Smoke from a wood-fired forge and calls of "hot iron!" brought a north Missoula home to life Saturday morning.

Mark Vander Meer led a blacksmithing workshop in his backyard, an event coordinated by the Missoula Urban Demonstration Project that started several years ago. Sixteen people signed up this year.

"I think it's popular just 'cause it's a useful skill and an old-time skill," Vander Meer said.

"And it's different," said his brother, Dennis.

It's part of a crafty culture in Missoula, said MUD board secretary Elizabeth Weaver, who was forging a wood splitter Saturday morning.

"Anything that's relating to sustainable living ... and there's a big emphasis here, too, on craftsmanship and local," she said. "I feel like some of it is the university population, and some of it is just the nature of folks that live here."

Mark Vander Meer said there's something about Missoula that attracts craftsmen.

"Missoula is chock-full of really good blacksmiths," he said. "There are 10 I can think of off the top of my head."

Dennis started blacksmithing years ago when he was working at a High Adventure Boy Scouts camp.

"I've been doing it ever since," he said.

The skill also came in handy during his time at the Kit Carson Home and Museum in New Mexico.

"We were representing how life was in 1850," he said. "We had small-scale farm stuff, a blacksmith shop, a woodworking shop. I'm interested in old, cool skills like that."

Mark started blacksmithing "for practical reasons." He needed to "fix all the things I broke" on a small logging operation in the Swan Valley.

"We'd break things constantly," he said. "Rather than go to town to get it fixed, we'd just learn how to blacksmith."

The skill came in handy once on Halloween, too. Mark's wife came home with a pirate costume for a party, but no sword. Mark grabbed an old truck spring and forged a sword – a dull one, of course – to complete her transformation.

That interest in "old-world trades" is what brought Missoula resident Alyssa Haerr to Vander Meer's house this weekend. She wanted to try her hand at the craft, and hopefully one day be able to make and sell her own work.

University of Montana law student Angelica Gonzalez, on the other hand, was looking for something different to do on a weekend, "something out of my comfort zone." She heard about the workshop through MUD, and thought it was the perfect opposite of the last class she took: flower arrangement.

"The reason I also enjoy it is it's very different than what I do in my day job," Weaver said. "So if you're a person who's artistic or crafty or whatever that probably has a desk job, this is something completely different where you think, 'I'm going to go work with my hands.' "

Plus, it's a chance to try something that historically was seen as a "man's job," she said. On Saturday, half of the participants were women.

"Women didn't do it," Weaver said. "There are all of these things that women stereotypically shy away from, so it's cool to go try your hand at it."

While participants certainly weren't experts by the end of the three-hour workshop – Vander Meer was reluctant to even call himself an expert after years upon years of work – he said it gave them the basic principles behind blacksmithing.

"It's almost more exposure than skill, 'cause you don't learn a lot in three hours," he said. "You learn how hard it is."

Dennis said he's never seen a blacksmithing workshop like this.

"There are blacksmithing classes offered all over the place, but they're always a week long and they cost a lot of money," he said. "I've never seen a short three-hour workshop like this anywhere, for 20 bucks. It's the best way to get people exposed to it without costing a lot of money and time."

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Reporter for the Missoulian