When Jeff Helmes began his blacksmithing adventure 15 years ago, people repeatedly posed the same question.
"They would ask if I make horseshoes," said the resident of Middleville, Ont., near Almonte.
To this day, Helmes gives the same reply.
"No, I’ve never ‘shoed’ a horse. I’ve been thrown from a horse, but I guess that’s as close to shoeing a horse as I’ve ever been."
Helmes is instead fired up about more creative possibilities for steel. He’s forging high-end art, and his hand-forged swords, knives, and axes are hot with collectors worldwide.
"They’re everywhere. I’ve got some work in Australia, Russia, all over Europe and in the United States."
Helmes’ love for swords and smithing began as a child. His passion was unstoppable.
"When I was really young, I hacksawed my swing set apart so I could hammer out a sword on a cinder block anvil with a carpenter’s hammer," Helmes said.
"It was great for me. I thought it was awesome. I’m not sure what my parents thought of it at the time."
In 2003, Helmes began tinkering with steel as a hobby, and eventually, he took a blacksmithing course at college.
"I was working as an architectural blacksmith a number of years ago and my wife and I had recently gotten married and moved back to the area. I had some free time, so I made a sword just for fun. I started getting commissions right off the bat and I’ve been busy ever since," said Helmes.
Today, Helmes is a full-time swordsmith and knifemaker who is happily surprised to be making a living, while doing his dream job.
"Yeah, Yeah, it surprises everybody, I think," Helmes says with a laugh.
His swords and knives are "fully functional", but most collectors seek art pieces. They’re inspired by myth, history and his imagination. For Helmes, it’s all about giving form to creativity.
"Everything is done by hand which is really cool. Swordsmithing is an interesting mix. It’s an object that has to function, but at the same time, history is vague and there’s room for my imagination to get in there and play around a bit," the swordsmith said.
Helmes also engraves his blades and does all the intricate carving on his pieces. He fashions scabbards, the leather sheaths which hold and protect the swords and knives.
Every step of the sword-making process is physically demanding work; Helmes beating a path from forge to anvil, until the blade is done.
"I do a lot of work in Damascus steel and there can be hours of folding and forging. After I’ve rough ground it, it’s three days of hand-sanding the blade to get it to a fine polish."
Helmes now shares his sword-making passion with others. He teaches courses in Southwestern Ontario and at the Haliburton School of the Arts.
"I didn’t realize this was something a person could do," said Helmes. "I just love it".