Sharp turn: Local artisan forges career out of sword-making hobby

One on one learning: Theo Nazz assists his student Alexander van Engelen in his sword-making class he teaches.
Photo by Caroline Ourso

He’s Lord of the Kings!

A Brooklynite with a love for blades turned his hobby into a full-time job teaching others how to make swords and other hand-crafted sharp objects at his studio in Red Hook.

“I have always been interested in historical weaponry,” said Theo Nazz, who lives in Bushwick and said he teaches classes inside his Richards Street shop about four times a week. “Basically this was a hobby that paid for itself, and eventually became a career.”

Nazz, who studied three-dimensional animation in college before going on to work as a product designer making shoe racks and in pharmaceutical advertising, said his crafty turn came about a decade ago when he worked at an arts-supply store and started using his employee discount to buy stainless steel and other materials in his first attempt at amateur sword-making, a skill he sharpened over time through classes and instructional videos.

“Instead of starting small and working my way up, I jumped into swords,” Nazz said. “I got to reading and watching videos, and eventually I took a class under a master smith, which helped a lot.”

And last year, after the 28-year-old’s metal mastery earned him the top $10,000 prize on the History Channel’s weapon-making competition series “Forged In Fire” — twice — he used the $20,000 he won to open his studio between Coffey and Van Dyke streets and start teaching full-time, he said.

But Nazz isn’t expecting his new career to net him the stacks of cash it afforded his medieval predecessors.

“No one becomes a blacksmith for the money,” he said.

The artisan attracts students — who must be 10 or older — looking to sharpen their creative ability for a variety of reasons, including to make handmade gifts for others, to forge their own weapons for fencing or martial arts, or to simply learn and study the craft, he said.

“I have one student who was a semi-Olympic fencer, so she uses her sword for practice,” said Nazz, who also dabbles in martial arts and longswording, or German fencing, a competition featuring massive blades that require two hands to hold. “And then some people have a sword for home defense, which is a very American thing.”

The lessons are also an informative break from participants’ daily lives, according to a four-year apprentice.

“I wouldn’t say therapeutic, but it’s nice to learn new stuff,” said Alexander van Engelen, who travels from Manhattan to attend the sessions.

Aspiring blacksmiths can shell out $1,300 for the roughly 10, five-hour classes it takes to create a sword from scratch by baking raw steel in more-than 2,000-degree heat and then hammering it into their desired shape.

Those looking to fashion more-petite weapons can cough up $950 to make a large knife, or $550 for a smaller blade, each of which requires about five classes to complete, according to Nazz.

And all of his roughly 60 students must don armor — or goggles and gloves — at all times during the lessons, but the protective gear doesn’t always spare them from cuts and burns, he said.

“People have ground down a knuckle, not to bone, but you lose a little bit of flesh,” Nazz said.

The teacher doesn’t explicitly forbid students with cruel intentions from enrolling, but said he vets future pupils via social media and other online resources before accepting them in lieu of instituting a no-kill policy for his courses.

“I can’t tell someone not to kill anyone,” he said. “If I jump on your website and there’s anything that alarms me, I have the right to refuse.”

Try your hand at sword-making with classes at Theo Nazz’s studio (201 Richards St. between Coffey and Van Dyke streets in Red Hook, www.theorocknazz.com).

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.

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