CP: You are the panelist for the upcoming August Appalachian Traditions Discussion webinar. Do you have a particular theme for your talk?
JL: Yes, I will be talking about my journey as an Appalachian craftsman working wood and iron, and how those pursuits have lead me to my current occupation as a toolmaker.
CP: How have Appalachian traditions influenced your life and your work?
JL: The Appalachian tradition of working for sustenance has influenced my lifestyle and livelihood at a very foundational level. In many ways, I am following in the footsteps of my Appalachian forebearers. Neither of my paternal great-grandfathers had a common careers for today. Both were farmers and dabbled in other ventures like storekeeping and logging for extra income when necessary. Like my grandfathers, I’ve always pursued a variety of trades: woodworking, blacksmithing, teaching, etc.
CP: Are traditional crafts, like ironwork and woodworking, a tradition in your family? or is craft something that came to you later in life?
JL: That’s a great question. Even though my family didn’t have a craft tradition to hand down, my parents encouraged my interest in hand work from a young age, and by the time I was in my mid-teens, I was making and selling my woodwork, and later ironwork.
CP: Where are you currently based?
JL: I live and work in the little community of Ashford NC, just north of Marion, where my father’s side of the family has lived since the 1840s. We live in the house that my great-uncle built in 1950, which was one of the first houses built with electricity in the community.
Jason’s Blackmithing Shop
Blades & Drawknives Waiting for Handles
CP: What does your typical workday look like? What are you making in your shop these days?
JL: My days vary quite a bit, but usually three days a week, I go to the blacksmith shop right after breakfast and forge adzes or axes until about 2 p.m. with a short pause for lunch. It’s too hot in the summer to work at the forge fire through the afternoon, so I head home and spend an hour or so in the office (my desk beside the dining room table) working on correspondence or ordering supplies while the children are napping. Usually one afternoon each week, I am shipping orders, and often have the children, or their grandparents helping. Other afternoons, I make tool handles or work on new prototypes. Whenever I can fit it in, I still carve spoons and bowls and make an occasional chair.
CP: You’ve taught a wide variety of topics at the Folk School, “Blacksmithing for Reenactors,” “Axes,” “Carving Traditional European-Style Spoons,” and many beginning blacksmithing classes. What do you like most about teaching? Do you have a favorite class you like to teach?
JL: You know, I’ve enjoyed every class I’ve taught at the Folk School for what it was. I find the variety stimulating, and mix up what I teach to avoid getting stuck in a rut.
CP: How did you become involved with the Folk School? How long have you been teaching at the Folk School?
JL: The first class I took at the Folk School was a two-week advanced blacksmithing class around the year 2000. I had been ‘smithing for several years and thought I was pretty good, but at 21 years old, I was the youngest and least experienced in the class. I learned a lot and came back for a few more classes before starting to teach at the Folk School in about 2008.
A Collection of Photos from Jason’s Blacksmithing Classes
CP: What is your favorite thing about the Folk School?
JL: One of the things I value most about the Folk School is the opportunity for a great variety of folks from different backgrounds, people who likely would never interact with one another, to learn a new skill together and leave as friends.
CP: Many of your classes embrace historical techniques and materials. Do you have a favorite era?
JL: That’s a complicated one. I’ve always enjoyed reading about and reenacting the colonial and revolutionary era of our nation’s history. My reenacting experiences have taught me to appreciate the importance of understanding time and place in any historic pursuit. That being said, I enjoy teaching hand tool work because it is so accessible, not simply because it is historic, and have found a lot of value in giving a historic context to what we do.
Blacksmithing Demo at Historic Martin’s Station
Spoon Carving Tool Kit
CP: Can you talk about why you chose to specialize in tools? How has your background in woodworking influenced your toolmaking?
