People are undeniably shaped by their interaction with their parents in their early years, so it is perhaps no surprise that Pine River's Cody Shackle is a blacksmith.
His father, Elroy, wasn't always a blacksmith, but Shackle was still in his formative years when he was suddenly surrounded by the din of the hammer and hot forges along with all the smells that come with blacksmithing. He was born near Monticello and lived there until he was 7, when the family moved to Montana. It was there that the smithing began.
"He was a heating and air conditioning guy," Shackle said of his father. "And then around age 40 decided he wanted to be a blacksmith when he grew up. That's how he put it. So he found a mentor out there. My brother and I were both homeschooled. So we were with him all the time."
Their home became a gathering place for blacksmiths who were learning and having fun smithing together. His father was not only learning a trade but making friends and instilling his children with the knowledge of blacksmithing while their mother, Gail, homeschooled them.
They were in Montana for seven years before moving to the Little Falls area to be close to the big craft show there. The business went by Skeeter Forge. Around 2000, the family moved up north and started hammering in a shop off County Road 11 between Pequot Lakes and Breezy Point. The shop moved one more time to Jenkins.
For seven years near the end, Shackle served as his father's apprentice when he wasn't working in construction. They made many deck railings and driveway gates. One of their most visible projects is a gate with elk antlers near Moonlite Square in Crosslake.
"That was one of the biggest jobs we've ever gotten," Shackle said.
He also fondly remembers an intricate weathervane they made. It was a large Viking ship with a sail made of copper. They made many items in metal, but there's no doubt they made a lot of memories together.
Sadly, the family suffered tragedy. First, Shackle's mother died of cancer, then his father did as well and Skeeter Forge was no more.
Shackle kept many of the tools, including a large trip hammer that pounds the metal for him. He always knew he would try to pick up the trade again.
"It's all super fun. Some of it with angles and stuff can be kind of a challenge," he said. "But I like doing furniture. It doesn't have to fit anywhere the way a railing does. After those are done there's always a chance you could bring it back and have to cut something apart and redo it."
Recently the stars aligned and Shackle had the chance to take up the hammer and a career change. First, he had built up his property and his shop to where it could be used for blacksmithing. Second, he and his wife, Becky, decided to start homeschooling their oldest daughter.
Being home as her teacher, Shackle is able to fill in his spare time at the forge. He named his business, Son of a Blacksmith, in memory of his inspiration.
Much like his father, Shackle has been building architectural pieces. Railings are still in demand, especially at lakefront cabins. He also makes foot rails for bars like the one he made for Zig's Restaurant in Deerwood. He has some smaller trinkets like iron roses he wants to sell at consignment shops ahead of Valentine's Day.
"I've been trying to stockpile for the winter with the limited hours I have," he said. "Then in spring or summer when Becky's off I'll be able to do more full-time work."
Shackle enjoys projects that combine crafts. Working with copper as well as iron, but collaborating with wood workers, pottery makers and other craftsmen is especially fun.
"That metal looks good with different materials," Shackle said.
So far the biggest challenges have been related to learning to run the business, especially balancing prices. Shackle wants to charge what his items are worth without driving away too many possible buyers.
"I don't want just the mega rich people to be able to put it in their lake home," he said.
Shackle said working construction for many years helped him learn what could make him a better blacksmith.
He deals mostly in architectural work now; however, Shackle plans to delve more into traditional blacksmithing work in the future, possibly including knives and other tools. He's taking classes now.
Shackle is following in his father's footsteps in more ways as well. His oldest daughter is still young, but she likes to wear his spare welding helmet and watch him work. She already knows blacksmithing vocabulary.
"She can name different blacksmith techniques," he said. "I might show her something I make and she will say, 'Oh, you put a fish tail on the end of that one.' There's something that only a blacksmith's kid would say."
He enjoys doing "show and tell" for his wife and daughters every night after he's finished a project.
"She's really into art, so she might like to do some sculpture stuff I'm sure," Cody said. "When the time comes and we work together it might be Daughter of a Blacksmith some day."
Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Travis.