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Coal House Forge: Jefferson High School student opens blacksmithing business

By Tabitha Johnston - Chronicle Staff | Dec 18, 2020

Jefferson High School senior Justin Butcher stands in front of the new sign for his blacksmithing business, Coal House Forge, in the War Memorial Building on Saturday afternoon. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Back in the fifth grade, Jefferson High School senior Justin Butcher was having fun playing the video game Skyrim, when he experienced an aha moment.

The video game features a number of trade crafts, which Justin assumed were no longer practiced. However, as he continued to play the game, his interest in blacksmithing, in particular, peaked, and he decided to research it online.

“While running through the game, you could do many things, like blacksmithing,” the Leesburg resident said.

After researching it online, Justin found a blacksmith who created videos about his craft and published them on YouTube. Justin began learning about blacksmithing techniques and tools through the YouTuber, and through further research, expanded his knowledge base from traditional to modern blacksmithing techniques from around the world. Although he realized many hopeful blacksmiths choose to learn about the craft through an apprenticeship, Justin decided it might be in his best interest to save up the money he would have spent paying for an apprenticeship and research the craft on his own, so he could begin purchasing the tools necessary for his trade and begin working as a blacksmith at an earlier date than would normally happen.

“At the time, my family was in the dairy farming business, processing milk. We would sell it at local farm markets,” Justin said. “I saved my dividend from that. Now, I have almost every tool that a blacksmith can have.”

From left, Coal House Forge blacksmith Justin Butcher and his mother, Donna Butcher, talk with customer Christine Caldwell, of Luray, Va., in the War Memorial Building on Saturday. Tabitha Johnston

According to Justin’s mother, Donna Butcher, she and her husband were surprised when Justin approached them with his request to turn their farm’s no-longer used coal house into a home for his propane forge.

“I’m pleased he has a hobby like this. Some teens have interests that aren’t so good, and this keeps him busy,” Donna said. “He’s good at it — he amazes me!”

According to Donna, her great-grandfather, Justin’s great-great-grandfather, was a blacksmith. A couple of years ago, he was gifted a blacksmith’s vise, which had been passed down from his great-great-grandfather to his maternal grandfather. That family tie helped Justin to connect on an even deeper level with blacksmithing, thanks to his love for history.

While he plans on offering his knife sharpening, knife making, fabrication and tool repair services at local markets for years to come, as he did for the first time on Saturday at the Ho-Ho-Holiday Handmade Market in the War Memorial Building, Justin intends to study history at Shepherd University next year, with the end goal of graduating from WVU’s law school.

“I’ve always liked history, and I’ve always enjoyed studying different aspects of it. Blacksmithing combined that with my love for technology,” Justin said, mentioning he has discovered his preferred material to work with is steel.

An array of hooks crafted by blacksmith Justin Butcher are displayed for sale in the War Memorial Building on Saturday. Tabitha Johnston

Thanks to school being held virtually for him this year, Justin has been able to focus in-depth on developing his craft. This year, he has received a number of commissions, in addition to his personal creative endeavors. One of his most recent commissions was creating a fire grate for a local man’s wood stove.

“I definitely know it’s not very common to go to the lengths I’ve gone to, to learn a craft,” Justin said. “I’ve tried and I’ve failed, but if I can figure out a way to do it, I’ll go for it!”

Candleholders crafted by Jefferson High School senior Justin Butcher sit on display in the War Memorial Building on Saturday. Tabitha Johnston

Coal House Forge blacksmith Justin Butcher's steel rose stands on display in the War Memorial Building on Saturday. Tabitha Johnston