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 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. Mike gets fewer orders for such things as railings and fire screens that can be purchased cheaply at modern home improvement stores, but continues 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 can demonstrate the language of the anvil, a method of using hammers to communicate instructions, which he says dates back to biblical times. He welcome groups at his shop and has presented blacksmithing to school and university groups from all over the state and country. Mike prefers to give demonstrations at the shop in Spruce Pine, but is also capable of presenting a traveling demonstration. He welcomes school groups, and has a set presentation that he has given many times. Mike is very knowledgeable about the tradition.