JL: Woodworking was something I was exposed to at a very early age in my Dad’s basement workshop. We watched The Woodwright’s Shop together, which sparked my interest in hand tool work. I built my first shaving horse when I was 13, and carved walking sticks, spoons, neck yokes, etc. As I began blacksmithing, it was only natural that I make some of my own tools. The current surge of interest in hand-tool and green woodworking has allowed my background and interests to converge in our family business. Being a long time user of the tools I make, gives me an “edge” if you will, in the tool market.
CP: How do you design your tools? Do you have any specific inspirations?
JL: I’ll share a bit about a chairmaker’s inshave (or scorp) that I am working on at the moment. Last fall I bought an antique inshave that I really liked and wanted to produce my own version of it. First, I studied its shape and how it was made. Next I made as close a copy as I could. After using both, I began to identify which of the tool’s features were essential and which weren’t. The next few prototypes went to woodworkers for testing and feedback, and I am just starting on a batch of them to test some more refinements. We know that form follows function, but form also follows process. One of the big parts of tool design is designing processes that efficiently produce the functional form we are after.
CP: Do you have a favorite tool?
JL: If I measured by both enjoyment and number of hours used, the drawknife will be very high on the list of my favorite tools. It is a remarkable tool capable of both rough, fast work as well as fine detail.
CP: Where can folks buy your tools?
CP: Do you have a favorite type of wood you like use for spoon carving?
JL: Any of the fruit woods are well-suited for making spoons, but if I had to pick, it would probably be apple. Close-grained and hard, apple has a beautiful red color and slick surface when finished.
A Variety of Hand Carved Spoons
Carving a Spoon
Home Life 2020 Shirt Design
CP: I like your recent shirt design “Embracing Home Life 2020.” Can you talk about your inspiration for creating the design?
JL: As I watched people’s reaction to spending vast quantities of time at home, some of them for the first time in their lives, I realized that the notion that home is a place of confinement is not necessary. Historically, especially in rural areas, home was the center of culture, learning and productivity. Our lives used to revolve around the home. Babies were born at home, old people lived their last days and died at home. Food was grown at home. Animals were raised for food, clothing and work at home. The surplus was sold for money and sometimes you would leave home for a little while to work for wages to supplement what you grew and made at home.
Even though we live in a different era, I am thrilled to see so many people use this unusual, forced time at home to pursue meaningful hand work. The crossed carving axe and bowl adze represent two of the most popular tools that I make. HOME LIFE itself can be a tool in our hand to give opportunity to grow tomatoes on our porch, knit a scarf, bake sourdough bread, or participate in our children’s education. I designed this t-shirt as a way to express the experience that home is not a place of confinement, but of joy, discovery, and useful labor.
CP: Do you have any advice for aspiring blacksmiths or woodworkers?
JL: Start simple. Start today. Too many people wait until they have the time, money, knowledge, etc. to make a perfect start, and so never start.
Using an Adze to Hew a Bowl
About Appalachian Traditions
Join us for Appalachian Traditions, virtual discussions with instructors from our master-artist-led series on traditional Appalachian craft. These free, hour-long conversations provide a space for instructors in traditional craft to share their personal stories and discuss their creative process. We’ll explore the historic role of craft in Appalachia, examine its continued relevance today, and learn how practitioners are working to promote their craft and inspire the next generation of traditional makers.
Appalachian Traditions is part of a grant-funded program designed to connect highly-skilled Appalachian craft instructors with present-day students. Although we are not able to hold this series of master-artist-led classes in person, we hope to use this digital platform to celebrate traditional craft and help viewers connect with and learn from master artisans. Jason Lonon was our featured panelist on August 17, 2020. View the recording below and learn more & view past recordings on our Appalachian traditions page.
Watch our Appalachian Traditions Discussion with Jason Lonon recorded on August 17, 2020.
Cory Marie Podielski is a freelance graphic designer, photographer, and writer for the John C. Campbell Folk School. She has been writing for the Folk School Blog since 2012 and enjoys interviewing artists, musicians, and craftspeople. In her spare time, she enjoys playing the banjo, dancing, printmaking, playing in clay, and assisting in Folk School bread baking classes. podielski.com