Recommended Posts

Hi everyone!
I'm sure all of us at one point has wanted to be apprenticed by a master blacksmith or bladesmith at some point in our metal working years. These days I see many schools where one can spend lots of money for a weekend of cramming techniques and little experience. Where did the apprenticeships go? I seen a few where its father to son or some other family relationship but other then that... I am interested to hear from smiths who are at the point where they can teach, to see where they stand, and why it is so difficult to find one willing to trade knowledge for work. Is it no longer feasible because of time and money? Are there smiths out there who would love to apprentice someone but they just can't find a suitable candidate? Are there in fact apprentices out there right now learning from experts to carry on the trade?

Cheers to all!
Marc

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think its the changes in society that have caused this shift. No one wants anything to do with a person that has no money ( remember apprentices work for little or nothing) or have no address (no $ = cant afford rent) With no $ you cant have transportation. Again no one wants to deal with someone that has no transportation....

Just my opinion.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have 3 learning under me. One is my son. one a 30-something adult named Doug, and then Chris, my only real apprentice, who is a 15 yr old member here that is doing very well. The problem with apprenticeships today is how does the trainer get reimbursed? I will address this in "First Person" here for ease of typing.

1) trade labor? what can they do? they know nothing yet of smithing, so cant help on a project, and how much sweeping or truck unloading do ya think I need done? mow the lawn? After a while I have invested time where I could have been making money, and now my apprentice know something, what happens? Now that they may be able to actually do work I need done, most have given up the idea that swinging a hammer in the hot shop is fun, and gave up already, OR as one maker had happen: decided to go into business against him, by underbidding him to his existing clients.

2) another idea is Cash. How much do I charge? how much will you keep paying out as a beginner? for this discussion lets say $10 per hour. What happens when I show you how to clean and then fire up the forge, how to use the slack tub to cool tools, or a burned hand, Then after this You get to hammer a square rod into a round, then triangle and then back into square. Is a beginner going to value that as much as making a sword to bring home?

You are paying for this, you want to have some thing to show for your first $50 of classes. You don't know hard it is to jump into a blade the first day. Many beginners want it all now and they came to me to learn to make a super sword, so why don't we start on that? Hard to get them to see they must learn the basics first when they only wanted me to help them make a sword, so they won't pay as much to buy one. They see it done on U Tube. Many want instant gratification, so they go off posting and complaining I ripped them off and they still don't have a sword. (this did happen to me a few years ago)

I can not speak for others, Just myself, I take on very few apprentices. But I will open my forge for anyone wanting to learn about smithing, for a day or two no problem. But I see an apprenticeship as a long term commitment for both parties, Myself to them, as well as the student to me.

My personal feelings are that I must be as committed to them as I expect them to be to the craft, for this type of relationship to work. I don't always wish to take on more of that responsibility either.

Edited by steve sells

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have had a few apprentice's myself and looking at the family records my family have apprenticed lots mostly in c17 and 18 hundreds and in those days masters were paid a fee to apprentice mostly boys from the age of 9 and girls from age 11 were as now here in the UK we have a minimum wage that has to be paid by law so unless the person wanting to learn this trade is able to do it on a fee paid or voluntary basis we canot pay the minimum wage to start with.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Perhaps apprenticeship is a relationship that has a limited place in the modern world with all its rules, regulations and minimum pay requirements. It is still a wonderful way to learn.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In previous discussions on bladesmithing the consensus was that an apprentice should expect to do 10 hours of unsupervised work for every hour of 1 on 1 instruction. Most small shops don't have the room or the work for another person like that.

I've met quite a few folks who can't believe that their unskilled labour is not just as valuable on a per hour basis as someone who is a master of the craft. They get upset when thay ask to apprentice and you ask how much they plan to pay you---this is especially bad in bladesmithing as "single authorship" can be a big component of the price---having their "help" can drop the price by 1/3 to 1/2 for a high end maker!

