After a lifetime or working as a blacksmith, Concord resident George Basinger hung up his hammers and put away his anvils. He was not prepared, however, to give up his self-described God-given gift of working with his hands.
“In 1999, when I retired, I began looking for woodworking tools. I bought a bandsaw and a joiner,” said Basinger, 82, who learned the blacksmith trade from his father. “Then I added a wood lathe that was built in 1946 and in no time I was buying and selling all kinds of woodworking tools, mostly through pawn shops and yard sales.
“I’ve got eight or t10 Skilsaws and a handsaw that was made before 1868, as well as a Black & Decker 2 1/2 horsepower Skilsaw I bought at an auction in 1966 and I’m still using it.”
“I am a self-taught woodworker,” he said. “My dad and I worked on wagon wheels and such, and what I didn’t know I learned as I went by trial and error.”
He had learned the craft of blacksmithing as a young boy in a similar fashion, by watching and working with his dad and other blacksmiths.
Born near Mooresville, he was one of three boys in a family with five sisters. He was the one who took up his father’s profession. “Folks would ask me why I decided to follow in my dad’s footsteps and become a blacksmith, and I told them it was because it would get me out of that damn cotton field.”
Basinger recalls that when his dad’s work slowed, he worked building three room houses for cotton workers in Kannapolis, 10 hours a day, five days a week, plus five hours on Saturday. For his 55 hour workweek, he was paid $17.50.
On the other hand, he says, “Dad would go to your house or farm and shoe two mules for $1.75 each. It all worked out. When he had a good day, he and I would go to the store near our home in China Grove and for $3, we could buy enough groceries so that it took the two of us to carry them out.”
Basinger joined the Air Force in 1948 and served as a ground crew mechanic during the Korean War. “I actually taught blacksmithing in the Air Force in Cheyenne, Wyoming for a while. After the war, I moved to Pennsylvania where I met a girl and married her.
“We had three kids and we moved back to North Carolina in 1966, where I ran my blacksmith shop on Webb Road near Salisbury. I shoed horses, no mules. I remembered my dad being kicked by a mule more than once, and that didn’t interest me much.”
“I worked at blacksmithing from 1966 to about 1972. I think I was born with a hammer in my hands, and in those days I could lift or even throw a 250-pound anvil, but the traveling part of the job got to be too much for me and I decided I could earn a good living making brick and stone hammers. By the time I retired in 1999, my reputation for making the hammers had spread far and wide.”
In the meantime, Basinger and his wife “parted ways,” but several years later, he met and married his wife Betty, an elementary schoolteacher.
“It’s been 37 years now,” he says, “and we are still going strong.” He and Betty attend Grace Lutheran Church in Salisbury, the same church he has attended since he was born.
With a workshop in his basement, Basinger keeps busy experimenting with new designs in wood. “God gave me a gift. You might call it ‘brain to hand,’ If I can envision something in my head, I can pretty much make it.”
“I’ve made lamps, mirror frames, beds, dining room tables, even a pie safe for my granddaughters. If I make up my mind that I can make something, I can do it.”
“When I as diagnosed with neuropathy two years ago, I decided to make myself a cane. It’s made out of oak and walnut, and it can double as a weapon for self defense or as a putter on the golf course. I guess I like to play around with possibilities. After all, a cane shouldn’t be nothing more than a cane.”