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Traditional Heavy Metal: Blacksmithing and rock 'n roll are both alive and well at Orion Forge 

Dahlberg is a blacksmith, an ancient profession that has survived the industrial, agricultural and high-tech revolutions.

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He works alone and on his own schedule using fire, heavy metal and big hammers. As Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath keep time, Hunter Dahlberg pounds away on long iron beams, and, in the process, makes plenty of loud noises of his own. He wears T-shirts to work and being dirty just means he's doing his job.

In other words, Hunter Dahlberg has every teenage boy's dream job.

Dahlberg is a blacksmith, an ancient profession that has survived the industrial, agricultural and high-tech revolutions. Blacksmiths like Dahlberg afford locals an opportunity to order one-of-a-kind forged products made for purposes that range from decorative to daily use, and sometimes a little of both. iPhones and propane tanks aside, it's a trade that has retained many of the tools and techniques of its earliest practitioners.

Apparently, the stereotypical burly blacksmith "look" is still in style. At 6 foot, 2 inches, Dahlberg is a big dude with massive forearms. Without knowing him, you might confuse him for a rock climber turned motorcycle gang member.

What surprised me, though, was the organization and artistry that Dahlberg has cultivated inside his industrial studio. When we met, he was working on a set of iron slats that will one day decorate and support a large wooden door on a new brewery in town. Most of Dahlberg's projects are contract jobs for area residents and business. And unlike a welder, Dahlberg forges his pieces, using handmade rivets to join the various iron materials.

"Welds are ugly - I don't like looking at them," Dahlberg said, but admitted that part of his distaste for welds stems from his deficiencies in that realm.

Though welding, or fabricating, is a necessary evil for things like handrails, he employs it only for fine tuning.

Dahlberg's handrails prove he's no one-trick-pony. He's made full sets of stairs with rails to match and in styles that run the gamut from post-modern to a hammered, hand-wrought iron that he calls "rustic contemporary." You can see the same spectrum of styles in his other works, which range from furniture, to sculpture, to home accents and architecture. He even provides lessons for young, aspiring blacksmiths.

For a big, dirty dude, Dahlberg is disarmingly sensitive and genuine. And while this may be "man's" work, he's happy to share his craft with school children, which he does several times a year.

"Watching their faces light up - it's amazing," he said. "We all want to feel proud about something we've done."

Dahlberg's interest in teaching was so strong that he originally pursued a Masters in education, but decided to bag the idea in 2004 in favor of apprenticing for Les Michel, a New Mexican blacksmith who became Dahlberg's mentor. After working with Michel for six weeks, Dahlberg had an epiphany.

"Oh man, I just want to be a blacksmith!" he remembers thinking. Somewhere a propane tank went on.

Eight years later, surrounded by heavy tools and heavy metal, Dahlberg hasn't looked back.


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Latest in Spring Arts & Style

  • The Accidental Artist: Nurse by trade, surfer by choice Kyle Catterlin finds a niche in custom guitar building

    Kyle Catterlin didn't necessarily know how to build a guitar when he set out to construct his first instrument less than a decade ago. What he did know was how he wanted his guitar to sound.
    • Mar 28, 2012
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    Jeff Pechan is a jack of all trades. He has many hobbies, from raising birds to woodworking to making tea, but the woodworking is the most impressive.
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    It’s hard to find much of anything in today’s mass production world that isn’t outsourced to overseas factories and pumped out for pennies on the dollar. Whether it’s clothing or couches, good old-fashioned craftsmanship is hard to find. With that in mind, we set out to create this year’s spring arts and style issue with an eye toward replacing the artless junk in your life with items that have both artistic and industrial integrity. Another way to say that is sh*t that doesn’t suck. To do that, we pulled in local experts in the fields of fashion, interior design and fine art. Keeping with the theme, we’ve got profiles of local artisans, including a furniture maker, a guitar luthier and a local blacksmith—Central Oregonians who are proving that, Chinese sweatshops be damned, craftsmanship is still alive right here in your hometown. Look at little further and you’ll find a profile of local horseshoer Walt Freund, whose mobile ferrier business is bustling. It’s all right here in the Spring Arts and Style Issue. Eric Flowers, editor Photography by: Christian Heeb and Derek Oldham Special thanks: Derek Oldham and Hunter Dahlberg (Cover)
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