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January 6, 2014

Blacksmith forges a new life

VALDOSTA — “I would watch this whole thing going on, and I was really amazed how you could make metal hot and then twist it,” said Daniel De Cristofaro, a new Valdosta resident and an experienced blacksmith.

Originally from East Hampton, N.Y., De Cristofaro and his wife were living in Florida when they decided to move to Valdosta to escape the heat of the Sunshine State. The couple arrived the first of September and quickly set up shop.

“From the moment we arrived in Valdosta, we loved the place to death,” said De Cristofaro. “The people were so nice and so helpful, and I don’t think a day has gone by that someone doesn’t do something nice for me.”

De Cristofaro said Valdosta reminds him of his home and growing up in the 1950s and ’60s when he was first introduced to the art of metalworking.

“My dad was a fisherman, and during the winter months, the fishermen would get ready for spring,” said De Cristofaro. “He would take his tools to Paul Noslick. He worked right on the water where all the ships came in.”

Noslick was the blacksmith in Greenport on Long Island, and De Cristofaro would stand in amazement at what Noslick could do with metal. De Cristofaro would later get involved with wood carving, but metal work returned to his life when he discovered that the wood-carving tools he wanted to use were not available.

“When I started carving, I couldn’t find certain knives and gouges. Those that were available weren’t really what I wanted,” said De Cristofaro. “So, I started to buy pieces of steel and make my own gouges. Then, I bought my own anvil, and that’s how I got started.”

Though it would always remain a passion, De Cristofaro left woodworking for a time and started learning the blacksmith trade from Noslick, a mentor who reappeared later in his life in an unusual way.

“When I was 35, I was invited to a blacksmith show in Greenport,” said De Cristofaro.

What he did not know was that the show was a benefit to save the building that housed Noslick’s original shop. When he arrived, he found himself in a familiar place.

“I was there at his anvil doing what I used to watch him do,” said De Cristofaro.

His blacksmith career took off from there, including making custom items like candelabras and chandeliers for celebrities.

“I’ve done things for Martha Stewart, Billy Joel, Lauren Bacall and quite a few movie stars. It was quite fun,” said De Cristofaro.

At his Valdosta workshop off Highway 41 near Newsome Road, De Cristofaro focuses on restoration, repair projects and novelty items. One of his favorite items to make is an old-fashioned item called a courting candle.

“It’s a candle stand fashioned like a spring that has been stretched out with a dowel that fits inside the spring,” said De Cristofaro. “So, when you were going to date a lady, her father would adjust the height of the candle to determine how long he wanted you to stay. If he liked you, he might give you an hour or so. If he didn’t, he might give you one or two little twists.”

De Cristofaro makes several similarly unique items like specially designed candle holders for pumpkin lanterns, corn huskers and even knives and art from railroad spikes. He refurbishes knives, and he can even take old car bumpers and turn them into something new.

“I pick something old and rusty, and by the time I’m done, it’s bright and shiny and ready to use,” said De Cristofaro.

De Cristofaro’s motivation comes from an appreciation of the past and an understanding that mass-produced items may not offer what the customer needs.

“The old technology and the quality seems to have disappeared. I’m more in the 1800s era,” said De Cristofaro. “A lot of time, what happens with manufactured items, you are going to get just one or two sizes, large or small, but with older pieces everything is a little different.”

A customer recently brought him a hay rake he said was about 150 to 200 years old, but it was missing the wooden handle. Store handles would not fit, so De Cristofaro researched rakes from that time period, made some measurements and fashioned a handle that restored the piece.

“I do a lot of restoration work,” said De Cristofaro. “I had a guy with a cast-iron stove with a leg missing, so I made a leg for it to match as best I could.”

De Cristofaro’s fascination with metal work and his mastery with the art is not the only interesting thing about him. He has worked as a butcher for years and has been processing game with his hand-made knives this hunting season. He has carved award-winning wood pieces of waterfowl. He even sings and plays the guitar.

He can be reached at (321) 216-1137 for custom pieces and restoration work or to simply welcome Valdosta’s latest Renaissance man to town.

“The people here in Valdosta are really fine folks,” said De Cristofaro. “I don’t think we could have found a better spot.”

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