Mike Hensley with knives.
Photo courtesy of Mark Freed.
Types of Artistry
Spruce Pine, NC (Mitchell County)
Mike Hensley grew up in Mitchell County in and around his father's smithy, and he has never wanted to do anything but blacksmithing. Mike apprenticed with his father, Bea Hensley, much like his father did with Daniel Boone VI, keeping alive a long tradition.
He started learning when he was just four years old. The first project he worked on with his father was a 6-foot diameter chandelier, which went to the Great Lakes Naval Recreational Hall in Michigan. After that project, Mike knew he wanted to work in blacksmithing, and his father took him on as a student. "He started the teaching process and made it fun," Mike says. Mike has a natural artistic ability, and he has done much of the design work for many years. "My first love's always been blacksmithing," he says. "I never did want to work outside of blacksmithing."
In 1965 Mike joined his father full time in the shop. "This blacksmithing is not something that you learn in a week's time, or a year's time. You can get a person basically started, but if you're going to get a person into the real fundamentals of blacksmithing, it's going to take three, four, or five years."
Knives are Mike's favorite thing to make. His blades are completely hand forged, tempered over a fire. He scrimshaws the handles with intricate designs. Mike and his father also make hammers. Each hammer is custom built for the individual's weight and balance preference.
Mike loves the challenge of working with his customers to create personalized designs. He recently completed an ornamented 18-foot high gate, which he designed and hand drew to scale. Times have changed in the blacksmithing world. The Hensleys get fewer orders for such things as railings and fire screens that can be purchased cheaply at modern home improvement stores, but they continue to stay busy.
"There are very few people who get to do what they really want to for a living," says Mike. "I'm very privileged in that respect."
Mike Hensley, and his father Bea, can demonstrate the language of the anvil, a method of using hammers to communicate instructions, which they say dates back to biblical times. They welcome groups who visit them at their shop, and they have presented blacksmithing to school and university groups from all over the state and country. Mike and Bea prefer to give demonstrations in their own shop in Spruce Pine; however, they are also capable of presenting a traveling demonstration. They welcome school groups, and they have a set presentation that they have given many times. Mike is very knowledgeable about the tradition, and his father is a very engaging talker.
Spruce Pine, NC 28777