From anvil to sawdust: Longtime blacksmith Basinger now creates memories out of wood
SALISBURY — Maybe it’s a holdover from his decades as a blacksmith, but wherever George Basinger goes, he leaves an impression.
His home church, Grace Lutheran, is a good example. He made the outside mailbox in the shape of a church. He fashioned the wrought iron hand rails leading up to the altar.
In the church history room are things Basinger thought Grace Lutheran should have, such as an 1880 pocketwatch he found in a shop in Hannibal, Mo. The year of the watch was important because it’s when the church was founded.
The musically inclined Basinger sits down at an old organ in the history room and starts playing. Some years back, he had replaced the felt on the organ pedals.
A pair of old lanterns sit on each side of the organ. Basinger had found them for $15 each. He also donated the commemorative coins from World War II and Korea, the war he had fought in with the Air Force.
Basinger is maybe proudest of something on display in the narthex — the replica he built of Grace Lutheran’s original church. He was baptized in that church, which was destroyed by fire March 30, 1947.
It happened five days after his 17th birthday, Basinger recalls.
Even at 82, Basinger still has that kind of photographic mind, a steel trap for every bargain he has successfully negotiated, for every tool he has ever purchased, for every place he has ever been — and he has traveled to every state in the union, most of Canada and much of Europe.
He built the Grace Lutheran model from memory, knowing how many windows it had and where they should be, how big the front door was in proportion to everything else, where the chimney was located, how tall the brick foundation was and exactly where the steeple and bell sat on top of the roof.
Basinger says the best compliment he received was from a longtime member who told him he had taken the old church and shrunk it.
The church woodworking project required about three months. Basinger never worked from a drawing — seldom does.
“The only thing I could ever draw was a bucket of water,” he says.
Sheri Freeman of Harrisburg added some of the model’s decorative details and a cousin, Robert Basinger, helped with the miniature wheelbarrow full of wood.
George Basinger included every architectural detail on the church replica, down to the cellar door on the side.
Basinger and his second wife, Betty, live in Concord these days.
Back in 1999, he sold his longtime blacksmith shop on Webb Road, retired, and within a couple of years, started making things from wood in a home shop converted from a carport.
Basinger turned out a lamp or two. He made walking sticks, and he soon progressed to bigger projects. As with the church, ramble through Basinger’s house or storage rooms and he points out things he has made.
A headboard and bed frame. A dining room table. A grandfather clock. A blanket chest. A jewelry box. A mirror frame. A wardrobe. A coat rack.
The back porch is full of lamps he designed and made.
“I don’t do things for money, I do things for fun,” he says.
He puts the items to use or gives them away. He likes to incorporate diamonds and stars into his own designs.
“There are no two things close to looking the same,” he says.
Basinger’s workshop is organized clutter. He relies a lot on a center table that he built himself. He put it on rollers, so that on nice days, he opens up the doors and works outside, giving him “all the room in the world.”
“Everything that I use a lot is on this table,” Basinger says.
If he has to figure some measurements, he just writes on the table and sands it clean later.
The workshop has a low ceiling. Basinger, who stands between 6-3 and 6-4, almost touches the fluorescent lights with the top of his head.
Basinger acknowledges he’s a sucker for certain things.
“I’m a nut for levels,” he confirms. “I love levels — levels and drill bits, I guess, are my weaknesses.”
You could almost call him a collector. Overall, Basinger can’t pass up any good deal on quality tools he thinks he needs.
Basinger appreciates the craftsmanship behind good tools as much as he likes making things with them. That also could go back to his blacksmithing days, when he made tools.
“It was good to me,” he says, still wearing his trademark overalls.
Next to his lathe are all his wood-turning implements, standing at the ready. But he also fishes out a box of Craftsman lathe tools that are pre-World War II. He bought them at an Oregon antiques shop for $25 total, and Basinger judges each one is worth $40 to $60.
He has some other turning tools with white handles he made as a blacksmith.
“If I had known I was going into woodworking, I would have made two sets of these,” he says.
The rest of the shop has what you might expect: band saw, radial saw, drill press, belt sanders, joiners, clamps, planes, wrenches, screwdrivers and pliers.
“I found a lot of things just at yard sales, believe it or not,” he says.
He also has furnished his workshop from things purchased at pawn shops, auctions and his favorite place, Farris Belt and Saw in Charlotte.
Basinger made lamps for everyone who works at the company.
He opens up a workshop cabinet to reveal another stash.
“I’ve got enough sandpaper to last until I’m old and gray,” Basinger complains.
It’s a funny line, because Basinger is old and gray.
Basinger predicts, by the way, he will live until he’s at least 93. He always has been a prognosticator of sorts, though had he predicted success in local politics he would have been wrong.
Before Rowan County was solidly Republican, Basinger ran several times for county commissioner in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Basinger was a favorite Salisbury Post source for many things, including some weather tidbits.
Here’s another Basinger prediction:
“I’m like(ly) to do something famous before I die,” he says from the workshop.
He already has left an impression.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263,or firstname.lastname@example.org.