Sworn to the Black
HEALING THE SOUL THROUGH FUNCTIONAL ART
One USMC veteran who creates customforged weaponry as functional art
Every now and then, a piece of art will stop you dead in your tracks. This occurred to me recently at High Bar Homestead in Wyoming during a media event earlier in the year. At the event, I was exposed to an incredible company called Blackguard Customs by social media influencer and patriot Manspot. While prepping for a day of pistol course work, I observed Manspot strap on an intricately engraved set of knives dubbed the “Battle Cleaver” and “Battle Throwing Knife.” The blades were encased in weathered leather dropleg sheaths and looked simply wicked.
I asked Manspot if I could take a photo of the set; he readily obliged, and regaled me with the tale of Liam Fuller, the U.S. Marine combat veteran who created the set for him. I’ve always had the belief that not only is it important to objectively cover products I come across, but to show readers the people, the hearts and souls, behind the company. Not only should we be judicious with how we spend our money on quality gear; it’s equally important to know to whom your money is going.
To this end, Fuller and I corresponded via e-mail and then by phone to discuss what he would like readers to know about Blackguard Customs, himself as an artist, and the mission behind his company.
Chris Tran (CT): I was introduced to your work by Manspot while we were both at a media-only event at High Bar Homestead. I was blown away by the beauty of your work. Can you tell us about your background and how Blackguard Customs came to be?
Liam Fuller (LF): I have a background that has afforded me many opportunities in life. My mother’s side of the family are all artists, art teachers, and creatives. I mention this because my craft obviously involves several forms of arts and crafting skills. I grew up surrounded by artists and craftsmen of all sorts. My eldest brother is a farrier and blacksmith as well as a Marine and I followed in his footsteps a bit. While serving in the Marines I also worked off-base as a tattoo artist, which lent itself to what I do now in more ways that I would have thought. After being medically retired I moved back to Texas and did the typical bounce from job to job, looking for a place I fit in. I worked in private security, marketing, freight management, and went back to school.
Nothing took, but at least in art school I was a bit happier. I bounced back and forth between school and private contracting until I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in photography. I did photography work when and where I could. I was shooting an event and afterward there was a party; at that party there was axe throwing. I took an axe I had engraved and everyone was blown away. So much so that I later made a bunch of axes for a well-known apparel company and it snowballed from there. It reached a point that it needed to become a business, so we (my fiancé Kristi and I) spitballed ideas for the name, branding, and logos for a few weeks. Blackguard was her idea and it was sort of a well-fitted joke. “Blackguard” and “Blaggard” are one and the same and she figured it suited a bunch of surly, dirty, vulgar veterans working in our garage.
CT: What services and products does your company offer? Do you have off-the-shelf productions, or are all your products completely custom from the ground up?
LF: That’s sort of a tough one. We are mostly known for our custom axes and knives. We do have a product line where people can just go to the website and pick out something, but most of our work is custom pieces. We also make jewelry, belt buckles, wall plaques, shadowboxes, belts—the list goes on and on. We try not to limit ourselves and tell people to challenge us.
CT: You’re not simply a shop that produces great product. Blackguard Customs seems to be more than that, from employing veterans, to self-healing through working with your hands, to creating meaningful products for charitable and awareness organizations.
Can you describe some of the ventures and people you’ve partnered with?
LF: It feels good to take raw materials and make something out of them. There is a definite therapeutic value to what we do. Yes, the business side is stressful, but the design and fabrication is well worth it for us.
“Inspired by you, crafted by us.” “we try not to limit ourselves and tell people to challenge us.”
Hiring vets was a no-brainer; most people can’t handle a veteran’s attitude like other vets can. It’s also good because there’s a level of trust and respect from day one and that’s hard to find. Not all my employees are veterans, so it’s fun to see the reactions to some of the things vets talk about as easily as talking about the weather or a sporting event. We will always hire veterans first, and work with transitioning vets whenever we can.
