Who is Healing Flames Forge?

The founding and establishment of Healing Flames Forge was influenced by two-time Forged in Fire champion and judge Ben Abbott when, after his first win on a Beat the Judges episode, Abbott donated his winnings to Black Horse Forge in Stafford, VA (Black Horse Forge has since moved to Fredericksburg, VA). Healing Flames Forge founder, Rob Duane, contacted Black Horse Forge founder Steve Hotz in August 2020 and toured their facility in September 2020. Hotz showed Duane the process and daily program for smiths at Black Horse Forge. That experience inspired Duane to replicate their program.

Many things had to fall in place to make Healing Flames Forge a reality including a location and facility, equipment, approval by the Montgomery County, Tennessee, Zoning Board to conduct activities at the smithy, a network of blacksmiths, bladesmiths, farriers, and other such craftsmen in the area willing to give their time instructing and mentoring participants. And of course, funding.

In April 2020, Rob Duane and his wife, Nancy Grim, purchased the home and property on which Healing Flames Forge sits with the intent of making it their future retirement home. Because of COVID-19, Rob and Nancy closed on the property via express mail and digital documents, and did not make a thorough in-person visit until June 2020 (both had visited in the past, however). During the June property walkabout, the Beat the Judges episode was resonating in Duane’s head, especially when he inspected the tobacco barn that sat on the property. I now have a perfect location, Duane thought to himself, thinking the barn site would make a good smithy. However, after further examination of the ground and consultation with a couple folks smarter than Duane, the higher ground where the smithy now sits proved to be better suited for the shop’s permanent location.

The problem of location is solved. Well, not so fast. Duane applied the brakes a little (he tends to outrun his own headlights) and made a phone call to the Montgomery County Clerk’s Office to explain his intent. The County Clerk steered him to the Office of Buildings and Codes, where Director Rod Streeter walked Duane through the process with the Zoning Board of Appeals. After meetings in September, October, and November 2020, the Montgomery County Zoning Board of Appeals granted permission for Healing Flames Forge to operate as an incorporated nonprofit business in Woodlawn, Tennessee.

There was still a matter of funding. The picture on this page is a pencil sketch portrait of a military service member, hand-drawn by Madison, Wisconsin-based artist Rick Turvey, cousin to Rob Duane and Michael Allen Duane. United States Air Force Master Sergeant (Retired) Mike Duane is the subject of the sketch. He is also the primary source of initial funding for Healing Flames Forge Inc. Mike was Rob Duane’s oldest brother (Rob’s the youngest of six brothers). Mike died 19 January 2020 after a brief and sudden illness. Inheritance from Mike’s estate provided the startup funds for Healing Flames Forge. The sketch of Mike is vague. Let it represent not just Master Sergeant Duane, but all who wear a uniform: our military, police, firefighters, first responders, nurses & doctors, and other front-line workers. This shop, and all the good that comes of it, is Mike's legacy. Rob Duane may have come up with the idea (he copied someone else, let’s be honest), but Mike is the reason it is here to serve you.

Rob Duane worked with metal since the summer between his freshman and sophomore high school years. After retiring from the US Army after 31.5 years, he intended to hone his blacksmith skills and start a small shop in southeast Pennsylvania, where he would restore, refinish, or repair small metal pieces including hinges, cabinet handles, door latches, etc., from old farmhouses from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. That plan never became reality, instead, it gave-way to something far better.