J. Alex Ruiz is a self-taught blacksmith who has won top honors competing on the History Channel’s ‘Forged in Fire’ series.Published March 29, 2019
In 2014, San Antonio’s Ruiz became interested in blacksmithing when he picked up a simple block of steel and made a ground forge. He began learning the blacksmith’s trade by watching YouTube videos and using his persistence and in-depth research to master the craft. What started out as a hobby quickly turned into a lucrative career.
Sparked by his interest in blacksmithing, Ruiz began forging knives in 2016 and started teaching and performing demonstrations around Texas. He has also been featured in Blade Magazine’s Winter Edition 2017 Knifemakers Showcase. Ruiz went on to participate in the History Channel’s series, ‘Forged in Fire Champion’ — walking away with $10,000. (He created a medieval horseman’s ax that beat some of America’s top blacksmiths.)
Today, Ruiz is the owner of Volundr Forge in San Antonio, where he uses his skillset to repair or reproduce historic ironwork. Ruiz is a Freemason and the co-founder of the first dedicated smithing school in San Antonio. Despite his newfound success in the industry, Ruiz remains dedicated to teaching his trade, performing humanitarian work and continuing his study of archaeology.
How did you become interested in blacksmithing?
As someone with a background in archeology, I’ve had a fixation on history and historical methods of production. From an early age, I loved to work with my hands and crafting so as an adult I decided to take up the hobby of blacksmithing.
What type of blacksmithing do you do?
I focused on decorative ironwork originally but, since my appearance on ‘Forged in Fire,’ I focus heavily on bladesmithing, forging blades from the basic carry knife to higher-end Damascus steel knives. Despite my focus on bladesmithing, I still find time to do decorative ironwork to explore my creative side.
What’s the difference between blacksmithing and bladesmithing?
Blacksmiths make functional, decorative ironwork and just about everything iron-related from forks and pans to shovels and axes, to horse bits, door hinges and locks. Many bladesmiths focus on creating edged implements but many cross over into both fields. I started with blacksmithing and have continued to balance the two as much as possible enabling me to make the tools I need for my custom knife work.
How did you become involved with the History Channel?
My journey began after I decided to take a bladesmithing class at the Southwest School of Art where Tobin Nieto was teaching. Through Nieto, I connected with other local smiths and they suggested I should try out for the show. At the time, I had been forging blades for about 18 months and began spending time practicing and improving my skills in preparation for the show. Competing against three other professionals was daunting but, in the end, I was the winner. Thanks to the show, I have traveled, taught, judged, and made a host of new friends in the field. I use that “notoriety” to help raise money for various charitable organizations by donating knives for their silent auctions.
In June, Ruiz will begin teaching at the Southwest School of Art in San Antonio, Texas.
Cover photo courtesy J. Alex Ruiz
Austinite Lisa Davis is the Editorial Assistant at Texas Lifestyle Magazine and an honor student at Concordia University Texas.