LOUISVILLE, Colo. — Boulder County 19-year-olds usually start the day going to college classes. That's true for Justin Simisky, but he's also forging his own path.
"I call myself The Slacksmith," Simisky said.
Though he's studying physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Simisky spends 20 to 30 hours a week working as a blacksmith.
"I just loved knives and fire when I was a little kid," Simisky said.
He started playing with tools instead of toys at the age of 10.
"Eventually, I kind of transitioned a little bit towards blacksmithing and I made a little forge out of an old soup can and some clay and stuff," Simisky said.
From a soup can to a full shop behind his parents' home, Simisky has become an accomplished blacksmith with a focus on making blades.
"It's a hobby that I've taken a little too far," Simisky said. "I am a very modern and non-traditional blacksmith. I don't do nearly anything the way they used to do it."
He has an arsenal of mechanical muscle that he affectionately names.
"This is 'Smelty' the heat-treating oven, the Clay Spencer Tire Hammer that I named 'Smacky,'" Simisky said. "Then, right next to here, I got 'Smashy' which is my 32,000-pound hydraulic press."
Simisky has gotten so in demand as a blacksmith, he has months of orders to fill making customized knives and swords.
"This is my college job, basically," Simisky said. "Like, this is what I do on the weekends so I can go do things with my friends and like eat food and stuff."
The work also pays for him to play and provide for the first part of the name Slacksmith.
"Walking through the air, they call it 'one inch from flying' cause the webbing is one inch thick," Simisky said.
He is a slackliner who suspends himself over canyons 2,000 feet above the ground. Tethered to a line, Simisky walks across the chasm excited and afraid.
"The mental challenges of making a knife and the mental challenges of walking a highline are very similar," Simisky said.
Both have physical challenges, too, according to Simisky.
"My hands are covered in scars," Simisky said.
He expects to be burned while handling molten metal and fire.
"Hot pieces of scale flying around and liquid flux, there's just a lot of hot things flying through the air," Simisky said.
Despite the danger, he said being a blacksmith is therapeutic.
"I don't know how I would've made it through the pandemic without this," Simisky said.
Though he often works by himself, Simisky is not afraid to share his craft with the world. He went on a History Channel show called "Forged in Fire" where blacksmiths compete against each other to win a $10,000 prize.
"I went in with no expectations and just wanted to go have fun and be goofy on TV, and I ended up actually winning the thing, which is really cool," Simisky said.
He doesn't want to be a career blacksmith. But, Simisky does want to earn his certification as a Master Bladesmith, which he said takes decades to attain.
"What's important to me is keeping this as something that I love," Simisky said.
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