Interview with Matt Tilton of Tilton Fine Metals

By March 30, 2017 No Comments
matt tilton, tilton fine metals, seattle, interior design, lindsey runyon design

I finally pinned down Matt Tilton, Seattle’s best blacksmith, to do an interview with me. After my first request via text, way back in December, it took seeing him on a group camping trip to make this happen. After a super-expert marshmallow roasting session (and honestly, who better to roast marshmallows with than someone who puts things into hot fire for a living?!), he finally agreed to do an interview with me.

PS- he didn’t get my first text, and was more than happy to do the interview once I asked in person.  🙂

Lindsey Runyon: I love that you are a blacksmith, it sounds like such an old fashioned profession.  For those of us who may not fully understand, how is a blacksmith relevant in today’s society?

Matt Tilton: Pretty much the same way they’ve always been relevant.  Blacksmithing was called the “king of trades” because basically, it’s needed for all trades; it’s the foundation set of skills for all industry. It’s used still in everything from making washers for a battleship all the way to hooks and brackets at your house.

LR: It’s totally relevant – anything to do with metal, right?

MT: Pretty much.

LR: What is your number one rule of blacksmithing?

MT: Safety third!  ……Or… Get it hot, hit it hard.

LR: “Get it hot, hit it hard.”  Love it.  

LR: What percentage of the time, lifetime career percentage, do you sleep overnight in your workshop?

MT: Wow. I don’t know percentage, but I would say that there was…Ok, I’m not going to do the math, but let’s say 25 nights a year.

LR: 25 nights a year. Respectable number. 

LR: What would be your ideal project or ideal client?

MT: It’s one I’ve already done once, which is public art. Changing the landscape of the city is important to me. And artistic freedom. That is kind of always the goal.

LR: Do you think that public projects give you that artistic freedom?

MT: So far they have. Sometimes there are committees that can get in the way. On my first public art project I was able to do whatever I wanted, but that was a public/private collaboration kind of project. Through the City of Seattle, there’s also a program called “Small and Simple” which are grant projects for anything up to $25,000.  Those you definitely have to jump through a lot more hoops, but it can be anything from a sculpture to actually utilitarian goods.  Right now we’re applying for a grant for historical signage and lighting for Post Alley.

LR: Oh, cool. So do you feel like you’re more of an artist or more of a craftsman/tradesman? Because when you say you want artistic freedom that makes me think you’re more of an artist.

MT: Well, I guess for what I want to be doing with the public art, yes, I’m more of an artist, but I also have a furniture line and I make a lot of utilitarian goods.  There I have complete freedom because I designed it in the first place.

LR: You are the boss.  

LR: What is the most dangerous thing you have ever done?

MT: Moving my shop, haha

LR: Really? Why?

MT: It’s just a lot of forklift work and, you know, large machines swinging overhead…Yeah, the biggest machine weighs 4800 lbs.

LR: Phwew! OK, that’s sounds pretty dangerous. 

LR: How are you eco-friendly with what you do?

MT: The nice thing about blacksmithing is when you’re doing ironwork, is all the material is 100% recyclable. And, the way I look at conservation and goods, the things we make don’t go away. When I make a, say a $20,000 gate, I know that it’s going to be around for hundreds of years. So longevity plays a big part…I originally did ceramics and felt that the longevity wasn’t there in my work. So, when I moved over to ironwork I felt a lot more eco-friendly.

LR: That’s great, and that’s actually a perfect segue into my next question of how did you get into blacksmithing? Is it something you wanted to do since you were a kid, or…?

MT: I actually, found this out when I became a blacksmith – my mother told me that I had been hanging out at the town blacksmith’s garage on our dead end street in a small town. And, I just remember that there was fire and sparks but I don’t remember anything about what he was doing. And it turns out I was just hanging out at his little shop at home after he retired.

matt tilton, tilton fine metals, lindsey runyon design, interior design
matt tilton, tilton fine metals, seattle, interior design, lindsey runyon design

LR: Oh. You were meant to be.  It was meant to be.

MT: Yeah, I went to school originally for mechanical design and engineering and then went into ceramics at art school and I was a hand-builder in ceramics. That continues to the way I work steel. It is still kind of a process of squishing out the shape, kind of the way I was working with ceramics.  So I feel like I’m still doing kind of the same work I’ve been doing since all the way back in to college—manipulating shapes.

LR: Were you an apprentice or how did you learn how to do blacksmithing when you went to school for ceramics?

MT: Well, when I was in ceramics school I also took some metal shop classes at MassArt.  I moved here in 1990 and walked into a blacksmith shop in Pioneer Square.  It just completely thrilled me, and I quit being a kitchen manager and started an apprenticeship for three years. Making an astounding $5.25 an hour.

LR: Haha, nice. 

MT: And, the early 90’s in Seattle was a really growing community and immediately got commissioned to do some public work, and just kept going.
LR: Approximately how much whiskey is consumed at a blacksmithing conference?

MT: ……………….Let’s just call it a barrel.

LR: A barrel?  I don’t even know how much that is.  A lot I’m sure, haha. 

LR: Does the phrase, ‘Strike while the iron’s hot’ have special meaning for you?

MT: Yeah, well, it’s the only way!

LR: Get it hot, hit it hard!

MT: Get it hot, hit it hard!

LR: OK, great, well that concludes our interview and I have to say you were the best marshmallow roasting coach I’ve ever had! Thank you.

MT: Thank you!