Forged in Tradition: Carter Builds a Successful Blacksmithing Business in Southern Ohio | Community

As American author Mark Twain said, “Find a job you love to do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”

Nestled deep in the hills of southern Ohio in Scioto County, where the woods are thick and the hollows long, a local man has built a successful business that started with a simple hammer, anvil and a forge that he built himself using a metal coffee can.

Carter Conley Ironworks, Josh Carter’s dream, became a successful business and his designs were shipped across the country and beyond. Its business slogan reads: “Making dreams come true with hard work and a hot iron”.

“I am a blacksmith artist. I do functional art,” explained Carter, who spent part of her childhood at Waverly. “I like to do pretty things. I like to make things that people can look and feel the quality in their hands as they use them, and remember someone made it – not in a factory or sweatshop, but someone one in the hills of rural Ohio did.

The dream of becoming a blacksmith took many years to come true. Going to living history museums as a young man through school trips and outings with the Boy Scouts gave Carter the opportunity to watch other blacksmiths in action. He was still very enthusiastic and excited about it. The blacksmiths he supervised noticed him and always took the time to talk to him.

“For most people, even though they thought it was good, it was very basic. They didn’t have the desire to really learn. When they got home that night, they didn’t think not at the blacksmith that day. The other kids were thinking about the funnel cake they ate or the ice cream they had,” Carter said. “I was just thinking, ‘Wow. Watching them move metal and transform building materials was amazing. It was fascinating.

As a teenager, Carter put that dream aside. In the meantime, he continues the music.

“I am a singer-songwriter. I’ve been a long…much longer than I was a blacksmith,” Carter said. “I started writing country/western songs under the stage name Carter Conley in tribute to my late grandfather. It stuck.

At the time he was living in Portsmouth and started doing blacksmith work in his garage. Living in a limiting neighborhood, so he moved back to the hills of Scioto County in the Lucasville area to pursue his dream.

“I returned to the countryside without neighbors or other influences. I came into my own and became what I was meant to be – a good old country boy who isn’t afraid to work hard or get dirty,” Carter said.

“I am completely self-taught apart from books and YouTube. I would like to have the time to go and learn and be taught by other masters. You have to do the best with what you have. Once I have learned the basics, very rarely do I have to go and get something. You see in your head the shape you need to make something into. Then you search your store for the tool that will create that shape. If I don’t I don’t, I will.

It also took a big leap of faith for Carter to make the decision to go this route.

“That’s a big part of it: having faith. I had never had confidence in myself before. Honestly, the business side was not a dream. The dream was to be a blacksmith. I realized how time consuming it was and realized that if I wasn’t going to do this as a business, I was going to need a very lucrative job to be able to buy the tooling,” Carter explained.

According to Carter, a big part of blacksmithing is making your own tools, which dates back to when every town had a blacksmith. The tools are made from items that others would consider scrap, like rusty coil springs from a junkyard or old lawn mower blades.

“If you don’t have the time and talent to make your own tools, you’re going to be spending thousands and thousands of dollars on tools all the time. You will constantly need a new tool, so I couldn’t do that. I had to make it work, so I left with a piece of railroad track (legally obtained) and a dream, and it just went from there,” Carter said.

“The blacksmiths of old were the kings of tradesmen, because the carpenter and the stonemason went to the blacksmith to have their tools made. These people could not make their own tools. The blacksmith could make the tools of the carpenter, mason, mason and all these different crafts and trades. I have made many of my tools that I use.

To create his works of art, Carter buys steel from an industrial steel mill, which sells primarily to welders, fabricators, and construction companies.

“I turn that same structural steel into art with primitive methods,” he said. “Almost everything I do is done with an anvil, vice or crimping block (a block containing grooves and holes of various sizes for shaping objects).”

Fire pokers and S-hooks of various designs and styles became his “bread and butter” items. Examples of other work include carvings such as crosses and floral designs, napkin rings and racks, paper towel holders under cabinets, flint strikers, bottle openers, pins hair stands, jewelry trees, door knobs, plant hangers, hats and coats, saw blade bowls, and more.

Carter opened his Etsy store in January 2019, and after a year and a half in the business, he already had a waiting list for his items.

“I hear a lot of people say there’s nothing wrong with blacksmithing. It’s not true. You can tell from the results. I tell people all the time that blacksmithing is a craft which requires constant self-correction,” Carter said.

“Stay humble. You never arrived. Yes, I run a successful business, but that doesn’t mean I’ve made it. I’m just a really hard working guy, and I’m okay with admitting when I’m wrong and fixing it.

Every working day is a step forward.

“If you put in the work and spend enough time at the anvil, you will continue to progress daily. It has been my goal to progress daily. That’s why I love when people come to me with ideas for projects really cool. They are happier than me once they receive the item. I am my worst critic.

Carter’s story may serve as an inspiration to others who may consider pursuing their own dream business.

“I’m more fulfilled than I’ve ever been,” he said. “When I’m having a bad day, I read reviews of my work from doctors and lawyers, ranchers and farm workers. It makes me feel good that strangers all over the world like my work.

Carter describes himself as an artist-blacksmith, musician and singer-songwriter from rural Appalachia.

“Several people messaged me and said, ‘Because you’re from the rural hills of Ohio, that’s why we came to see you. That’s why most of my clients come to me. You do something for them, especially if it’s a commissioned part. You do something to their specifications because they’ve come to you and seen what you’ve done in the past, and they wanted to be part of that story,” Carter said.

“It’s the story. I’m not just selling the work. I’m selling the story. It’s an American bootstrap story. I started with nothing. I made it into a successful business against all odds, and I can’t help but think that God has a huge role to play in this.

“I started claiming Christ on my business page. It was a leap of faith. Because in our society and social climate, it could have been very damaging in a very bad way. I decided to broadcast it and the blessings have been overwhelming.

All in all, every day Carter can spend forging is a blessing.

“I’m not the best artist in the world, but the reactions to my work keep me going,” he said. “I wake up tired and go to bed tired. But when I take my boots off at the end of the day, I can go to sleep knowing that I did a good day’s work and not everyone else has that.

Comments are closed.