Blacksmithing tradition stays alive

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Features Editor

Sept. 11, 2000 10 PM

Blacksmithing is a dying art but only in the way Art McKnatt practices it – with a hand forge, an anvil and a hammer.

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"Blacksmithing is alive and well," McKnatt said. "Those who think of it as a dying art aren’t considering that the same skills are being used everyday. Machine shops fabricate and build out of metal every day. They just use different tools."

McKnatt has always liked to work with metal but he likes to work it the old-timey way. He likes the feel of the heat from the forge on his face. He likes to see the glow of the red-hot metal. He likes to hear the sound of the hammer striking metal. He likes the simplicity of what he fashions and the strength of metal piece. He short and in long, he likes the art of blacksmithing.

"I’ve always like working with metal," the retired school principal said. "I rebuild antique cars and I’m very interested in history. I became interested in the history of welding and the folklore surrounding it. I soon developed a great respect for the pioneer lifestyle."

McKnatt was the blacksmith at Old Alabama Town in Montgomery for more than a year, but he had an opportunity to buy a forge from a man in Mississippi and an anvil from a man in North Alabama.

"When I located everything I needed for a traveling blacksmithing operation, that’s what I wanted to do," McKnatt said. "I enjoy going around and demonstrating the art and talking to people and I enjoy coming to Pike Pioneer Museum because people seem to be genuinely interested in the old ways – the pioneer ways. "

What Blacksmith McKnatt has is a farm forge that is designed for making horseshoes and small repairs.

"The plans are to build a rock forge here at the museum – with the help of Boy Scout Troop 41 – so we can build larger things and that will add a lot of interest to what we do," McKnatt said.

When studying history, McKnatt said the blacksmith has been a central and necessary figure in the community since Bible times.

"In our own country, we know from the pioneers that whenever five or six families homesteaded in an area, they had to have a blacksmith, McKnatt said. "The blacksmith was like a doctor. He was necessary to the community. If a community didn’t have a blacksmith the went out and found one. Sometimes it would be an apprentice from another shop, but they quickly found a blacksmith for their gathering of people."

If the blacksmiths were the first re cyclers in the world, then McKnatt said he doesn’t know who was.

"There was no such thing as scrap metal back in those days." he said. "The blacksmith used every available piece. They might not have been the first re cyclers but they were certainly the greatest. If an implement wore out, they molded in down and made another piece out of it. The never threw away any metal. If noting else, they made a nail or hook from the scrap pieces."

From these blacksmiths who were vital to a community and

who adhere to the old adage, waste not – want not, forged the blacksmiths of total.

"It’s kind of strange to think of it that way but the metal smiths of today often do their work on computers," McKnatt said. "Instead of an anvil and a hammer, they use computers to build out of metal. It’s amazing how far we’ve come, but there is something about the old blacksmith that has a charm and appeal. That’s what fascinates me and that’s why I enjoy demonstrating the old farm forge and talking to people about the way it used to be."