Heart of Louisiana: The blacksmith

Published: Aug. 21, 2013 at 1:13 AM CDT|Updated: Aug. 21, 2013 at 1:30 AM CDT
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It's a trade that has been around since before medieval times. Just a century ago, every city and farm town in America had a village blacksmith. You might be surprised to know that blacksmithing is still being passed from one generation to the next. FOX 8's Dave McNamara takes us to an old fashioned blacksmith shop in the Tangipahoa Parish town of Tickfaw in this edition of heart of Louisiana.

"The fire's not quite ready yet but it won't be long," Jim Jenkins tells us. "Getting enough heat is not the problem. But getting the right heat is the challenge."

Jenkins has been fanning the flames and bending, banging and shaping hot pieces of metal for most of his life.

Jenkins says, "When I was about 14 years old, I had an old horse named Charlie that had to have shoes on him to be able to ride."

He's had other jobs, working in a chemical lab and even teaching, but since a gig as a blacksmith at the 1984 World's Fair in New Orleans, Jenkins spends most of his time working over a fire and anvil

Jenkins says, "Back 100 years ago, every little village had to have a blacksmith. The blacksmiths made the wagons for transportation and buggies and then they repaired the wheels and such. They shoe the horses, they built the kitchen utensils and all those things. They built a lot of the plows."

Jenkins likes to keep things authentic, like the log cabin he built by hand 40 years ago to house his blacksmith shop.

For farm tools, Jenkins says it's better to pound a blade back into shape than to constantly file it to keep it sharp. He says, "I'll run a grinder over this edge and just smooth it out, put a slight sharpening on it."

Jenkins has shared his knowledge of blacksmithing with Russell Forshag, who worked for a year as an apprentice. They appear together at the New Orleans Jazz Fest, demonstrating their ancient art.

Forshag says, "I come from a long line of blacksmiths. My great-great-great grandfather came from Germany and established the first blacksmith shop in Amite."

Five generations later, Forshag is passing what he knows on to his son. He says, "This was really the first job that an apprentice learned besides starting a fire. He was put to the task of making nails all day long."

The blacksmith has gone from being a town necessity to a craftsman and artist who can shoe horses, repair equipment, match old ironwork, and create decorative pieces of metal, as they pass on a centuries-old skill to another generation.

Jim Jenkins says his blacksmith services are used on historic buildings, to create matches for some of the old hardware found on windows and doors.