So You Want To Be A Blacksmith! Part One

I want to be a blacksmith!
How to get started if you have a burning desire to be
a blacksmith
Modern blacksmiths
are fantastic, they are multi-skilled and multi-talented, they often work alone
through choice and because it is a hard to generate enough work to run a team and
if you are restricted by your workshop space.
There is a
growing interest in our craft through modern media highlighting specific
aspects according to what is fashionable at the moment.  This could be the moment for blade making as
promoted by TV shows like Forged In Steel and the likes of Game Of Thrones/Lord
Of The Rings. 
A new breed
of blacksmiths are emerging, some through the great colleges and courses in
blacksmithing that we have in Hereford, Warwick and Dorset, some through the
need to leave city jobs and make a new life with a new craft skill.  I welcome these blacksmiths with open arms –
we need more blacksmiths!
The UK has
some great blacksmiths but it doesn’t incorporate their ironwork into its built
environment as much as other European countries do.  There are many more blacksmiths in Europe
because the architecture there lends itself to the use of decorative ironwork
as integral features rather than add-ons.
All this is
good if you have an interest in blacksmithing, you are probably already aware
of the pieces blacksmiths have made that are around you, this might be what has
inspired you to become a blacksmith!
do you start if you want to be a blacksmith?
Do some art
and/or Design Technology and/or engineering at school or as an evening class or
hobby if you have left school – it will help – you do need to be able to
represent a line in metal in some way on a board or piece of paper.  This is the starting point of anything you
will make even if it is a straight line like on a blade – you need to know the
tang shape and section style!
Go and see
blacksmiths working at local county shows like Bath and West, Yorkshire Show,
New Forest Show, Royal Welsh, Edenbridge and Oxted.  There are blacksmithing (and sometimes
farriery) competitions and live forging displays that you can watch and meet the
blacksmiths there.   You can also participate
in the competitions when you are ready!
Do a one
day course with a blacksmith to see if you like it, it might not be the
romantic ideal it is often perceived to be! 
It is hot, noisy, dirty and hard work even though it is also fun and
fantastic to make an actual thing with your hands at the end of the day!
Visit your
local forge and ask if you can firstly watch the blacksmith, see what is
involved and see if you think you will like it then, if they are the right person,
ask if they need some help.
approaching a blacksmith to ask if you can help out in the forge, explain why
you want to do this and what skills you have, the list below could be useful
Are you
strong and fit?
Have you
any experience in a workshop?
Are you
Are you
Can you
Can you
weld?  What type of welding? 
List all
your practical skills
Tell them
why they should let you in their workspace
A lot of
blacksmiths work alone and like it that way, don’t be put off just because the
first one you approach doesn’t want to share their space and time with you
skills you will need to be a blacksmith;
Business skills will be essential.
You need to
be able to run your business and do most of these things yourself or earn
enough money to pay someone else to do them for you.
quotes for work
Provide drawings
for clients
Manage a website
and other social media
Market your
work to the buying public – face to face or via online media
skills suitable for running your business – like Word and Excel for quotes and
Photogaphy –
you need to keep a portfolio of images of work you have made that shows it to
its best.
These are
all things you can learn if you don’t know them when you start.
If you can
do a welding course DO IT!
Learn to
use a MIG, TIG and ARC and GAS weld at your local agricultural/technical
college.  This is a really important
skill for a modern blacksmith.
What kind of blacksmith do you want to be?
Do you want
to be a general blacksmith doing all sorts of work from forging and fabricating
metal items for homes and gardens, taking what ever come in and you can do.  Lots of blacksmiths start this way and
specialise later as they find their niche in the market.
Do you want
to make the same things that have been designed and made by others before you
or do you want to make all new designs of you own?
What do you
want to specialise in?  You could have an
interest in tools for other crafts makers, blades or scissors; stone, leather
and glass workers all need tools.
Are you
into blade making?  This is a specialist
field with a growing interest and market. 
Do you want to make re-enactment and TV/film quality work?
Do you like
archaeology?  You could make reproduction
work for museums and collectors and combine your hobbies?
Do you want
to make sculptural work to sell through galleries?
Do you want
to work with architects and town planners and shape the look of our streets and
Are you
interested in gardening and want to specialize in works for gardens and outside
spaces.  Develop links with garden
designers and garden centres.
Do you want
to recreate historical ironwork – restoration and renovation is a specialised
field now that requires extra training.
Most blacksmiths
are commissioned to make bespoke work – this means it is designed to fit a specific
space and do a specific job.  To do this
you need to negotiate with lots of different people from clients to planning
officers, council development officers, architects, structural engineers,
landscape designers, builders, galvanizers and paint specialists and more!  You need to know when building regulations
apply to the work you do and provide health and safety information, paint
finish information and guarantees when asked.
Many larger
commissions run over the allotted time frame, this can throw out the rest of
your working schedule and upset other clients that are waiting for you to make
their product.  Managing this aspect of
your work will be one of the hardest things and takes great skill and
management.  You won’t always get it
right but you will only be as good as your reputation.  There is still a lot of word of mouth
recommendation within the blacksmithing world.
A lot of
blacksmiths will have a ‘bread and butter’ thing that they do to keep the wolf
from the door.  It might be a small
repeat item that they make and sell online or at shows or it might be a big
item that they repeat make that has lower overheads than one off commissioned
work.  This is a good business model, the
item might change over the years but it is a good thing to have to fall back on
should commissioned work dry up, run over time or fall through.
Good luck
for your future blacksmithing adventure – let me know if this has been useful!
 © Melissa
Cole 2017

Useful resources;
The Worshipful
Company of Blacksmiths
Crafts Association
Artist Blacksmiths Association
Scotland’s Rural College Oatridge Campus
College, Preston    Somerset.
 Private courses
Fire and Iron Gallery, Leatherhead, Surrey

1 Comment

  1. Unknown on July 12, 2017 at 5:10 am

    I like It!

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