Athan welds a career on the farm at Ace Iron Works

When Jim Athan quit school at age 13, he went directly into working in the restaurant and bar business with his family.

His family owned the Athens Restaurant, which was at the location where The Crocodile venue in downtown Seattle now resides.

“I grew up in the restaurant and bar business,” Athan said on a recent morning, standing behind the bar in his self described man cave on his farm.

Athan didn’t stay in the restaurant business, though. Since 1992, he’s been working steel and welding it into a wide variety of decorative and functional shapes.

His lounge, which is attached to an old dairy barn that now serves as a shop, is decked out with steel. The bar top is made from massive slabs of structural steel, and the counter tops and decorative cabinet doors also showcase his skill.

His business, Ace Iron Works in Redmond, makes everything from railings for apartment complexes to decorative gates and fire escapes.

The only thing they all have in common is Athan only uses regular steel to make the all-custom creations, he doesn’t work with stainless.

“Some of it is artistic, decorative and functional,” he said.

A handful of employees were busy at work welding and cutting steel. Athan said he hires students from local welding schools to give them a start in the industry.

The farm where his shop is located was started in 1916, and the 26-acre footprint remains the same, Athan said, with houses on the property dating from around the same time.

Instead of changing things, Athan prefers to add to the character of the property by installing steel artwork and planters.

“I want to maintain that character, that farm charm,” he said.

Some of his pieces are massive, like the large bull skull that dwarfs his business sign off Highway 202.

Others are older, like a giant fish made out of horseshoes.

“My heart is in sculpture and I kind of wanna retire into sculpture,” he said.

Eventually, he hopes to set up metal sculptures and installations all across the large meadow behind his shop.

He almost lost the barn shop to a fire in January, but he said thanks to one of his customers driving by and spotting it in time, the fire department was able to salvage the barn.

Which is good, because Athan doubts he would get permits from the county to rebuild it in its original design.

None of this would have been possible without his best friend, Clint, though. He taught Athan how to weld, and even suggested opening their first shop.

Athan said after his grandpa passed, he was moving some cars to his grandparents’ house in Bellevue when he asked his grandma if he could use the shop.

She agreed, and Clint suggested they start a welding business. He taught Athan how to weld, and with Athan’s knowledge of business combined with welding, they were off.

Athan works on his own now, but they’re still good friends.

And from the looks of it, Athan picked up the trade handily.

“I’ve always had a hint of creativeness, or at least a wannabe,” Athan said as he stood in front of the massive bull skull.

Jim Athan, owner of Ace Iron Works, welds in his shop. Aaron Kunkler/Redmond Reporter

Jim Athan, owner of Ace Iron Works, welds in his shop. Aaron Kunkler/Redmond Reporter