Also when you let someone in your shop as an apprentice you are betting your shop, tools, house, car, savings, investments, etc that they don't do something stupid and get hurt.

Now you can say you will have a wavier---but waviers have been proven time and time again in a court of law to be a pretty weak reed to lean upon.

They can say they will *NEVER* sue over an injury and have their own insurance coverage. Well I read my policy and is states that if I get hurt I am REQUIRED to sue any other party to it or they do not have to pay for it. First time they get hit with a $50,000 medical bill (and that's not necessarily very high if you look at the cost of finger re-attachment) their tune may change!

These are some of the reasons apprenticeships don't work very well these days.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

After reading all you guys- well, I fear the "Master Craftsman" is to become extinct or already has. This saddens me deeply:(

As I see it, Apprenticeships were used to fulfill a need for brut labor (think draw plain, Pit mill, Striker) in an un-machinised world. Enter machination, Exit apprentice. Then the unions took up the slack by requiring specific skill milestones be reached in one's development before proceeding to the next level of distinction...Apprentice to Journeyman, etc. The quality of the work has to be maintained and this take an above average skill set.

I will say. I've been in part an apprentice without a proper apprenticeship. I would move from shop to shop when I maxed out what the owners/workers could teach me. After a few of these moves, I realized I could demand an increase in wages based on the previous experiences gained. I encountered only a couple "Master Craftsmen" along the way. Also, I would get laid off if the shop became slow or when the project I was hired for finished.

The rub- Nobody commits to anybody and it costs a bunch of $$$ to train someone. I once worked for a guy who bragged about the number of people who had worked for him. It was a 15 to 20 man shop and in 15 years of business he had moved over 400 people through his books. After a few key employees left, he went under. The resources consumed by training all these people must have been staggering.

Father to son knowledge sharing is probably the closets thing to an apprentice we will see in this day and age. To bad the son's usually wined up resenting the father and leaving the trade when they become of age.

Now I'm depressed:confused:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's funny that this topic should come up right now.

I just completed a welding certification program (my own instructor got his start in the trades, as what??? An apprentice blacksmith.)
I am thoroughly frustrated with the lack of any entry-level positions available for welding, fabrication etc.
A few months ago I was *almost* hired for what would have in effect been a dream job for me, but despite my experience in my welding and blacksmithing courses, the deal breaker was that he wanted someone who had actually worked somewhere in the metals/fabrication field.

I was really swinging at the fences over that one!

There are so many guys out there looking for these jobs, and very few open positions.

Just the other day I talked to a local blacksmith about what I referred to as "an unpaid internship"
He said that he has had people do similar, and is open to me going to his shop to do grunt work such as grinding down welds and cutting steel. No hammer and forge work until I prove myself past a certain level of competency.

I'm FINE with that!

I actually *like* hammering square to round to triangle because I know it's a very good way to learn hammer control and to see how metal moves when you hit it.

I'm totally frustrated with the lack of response to my inquiries because of those guys who's only interest is forging swords and axes.
They seem to pester the working blacksmiths about these things so much, that the guy like me who has invested so much time and money in training for this as a serious career, loses credibility.

I am completely interested in apprenticing with a working blacksmith, and I feel as though I have a better understanding as to what it's all about.
I have to be useful and beneficial to the company and not suck up the shop's time and resources with a beginner's incompetence.

anyways, I have to go to work now

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Trades that can contribute to the knowledge of a future Master Blacksmith are... all of them! Plumbing, carpentry, electrician, mason, HVAC, cabinet maker, rigger, truckdriver, sawyer, mechanic, sheet metal, ironworker,welder, machine shop, auto body, even working as a plaster or drywall mudder, will add an understanding of surfaces and fairing, both very needed skills of the master metal worker. Additionaly, especialy these days, computer knowledge, drafting, engineering graphics, design etc. are all usefull. Meanwhile, practice what you have been taught by some means.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Unless my memory doesn't serve me very well, there are schools of higher learning that teach metalworking and some specifically blacksmithing. In addition, there are MANY traditional arts schools that teach entry level to advanced blacksmithing classes. On top of that, this is a skill anyone can go learn by joining a guild, going to conferences and associating with some of the most generous men and women on the face of this world. Old world apprenticeships were for YEARS of committment (actually servitude) that did result in eventual gain for the teachers, something that is not very practical today.

