The native son returns home
ike most people, Kai Schulte didn't have a
solid career plan when he was growing up. If
his hometown provides any clues, you’d guess
that Schulte would be involved with metals in some
way. His hometown, Lüdenscheid, Germany, is on
the eastern edge of the Ruhr region, a center of heavy
industry that includes Essen, Duisburg, Mönchengladbach, and Düsseldorf.
That guess would be correct.
Schulte completed an art-oriented blacksmithing
apprenticeship, and soon after his father asked him
about his plans. Schulte was interested in other cultures and languages, so one of his goals was to spend
some time outside Germany. His father, the founder
of electrical goods manufacturer Schulte Elektrotechnik GmbH & Co. KG, wanted to open a U.S.
operation, so it wasn’t long before the younger
Schulte was running a plant in St. Charles, Ill.
This didn’t mean that he had to turn his back on
his training; Schulte pursued his artistic ambitions in
his free time. This was an arrangement most budding
artists would love to have—a steady paycheck and
time to create sculptures and do some blacksmithing.
Eventually Schulte was earning enough money as
an artist that he left the company to pursue his craft
full-time. He had enjoyed working on ornate railings
and aesthetic gates during his apprenticeship, so fabricating gates became his studio’s primary focus.
Other than sending large pieces out for laser,
plasma, or waterjet cutting, Schulte has the machines and expertise to do the rest of the fabricating
work—saws and deburring machines for getting
each workpiece started; specialized machines for
twisting and bending pickets; a shear for cutting
large pieces of sheet metal; a manual brake for bending them; a three-roll bending machine for rolling
tube and bar and another for sheet; and welding machines, GMAW and GTAW, for assembly.
Many of the gates need more than pickets and
decorative wrought iron details. Often Schulte’s customers want something really unique, something
that reflects their personal interests or hobbies.
For the decorative work, he uses an assortment
of methods to heat metal—torches, a propane
heater, and a forge. For pounding the metal into
shape, he uses a huge collection of hammers, each
After hammering the metal to make the general contours
of a project, Schulte pours molten lead into the recess.
When the lead cools, it provides support underneath the
project while he works on the details.
hammers, machines, and even many of his sketches.
Schulte took him up on his offer, loaded the gear into
a 40-foot shipping crate, and sent it to his studio in
Sugar Grove, Ill., where the tools still get daily use.
Although the younger Schulte has not been part
of Schulte Elektrotechnik for years, he still has a presence in the company. It recently earned a patent for
a new style of household electrical plug, the EVO-line®. The style caught on, and right now the company can’t make them fast enough, according to
Schulte. He commemorated his father’s invention by
creating an 8-ft.-tall model of the plug from stainless
steel, which now adorns the courtyard of the company’s headquarters in Lüdenscheid.
Schulte Studios Inc., 41W020 Seavey Road, Sugar Grove, IL
60554, 630-406-0404, www.schultestudios.com, www.
estategates.com, or www.custommade.com/by/schulte-studios-inc.
with a unique face, and various punches. Some of the
work is manual, some is done with a power hammer.
This is painstaking work, requiring frequent annealing
to restore the metal’s ductility. As much as a sculptor needs a good set of tools, he also needs patience;
projects such as these can take hundreds of hours.
Schulte credits his mentor, K. T. Neumann, with
teaching him to work metal with a blacksmith’s expertise and to see the world with an artist’s eye.
“One day he took me outside the shop and we
looked across the valley,” Schulte said. “It was a beau-
tiful view, but he told me I needed to look at it in a
different way. He turned around, then bent over and
looked at the valley so he was seeing it upside down.
It’s a simple lesson, but it shows the importance of
A favorite student of Neumann, Schulte kept in
touch with his mentor in the decades after he com-
pleted his apprenticeship, and as he neared retire-
ment, Neumann offered Schulte his collection of
This Medusa’s face was once a flat sheet of steel; the snakes
once were rasps. A blacksmith’s work is mainly a matter of
transforming ordinary metals into extraordinary objects.
Fabricator and sculptor Kai Schulte honored his father’s
work recently by creating a replica of one of his father’s inventions, an electrical plug.
86 The FABRICATOR® | www.thefabricator.com | September 2011
Making a gate is one thing; making a gate that reflects the
owner’s interest is something else altogether. A blacksmith’s
expertise makes anything possible. One of the biggest challenges is making the image come alive, according to Schulte.
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