While some students start their college journey wondering what their purpose in life will be, others have it all figured out, with a stop at university as just part of the game plan. But even then, life can be full of surprises.
While a freshman at Southeastern in the College of Science and Technology, industrial technology major Cade Jenkins earned the title of Champion on History Channel’s hit reality show Forged in Fire thanks to his incredible blacksmithing skills and his decision to continue a family legacy.
In January, the Loranger resident competed against three other bladesmiths in four rounds to create the best blade and was crowned Champion of the episode titled “French Pioneer Sword,” winning a grand prize of $10,000.
“My grandfather was a full-time blacksmith for 30 years, and he is unable to continue because of health issues,” said Jenkins. “So, I decided to carry on the legacy.”
However, Jenkins’ decision to join the show was not an idea he came up with on his own. It was really his mother’s.
“I was watching the show with my family, critiquing the contestants and the things they were doing wrong,” said Jenkins. “My mom said, ‘Why don’t you do it then and show them how it’s done?’ So, I applied for the show.”
Jenkins calls his time on the set of the reality show the greatest experience of his life.
“I competed against three great smiths and even better men,” said Jenkins. “We are still friends to this day. It was a huge challenge to complete, but in the end it was so worth it.”
When Jenkins was announced the winner, he and his family were excited, of course. However, the best reaction he received was from his grandfather.
“I was still in New York, which is where we filmed the show,” said Jenkins. “I called my grandparents and said ‘I just wanted to let y’all know I won,’ and heard my grandpa in the background holler like a little girl.”
Jenkins started out as an architectural blacksmith, but he has since come to specialize as a bladesmith. He started learning blacksmithing at the age of 12, after spending much of his childhood doing carpentry and woodwork with his father, who works as a hobbyist carpenter. Woodwork would not turn out to be Jenkins’ niche, but it would lead him on the path to blacksmithing.
“I love making things,” said Jenkins. “When I was a kid, I started learning different crafts. I started casting metal, which is a little different. I actually learned how to crochet and how to sew. I just started picking up things really, really easily.”
Jenkins would soon seek out his grandfather to learn how to forge and would eventually master the skill, creating items like stair railing furniture, hinges, and custom knives.
“With blacksmithing, I never stopped learning,” said Jenkins. “So that’s why I fell in love with it—I just couldn’t stop learning new things.”
Jenkins is currently taking some time off from school to manage the demands of his business, but he is committed to completing his degree in industrial technology with a concentration in welding technology at Southeastern. He’s noted that his time at Southeastern has helped him learn even more about his craft. His future plans are to merge his skill set as a blacksmith with the new information he learns in his program at Southeastern to create works of art.
“When learning how to blacksmith, I learned how to heat, treat, and temper metal, but I never knew the science behind my craft,” said Jenkins. “I only knew how to physically do it. In the little time I was at Southeastern, I have learned so much information that I have brought to my shop, and it has made me a better bladesmith and blacksmith.”
After graduating from Southeastern in the future, Jenkins hopes to combine his current knowledge of metallurgy through blacksmithing to become the best in the business.
As for now—business is booming! Since the episode’s airing in early 2020, Jenkins’ blacksmithing business, Jenkins Blacksmithing, has received much exposure, which gave the business a major increase in customers and in Jenkins’ workload.
Jenkins expressed that during the taping of the show, he learned many new skills, most importantly time management and getting out of his comfort zone.
For many 18-year-olds, running a successful business solo at such a young age could be seen as “out of your comfort zone.” However, in Jenkins’ case, it seems more like something that comes with the territory of doing something you love. When it comes to Jenkins’ favorite thing about blacksmithing, he explains that it is his passion, along with the desire of his inner child.
“I may be 18, but like every man, I still have a 13-year-old boy inside of me who loves fire and beating on things,” said Jenkins. “It is a passion of mine, and every project has its own little story, because everything I make is made from scratch by hand.”
Cade’s advice to others interested in blacksmithing? “Blacksmithing is not easy,” he says. “It’s really hard work. You’ve got to really love it to do it.” In terms of business advice, Jenkins advises to always remain focused: “Remember what your main goal is and keep that in mind.”
It’s evident in the craftsmanship and passion for his work at Jenkins Blacksmithing that he does love his craft. His main goal is clear: Even though he is a Champion, he will always work to become a better blacksmith than he already is.
For more information on Jenkins and his work, visit jenkinsblacksmithing.com.
By Brianna Hawkins and Ashley Richardson