Kauai’s Heavy Metal Scene
Ted Shanks uses the traditional tools of a blacksmith
Photo: Courtesy Jon Letman
In the digital age, when trends favor lighter, smaller and faster, Ted Shanks’ tools differ little from those of a thousand years ago. Working in his Lihue shop, he burns coal, coke and propane gas to heat steel, bronze and copper, which he pounds, bends and fashions into architectural elements, utensils, tools and implements, large and small.
Shanks is a traditionally trained blacksmith, having apprenticed under English and Scottish masters. For three decades, he has practiced his trade in Hawaii — first on Maui and, since 1987, on Kauai. His award-winning designs are found in homes, businesses and workshops across Hawaii and beyond.
His first large-scale architectural job was to create a 187-foot interior railing for a luxury home on Oahu. The piece won a Building Industry Association-Hawaii grand award and drew attention to blacksmithing in Hawaii.
The slow economy notwithstanding, he and partners Antone Teves and Robert Wolff are busy filling orders for railings and wrought-iron gates, and a request to design a prototype for commercial cooking utensils. Shanks also makes his own line of specialty tools such as hammers, tongs, punches and chisels, called Kipu Forge. He also speaks at conventions and teaches visiting blacksmiths from around the world.
“Most people think of a blacksmith as a farrier (one who shoes horses), but they are completely different,” he says. Shanks does both, and calls blacksmithing the “king of trades.”
“Blacksmiths traditionally had to know not only everyone else’s tools, but also how to make their own, too,” he says.
Shanks concedes he may buy a tool for convenience, but hastens to add he can make his own.
“A blacksmith is his own most important tool. A man ought to be able to make his own tools and rely on himself.”
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