"I love watching him work. He is a true artist," said his wife Becky. They've lived in Hotchkiss with their kids since 2004, when they moved back from Fort Collins. Both are originally from the North Fork.
Andrew first got involved in blacksmithing when he was at Paonia High School and did welding in the FFA program there. When that program ended, he transferred to Hotchkiss High School for the FFA program. He created small ornamental pieces.
After high school, he honed his skills and began making bigger items, like trailers and truck beds. Eventually he moved to Fort Collins for work, where he was a structural iron worker. For the company he worked for, Andrew built staircases, handrails, guardrails and more for large commercial buildings.
After he and his family moved home, Andrew went to work for Oxbow Mining, where he is a welder. One day Becky saw a toilet paper holder in a magazine, and asked her husband to create something similar for her.
When Becky was on the phone with her mother one day, Andrew's mother-in-law began describing a metal stick figure garden scarecrow she wanted. Andrew began sketching what he was overhearing, and before Becky had hung up the phone, he was in the garage creating the scarecrow. His mother-in-law, Marion McKibben, received his first stick figure. His wife received his second, another garden scarecrow that sits in the Blacks' yard and is dressed up year round for seasons and holidays.
Word spread to his Oxbow co-workers that he had a knack for creating custom items out of steel. Pretty soon he was taking requests for trailers and truck bumpers, headache racks and grill guards.
"I was just kind of puttering with scrap, whatever I had left," he said. "It started out just as puttering for fun, but it's turned into more than that."
From those few bumpers came more requests. He's a volunteer for the Hotchkiss Fire Department, and for the department he made a hose drying rack and the roof for a Polaris Rhino used by the department.
"I tell people, whatever they can imagine, he can build," Becky said, adding that people don't believe it's that easy, but Andrew has a talent for taking an idea and making it into a reality.
"If it's made from steel, I can do it," Andrew said.
The Black household is proof enough. The home is outfitted in Andrew's projects. In his and Becky's bedroom is a bed frame and matching headboard and footboard he created. In the kitchen are a pot rack and a rack that holds Becky's wine goblets. In addition to the toilet paper holder in the bathroom, there is also a towel rack. In his daughter's room, there sits a "teddy bear chair," just big enough for Allie's stuffed friends. In the garden there are ornate hooks that can hold hanging baskets or bird feeders. Around the house are candle holders.
What started out as a hobby quickly became almost a second fulltime job. Now his weekend and after work hours are filled with creating one piece after another. He launched Ragged Mountain Iron Works, the business name he operates under, and it's his dream to go fulltime with the business.
He's been commissioned to make a jungle gym this summer for a family in Hotchkiss. He's also working on a bike rack and a park bench.
He made a small trailer for a kid-sized four-wheeler, so the rider could be just like his grandpa. For a friend of Becky's, he made S-hooks and shepherd's hooks on which she could hang pots and pans from her ceiling rafters. He's made hinges for kitchen cabinets, a luggage rack for a Harley, and a commercial wash mezzanine for a local gravel company.
"I make so much stuff, I don't even remember what I make anymore," he said.
He does forged metal work, which means heating the steel in a pile of hot coals, then shaping the steel by hand.
Depending on the project size, Andrew can finish a life-size stick figure in about an afternoon, while other projects take just an hour or two. His stepson, Steven McKibben, who will be a sophomore at HHS this fall, is his summer apprentice. While helping Andrew, he'll be learning the skills of blacksmithing, which Steven will use in his own FFA projects in school.
Andrew and Becky have taken his projects to area craft fairs, mainly around Christmastime, but mostly his hobby-turned-side business has grown largely through word of mouth.
Some of his pieces will be for show and sale at this weekend's West Elk Mountain Men Rendezvous near the Buzzard Divide Road, June 26-28. If you aren't able to make that, Andrew welcomes phone calls to talk shop or for custom projects. He can be reached at 872-4613.blog comments powered by Disqus