Inside Aaron Cergol's hand-built forge in Riverwest.
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.”