As far as masters dwindling. I don't buy it. I think there are more wannabe blacksmiths moving toward skills that warrant that title all the time. Anyone that really wants to learn this art and has the capability, CAN learn and excell at it. The knowledge is available, whether you choose to pay for education and practice, or study what is freely available online, in libraries or available at guild meetings and at conferences. If you are capable, all it takes is study and practice, just like EVERYTHING ELSE worth pursuing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

i have to agree with most of the sentements here . Aprenticeships are the way of the past ... the way of the future is pay in cash not in labor .... and it is getting harder to do that with all the personal injury lawsuits .. my insurance said it wouldnt cover if i have students in my shop .i tried a few aprentices earlier on ... learned a lot about human nature... found most want to do a particular project and once it was done so were they... and most tenage boys want to make a sword... no news there ...few are willing to comit to learning something that will take years to get any good at...they say they are but push comes to shove and theyre gone... its kinda sad but thats the way it goes ... as far as masters that is one of those subjective things theyre is no modern day test to determine if someone is a master and the one smith that i know that advertises himself as one isnt...its kinda sad cause i dont think he will ever be one ... not willing to learn from anyone .but the up side is you dont need a master to learn!!! sometimes a rank ameture can come up with that one trick that will help bigtime !!i try to learn from everyone ...good luck!!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks everyone for all your responses! I agree or can see where everyone is coming from. I guess like most other things in life you have work hard, be diligent and have a little "right place at the right time" luck for this to become a reality. Unless one of the few smiths in my area take a liking to me I think I'm destined to learn from books and the internet until a day when I can afford schooling. I would add or repeat that actively practicing and seaking metalworking jobs and experience is the best way to catch a "masters" eye because the more you know and the more interest (time devoted) you have the more likely you are to become and "apprentice" or at least be showed new techniques.
Thanks again!
Marc

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

blacksmithing is an art form that has to be studied like art. I myself am by no means an expert blacksmith nor am i the best artist but i do know what it takes to get to where one wants to go, ppl now don't see the hard work involved in these types of forms all they see is the finished product, therefor the work has no real value to them, it may sound funny coming from some young "pup" but the real art is the work not the product and that is the main reason i keep it up. you have to have passion for these things to even appreciate them , so if that trait is missing its not even worth humoring them. giving classes on the other hand is another thing all together . i'll tell you something though, if i could quit my job to work under someone i would sleep in a tent and live on bread and butter if i had to.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree, work hard produce good work and you will get to the point where hopefully you will earn admiration from your peers and they will teach you somethings but most of what they can offer you is minor improvements to things you already have hopefully done.


No one can really teach you how to be a blacksmith or a welder or a sheetmetal worker,

they can point in the right direction, offer you knowledge but the rest is on you

make some good investments not to promote anyone specificly but ArtisanIdeas.com is specialized in hard-to-find books and DVDs for blacksmiths, bladesmiths,knifemakers, gunsmiths, coppersmiths, metalsmiths and jewelers. ArtisanIdeas.com also has an excellent selection of foreign language audiobooks and books for
has given me amazing customer service in the past and that's who I will continue to buy from

Knowledge has a untangible amount of value, and books can help you quite abit

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Recently I visited the shop of a local blacksmith who's work I had been admiring for quite a while.
While he doesn't have enough work to keep an apprentice busy, He was generous enough to talk to me about where to go to get experience.

It turns out that the first place where I stopped coming back from his place, I spoke with the owner of a metal gate/railing fabricator and explained to him my difficulties getting my foot in the door.

