Arnie Hoffman made a career for himself as a master electrician. While he retired in 2014, his days in the workshop aren’t behind him. Far from it. With his oxy-acetylene jeweler’s torch, the 79-year-old Silver Spring resident takes nails, forks, bicycle gears and other metal objects and turns them into sculptures. It’s a hobby he first explored decades ago, but put on hold to focus on his work and family.
“There was a hiatus when my kids were growing up, and I didn’t do it for a while,” Hoffman said. “I liked making things. So part of me was missing doing something [hands on] other than my electrical work.”
So he took up sculpting again. Hoffman mostly works with horseshoe-style nails. They’re versatile, he said. They’re the building blocks for his “Word Works,” decorative wall art pieces that spell out phrases like “Best Dad,” “Faith” and “Joy, Love, Peace.” Hoffman also makes candlestick holders, dreidels, menorahs and other Judaica.
To begin, Hoffman uses his torch to heat up brass rods to 1,200 degrees. As the metal liquefies, Hoffman uses it to join other materials together into the desired shape. After cooling, polishing and touch-up work, the sculpture is ready for display.
Hoffman was inspired to take up the hobby in the 1970s. He and his wife, Ellen, were at a craft show when they saw a sculpture of a stick figure welded out of metal for sale.
“And I looked at my wife and I said, ‘Heck, I can do that.’”
So Hoffman bought an arc welder and started creating. At first he gave his creations to friends. But eventually he began selling at craft shows and on Etsy. Ellen helps with the designs.
Hoffman enjoys taking discarded items and transforming them. For one of his pieces, he took washers, forks, bicycle chains and gears and sculpted them into a palm tree. Hoffman gets his tableware from thrift shops, his bike parts from a bicycle shop in Silver Spring and the rest from hardware stores.
“We hate to see things get thrown away. We like to, both my wife and I, recycle things whenever possible.”
Hoffman was born in Baltimore and has spent most of his life in the Washington suburbs. Since 1976, he has been a member of Temple Emanuel in Kensington, and for a time was the Reform congregation’s president.
He sees his hobby as a way to continue working with his hands, which is why he became an electrician in the first place, as an electrician’s helper the summer after he graduated from high school. He enjoyed the work so much that he went to night school at the University of Maryland to study the trade.
Hoffman specialized in lighting and ran his own company, Arnold Electric. One of his biggest projects was wiring the apartments in The Blairs, a 16-story building built in downtown Silver Spring in 1968.
He said he got zapped “more times than I’d like to think.” But he always tried to keep in mind a piece of advice he got when he was starting out.
“There was an old saying that an old time electrician told me: Treat electricity as a woman, with respect, and you’ll never have a problem.”