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What is a Master Blacksmith?

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#1 Truman


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Posted 26 December 2008 - 11:57 AM

Though I know many very talented and experienced blacksmiths, I know of very few that call themselves a "Master Blacksmith".

What and who defines a Master Blacksmith? What's the process for attaining this title?

Or is there no such thing, in a formal sense?


#2 kilted cossack

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Posted 26 December 2008 - 12:19 PM

I have to reason by analogy here, because this is my first post and also because I haven't done any blacksmithing (although, thirty years ago, I did some reasonable metalworking with my Dad).

I'd say that a really good blacksmith is someone who can do just about anything with a hammer, a forge, some files and some steel. And a "Master Blacksmith" would be someone who could teach someone else to do those very same things.

The late Jeff Cooper, in an entirely different context, used to say that the highest level of an art is in teaching it properly.

#3 larrynjr


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Posted 26 December 2008 - 12:58 PM

I am certainly not an expert witness on the subject but will impart my take on the subject.

In the USA, there are many local blacksmith groups that may have a certificate program that may bestow a master certification to members that can demonstrate skill to a certain level. I'm not sure if demonstrating the ability to teach those skills is part of the program or not.

ABANA, is the US National level blacksmith association and if they have a certification program I have not seen anything on their website about it.

In Europe, I believe there are still certifications given by the government, that certify smiths as apprentice, journeyman and master levels. I won't swear to that in court but that is the impression I have from posts written here by some of our European brothers / sisters.

Please those of you who actually know, fill in the gaps and make corrections to my inaccuracies and outright fabrications!
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Reflect it in their art
Forge their creativity
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Posted 26 December 2008 - 03:00 PM

Refering to the posy above I can say that it is much more complicated being a farrier in the U.K than it is here..They are indeed certified after apprecticeship(which is 4 years and 2 months I believe)..You just cant buy a forge,hammer & anvil in the U.K and start shoeing horses...Not legally anyway..

Edited by KYBOY, 26 December 2008 - 03:03 PM.

#5 Glenn



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Posted 26 December 2008 - 04:20 PM

Should ABANA Certify Blacksmiths

If someone questions your standards, they are not high enough.

Do not build a box, that way you do not have to think outside the box.

#6 dablacksmith


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Posted 26 December 2008 - 04:33 PM

generally i figure that the term master blacksmith is one used when talking about a blacksmith you think highly of .... not a term you use about yourself. I met a few smiths i wouldnt hesitate in calling a " master" but i would bet they dont think of themselves that way...It isnt a well defined thing ... guilds used to take care of nameing masters but in america that system went away .. there is nothing stopping anyone from putting master in front of theyre name and i know of at least one case where it is a sad ego boost of a fairly poor smith...

#7 Steve Sells

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Posted 26 December 2008 - 04:36 PM

there is at least one person assigned that title still forging here is the States, from his service in the US Army, he is on the Yahoo Blacksmiths list.
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#8 unkle spike

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Posted 26 December 2008 - 06:03 PM

To me there are some definate pros and cons to "certifying" a trade. Most of the certifications require a Professional Organization of some type. I heard of a Blacksmith in the UK not too long ago that had completed his "masterpiece" for judging by his local guild.

You would need to have some form of Standard Test both achedemic and perfomance based, and a group to administer those tests.
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#9 tzonoqua



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Posted 26 December 2008 - 06:31 PM


A Link to the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths site.

#10 Aman



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Posted 26 December 2008 - 07:01 PM

Not sure who or what one is, but I know who ain't.....me:)

#11 John B

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Posted 26 December 2008 - 07:03 PM

I would suggest looking at BaseTemplate The Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths, a livery Company who have long been responsible for the standards for blacksmithing in the UK. They were the original standard setters, and still operate a system of awards that can be attained by practicing smiths.

There are also a number of colleges in the UK who give accreditation for 'smithing.

However sadly anyone can call themselves a Master Blacksmith with little chance of them being challenged on their ability.

The original line to Master 'smith was: apprentice (usually indentured to a Master 'smith for five to seven years, payment being made to the 'smith in the early years,) then Journeyman for a number of years, travelling around learning different skills as they went, they usually then set up their own 'smithy and when experienced enough they were recognised as a Master Smith usually by the WCB and they were then allowed to train apprentices etc.

One of the spin offs from this was that a 'smith had to be capable and have worked for many years before being officially recognised as a Master of his Craft. Nowadays with modern communication available, skills can be learnt and mastered much quicker, although the manual dexterity can only be achieved by practice and execution over a number of years.

