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I Forge Iron

Lessons from Penland Apprenticeship

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I just got back from a 2 week trip to the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. The trip was the last 2 weeks of school, 9 students of different ages and 2 art teachers, one of whom had already lived for 3 years at Penland come back to MA for 2 years and was going to live down there and teach at Penland again. I was the oldest student, everyone knew everyone already (the school is 150 people and covers 6th through 12th grade, so is tiny.) but we got to know each other better living in a cabin for 2 weeks together. For 2 days, groups of 3 went and apprenticed with a local artist, doing manual labor for them in return for a basic lesosn in the craft.

The main lessons i learned which have made smithing a lot easier for me now are:
1) Blacksmithing is almost all tapers and bends, if you're not tapering or bending, not much is happening to the metal. He was always yelling at me and my 2 fellows "tapers! tapers! tapers!"
2) It is easier to move metal when it is screaming hot (yellow/white heat) and it is just a waste of time pounding dull red/black metal, you might as well heat it up again and not waste arm power. A big fire really helps with this, but don't burn your metal.
3) Lift the hammer with your shoulder and let it fall down on the metal, don't just push it down onto the metal from the elbow, that hurts and is tiring and wrecks your arm.
4) If you don't know what you want, you'll always get it. Have a plan. While you heat your metal, plan exactly what you will do with it when it comes out of the fire, What do you want to achieve in this heat?
5) Wearing gloves when weeding (on both hands) and forging (on the tong hand) is a good idea.

just thought I'd share. All of these lessons have helped me immensely, and allowed me to smite hot metal with confidence and purpose, so that I can honestly call myself a blacksmith.

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