Luckily he agreed to take me on a part-time basis, so for a week I have been cleaning his shop, doing some grinding and doing an occasional weld.

I initially offered to work for no pay, but be compensated with training, a good resume reference and a chance to use his equipment from time to time. He insisted that I accept "a couple hundred bucks a week" because he doesn't want anybody working for nothing.

I graciously accepted, and have been working my tail off trying to clean up his rather disorganized shop :-)

Take it from me, show a hungry enthusiasm, willingness to do the grunt work and show up when they ask you to, and you might find a business owner willing to take you on.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think that right now I am as close to a "modern day apprentice" that there may be. I met my friend and mentor George at a blacksmith meeting about a year ago and we have been working together quite a lot. We help eachother out on our seperate projects and he teaches me what he knows. Sometimes we demonstrate at art shows together and sometimes we demonstrate alone at different places. All I know is that an apprenticeship these days will never amount to what it used to be based on all of our social and economic changes etc. I do believe that more blacksmith's should try to do what George and I do to further pass on the craft and keep it growing because being the last of anything is not fun. So If you meet anybody willing and ready to learn it is important to help him/her out and further pass on our craft.

-Travis

Edited by crazypyro448

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am a full time blacksmith and general metalworker. This is from my experience and thoughts only. I have had more than a few people want to "apprentice " with me. Most of whom need to earn a living at the same time. When I take the time to teach an apprentice, I lose a lot of money. I first off lose my hourly rate which is $65.00 per hour. Then I lose the materials,coal,broken tools,dings in my anvil etc, besides none of their work being saleable.When I started I made nothing but mistakes and ugly stuff, neither of which will earn recompense from a client. Last year I had a kid from a local vocational school-in the welding program- want to apprentice with me. I took him on under a kind of work study thing with the school-unpaid. The school insurance covered him. He was all fired up. I loaned him anvil,forge,vice,tongs etc for his home shop. When I took him on, I made it clear that it was an hour for hour trade time wise for my instruction. I would teach him, he had to take at least 10 hours per week for practice at home. I taught him, but he never took the time to practice at home. Apparently he wanted to become a blacksmith by osmosis, not hard work. In my daily work, I need nice clean tapers, no ugly misplaced hammer marks where they don't belong-which takes LOTS of practice. I heard an art teacher giving a lecture once say that to really learn how to do anything well by hand, you need to do it about 700 times to really have the "memory" to do it well by hand. Like the old saying-"How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" Practice Practice Practice. Most of the people I have interacted with that want to learn, don't put in the time in front of the anvil in order to become a competent craftsman. The other part is, most don't want to be told that it is like going to college for a education. You won't get paid-it costs you money. My reccomendation for anyone wanting to apprentice, is to do it like I did. Buy your own tooling,buy books,borrow books, research on the internet ,go to hammer-ins,ask people for help-spend money on classes and practice a LOT. There is also college level stuff to do. Look at the school for traditional building arts. After all this, then you can look for a job, or start your own shop when you have enough skill to make something nice that looks good, that someone will purchase. A very good friend of mine,who is one of the best architectural smiths I have ever seen, went to work ,saved his money and then went to England and France and worked for FREE in shops to learn until he ran out of money. Then he went to work again until he could afford to do it again. I guess if you want something badly enough you will find a way. Most people who I have dealt with see the "romantic" side of being a blacksmith-that is until they have to draw out 500 tapers for a scroll job, and stand in front of a propane furnace and power hammer for 8-10 hours at a clip and come to the realization that it is hard, hot, dirty work. It can also be a very rewarding way of making a living. I wouldn't trade it for anything-well almost anything.
Mark Emig

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

hey guys

about 4 years ago i went to a couple of blacksmiths here in brisbane and asked if i could learn the trade on weekends helping them for free. both said that they couldn't let me because of insurance reasons. after pleading with both of them for like 1/2 hour i gave up and thought if im going to learn its going to be the hard way of just heating metal and swinging a hammer at it to see what happens (although my father is an old boiler maker and knows a fair bit). yes i know there are weekend classes every now and again but really who can afford them.

