Andy Leeper, Woodland alum, is a blacksmith, and with his business, Crown Forge, he creates different objects, tools, and gifts for consumers. It may seem like a niche, but most of what he creates are things you find in your home, such as bottle openers, vases, and fire pokers. On his website, there are everyday objects that have the added charm of supporting a local business, and being homemade.
Leeper began forging and welding after wanting to pursue blacksmithery since graduating high school, but he didn’t know where to start. One day, a couple of years ago, Andy made a coal forge out of a gutted out propane grille and a shop vac, talked to some people, and used an old length of railroad track as a anvil. The rest is history, as Leeper is now running his own forging business. He realized that he wanted to start a business when Leeper noticed that there is a pretty good interest for it, and there is money to be made for it. He enjoys the idea of bringing the craft of blacksmithing back to life, and hopes to at least reawaken it in his own home town of Beacon Falls.
“It’s the roots of human civilization, and I believe you should always appreciate and remember where you, me, or anything comes from,” he says, reminiscing back to the days when blacksmithing was more commonplace.
Speaking of his home town, Leeper once attended Woodland, graduating in 2012. He describes one of the smartest men he has ever known as Tom Grancher, a teacher who is now retired. He taught Andy about cars, got him interested in a fraternity he has been a member of since he was 18, and even learned about the stock market and how to write checks. As a graduation gift from him, Leeper received a typed up resume that Grancher made himself. Leeper also misses Ralph Riello, his high school Digital Media teacher.
On Riello, Leeper says, “Even though I learned about digital movie making, I also learned how to better myself growing up just by using him as a role model,”
With great role models, come great careers. The greatest of careers are challenging, and Andy Leeper’s business is no exception. With fire, hot metal, hammers, and more, there are many hazards that could result in injury. Andy says that he constantly has fire in his face, and is constantly burning his hands, arms, and clothes.
“I lit myself on fire numerous times, and I never have hair on my fingers, knuckles, and wrists because I don’t like to wear gloves. My shoulder, back, and forearms are sore a good amount of the time. Other that that stuff, I have not been seriously injured yet,” Leeper says.
All of the dangers you may face aren’t simply physical; owning a small business can be scary at times. It’s the fear of the unknown, and learning about business, and taxes, and shipping costs, and much more on your own, or from your own mistakes. It’s one thing if you want to stay small and just do it for some extra cash, which was Leeper’s original plan, but it’s totally different when you want to grow your own business beyond just a side job.
“At the end of the day, I take a lot of pride in it, and it makes me happy to learn new things and make myself, as well as the business, better,” Leeper states.
The industry of being a blacksmith is not competitive at all, from what Leeper has experienced so far. He says that every blacksmith is out to help every other blacksmith, and the industry also pairs well with wood working, glass blowing, leather working, and other industries. All of the different people with their own different backgrounds help each other out, according to Leeper. Even financially, it is not that competitive. For Andy, it is especially easy because he chooses to focus on decorative ornamental iron work, and not blades or weapons: ornamental blacksmiths are even harder to come by, compared to blade smiths. Luckily, the market is there, and according to Leeper, customers are always willing to pay for 100% hand-crafted products.
And the products Leeper sells are nothing to be taken for granted. The process is complicated, and is hard to describe. Leeper believes that blacksmithing is something you need to learn firsthand, through doing it, and feeling the metal move under the hammer. Knowing how to tilt the hammer in different directions, what tongs are best to hold the piece, what temperature you need to have the metal at for certain times, and knowing temperature just by looking at color are all things that are learned best through actual participation. Forging, to Leeper, is a bit of a getaway, and is something relaxing that he enjoys to do.
“When I’m forging and everything is going so smooth and nice, and I have my headphones in, listening to music, it’s so relaxing,” says Andy.
Leeper’s current occupation, save for running and owning Crown Forge, is being a security officer at St. Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury. The job has its ups and downs, but overall Leeper believes that it is a great place to work.
A piece of advice Leeper gives to anyone looking to get into any type of craft, such as blacksmithing, would be to not wait, talk to people, do your research, try it out, and don’t be afraid to make a ton of mistakes and fail.
“Mistakes and failure are the best ways to learn. Master the basic fundamentals first, then continue to learn. Good quality Youtube videos and books are great, but you will never learn as much from them than you would by just practicing,”