Catching Fire

Inside Aaron Cergol’s hand-built forge in Riverwest.

Aaron Cergol and his hand-built forge. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.
Aaron Cergol and his hand-built forge. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.

Aaron Cergol was just a face in the crowd when he saw the Iowa blacksmith George Shimek put on a demonstration at Bastille Days in Downtown Milwaukee. But Shimek noticed the boy standing there statue-like, transfixed by the millennia-old rhythms of heating, striking and shaping metal. “Come back tomorrow,” Shimek told Cergol, “and bring your safety glasses and boots.”

He certainly did, and some 13 years later Cergol owns his own blacksmith shop, Cergol Tool and Forgeworks, on the northern end of the Riverwest neighborhood, where he makes punches, hammers, fire axes, hatchets, miniature anvils for jewelry- and watch-making, and assorted garden tools. He’s one of a half-dozen smiths relying on traditional methods in the city, making tools by request for carpenters, timber-framers, cymbal-makers and book binders.

His bible is a copy of a 1922 manual on blacksmithing, his anvil of choice almost 500 pounds of forged metal and his favored fuel the pebbly, hot-burning coal from the Pocahontas vein in West Virginia. Having grown up on a hobby farm near West Bend, he hopes to someday build a shop in the country. “I miss having a garden,” he says. “I miss being able to see the stars at night.”

‘Gear Galore’ appears in the April 2016 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find the April issue on newsstands beginning March 28.

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Matt has written for Milwaukee Magazine since 2006, when he was a lowly intern. Since then, he’s held the posts of assistant news editor and, most recently, senior editor. He’s lived in South Carolina, Tennessee, Connecticut, Iowa, and Indiana but mostly in Wisconsin. He wants to do more fishing but has a hard time finding worms. For the magazine, Matt has written about city government, schools, religion, coffee roasters and Congress.