”
For more information, visit Thak Ironworks on YouTube or the website at: https://www.thak.ca/