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May 26, 2020

Faces of Fauquier: He forges “beauty” from steel

Photos/Don Del Rosso
“If I don’t like it, it’s not yours,” Joe Sitton says. “So sometimes I end up doing a project twice, because I didn’t like the way the first one turned out.”
“I enjoy what I do,” Mr. Sitton says. “I have a nice little shop. I can walk to work. I can work when I want.
Nol Putnam, formerly of The Plains, helped him transition to decorative work.
Contributed Photo
A gate with oak leaves.
There’s something about taking a piece of cold steel, heating it up, using a hammer on it, punches on it — whatever your project is — giving this steel some warmth, giving it a feeling.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
Well into a long and successful career as a farrier, The Plains-area man discovered the “art” of blacksmithing.

In the mid-1990s, “I started making some little things and a well-known blacksmith in the area saw some of it,” recalled Joe Sitton, who owns and operates Iron Heart Forge in his backyard garage.

Nol Putnam, who years ago moved his forge from The Plains to Rappahannock County, thought he showed promise.

“He helped me along with some of my work and got me some contracts and all,” said Mr. Sitton, 76. “And the next thing you know I’ve just done blacksmithing. Not doing the horse shoeing anymore.”

He started the blacksmithing business about a dozen years ago and discontinued shoeing horses around 2013, though occasionally does some consulting work for former equestrian clients.

As a farrier, he struck his first piece of “hot steel” in 1962, Mr. Sitton said.

Today, residential projects comprise about 70 percent of his blacksmithing business.

The work includes gates, railings, plant hangers, furniture, decorative pieces, latches, hinges and repairs and restoration.

“I try to be proud of every piece I turn over in my shop,” said Mr. Sitton, who in plain type hammer-stamps all the shop’s work with his initials. “If I don’t like it, it’s not yours. So sometimes I end up doing a project twice, because I didn’t like the way the first one turned out.”

He and apprentice blacksmith Beverly Young take just about every project — sometimes passing on jobs when potential clients’ budgets fall way short of cost, for example.

“I’m not going to work for $5 an hour,” said Mr. Sitton, laughing.

Often, clients will bring a photograph of pieces that they want him to create. He works with them to produce something similar, Mr. Sitton said.

But, he refuses duplicate somebody else’s work.

“I think that’s cheating when you do that,” Mr. Sitton said. Instead, “we’ll take an idea and add our movement to that steel, our look to that steel.”

He also doesn’t believe a blacksmith’s artistry should outshine or distract from the “functional” purpose of the work.

Always, they should be “pleasing to the eye” and “very neat, very well made,” explained Mr. Sitton, whose shop includes a forge that heats up to 2,300 degrees, more than 75 sets of tongs, more than 50 hammers and five anvils.

But, “you don’t want your work on that fireplace (set) or on that table to be the center of attraction,” he said. “You want them into blend in the surroundings of what’s there.”

Mr. Sitton declined to say how much he charges, partly because material and labor costs vary depending on the project.

But, he added: “I don’t try to get too expensive with my work. I think everybody should have a little piece of hand-made iron around somewhere or another.”

As much as anything, he likes to share his blacksmithing skills with others, Mr. Sitton said.

Before the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, a few “students” would visit his workshop each week to learn the profession.

“It’s very satisfying to be able to teach someone to swing a hammer and three weeks from now, he’s making a little trivet of some type,” Mr. Sitton said. “They’re probably never going to become a full-time blacksmith. But, they’ll have a hobby they can do some stuff with.”

As long as his health holds up, he has no plans to quit blacksmithing.

“I enjoy what I do,” Mr. Sitton said. “I have a nice little shop. I can walk to work. I can work when I want. And, I just have all these ideas of things that I’d like to build before I pass on.”

• Age

• Home 
Near The Plains

• Work
Owner/founder, Iron Heart Forge, 2012 to present; self-employed farrier, 1994 to 2013; ranch manager, Virginia Beef Corp., near Marshall, 1982-94; manager, cow/calf farm, near Staunton, 1980-82.

• Why do you do the job?
There’s something about taking a piece of cold steel, heating it up, using a hammer on it, punches on it — whatever your project is — giving this steel some warmth, giving it a feeling.

It’s the creativity of being able to take something that’s made in the standard forms from steel mills and turn it into something of beauty or that’s useful — whether it be a table, a flower.

• Family
Wife Rebecca, 66; two children previous marriage; five grandchildren.

• Education
New London Academy, Bedford County, 1960.

• How long have you lived in Fauquier?
About 38 years.

• Why do you live here? 
I came to Fauquier in ’82 as a ranch manager for Virginia Beef Corp., a large cattle operation. I decided after 12, 14 years to go back to work for myself.

I just like the location. It’s nice and friendly. It’s still basically agricultural. Most of the people here are pretty friendly. Made a lot friends here.

• How do you describe this county? 
I think we have some very good minds running our county at times. At other times, I think we have some people who don’t think real well before they make decisions about things.

But, overall I think it’s as good a county as a person could hope to live in. I’m pretty happy with our county right now.

• What would you change about Fauquier?
I’d like to see a little bit more industrial growth to take the tax burden off of some of us homeowners.

I’d like to see us have a little bit more control over our speeding and people abusing the highway privileges in our county. We have a lot of aggressive drivers who need to be slapped on the wrist or kicked in the butt. We need more highway enforcement.

• What do you do for fun?
Fish. Watch baseball — a big Nationals’ fan. 

• What’s your favorite place in Fauquier?
My home.

• What will Fauquier be like in 10 years? 
I think it’s going to grow up a lot. We’re seeing more houses being sprouted all the time. I think the population is fixing to take a gigantic lap forward, unfortunately.

Places we thought always would be open will be growing houses.

• Favorite TV show?
Don’t have one. I watch Nationals’ baseball games. About 90 percent of TV is a bunch of crap, anyway.

• Favorite movie?
No favorite movie. I’m not much of a real movie guy.

• Favorite book?
I read a lot of blacksmith’s books and old history books, but I don’t have a favorite one.

• Favorite vacation spot? 
Anywhere on the Chesapeake Bay, when the fish are biting.

• Favorite food? 
Steak and a baked potato.

• What is the best advice you have ever received? From whom?
Roy Walker, an old blacksmith that I started doing apprentice work under in 1962. He said: “Work hard; don’t worry what people think; develop your skills and you’ll be accepted; learn all that you can learn and never quit reading. Pay your taxes and be honest.”

• Who’s your hero and why?
I lost my father when I was 6 years old. There was gentleman down in
Forest (Va.), name Max Tappero. He was my inspiration. He was a good man. He knew right from wrong. And if you did wrong, he’d make you do right real quick.

• What would you do if you won $5 million in the lottery? 
I’d probably farm till I went broke.

Have a suggestion?
Do you know someone who lives in Fauquier County you would like to see in Faces of Fauquier? Email Don Del Rosso at or Lou Emerson at
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DominicWaterfield · May 31, 2020 at 1:59 pm
He is such a great man who is making this incredible thing through steel. Wow, i must say that i did not see this kind of artwork on steel. Here you can get uk best essays review to write your educational task easily. And i will also like to have these designs at my home.
Truepat · May 28, 2020 at 6:25 am
What a great story and true Fauquier resident....
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