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Vienna copper artisan turns hobby into career

Staff photo / Ashley Fox Ryan Forbes, owner of The Copper Shed based in Vienna, grinds metal in his shop, which has grown out of the original shed into a workshop.

VIENNA — For a Vienna artisan, a couple leaps of faith turned a hobby into a career.

Ryan Forbes, 42, grew up in southern California.

“At 20 I just had no direction and nothing going on with my life,” he said.

Deciding to “see the world,” he wandered to the South Side of Youngstown to stay with an uncle to get on his feet before moving on. About three years into his change of scenery, Forbes said he realized he’d fallen in love with the area and decided to stay.

Along the way, he met his wife, Kerry, settled into a job, moved to Vienna in 2013 and welcomed three sons.

It was during the holidays some years back that Forbes decided to make handmade gifts for loved ones.

“One year I told my wife — and I don’t know why — I was going to order some copper and make key chains for family for Christmas,” Forbes said.

He crafted dog tags with family and friends’ names hand-stamped into them, along with sayings appropriate to the person.

Forbes came up with the idea while a craftsman was building him a custom knife. Forbes decided to make a copper keychain as a thank-you gift.

Even though he had no formal training, he enjoyed working with metals, and it turned out that he had a knack for design. Another knife-maker, impressed with the work he’d seen, contacted Forbes to put in an order.

At the time, Forbes was working 70 hours per week installing electronics. Kerry suggested her husband use the money from that keychain order to purchase equipment to make his new hobby go a little faster.

Forbes decided to take his wife’s idea a littler further.

“If I’m going to do that, I’ll make a (social media) group and work out (in the shed) one or two nights a week for fun,” he said.

He works not only with copper, but also brass, titanium, stainless steel and other metals. Works include the keychains, clocks, key racks, knives, medallions, decorative pieces and even recently an hourglass — all self-taught.

Within a month, Forbes was working with his machining equipment in The Copper Shed five nights per week. “It was nuts. I just kept making stuff,” he said.

Keeping up the grind for about two years, Forbes began thinking about working in The Copper Shed full time.

“It took nine months of me and Kerry debating” it and weighing it out, he said.

Forbes had been working for Jensen Lock and Alarm for 15 years as the electronics manager. He worked with low-voltage, installing car audio / remote starts, commercial camera systems, alarms and card access. He said he was in line to take over.

“To leave that when you have kids and a house and payments to make bottle openers and keychains was scary,” Forbes said.

Throughout those nine months of discussion, Forbes said he got to a point where he had to give it a try.

“If I didn’t try this, I would regret it,” he said. “It was now or never.”

After deciding to take another leap of faith, Forbes gave his employer a one-year notice, gradually phasing his hours throughout the year.

The Copper Shed, which since has moved into a shop near his house in a 10-by-24-foot space, has been Forbes’ full-time gig for two years this past March. He doesn’t have a website because, to him, he still can have interaction with his customers.

“I don’t consider myself selling the product,” he said. “I’m selling the personal touch you get when dealing with me.”

Forbes has encountered people asking if he’d ever let anyone handle his communication, which won’t happen. “You can talk to me anytime.”

Practicing what he preaches, Forbes said he wouldn’t buy something had he not been able to converse with the maker prior to his business.

“I never would have given up that kind of hard-earned money for someone I’ve never had any conversation with,” he said.

Customers seem to like his work because it’s different and because he’s attainable. While Forbes is creative on his own, he’ll take inspiration from suggestions from fans and build on that.

Since starting his business, Forbes said he wouldn’t be able to work without his wife, who also works full time.

“She does all my packaging, shipping, keeps track of customers’ addresses … she’ll help me with some of my artwork,” he said.

Like Forbes, his wife Kerry also is self-taught, learning as she goes.

Forbes posts his creations to his social media groups on Facebook and Instagram throughout the week, and has “Sunday Funday,” in which the pieces are sold and promptly shipped out.

Forbes said his work ethic is self-instilled, but it’s something he’s always had “even as a teenager.”

He said his motto is “the key to happiness is hard work,” which Forbes said works for him.

“I believe it’s all a mindset. No matter where you grow up, sometimes you just want to get away to find yourself,” Forbes said. “No matter what’s going on in life, if I put in a hard day’s work I can sleep better at night.”

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