As for the network and organizations we work with, well, that all just sort of fell into place. We work with people like the Cpl Chad O Foundation for PTSD most frequently because of my close personal relationship with Chad’s parents. We have sent our own guys to get better mental health care outside of the VA through the foundation, including myself. We have helped raise money with and for the Chris Kyle Memorial Benefit and Auction, Honor Flight Austin, Cpl Chad O, and Vet Fest just to name a few from this year so far. All the events and organizations we donated to or worked with, they have all proven that they actually take the money and give back to the veteran community. We just want to see more vets get quality meaningful assistance.
CT: How do you translate concepts your customers want memorialized into metal art?
LF: When it comes to design, we have a pretty straightforward system. Clients contact us with ideas and requirements. We collect reference materials and client requests, and create either digital mockups or hand-drawn designs. If the client likes it, we move to the next step, which is figuring out costs. If they want to make changes, we redesign as needed until we land on a final design.
It gets trickiest when it’s a memorial piece. There is a lot of pressure to make sure every detail is as perfect as we can get it. These families and friends are trusting us to make something that will last their families generations so that they can remember a loved one. It’s all about “Inspired by you, handcrafted by us.”
CT: What were some of the challenges you faced once you returned home, and how did you channel your struggles through art and the forging process?
LF: My experience in the Marines definitely played a part in where I am. Getting out wasn’t in my plan, not feeling like I belonged in society wasn’t in the plan, and becoming a blacksmith/bladesmith was definitely not part of my plan. When I got out I found myself looking for my place in the world. As I mentioned before, I was bouncing from job to job and not finding “it,” so to speak. This was honestly the last place I expected to be.
I hear stories from vets all the time about the difficulties they went through when transitioning back to civilian life and they were fairly similar to mine. What I had found while back at school was that my art made me happy, so I pursued it to a point. The phrase “starving artist” isn’t a joke and I still worked private security to pay the bills. When I finally left
“hiring veterans was a no-brainer; most people can’t handle a vet like other veterans can.”
the private sector my fiancé suggested I go back into the garage and make stuff while I finished my degree. She was and is very supportive and a critical part of Blackguard.
Having some shared experiences with clients or an understanding of the importance of unit morale, the relationships between service members, and the feelings associated with the losses suffered in service really helps me to relate to the larger segment of my customer base. Helping others by crafting what they envisioned is deeply gratifying and therapeutic. It makes me feel like I’m still a part of this thing that’s so much bigger than people understand. This is also a reason why I try and hire other veterans and work with all the veteran service organizations that we do. It’s about giving back to my community and taking care of my family, and I am not the only veteran smith that feels the same way. There are dozens of us out there.
CT: Many people can’t truly empathize with what it means to be a combat veteran. What message would you want to bring to our readers to give them a better understanding of what it was that you went through? How does the average American citizen relate to and assist those transitioning back to a civilian life?
LF: What I personally tell people is that I volunteered to do what I did so they didn’t have to. It wasn’t for honor or glory or recognition but out of a sense of duty. I now look at the world differently based on what I have seen in the world and humanity. I don’t expect outsiders to understand and I don’t demand recognition or respect. I did a job
“helping others by crafting what they envision is gratifying and therapeutic.”
Liam Fuller, a U.S. Marine combat veteran, heads up Blackguard Customs.
Blackguard Customs is known for custom axes and knives, but the company is open to crafting many other custom items as well.
Always giving back, Fuller and Blackguard Customs helped raise money with and for the Chris Kyle Memorial Benefit and Auction, Honor Flight Austin, Cpl Chad O, and Vet Fest to name just a few.
Below: Manspot’s “Battle Cleaver” and throwing knife. The axe is not included in the set, but it is representative of the painstaking effort put into each heirloom-quality piece of weaponry forged by Blackguard Customs.
Liam shows off two different examples of his engraved axes. Each is custom-tailored for an individual customer; the design and homage to their owners or owner’s families are Fuller’s way of paying tribute.