Doc Cudd traces the blacksmith’s trade back more than 400 years in his family, in both parents’ lineages. His ancestors came from the British Isles to Southern Appalachia, and he knows that a great-grandfather on his mother’s side was a blacksmith in Cade’s Cove, now the most visited part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Cudd himself began blacksmithing at the age of 10. He first apprenticed with his father and a paternal great-uncle, and later began to work with his maternal grandfather, who had been a blacksmith on the TVA’s Fontana Dam construction project.
Working from his home shop in Barnardsville, and demonstrating regularly at the Biltmore Estate, Doc Cudd makes many kinds of ornamental hardware and home furnishings, including fire tools, fire screens, and chandeliers. He is also one of the few remaining blacksmiths who “plays the anvil—that is, who knows and can replicate a rhythmic language produced by hammering on different parts of the anvil. “It’s a 50-part language that’s tapped out on the anvil,” he has said. “It’s the first thing an apprentice learns, because it’s the language that the master uses to converse with the strikers.” By playing the anvil, the master blacksmith can instruct his apprentices as to what sort of object he wants them to make, and how.
Doc Cudd’s work is in high demand. He reports that, for orders of objects that take a couple of weeks to make, customers wait between eight months and a year; but for objects that require more work time, customers’ wait-time can exceed three years.
Doc Cudd demonstrates frequently at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. He accepts orders from customers with the patience to join his forge’s lengthy waiting list.