For Rick Bayless, faith and forging go hand-in-hand.
Bayless took up blacksmithing after retiring as project manager for Crossroads Missions about four years ago.
“If you’re like me, most of my life has been trying to make myself please God, good enough for Him, working hard doing ministry, and the truth is that is all rubbish,” said Bayless, 67. “I did lots of great things for the wrong reasons. Trying to earn my way into heaven. When in reality, it was the nail that Christ took for me and saved me, securing my future forever.”
Bayless has had several protégés come out to his workshop on his property in Crestwood to learn how to forge knives.
“I get to host guys that are interested in making a knife. The first thing they have to do is make a nail and put it in my threshold above the door. They sign and date it,” Bayless added. “My maker’s mark is three nails that make up a cross. That goes on every knife.”
Bayless also teaches boys once a week and helps them not only make knives but learn about being refined in the fire.
“I tell my students, especially the kids that come in here, inevitably you’re going to have trouble. The heat’s going to come,” he said. “I try to teach them to embrace the heat and start looking, ‘What’s God wanting to do with me?’ God’s going to use that unless you take yourself off the anvil. He’ll go to work on you if you’re willing.”
Forging steel can serve as a metaphor for our walks with Christ.
“If Christians are willing to fully put themselves on the anvil and let God go to work on them—instead of being half in and half out—then things start taking shape,” Bayless said. “I equate the anvil to God’s Word. It provides us with the source of truth that never changes. I know that when I hit this steel, it’s going to take the shape of this anvil every time. God’s Word doesn’t change. It’s always steady and a foundation we can totally rely on. That’s what the anvil does for a blacksmith. It gives us a true surface for building stuff out of.”
When Bayless retired, he was looking for a hobby.
“Back when I was in high school, I worked in a welding shop after school for a couple of years. I did mostly production welding, sitting in a chair and welding things as they came across the line,” Bayless added. “I always enjoyed that, but never did anything with it. I went off to college, got into other things and I thought, ‘I’m looking to do something that has some value.’”
Bayless said he loves working in the shop a few hours a day throughout the week.
“I enjoy it most because it’s a hobby compared to my whole life, where I’ve been the type A in administrative or leadership positions, whether it’s in the corporate world or in ministry,” he said. “For 25 years, I ran a large residential treatment center for kids. It was just high stress, always lots of things to do, but a lot of those things are projects that take a long time. Human and cultural change in an organization take a long time. With blacksmithing, I like walking away with something in my hand at the end of the day.”
In 2017, Bayless turned his shed into a blacksmithing shop of sorts and learned about forging knives by watching YouTube videos.
He said the first few attempts were bad, but he gave his first solid knife to his grandson. (Bayless is the father of Matt Bayless, who leads worship at Southeast.)
It takes Bayless about eight hours to forge a knife, and he typically makes them in batches of five. He shapes hot steel by placing it on an anvil and striking it with a hammer.
He uses a variety of steel for his blades. He once made a knife from an old rasp from a farrier at Churchill Downs. Another time, he used a piece of a leaf spring from a 1974 Ford truck.
He also makes his own Damascus steel, which is made by forging and folding multiple layers of steel to create a beautiful wavy pattern.
Each knife, in a sense, is also a tool for Bayless to encourage those working in nonprofit ministries.
“Because of my leadership background in ministry for 30 years or so, I get a chance to work with other CEOs,” Bayless said. “It has been a really hard time for nonprofits. They’re shorthanded and still have increased demands on their time and energy. It gives me a chance to not only give them something that will make them money, but I get to be involved in mentoring and encouraging.”
Bayless donates half of his profits to Safe Passage, a Southeast supported outreach that includes a free prevention program for at-risk youth, training for those in the community and plans for a residential home in the Louisville area.
He recently made a knife for a supporter of Scarlet Hope, a Southeast missions partner that shares the hope and love of Jesus with women in the adult entertainment industry.
To see Bayless’ work, follow him on Facebook.