Experience the time-honored craftsmanship of being a blacksmith

Mark Johnstone Hopper works on a metal leaf at his studio, Goat n Hammer, an Atlanta-based forge, complete with a few blacksmiths, a roaring fire and anvil. It's been quietly building a following for its bladesmithing and knife grinding instruction since 2013. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com
Caption
Mark Johnstone Hopper works on a metal leaf at his studio, Goat n Hammer, an Atlanta-based forge, complete with a few blacksmiths, a roaring fire and anvil. It's been quietly building a following for its bladesmithing and knife grinding instruction since 2013. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Atlanta’s Goat n Hammer turns out exclusive work as well as future blacksmiths.

Mark Johnstone Hopper has a simple job description. “I hit things with a hammer — for a reason.”

Others fill out his resume. “I’m unbelievably impressed with his passion and craftsmanship. It’s the old world craftsmanship, and nobody does what he does,” says Natalia Makarova, owner of Karpaty Cabinets in Cumming. “The quality of his work and the details he puts into them are things that people don’t want to do anymore. He doesn’t take shortcuts. To him it’s all about quality and doing it right,” she says before bringing up Hopper’s other passion. “He is also teaching blacksmithing to the youth, which is so unbelievably important. I feel that a lot of young people don’t appreciate or understand making things by hand; seeing it happen. It’s almost a lost art.”

Lucas O’Hara was one of those young people who, on a whim, spent $120 and took a blacksmith class from Hopper. Today, he runs his own blacksmith shop, the

Forge in Salt Lake City. “Everything he makes, every piece, is perfect. He doesn’t use glue or anything, and everything in his shop he made — hammers, stools, blades. He’s true to the original blacksmith trade. And, there is not a person with a bigger heart,” O’Hara says.

Hopper, along with Jessica Collins, run Goat n Hammer, a blacksmith shop and school. Classes take place at the Goat Farm Arts Center on Foster Street and include blacksmithing, knife grinding and bladesmithing. Three years ago he was teaching six classes a week and his custom work suffered. “The balance was out of whack. I tried to pull back and brought in two apprentices.” Currently, Goat n Hammer offers a variety of classes at different skill levels, including learning how to make a bottle opener, tongs, bracelets, spears and knives as well as private classes.

Mark Hopper and Jessica Collins, the loosely organized partnership that runs Goat N Hammer, is determined Atlanta will still be able to come to them to work metal and grind blades to their hearts' content. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com
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Mark Hopper and Jessica Collins, the loosely organized partnership that runs Goat N Hammer, is determined Atlanta will still be able to come to them to work metal and grind blades to their hearts' content. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Collins started out working on the administrative side and took a class to understand “what I was selling. I loved it,” she says. “It made me feel strong in a way that going to the gym did not. I was taking this hard immovable thing and hitting it was a hammer. It was fun.”

Slowly she “weaseled” her way into more classes and traded classes and helping in social media for studio space for her pottery. The two prefer not to define their roles or titles. “I don’t feel that any person in our group should have lordship over the other,” he says. “We all bring something different, and it’s farcical and insulting to the person who sweeps the floors, and in most cases, that would be me.”

The two have different reasons why they believe people take the classes. “I think we attract people who want to work with their hands — blue-collar folks — who don’t want to sit in a cubicle,” says Hopper. “We also get a lot of engineers and web designers who appreciate design and the structural universe. And, we get random people who saw blacksmithing on television and thought it was pretty neat. So thank you ‘Forged in Fire.’”

May 11, 2021 Atlanta - Mark Johnstone Hopper, works on a metal leaf at his studio, Goat n Hammer, in Atlanta on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
May 11, 2021 Atlanta - Mark Johnstone Hopper, works on a metal leaf at his studio, Goat n Hammer, in Atlanta on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Mark Johnstone Hopper shapes a piece at Goat n Hammer. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com
Caption
Mark Johnstone Hopper shapes a piece at Goat n Hammer. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Increasingly more women are signing up, says Hopper. “A lot of ladies think they can’t do it physically, but the truth is you don’t have to it hit so hard. When you approach it in the right manner, the steel is very compliant, sensual and fluid. You don’t get that in any other metal process. You don’t have to be a 350-pound hairy ape of a dude to swing metal. It’s really applied physics.”

O’Hara was studying welding under the GI bill when he took a class from Hopper. “I absolutely felt in love with it, and I was off and running. I found blacksmithing very therapeutic; it allows my brain to go quiet and focus on the task of turning something from nothing into something beautiful. It’s a cool therapy for veterans,” he says.

Hopper is special because he is “one of the greatest blacksmiths and, instead of making a ton of money, he enjoys teaching and giving back. He saved my life and now I can do what I love and support my family. I’m about giving back and helping other veterans,” O’Hara adds.

Makarova agrees that Hopper’s passion and talent separate him from many other blacksmiths. Makarova, whose company designs and creates exclusive hi-end cabinetry, says Hopper’s work is similar to buying a very expensive suit and having one custom made to the body.

“Maybe 99.9% of the people won’t know the difference but people who know, recognize the craftsmanship. Same with Mark. It really takes an amazing architect, builder or designer to understand and respect what Mark does, how he doesn’t take shortcuts, she says. “And while it may look the same from a distance, there is a huge difference. The level of detail he has and how his pieces fit together perfectly with a dovetail notch is unbelievable. When we need real quality work, we call Mark.”

Mark Johnstone Hopper (left) works on a leaf as his partner Jessica Collins helps at the studio, Goat n Hammer. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com
Caption
Mark Johnstone Hopper (left) works on a leaf as his partner Jessica Collins helps at the studio, Goat n Hammer. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Hopper admits that if a company or builder approaches him with an interesting project, a good timeline and budget, he will decide if it is “something we can build to the best of our ability and way above the client’s expectations.” Among of his custom projects have included vent hoods, staircases, lamps, architectural artwork, cabinet handles and countertops. Some of his projects take months and, in a few cases, years.

Hopper, who apprenticed in his native England, considers himself a traditional blacksmith whose work does not require welding. “I’m not a parts shop that welds things together. A traditional blacksmith can do a piece without welding and the end result has a completely different look and feel. It’s like fine carpentry.”

Both his grandfathers were tradesmen, and he enjoyed working with his hands. “There’s nothing wrong with a trade, no shame,” he says. Adding, “I did have to give up my dream of being a hand model, though.”

MORE INFORMATION

Goat n Hammer

Hours vary.

The Goat Farms Art Center. 1200 Foster St. NW, Atlanta. goatnhammer.com