#12 philip in china

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Posted 26 December 2008 - 09:02 PM

In some trades the term "master" actualy meant somebody who employed others and was not a reference to his own ability. This has become blurred by usage. A masterpiece, for example, was the piece an apprentice made to be judged on to pass from being an apprentice to being an artisan in his own right.
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#13 Mark Aspery

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Posted 27 December 2008 - 01:55 PM

Calling someone a blacksmith is akin to calling somebody a scientist. What type of scientist are they. Blacksmithing is a very broad subject and when you feel that you have one part of it 'licked' look around and survey the hoards of things that still await your attention.

The Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths do offer an awards scheme. It is funny that they choose to use the term 'Fellow' of the company and then define that term as a 'Master Blacksmith'.

They have three levels of Fellowship - Bronze, Silver and Gold.

The requirements for Bronze are as follows.

The Bronze Medal is intended for Blacksmiths who have evidence to show that they can produce articles significantly above the standard normally associated with decorative and general blacksmiths. In addition to the skills achieved at the Diploma level, the applicant should be able to show that he or she is conversant with all forging techniques.

The commissions should include larger forgings than required for a Diploma and would be expected to include work in the public sector such as ecclesiastical commissions. These may have come from the private or public sectors and may include restoration work but a Bronze Medal would not be awarded on the basis of restoration work alone. The work should show individual influence on design with less input from external sources than required for a Diploma. A wide portfolio should be available to support the application and be representative of current projects.

Often at this level an amount of team work may be encountered, especially with the larger commissions. If this is the case it must be demonstrated that the applicant is capable of performing all the skills and techniques used in _making_ the piece(s) examined. If the applicant's main function is to manage the team then only a Company Award (see below) will be considered.

An applicant must supply photographs of his or her work and if satisfactory the work will be examined by two Master Blacksmiths.

No fee is required from applicants for this award.

Holders of a Bronze Medal are titled "Master Blacksmiths" and may use the letters FWCB (Fellow of the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths)

You will notice that design plays a part in the qualification.

I have no input as to what I think of the title of 'Master Smith' or the skills required to get it.

I am glad the position exists as I feel it is something that we all can strive for - even though that may be like trying to find the gold at the bottom of the rainbow.

Green you grow - ripe you rot!

#14 Jura T

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Posted 27 December 2008 - 03:36 PM

Here in Finland we have certifications given by the government. You can get a journeyman and master blacksmith certification. You can go to a test regardless of your background, although most often people go through training courses; roughly a one year course for journeyman and a two and a half year course for master blacksmith.The courses aren't, to my understanding, very demanding. On top of smithing you need to show knowledge on marketing, running business, designing and using/knowing other materials than black iron.

#15 Lysdexik



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Posted 27 December 2008 - 05:18 PM

Hi Guys
I come from a woodworking background (the dark side), I served an apprenticeship as a Joiner (the "workshop" side of carpentry) and the definition of a master in my opinion, is someone who has mastered enough of the art/craft to be able to pass it on.
kinda like YODDA!! SOOOO!!
_i _n _s _e _r_t_ am I (forgive me Mark) Asprey am I. Or Frosty, Glenn, Jymm H, Gerald B, mike T, or whoever masters it for your needs. One way to surely start an argument is to take 10 blacksmiths in to a room and start by saying "the only way to do this is_ _ ". Because, like wood, what you KNOW to be the truth about wood or iron today, will make you a liar by this time next week. Every job/process is different, everytime you do it, if it wasn't , it wouldn't hold your interest the way it does.
My family were Coopers for 840 years, in the same location, so I am a big believer in tradition. Formal trade qualifications are every bit as valid as a degree to become a doctor/lawyer or any other profesion, but let's put it into perspective. Today how many of us ARE profesionals at this craft (granted on this site a lot, I know) and need the protection of a guild, as a Joiner I never did any turning, the turners guild did that, the "job security" of guild membership is not as relevant today as it once was. In this economic climate I'm not so sure it should be that way, but then even my wife tells me I am living in the wrong century, she says I'm a child of the sixties, and then qualifies that by telling her audience it's the seventeen sixties, so what do I know!
Don't confuse activity, with accomplishment! and as always.
It's not over...Untill we WIN!!!

