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Beimler: Local Blacksmith & Teacher of Viking Ways
Interview and photos by Kathleen Star Stack
Story by Louise Brinck Harrington


June 13, 2005

Ketchikan, Alaska - People swarm around the blacksmith shop located next to Salmon Landing in downtown Ketchikan. A sign above the shop reads "Local Blacksmith." The blacksmith in his leather apron, old hickory shirt and suspenders draws locals and tourists alike. His wares, made from bright copper and shiny steel, glitter on the table.

Jake Beimler local blacksmith...
Photograph by Kathleen Star Stack

"It's in my blood that's the best way I can describe it," says Jake Beimler, taking a break to talk about blacksmithing and how he got started. "My great-grandfather was the last working smith in the Kallispell area of Montana. His stuff is still in the museum there."

Though Beimler did not get the chance to know his great-grandfather, he inherited his metal-working genes. "Ever since I was a little kid growing up in Montana I'd stick nails in fireplaces, heat them up and beat them flat," he says.

Today the 35-year-old smith, who first moved to Ketchikan in 1992, uses a propane forge at his downtown "smithy" as well as the traditional anvil, tongs, vices and hammers. He turns out an assortment of items-including ladles, dinner triangles, door knockers, cooking tripods and more-but specializes in blades and knives.

jpg Railroad spike knife

Railroad spike knife...
Photograph by Kathleen Star Stack

He especially likes to make knives from old railroad spikes. When making and marketing "spike knives," he includes the history of where the spikes came from. "I found some spikes over on Gravina at an old silver mine that closed down about the turn of the century," he says. With such a story behind them the spike knives sell quickly.

If blacksmithing is Beimler's first love, Viking battle reenactment is his secondand the two go hand in hand. "I couldn't be a Viking if I wasn't a blacksmith and I couldn't be a blacksmith if I wasn't a Viking," he says.

"Viking battle reenactment" is just what it sounds like: present day performances of long-ago battles-very long-ago, back in the Dark Ages.

Beimler has organized a Viking fighting troupe here in Ketchikan. "We fight with live steelwhich means our swords don't have an edge but they are real," he explains. "And we really go to town on each other."

The name of his troupe is Grott, the Lost Vikings. As its leader, Beimler holds training sessions three times a week and takes training seriously. "It takes up to a year to train a fighter," he says, "before I even think about putting him in a show. We fight in closed areas, places like the [Plaza] mall, and we cannot afford to make mistakes."

jpg jewelry displayed on furs

Jewelry created by Beimler displayed on furs...
Photograph by Kathleen Star Stack

He is also strict about membership. Anyone interested in joining the troupe must prove that he or she is "worthy." If someone is a crafter, his or her crafts must be "impeccable. They have to be very, very nice." And any new member must be able to afford the troupe, which is not without expense. For one thing, "you have to have to dress the part-beautiful tunics, pants, cloak, chain metaland you have to have every weapon from the Viking age and be proficient with it."

The Viking or Dark Ages-as opposed to the later Medieval Ages-appeal to Beimler because they were "a time of honor, a time before people became sovereign to a king, when people were independent and responsible for themselves. It was a time when life revolved around the farm." It was also a time of legends, Norse legends.

The name of his business Bifrost Blacksmithing refers to Norse legend, specifically to the rainbow bridge to Asgard, which is the Norse equivalent of Alaska's northern lights.

jpg knife necklace

Knife necklace...
Photograph by Kathleen Star Stack

This is Beimler's second year at his downtown smithy, which is busy today with hundreds of tourists, some talking and milling around, others headed to the nearby Great Alaskan Logging Show. "I like to think I bring a little bit of history and homemade crafts" to downtown Ketchikan, Beimler says.

Though blacksmithing is hard work, Beimler believes it teaches him patience. He used to consider himself an impatient man until he realized he can work in his shop "for twelve or thirteen hours a day and not even look up."

He credits his wife Jamie (formerly Jamie King) with being "the driving force" behind his blacksmith business, as well as his acting troupe. "She's very supportive of me," he says. The couple's one-year-old son is appropriately named Odin, after the Viking god of war and wisdom.

Ketchikan's local blacksmith is happy doing what he loves and it shows in his work. "I put a lot of heart into every piece I make," he says.



Louise Brinck Harrington is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.


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