Sitting next to the barn-shaped home Pat McCarty built with his wife Mary Jo in the 1970s is a building that used to serve as the couple’s garage. Now, decorated in old tin signs and metalwork, it serves as Pat McCarty’s workshop, where he spends many days blacksmithing.
Inside the workshop sits a large, hand-built forge, handmade tools, tongs, anvils and of course metalwork.
For McCarty, 61, of Washington, blacksmithing started as a hobby. In the 1940s his father built the family home, which always intrigued Pat.
“That was a goal I always had, to build my own home,” he said.
McCarty served for several years in the U.S. Navy beginning in 1971 and spent three years in Japan with his wife. Once they returned, it was time for McCarty to make good on his childhood dream. He built their house on his wife’s family farm. Up until that time, McCarty had never done metalwork, but had done woodworking.
“When it came time for the hardware, I wasn’t happy with what was available,” he said. “It just didn’t look right.”
For his home, McCarty said he always liked using recycled materials. In his home he used old windows, boards, bricks and as much recycled material as he could. McCarty had some old hinges, and thought he might make one more to match it and use it for a door in his home.
“I thought it would be pretty simple to do,” he said, laughing at the thought. “It wasn’t.”
“But it intrigued me enough, and I really enjoyed the work,” he said.
Since the hinges ended up being too difficult as a beginner’s project, McCarty first made his own blacksmithing tools.
The tools have to be purchased second-hand or handmade.
McCarty still has one of his first tools — a dipper made from a can and a handcrafted handle. The tool is used to pour water on coal.
One project McCarty enjoys is making handles for baskets that his wife weaves. The handles give the baskets a totally different look than having wooden or woven handles, he says.
One of the largest pieces, and one of his first major commercial commission piece, he made was a 28-foot-long curtain rod.
Of all the works McCarty has created, he said he is most proud of his father’s casket. The casket was created by him and his brothers from walnut trees his father planted.
His father had asked for a casket from the tree several years before passing away and the brothers sawed down the tree and began drying the wood.
McCarty’s first step, in 1988, was to join the Blacksmith Association of Missouri (BAM). He also took classes at a school in Missouri. Instructors came from Israel to teach the classes.
“In America, we think about rediscovering how the colonials did blacksmithing. (People say it is) a lost art, the dying art,” he said. “But in Israel they never stopped blacksmithing. That’s just another trade over there.”
The school, Blacksmith School of the Ozarks, eventually closed.
Through BAM, McCarty has had the opportunity to visit different people’s shops.
At meetings, there usually is a “trade item,” where everyone makes a designated project and brings it to the meeting to trade. At the last meeting, the item was a shoehorn. McCarty created a shoe with a rhinoceroses horn.
The art of blacksmithing, McCarty explained, is “moving metal.” There are only a few things you can do to a piece of iron: make it longer or shorter, twist it, bend it or cut it.
“From there on it’s a matter of doing one of those things to the piece of metal to get the shape you want,” he said. “Everything I do I’m practicing. You really have to work at it to get the different steps to go where you want them to go.”
McCarty finds his blacksmithing jobs completely by word-of-mouth. He has worked on antique cars, which he said can be time consuming and expensive.
“But I can fill that niche with a lot of car rebuilders and antique dealers,” he said. He also does iron work for old fire trucks including bells, harps and other pieces.
A specialty for McCarty is wooden trunks with iron hinges and detail. Early on, he created one for a BAM conference to help raise money for the organization. The director asked him to make one for the next year’s conference.
“I jokingly told him I would make 100,” he said. He currently is working on box No. 47, though not every box created has been for BAM.
Nationally, McCarty is involved in the Artist Blacksmith Association of North America.
He is a juried member of The Best of Missouri Hands Association.
Each year he teaches at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, N.C. Students learn how to make a traditional chest, where they build the wooden box then create the hardware.
Silver Dollar City
For the past 10 years, the McCartys have spent nine to 10 weeks in the fall at Silver Dollar City. The couple packs up a mobile building to bring for the trip. Both McCarty and his wife sell items in a shop and for about 10 hours per day, Pat does blacksmithing demonstrations for visitors.
In 2010, the couple was named craftsmen of the year.
In addition to Silver Dollar City, McCarty participates in Heritage Days for the Rockwood School District each spring and at the Taste for the Arts Festival in Hermann. He also has participated in the Fire Festival in New Haven.
“I love demonstrating and showing people how do to things,” he said. “People are pretty awed by what you can do with just a hammer and an anvil. It’s something no one has really given much thought to.”
Each January, McCarty hosts a “first hammer-in” of the year on New Year’s Day for members of BAM, friends, clients and others. Last year, about 65 blacksmith attended the event.
“It’s a chance for those who have never hammered before to get in the fire with someone standing right there to guide them,” he said.
He sets up an additional forge for the event, which he has hosted for about 16 years.
McCarty was born in Overland and moved to Moselle when he was 13.
He and his wife were married in 1971. The couple have three children and eight grandchildren.
McCarty retired from Southwestern Bell in 2000 and began blacksmithing full-time as a profession.
“And I can make those hinges now if I wanted to,” he said, adding that he’s made hinges for many other houses.
Not Just Horseshoes
McCarty said that often, people think of horseshoes when they think of blacksmithing, but after more than 20 years in the field, he’s never made a horseshoe.
Many blacksmiths, he said, make jewelry, kitchen wear, camp items, decorations and more.
McCarty also does enameling and welding, but said blacksmithing is his favorite.
“I like heating the metal up. There’s kind of a mystery to it and there’s a challenge to try to figure out how I can hold on to this piece of metal that’s 2000 degrees and shape it without burning myself,” he said.
Often times, he has to stop and make a special tool for that single project.
McCarty recently was awarded first place for a sculpture, “West Wind,” in the Collectors Choice fundraiser and exhibition at The St. Louis Artists Guild.
McCarty said he doesn’t often enter competitions, but was proud to win the competition.
“It makes you feel pretty good. Everyone likes a little notoriety.”
“You can take the ugliest, rustiest piece of metal and turn it into a work of art,” he said. “This was nothing more than that.”