#16 rthibeau


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Posted 27 December 2008 - 07:00 PM

I am the Master of my own shop....others are technically better....some are artistically better....still....I am a blacksmith in my own shop...:)
Richard Thibeau, blacksmith and creative metal recycler www.dancingfrogforge.com

#17 Flaming S Forge

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Posted 27 December 2008 - 08:26 PM

Here are my thoughts on the master of any trade. If a person is proficient with all the tools and knowledge he possesses within his shop and brain, he should be considered a master. In addition to that, he should be willing to do any and all kinds of work pertaining to the trade’s skills that shows up at his shop no matter how big or small the job. If any one segment is turned away or referred to someone else, evidently he isn’t a master. He instead might be called a specialist. A good example is a knife maker that makes show quality knives exclusively. (I absolutely have nothing against a bladesmith or anyone else who has a set specialty) Is he a master blacksmith or is he a in a sub-category such as a master bladesmith. I make knives, but mine are made to be an every day use item. I have made swords for a professional magician but they were far from a high quality show piece. I don’t consider myself a true bladesmith. Another example is a friend of mine who is 78 years old and still an active blacksmith. He worked for the now defunct Bethelem Steel Company as a blacksmith for many years. When it comes to tools, I would say he is a master. However, he told me he never did many of the things I have done. Never made a basket weave handle, never forged a single nail, never made a horseshoe. But what he does related to tools is totally professionally done. Is he a master tool smith? I was invited to his shop a few months ago. He was doing his usual tool stuff and I observed his slow precise pace to do his job. Then he hit me with a bomb shell. He asked,” what are you going to make?” Now I have made tongs, chisels, hammers, etc. but nothing like he has made. He threw a piece of octagonal steel on the table and a pry bar he had made. He said, “make me one of them”. So I heated it up and hit it a few times and hardly put a dent in it. He gave me one hard nasty piece. He laughed and picked up a sledge hammer. Now he was my striker and in short order I had the taper on the end I needed to start. I got the bar finished and he gave me the biggest smile. Now, am I a master? I was put on the spot with no time to plan but I was able to make what was asked of me. I could ramble on for days, but I don’t want to bore you all. I honestly think if a person trys and does the best with all given resources, and you have a customer leave with a smile on his face and you feel totally satisfied with what you have done, you are a Master blacksmith. My business card promotes my work as a general blacksmith. However, I consider myself the master of my own domain.

#18 Mark Aspery

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Posted 27 December 2008 - 08:37 PM

What is a Master?
If I look to our craft, that of a blacksmith, a diligent student can acquire the skills of the craft in 2 to 3 years; but what then?

Having the skills alone does not create the master.:rolleyes:

A group of musically competent individuals can form a band and cover other bands original songs – but how far will they progress. A band that can compose and play will go further. Bands that can play, compose and perform well on stage will go even further.

In fact some well known popular music type bands were limited to 3 or 4 chords (basic skills) but were able to progress up the charts through popular composition and performance alone. Where a concert musician may have a lot more musical skill with their instrument but lacked performance or composition skills.

Period reproduction and repair gives rise to a certain percentage of craft-work, but original designs are being sought after by more and more patrons.

And so to the tenuous balance of skill vs design.

Perhaps the ‘Master’ is one who can frame a good design with exceptional skills.

How did the term ‘Master’ come into being? I don’t know – perhaps…

1.) Self promoted with a view towards advertising and bringing in customers (possibly over the smith down the street)

2.) A marketing ploy with a few blacksmiths clubbing together to protect their business in a given area by forming a guild. Thus allowing for a little price fixing and exclusivity.

How would it go - “The ‘New’ smith just arrived isn’t an IFI master smith – so I don’t know the quality of work that you can expect… I on the other hand…”

3.) A need arose to guarantee that a particular smith (or group of smiths in a given area) had met a certain standard in his (their) training and therefore the client or patron should be able to expect reasonably quality work.

#19 Paul B

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Posted 27 December 2008 - 10:03 PM

My oldest brother always said him, me, and my younger brother were the
"jack of all trades and the master of none".

#20 Flaming S Forge

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Posted 27 December 2008 - 10:14 PM

I totally agree with Mark’s comment about rock bands that only knew 3 or 4 chords. Rock and roll from the 50’s & 60’s were mainly written in a 3 chord progression. Now if a “rocker” had to play a song written in a different key, what would he do. Someone invented a device called a capo which clamped on the neck of the guitar at a certain fret which would change the key the song was to be played in but allowed the guitar player to use the same chord fingering style for the chords he could play. That was ingenuity and improvization at work. It did help many famous musicians to climb the ladder of success. On the other hand you have a blacksmith working on a project and now it is time to weld. If he isn’t proficient with forge welding, but can lay down a text book weld bead with the mig welder, he also has improvised to do the job with whatever means he has available. My motto has always been, “a blacksmith is ingenuity at work”. So what is a master blacksmith? This is a million dollar question that can have varied opinions. It’s a great topic to crank up the old brain.

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