HARRISON – David McConnell and his wife, Rebecca, are new Harrison residents, but David is not a stranger to some. McConnell was on the History Channel television competition show “Forged in Fire” in 2017 where he placed second.
Since then, McConnell had been working out of his home in Kalkaska, but the couple decided their home in a subdivision didn’t meet David’s need for a larger forge and they had a dream for an off grid, more nature-based lifestyle.
“I grew up on a farm so living in a subdivision really wasn’t for me.” McConnell said. “I also guide for bird hunting, for grouse and woodcock, and I have two bird dogs and we have two little dogs. Our neighbors were great, but we outgrew our one acre.”
McConnell started in his shed in that subdivision which was only 12-by-12. He built a 32-by-40 shop on the new property.
“My goal has always been to teach. I could only do a one-on-one class, now I can teach up to six people.”
McConnell is a full-time bladesmith and blacksmith. He also does nuisance trapping in addition to bird guiding.
Property in Harrison on Old State Road fit the bill for the couple. Harrison’s central location suited Rebecca’s career as a traveling RN. And the log cabin, nearby state land and natural beauty of the area were just what the McConnell’s were looking for in a new home and business location.
To step into McConnell’s forge is a modern take on what you remember from a blacksmith’s shop in Greenfield Village or other historical museum. McConnell built his first forge which is on display in a corner and works with smaller propane fueled forges, of which he has many. Before forging full time, McConnell was a Journeyman machine repairman. Not only does he make his own tools he fabricated his grinder, power hammer and is currently making a hydraulic press.
McConnell started 17 years ago and has watched smithing grow as a hobby and an industry. With “Forged in Fire” alumni, he knows more smiths than ever. Through the television show McConnell and others have formed informal groups of smiths that get together for friendly grudge matches and weekend retreats to learn and share their knowledge.
McConnell will offer classes out of his forge to make candle holders, swing hooks, tool making, hammer making, spoons, forks and knives, roses and other flower forms, basic Damascus and, of course, knife making. He has clients traveling from as far away as California to learn from him this summer.
While women are rare in his classes, only about a dozen since he began teaching, McConnell welcomes everyone to his forge including teenagers and young adults.
“Learning blacksmithing there are so many ways to branch off, you can branch off to knife making, the architectural stuff, handrails, staircases,” he says. “I have a big chandelier in the house that I made. From there you can go into sculpture. We want to promote working with your hands.”
McConnell is also affiliated with Warriors Way Forge, an Ohio non-profit run by Dave Bates. The Warriors Way Forge offers free programs to veterans and first responders with different types of recreational therapy and community outreach. McConnell helped fundraise for the forge and then became an affiliate and will offer a class/weekend retreat each quarter for combat veterans. Veterans will leave with a finished knife and McConnell cites the property and Harrison area as an ideal place for veterans to disconnect for a weekend.
The couple’s future plans include a large garden, off-grid living, campsites for visitors, and an Airbnb offering for those who may not want to camp.
“We’ve been going non-stop since we moved in,” McConnell said.
He’s excited about the upcoming grand opening and sharing his property and forge with the Harrison community. “I am very impressed with how much they have helped us already and it’s only been a month.” McConnell said of the Harrison Chamber.
He also cited how friendly and welcoming his neighbors have been since they moved in last fall.
Of course, I had to ask McConnell if I could take a class and make a cleaver. The answer was a resounding “yes” with a warning: “A cleaver is a lot of work because it starts with a 4-inch piece of steel. It takes a lot of forging.”
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