A skilled bladesmith has to make roughly 400 hand-forged knives to become an American Bladesmith Society journeyman, but 10-year-old Easton Rangel is determined to earn that title by the time he’s 13.
“When you need to knock out a bunch of knives, it’s really tough, but I’m a hard worker,” said Easton. “I love doing what I do.”
When he’s 15, he plans to shoot for his master bladesmith qualification, a title held by only about 200 people in the world.
Easton’s father, Sergio Rangel, is a talented blacksmith and bladesmith. The family has a small forge in the garage of their Stafford County home, where Sergio said making a single, hand-forged knife takes about two weeks of constant hammering, grinding and polishing.
“It’s a grueling process, but there’s not a day that goes by that Easton doesn’t say, ‘Can we go out into the garage to grind or forge metal?,’ ” said Rangel.
Easton, who turns 11 on Sept. 4, felt his first spark of inspiration about three years ago when his father took him to Black Horse Forge in Stafford. The fifth-grade homeschooler has been hooked on the hobby ever since.
“My motto is, I’m never working a day in my life,” said Easton.
Rangel, who serves as vice president of Black Horse Forge, a local nonprofit that helps veterans and first responders cope with PTSD and other disorders through blacksmithing, served in the U.S. Army for six years. He came to the forge in 2018 as a veteran who needed a place to vent after three overseas tours in Iraq with the 982nd Combat Camera Company.
“We’ve had people come here who are on the edge of things,” said Steve Hotz, president of Black Horse Forge. “We want them to come here before they do something irrational. This is a safe place.”
Rangel found sanctuary at the forge and started bringing young Easton along with him as he worked on blades and other projects. Rangel looked up from his anvil one evening and saw Hotz teaching Easton how to shape a piece of metal while young Easton hammered away in delight.
“It was that day he told me he wanted to be a blacksmith,” said Rangel.
Over the years, Rangel worked his way up the ladder at the forge and eventually began teaching other veterans what he had learned. He parlayed his skills into a leadership role at Black Horse. Easton climbed the blacksmithing ladder along with his father, earning the respect of skilled blademakers.
“He’s a cadre member and has access to the forge just like the rest of the guys who teach,” said Rangel. “His goal is to get good enough to actually teach classes.”
Rangel said his son’s love for horses and blacksmithing has been a blessing and an inspiration for the entire family. He said those outdoor activities have given his son the opportunity to shine where he sometimes struggles.
“He has dyslexia,” said Rangel. “The struggles he has in school are more than the average kid.”
Rangel’s wife, Kate, said Easton started off in private school and the couple had no idea their son had a learning disorder. As Easton began falling further and further behind his classmates, his parents turned to homeschooling, where the boy was eventually diagnosed as dyslexic.
“As a mom you wonder, when he’s an adult and he can’t read well, how is he going to college and do all these things that kids are supposed to do,” said Kate Rangel. “And then to be able to support a family.”
Easton wants to attend the Oklahoma State Horseshoeing School to become a farrier, combining blacksmithing and veterinary skills to care for horses’ hooves.
“He’s loved horses since he was a year old and this kind of melds both his worlds,” said Kate Rangel. “If he applies himself and he works hard, before he graduates high school, he can have two legitimate careers that could support a family as a husband and as a father.”
Easton has already figured out how to earn money as a blacksmith.
Last year, Easton wanted to learn to ride horses, but his parents agreed to cover only half the cost for lessons at a farm in Goldvein. To raise the balance of the money, Easton spent October and November turning out 15 ornate metal twisted candy canes each day. He made $300 selling them as Christmas ornaments.
“I was frustrated at first, because I wanted to go outside and play with my friends, but we started and it got easier,” said Easton. “It was very busy.”
The Rangels said their five children, ages 1 through 10, don’t own electronic game consoles or spend a lot of time in front of a television. The couple prefers their children play outdoors. Rangel said Easton can usually be found in the garage forging, grinding and hammering.
“To see him shine in other places than reading … you’re having a struggle here, but knowing he’s going to excel in other places,” said Rangel. “Blacksmithing has been a huge blessing.”
James Scott Baron: 540/374-5438