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Meet the Maker: Leechtown Blacksmith Co.

Meet Ryan Fogarty

Typically, you’ll find Ryan Fogarty at Leechtown Blacksmith Co. 6 or 7 days a week, working on cookware late into the day until his wife or his dog come down to the shop to collect him for the evening. Instead, we met mid-week, on a rainy day on the docks of Nimmo Bay. It set a very mystical tone, the fog hanging in the trees, Ryan’s forge ready to be lit, the anvil in the middle of it all, and the makings of 2-foot champagne sabre ready to be finished. We sat down on the couch to chat about his journey to blacksmithing and all about Leechtown Blacksmith Co.

The Road to Leechtown

Ryan has been chasing sparks for over 20 years. From welding in oil and gas, to working in shipyards, building breweries, teaching high school metal shop, and working for NATO. I could barely keep up with the variety of skills he sharpened while mastering the trade. “Working I’ve been blessed in the welding trade to be able to have been pretty well rounded in the field”.

He has this constant drive to learn more, which pushes him into new situations. Teaching a group of high school students metal shop is both terrifying and rewarding. Training them on a brand new skill, and watching their projects flourish, while also making sure they’re all safe, it’s a lot to balance. Then there’s the determination and bravery required to pick-up your life and move to Afghanistan to be a civilian contractor, welding for NATO. Finally, the passion and confidence required to start a business is immense.

Between the multitude of positions that he’s held throughout the years, the one common denominator has always been steel. So how did he make the leap from welding to blacksmithing? It came down to a little chance, and a desire to settle down. One fateful day, around Christmas, Ryan decided to gift himself an anvil, and never looked back.

“I was like, this is what I’m going to do. And I was completely unprepared… it was completely ridiculous… I thought I’d call myself a blacksmith. Yeah, I had no idea what it took to be a blacksmith.”

Little did he know what this ancestral calling would lead him to create. In the Fall of 2021, after working with a world-renowned blacksmith and honing his skills, he pitched the idea of product based blacksmithing to his teacher and former business partner. At the time, cookware wasn’t being created by local blacksmiths in the area, so they thought, why not?! This was the inception of Leechtown Blacksmith Co.

It’s all in the Name

The name Leechtown Blacksmith Co. invokes a sense of place and home for Ryan. Evidently, location played a large part in the decision to use Leechtown. When starting out, the forge (a type of hearth used for heating metals) they were using was on the Galloping Goose trail on Vancouver Island. The trail is an old train line that brought people from Victoria to Leechtown – a gold rush boomtown in the 1800’s, just outside of Sooke. Sooke also happens to be Ryan’s hometown! Between the hometown roots and the air of history around the ghost town, it seemed like the perfect fit. 

Hand-forged Cookware

Leechtown Blacksmith Co. creates hand-forged cookware. From carbon steel pans to steak knives and much more. When researching and thinking about what the new company should specialize in, cookware wasn’t being done by many other blacksmiths at the time. So the decision was made and they dove into the culinary world. It all started with the pans, forging handles for carbon steel bases. “The very first product I put out was the Flame Rider series, which is a really utility friendly, heavy duty pan, carbon steel not cast iron.”

Ryan’s journey into forging knives is a longer one, and one he never anticipated. This may come as a surprise, considering most people think of giant swords and knives when a blacksmith comes to mind. One of his first jobs gave him the incredible opportunity to collaborate with Moy Sutherland, an artist and carver from the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation, located on Vancouver Island. They partnered on creating hook and totem knives for the Pacific Northwest wood carving community. “[I] cut my teeth doing knives and hundreds of them, with Moy, and my tools are in the hands of some really incredible artists, and I’m very proud of that”. This was a major turning point for Ryan, he realized the potential here. “So [I] started doing that. It’s like, f***, man. I’m good at sharp stuff. So I’m gonna concentrate on this more”. Through partnerships like the one he has with Confluence and Nimmo Bay, Ryan gets to explore the whimsy and creative side of his brain when creating products, like the steak knives and sabres.

