Years in the field: 47
Years in Southwest Florida: 16
The first time Byron Wood saw welders in action, he knew he wanted in. Wood had just started working at an ammunitions factory, and his job consisted of moving machines around. Next to him, however, the welding division got to play with fire and create finished products.
“I started learning on my lunch break,” says Wood, who lives in Fort Myers. Eventually he switched departments, and then he started his own welding firm. After many years making gates and railings and all manner of practical things, Wood retired, moved to Southwest Florida and started making metal art.
It’s been more than four decades since Wood first donned an apron, put metal into a forge and started hammering away. In that four decades he’s gotten a few burns (but no serious injuries) and learned a lot about patience, heat and hard work.
“Steel is this hard surface, but you can make it do these really interesting things,” he says. “That is so satisfying.”
Showing His Mettle
“Two weeks. That’s how long it took me to get bored once I retired. I guess I just thought I’d go fishing and relax, but fishing isn’t relaxing at all. So I turned to what I knew: metal.”
“I had to build myself a forge. I went to the junkyard and found a large pipe and lined it with heat-resistant fiber. It’s very homemade-looking but it works.”
“You have to get the forge to 2,600 degrees. When the metal turns red, that’s when you can start moving it around. Metal isn’t like clay; you really have to work hard to move it around and make it into something with shape—but not just shape. Feeling, too. It takes tools and determination. It’s very stubborn.”
Inspired by Florida
“I do a lot of Florida-inspired stuff because it’s what I like. For a lot of years I wanted to come to Florida. It was the old Jimmy Buffet guy’s dream. I just love everything about being here—the birds, the turtles, the palms. I do whatever moves me at that moment.”
“I like to make things look like they aren’t fabricated—like it isn’t several pieces of metal. People often mistake my work for a bronze pouring. There are a lot of mass-produced bronze castings around, and those I can’t compete with [from a price standpoint]. But fine-art bronzes, where the artist only makes a few castings, those I can compete with.”
Know Your Audience
“I made a couple of jumping mullets, and I thought they turned out really cool but they didn’t sell. People love turtles in this town, but try and sell a mullet? Forget it. I ended up giving one to my friend’s son, and the other is sitting around here covered in dust.”
“I have a very, very hard work ethic. If I quote someone $3,000 for a project and then I realize it’s going to take way more work to get something done, I just do it. I’m stubborn; I’ll work it until it looks like whatever it’s supposed to look like.”
Made to Order
“Just recently I was asked to make a contraption for a magician: a bracket so a woman could look like she was levitating on a broom. That was weird. My favorite thing I made recently was a replica of someone’s beloved Yorkshire terrier. Most people who fabricate metal would never try and replicate those soft curves out of hard metal; I was very proud of how it turned out.”