The Story of the Appalachian Blacksmiths Association

By Boyd Holtan

Part Three: The Cedar Lakes Teaching Blacksmith Shop

New members of the Appalachian Blacksmith Association may be interested in information about the development of the group. This is the third in a series of articles that describe the early activities of ABA It may also provide some measure of recognition to the early members who worked to promote the organization.

Shortly before the Appalachian Blacksmiths Association was formed in 1979, George Nichols, then of Weston, encouraged Tim Pyles, the State Department of Education Craft Coordinator at Cedar Lakes Conference Center near Ripley, WV, to include blacksmithing as a part of the center activities. George and Mike Snyder were the only smiths that Tim knew, but he decided to investigate the possibility. He obtained the use of a building on the conference center grounds that was formerly used for welding classes in a "Manpower Program." It was a fortunate find! The 36 feet by 52 feet concrete block building had a concrete floor and a tin roof supported by steel trusses. One end had a large "drive-in" door, and there were windows along both sides.

Following George's encouragement, Tim called Brent Kington at Southern Illinois University who suggested that Daryl Meyer do a workshop to get started. Daryl agreed to come to Cedar Lakes and conduct a Damascus steel workshop. Tim scheduled the workshop for the building even though there was little equipment!

The workshop registration filled quickly and some were even turned away. Daryl brought some equipment and the participants brought forges and tools with them. Soon the building was filled with smoke as there was no exhaust system. However, in spite of the sparse tools and smoke, the participants had a greet time.

After Daryl's success, and the organization of the Appalachian Blacksmiths Association, Tim was encouraged and sponsored workshops by Francis Whitaker and Dimitri Gerakaris.

Tim then worked on getting more shop equipment and was able to obtain two forges on permanent loan from the Ritchie County Board of Education. Another forge was purchased from someone in Wood County. The big acquisition came in the summer of 1979 when Tim located an abandoned blacksmith shop in Preston County. The WV Department of Education paid $1000 for the whole shop! The equipment included a 50 lb. Little Giant power hammer, anvils, post vises, large drill press, and lots of small tools---hardies, fullers, and tongs. We still don't know the use for some of the tools!

All of this was trucked to Cedar Lakes and dumped in the middle of the shop building! The Cedar Lakes Center offered to provide room and board to ABA members if they would come and set up the shop. On March 1 and 2, 1979, the shop was full of willing workers. Stumps were cut to size, anvils mounted, post vises mounted on stands bolted to the floor, many tools dressed and forged, tongs re-forged, tool stands made, and one complete forge table was welded together. Five forge stations were set up.

The ABA members who contributed to the work session were: Frank Bordo, Robert Dennis. Boyd Holtan, Glenn Horr, Jay Hurley, Paul Lacy, Pete Minier, George Nichols, Bob Selvaggio, Ed Small, and John Schlessinger.

A big job was setting up and getting the 50 lb. hammer installed. The Cedar Lakes maintenance staff prepared the base. Head machinist, Paul Lacy III of Covington, VA, designed the motor support and speed reduction system and soon had the big hammer running. Paul was also instrumental in repairing equipment for the shop and doing some "horse trading" to get other equipment the shop needed.

Also at this time, Tim and the Cedar Lakes maintenance workers made a great contribution to the shop. Each July, the Conference Center sponsored a large Craft Festival and fifty-five gallon steel drums were used as trash receptacles. However, the bottoms rusted out of a number of the drums’ ends. The maintenance men removed the ends and we welded the drums together into a long pipe. They installed the pipe down the center of the shop ceiling, resting on the roof trusses. The large pipe ran about three-fourths the length of the shop and ended at the back gable where they cut a hole and installed a small fan.

A while earlier, Cedar Lakes Conference Center had built a fine new dining hall. The kitchen of the old dining hall was stripped bare and then converted into a dorm; the large tin hoods that were over the cooking stoves were set outside. The maintenance men moved the hoods to the shop and hung them in two rows by chains from the ceiling trusses. The hoods were then connected by stovepipe to the large barrel pipe above them. The forges were set under the hoods. The hood system provided better ventilation for the forges.

In the beginning, the exhaust fan was not large enough, and there was still some smoke in the shop to contend with. In February 1983, Glenn Horr, Skip Roberts, and Fred Hunter installed an organ fan that Fred had obtained from a church in Wheeling and donated it to the shop. This blower was large enough but was very noisy for a teaching shop. It also had to be covered on the outside to get it to start drawing. Later on, the Cedar Lakes staff installed a quieter fan.

The shop served as one of the demonstration centers when ABA hosted the 1982 Artists Blacksmiths Assn. of North America Conference on May 20-23. A large metal base was installed in the shop for the demonstration of an air hammer loaned by Centaur Forge.

A major upgrading of the shop resulted from the brick side-draft forge building workshop on May 17-19, 1985. The Craft Center purchased the materials and hired a professional mason Benny Hodges, from Lindside, WV, to supervise and teach the forge building class. A beautiful brick forge chimney was built and attached to a steel forge table and firepot. It drew smoke so well that it pulled smoke from a lit test newspaper even before it was vented through the roof! At first, the flue was piped into the exhaust system, but after the Cedar Lakes staff installed a pipe through the roof. Paul Lacy made the air damper valve and installed an electric blower for the firepot.

The new forge works very well for demonstrations since it has its own smoke stack system and is also near the Little Giant Hammer. The ABA members who worked on the forge learned a lot about laying bricks and forge construction. They were: Bob Askren, Jeff Fetty, Paul Lacy, and Boyd Holtan. Bob Askren described the forge’s construction in the ABA newsletter and also in an article in The Anvil's Ring.

The next additions to the shop were provided by ABA. A 14-inch Ryobi chop saw was ordered and left in the shop. In 1991, a foot treadle hammer built by Hans Peot was purchased by ABA for the shop. On August 10 and 11, Clay Spencer taught a workshop and demonstrated the many things he could do on the foot hammer.

Recently, Joe Harris and Gil Watkins replaced the firepot in the brick side draft forge and welded repairs on the second electric forge. The Craft Center provided the new firepot.

The Cedar Lakes shop provides the best of two worlds for ABA members--participate in workshops administered by Tim Pyles and the Craft Center; or participate in workshops and hammer-ins organized by the ABA officers. The only requirement from Cedar Lakes for ABA's use of the shop is that we also use the center for board and room when available. Since the accommodations are very economical, this is a friendly arrangement. The cooks in the mess hall welcome us each time we come!

The list of smiths who have demonstrated and conducted workshops in the shop is very impressive. They include: Daryl Meyer, Francis Whitaker, Dimitri Gerakaris, Jim Wallace, Jack Brubaker, Pete Minier, Robert Griffith, Richard Sexstone, Peter Ross, Glenn Horr, Barry Wheeler, Joel Schwartz, Ira DeKoven, Glen Gardner, Fred Crist, Mark Bokencamp, Dan Boone, Peter Happny, Jeff Fetty, Ed Small, Larry Wood, David Ponsler, Hans Peot, Mel Townsend, Hugh Bartrug, Clay Spencer, Lee Badger, Jerry Darnell, Richard Sheppard, and Walter Scadden. As ABA members, we have been very fortunate to have had the shop to host these demonstrators and work stations for the workshops.