Drawing Inspiration

Inspiration comes from a variety of places for Ryan. From the books he’s reading, to the places he’s working. The best way to explain this is to describe what Ryan was forging at the time of this interview. Ryan had brought his portable blacksmithing setup to Nimmo Bay. We were seated on the comfiest couch, outside on one of the docks, with the sound of rain pattering on the metal roof and water around us. He was crafting a champagne sabre to gift to a guest.

While creating the blade, he was listening to the Lord of the Rings audio book, “I’m listening to the audiobook of Lord of the Rings. Again. This is the sabre that I’m making and it’s a lot more elvish”. He said, as he showed me the metal blade, curved in nature. The elaborate and descriptive words of J. R. R. Tolkien were providing inspiration that helped shape the tool he was forging at that very moment. Ryan also couldn’t ignore the beautiful backdrop of Nimmo Bay. A curtain of lush, deep green trees rose-up in front of us, with a perfect reflection bouncing off the water.

“You know, you put that [champagne sabre] up against the trees, and I think really everything would complement everything at that point”.

Sustainability in Blacksmithing

It’s evident that Ryan has a deep respect for the wild and for the pacific coast. It’s part of his mission to support local and small businesses in BC when sourcing materials for his cookware. He must balance the need for high quality and tough metals to use in his knives, with sourcing local. Part of that balancing strategy includes using old saw blades made from Uddeholm Swedish steel that can be found at the mills here on the coast. “I would pull into Chemainus mill, and they would just lower old saw blades down in the back of my truck”.

Wood plays another important role in Ryan’s work, the handles of all his knives are wood based. “For woods, I team up with Moy Sutherland, who teams up with other nations on Vancouver Island for their windfall wood salvage a part of their managed forestry programs… Therefore, my woods are seasonal, and up to availability”. He’s currently working with local Arbutus, Yew, and Maple. This adds to the uniqueness and one-of-a-kind nature of his craft. Once a certain type runs out, he’s onto sourcing something new and equally as beautiful. If you happen to see a non-local wood handle, it’s usually come from a residential tree that’s had to be taken down. Ryan can give that tree a second life in the handle of one of his knives.

Using wood for the handles of all his blades also helps Ryan achieve another goal, reducing the creation of microplastics, tiny plastic particles that are often by-products of industry and manufacturing. Part of the crafting process involves grinding and sanding knife handles to shape and smooth them. “[grinding] Synthetic handles creates uncontrollable pollution. So that’s a good reason for sticking with real wood”. He is very grateful to have a strong connection to the wood and a true talent for working with it.

Forging Connections

For Ryan, cookware is the vehicle for a meal that you’re eating. Whether by yourself, with your loved ones, outdoors in the forest, or in your home kitchen.

The cookware is tangible, “it’s a hands on vehicle for the experience.”

He came up with a hashtag awhile back #impressthewildwhileyoueatit. This really symbolizes how people can feel connected to a certain environment while using a Leechtown Blacksmith Co. product. Talking about being on the coast, at the water, collecting your own food, “[i]t only works when you’re out here and you’re doing foraging and you’re pulling crab traps up and eating it with my seafood fork”.

The story behind the cookware is also important for Ryan. All the items he creates are one-of-a-kind. He’ll draw from his surroundings or make custom pieces that incorporate wild elements offered up from the land. At Nimmo he was brainstorming the creation of some steak knives, “I’ve got some obsidian that was found on a beach here. I’ve got bear teeth from here. I think we’re sourcing some orca teeth that Fraser’s had and I just make sure everything has a story”. Those knives will immediately remind the person of the incredible memories they created at Nimmo Bay.

Photo by: Jeremy Koreski

Leechtown Products that Last A Lifetime

After spending the afternoon talking to Ryan and watching him work, it’s clear to see that his cookware can be used for the everyday, to special occasions and circumstance, out in the wild or in your home. But everything has intention. It’s designed to make you go ‘whoa’ when you pick it up, feeling the weight of a pan, connecting you to a memory, or reminding you of a story, and it calls to be passed down from generation to generation.

Photos by Jeremy Koreski

All unspecified photos by Alex Janes

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