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Milwaukee family of blacksmiths teaches time-honored tradition

Posted at 6:52 PM, Jun 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-16 19:52:54-04

MILWAUKEE — The art of blacksmithing is very much alive in Milwaukee's Bay View neighborhood. A family of blacksmiths is keeping the tradition going by teaching anyone who wants to learn.

"Our motto is 'get it hot and hit it hard,'" said Kent Knapp, the owner of Milwaukee Blacksmith and the father of the blacksmithing family.

His six kids, ranging from 28 to 6, and his wife all contribute to the business.

"We would do these street festivals and have a bracelet or a necklace where you can stamp your name into it, and Dharma, who was seven at the time, was teaching adults how to do this," Knapp said.

His four eldest children are all adept at welding, fabricating and blacksmithing. Zoey, 28, is the head of production. They all help teach the class.

"I'm kind of tall and pretty strong, and I can hold my own in the shop with a bunch of boys," she said.

The family business is commercial blacksmithing for clients around Wisconsin, but they also hold classes teaching anyone the art of the trade.

"It's a great place for people to come in and really see and feel and sometimes smell, for better or for worse, what it is we do," Kent Knapp said.

Classes are perfect for a date night, hanging out with friends or corporate events. You can make hearts, bottle openers, roasting sticks and a hand-forged chain. For those wishing to get more in-depth knowledge or have prior experience, there are more advanced classes as well. Lessons begin at $65 for a two-hour session.

Beyond all the iron, hammers and anvils, you might see something else that could strike you as odd to see in such a rough and gritty environment: Buddha statues. There are a handful of statues all around the shop, and incense is always burning.

"One might think that the Buddha contradicts blacksmithing, but in actuality, balance is paramount here," Knapp said.

He even has a tattoo of a Buddha holding blacksmith equipment. Knapp discovered Buddhism when he was blacksmithing in China. He said it resonated with him, and has continued to practice it.

"It's very hard. It's very gruff, so finding the balance, using your head, and sometimes your heart, to find your way through a difficult situation," he said.

If any of this sounds slightly familiar, that's because the Knapp family is sort of famous. The HISTORY Channel filmed a 10-episode season with the family about their business and life, called 'Milwaukee Blacksmith.'

But for the family, it was all business as usual. They were just excited to be able to share their story and love for such an old craft with the world.

You can learn more about the family or sign up for classes by going to Milwaukee Blacksmith on Facebook.

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