Saline area residents might be surprised to learn they have their very own Man of Steel living in their midst, but this one does not fly or chase bad guys.
Instead, Chad Osborne fashions items such as knives, axes and swords from raw and repurposed metals, and his handiwork has earned him many industry accolades, a career in blacksmithing and even a bit of television fame.
Osborne, the 2016 EQUUS Professional Horseman of the Year, spends six months annually working as a blacksmith and farrier at Cindy’s Riding Stable and Jack’s Livery Stable on Mackinac Island, where he said he tends to the shoeing needs of around 150 horses and “fixing whatever needs to be fixed.”
For the other half of the year, Osborne crafts knives, swords and similar weapons, as well as ornamental keepsakes that he often forges to order. He sells them through his website, www.osborneforge.com, as well as at industry shows.
“I can pretty much make any knife, any axe, any bladed item,” he said, also citing a variety of metal choices.
But it was an appearance on a History Channel reality competition show, “Forged in Fire,” according to Osborne, that garnered him the a wealth of attention and turned him into a man in the spotlight.
After the first season of the show premiered, he said a colleague on the island suggested he try out. Osborne said his wife was also extremely supportive of the notion, and helped him submit the initial application materials.
“The next thing you know, I was getting interviewed,” he said. “I did one or two phone interviews and then I did a Skype interview.”
About a week or so later, the show’s producer called and officially asked him to be a contestant.
“I had to go to New York,” he said, mentioning a production location in Brooklyn. “It was three days of filming and if you made it to the final round you would fly home and have five days to work on your weapon of history.”
Of the four who began the competition, Osborne was one of two picked to move on to the final round because the knife he made with a scabbard pleased the judges.
The final weapon Osborne and his competitor were tasked with making was a shotel, an ancient Ethiopian sickle-like sword intended to inflict maximum damage in the days of horseback and hand-to-hand combat.
Once back at his home forge in Saline, Osborne said the amount of time given to him by the judges seemed a lot shorter than he initially thought it would be.
“It’s not really five days, it’s 45 hours,” he said. “Your first day is only five hours and then you have four 10-hour days, and then they say ‘time’ when you’re done.”
Osborne placed as runner-up on the program, but he was a big hit with viewers. The show’s producers recently asked him to come back to New York to film a “fan-favorite” episode, and Osborne said it will be airing on the History Channel in the coming weeks.
Though the celebrity treatment has its perks, Osborne said it is nice to slow down as he does at the beginning of May each year and settle into his apartment on Mackinac Island.
He will be heading up in a matter of days to begin preparing a fleet of horses for the quickly-approaching tourist season.
“Everything is turned down about 40 or 50 percent compared to everywhere else,” he said, though his job keeps him busy, especially when he first gets back to the island.
Each of the horses he is responsible for will need a fresh set of shoes, the first of four shoeings done on each horse throughout the six-month season.
Though he will initially be there solo, Osborne said his wife and son join him on the island as soon as his son finishes the school year.
Working as a blacksmith and farrier are both extremely physical jobs, and Osborne said his body has taken quite a bit of abuse over the years. During the interview for this article, he pointed to a place on his arm where a doctor recently provided him with a Cortisone shot to make his pain more manageable as his busy season approaches.
Yet, his undeniable passion for the work is obvious to anyone who talks to him about it, which is why Osborne recently decided to start offering classes at his home shop in Saline.
“I get a lot of calls and a lot of requests so I said, ‘I need to start a new blacksmithing school, a new bladesmithing school, and see what happens,’” he said. “It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. I used to teach at the horseshoeing school (in Belleville) and I felt pretty good teaching them. It’s all hands-on experience.”
Osborne has worked with local scouts in the past, which also nudged him toward offering classes to a broader audience.
“I’ve been doing the metalworking badge for the Boy Scouts. I think if I can handle 15 Boy Scouts, a smaller class of six to 10 grownups or young adults should be easier,” he said with a chuckle.
Each class session begins with the fundamentals.
“The introduction to bladesmithing or blacksmithing is pretty much going to be the same. You’re going to have safety of the shop, then go over the tools and equipment, learn the proper techniques of the hammer, parts of the anvil,” he said. “Safety is a big key because if you’re working with hot metal and fire, someone is going to get burned if they’re not paying attention.”
From there, students will actually get to forge their own metal pieces.
“You’re going to learn how to draw a taper, swing the hammer and move the metal a little bit,” he said. “In your basic blacksmith class, you’re going to leave with a barn hook. It’s a nice little hook with a decorative twist. In the basic bladesmithing class, you’ll make a railroad spike knife.”
Osborne said his classes are on Saturdays and run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and cost $175 per person enrolled.
“I’m trying to make it the third Saturday of every month,” he said.
Osborne plans to offer to classes here in Saline throughout the year despite his seasonal work on Mackinac Island, as he often comes home for the weekend.
Osborne recently held a class for a group of military veterans and athletes who came as part of an outing with the Eisenhower Center, a rehabilitation facility based in Ann Arbor.
Therapeutic recreation specialist Candace Horton said she arranged the class with Osborne after some of the patients she works with suggested it.
“The guys were actually watching him on TV,” she said, citing the enthusiasm Osborne brings to the class. “He’s been great.”
Osborne has a wealth of knowledge to share, with his family blacksmithing tradition stretching back to his great-great0grandfather.
Perhaps with enough practice and dedication students will one day be able to “listen” to the metal like he does.
“When steel is hot it’s like clay,” he said. “You can shape it, mold it, push it, but if you’re making a blade sometimes you just go out there and start swinging your hammer and the steel will talk to you. Like the artist with his brush strokes, it just happens.”
In addition to his website, Osborne can be contacted for commissions, sales and class information at 734-320-6652 or [email protected].