Blacksmith Randy McDaniel shares a lifetime of skills with eager new artists.
Written by DAVID GIGNILLIAT
As America approached its star-spangled bicentennial, West Virginia native Randy McDaniel found himself forging his own declaration of independence: a lifelong commitment to his trade. “On July 4, 1976, I went full-time as a blacksmith. It was my independence day as well,” says McDaniel, an accomplished blacksmith, teacher, and artist based in Berkeley Springs.
He recalls the first time he smithed as a young man might recall the date he met his future wife. “It was love at first sight,” says McDaniel, who celebrated 50 years as a blacksmith in 2022.
McDaniel’s love story began in 1972 when he was encouraged by his father to attend a class taught by an 81-year-old master blacksmith at the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster, Maryland. Over four Saturdays, at an expense of $2 a class, McDaniel learned the basics of his new fascination.
The nation’s bicentennial had put a renewed focus on restoring 200-year-old homes, many of which featured a variety of ornate metal work. McDaniel quickly found his niche doing colonial reproduction work. A new career path had emerged.
Over the past half-century, McDaniel has become a leader in his discipline, starting a school and doing hundreds of commissions and reproductions. Using era-specific techniques, McDaniel has recreated most of the ironwork for the first barracks at Fort Frederick including lighting, cooking equipment, and tools. McDaniel’s Expressive Metals School of Blacksmithing in Berkeley Springs has taught hundreds of students the skills of the craft over 40 years. His book, A Blacksmithing Primer: A Course in Basic and Intermediate Blacksmithing, has sold more than 30,000 copies worldwide.
“I had a mentor once who told me not to pay attention to those masters who are eager to show off their talents but have no interest in sharing a little trick they’ve discovered or other little secrets of their skills,” says Steve Dykstra, a former McDaniel pupil. “‘Look for the masters who want to share their excitement about excellence,’ he said. That’s Randy.”
Like the octogenarian who taught McDaniel in 1972, the seasoned artist—himself approaching his 80s—works now to share his knowledge. “It is imperative for me to pass on what I know, as well as doing any work that I want to do myself,” he says. “I’ve only got so many more days left, and I’ve been teaching for 45 years now. You have to make the most of them.” blacksmithschoolwv.com