Striking While the Iron is Hot: Biltmore’s Blacksmith
All Things Biltmore • 11/16/16
Written By Amy Dangelico
Did you know America’s largest home has a resident blacksmith?
A typical day for Biltmore blacksmith Steve Schroeder is spent demonstrating traditional techniques, telling guests stories, and answering their questions in the estate’s original smithy shop at Antler Hill Barn.
Steve started at Biltmore about seven years ago as an apprentice under blacksmith Doc Cudd. He also spent time working at the Farmyard, eventually becoming supervisor, but when Doc retired at the beginning of the year, Steve returned to the smithy shop.
Blacksmith to Blacksmith
During a demonstration in late April, after being in charge of the shop for about a month, Steve met a guest who was a fellow blacksmith from New Jersey. The guest, likely in his early twenties, showed Steve a piece of his own: a metal key ring featuring a golf ball-sized rose with about 40 tiny petals.
Steve was impressed by the rose design and asked the guest about his process. To his surprise, the guest offered to stay at the smithy shop for what ended up being over an hour to explain the method to Steve as he tried it out.
“That’s one of the great things about blacksmiths,” Steve explains. “We’re very open about sharing projects and we’re happy to teach each other different techniques. There are no secrets in blacksmithing.
“Although I have to say,” he continues, “That was the first opportunity I’ve had to learn from a blacksmith younger than myself—they’re normally about twice my age.”
- The upper portion of the rod is heated—as it is throughout the process—and then hammered (above) until it is incredibly thin.
- The rod is twisted in the middle to define the stem.
- The flat, upper portion of the rod is placed over a hot cut (below) and struck with a hammer to create indentions along one side, defining the individual petals.
- The upper portion is bent into a P-shape.
- The P-shape is tightly coiled, revealing the rose design.
- The lower portion of the rod bent to create the hook element.
Perfecting the Petals
Steve worked diligently to improve his rose hook technique over the next few months. During that time, news of the fascinating project caught wind around the estate. As result, eight rose hooks were soon installed in the comfortable seating area next to Village Social, located within Village Hotel.
However, Steve is quick to point out that the hooks installed in Village Hotel don’t reflect one of his biggest revelations in perfecting his technique, one that actually came from his wife, Kylie.
“I explained to her that I was having a hard time keeping the petals open in the coiling process,” he says. “She suggested I use pliers to pull the petals back for that nice blooming effect.”
He’s been peeling back the petals that way ever since.
Striking While the Iron is Hot
Steve knew early on there was potential for his products to be sold on the estate—like Doc’s famous leaf insignia key rings. On top of that, guests were asking if the rose hooks were available for purchase on a daily basis.
While Steve didn’t want to sell the product until he thought it was in its best possible form, he knew that he had to “strike while the iron is hot.” (Yes, that is a blacksmith pun, and yes, Steve is full of them.)
Finally, after a few months and a few hundred roses, Steve felt confident enough in the design—more specifically, in his ability to replicate the design over and over—and the product hit the shelves of The Barn Door in early October.
And they are selling just as fast as Steve can make them. He brings a handful of rose hooks to The Barn Door every morning and they’re gone by the afternoon. In the first two weeks, the shop sold more than 50 hooks, making it their current best-selling item.
As a result of this estate collaboration, the product’s footprint is almost non-existent. When a batch of rose hooks is ready, Steve simply walks them next door to be sold—no additional carbon emissions, packaging, or waste involved. In fact, the rose hooks don’t even have price tags.
A Look Ahead
With the success of his most recent endeavor, Steve hopes to have two more products for sale at The Barn Door by the end of the year. While he’s not sure what exactly those products will be, one thing is for sure: thanks to Steve’s passion for blacksmithing and his attention to detail, they will sell out fast.