anyway thats my story on the subject

Ben

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Smithingman has very good points. If you are young and want to become a world class smith, then:
1. Go to college and get a degree in design, preferably at a college that has metalworking and blacksmith equipment.
2. Develop skills to journeyman level: [ABANA] Journeyman Program
3. Travel to Europe and work in a bunch of shops there.

or

1. Take courses.
2. Work very hard at learning.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Australia still has a very good apprenticeship system in place. Apprentices are indentured to a tradesman for 4 years. 3 years of which they are required by law to attend Tech college one day a week for which they are paid. They have to pay fees from their own pocket for tech fees.

A first year apprentice is paid at if I recall about 40% of tradesmans rate, this rate increases with every year of trade. At completion of apprenticeship you are issued with a trade certificate by the government body that oversees training and apprinticeships stateing that you have completed an appreticeship and tech course in the calling of your trade to the satifaction of all concerned.
I have myself trained about 7 apprentices so far most have finished their time with me, some have'nt deciding that it was not for them. I get a worker that I can train to my way of working, who gets off the job training at tech in practical and theory applicable to our trade such as welding, drawing, metal fab, anvil forging, hammer forging, heat treatment, OH and S, spring making, metalurgy, calculations.
Yes they do make stuffups at work, but I've had fully trained tradesmen do that too, I even make the odd stuff up. Less than I did when I was training, but thats called experience.
All of our apprentices have been employed by a training company, we have host employed them from them. The reason for this is, we only pay for the appretice when they are at work, if the kid is a dud or is no good we are not compelled to keep them, the training company handles all workers comp payments, sick leave ie we have no paperwork other than paying a weekly invoice.
All in all I recomend it as a very good system both the apprenticeship system, and the training company/host employer system.
Both the US and the UK used to have formal apprenticeship systems but they dismantled them. Only us Aussies were smart enough to retain what is a great system to train a skilled workforce for your country.
An apprenticeship can be in a range of skills from hairdressing, chef, welder, plumber, auto mechanic, blacksmith, refrigeration mechanic, pastry chef, painter and decorator, boilermaker, draftsman, farrier, linesman, aircraft mechanic, carpenter, electritian, landscape gardener, groundsman and green keeper, etc. Most of the leaders of industry in Australia started off as an apprentice.

Thank god I live in Australia.

cheers Phil

Edited by forgemaster

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hey Lanchie76

One way that you can do this is look up an organisation called MIGAS in the brisbane phone book. They are one of the training companies that I use, their head office is in brissy. Express your interest to them (that you are seeking an apprenticeship) they also do adult apprenticeships (we have a 2nd year apprentice at the moment who is 33, his pay rate is differnt to a junior appretice though. MIGAS handles all the insurance aspect of workers comp etc, then either go and see these blacksmiths, or get MIGAS to contact them to see if they are interested.
MIGAS stands for Metal Industry Group Apprenticeship Scheme.

Its worked for me. I get a good apprentice with very little paperwork, who is vetted by them, they handle all his training requirements, if I run out of work they will endeavour to find him another job in his field.

Cheers
Phil

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

thanks Forgemaster for the information

i looked into some apprentice/job seekers companies at that time and kept getting the same reply "its a dead trade the only place that still takes apprentices in qld is railroads" (their words not mine) and when i asked railroads they said they only take one apprentice every 2 or so years, thats when i started asking the blacksmiths in the area. i even worked in a metal works as a labourer for a while to try and get some knowledge.

i am running my own different type of business now (had to pay the bills) and try to bash metal whenever i get the time, which is never enough to do anything much but hey a little is better then none at all.

Ben

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I asked knifemaker Bill Moran if he would take me on as an apprentis many years ago. He declined, as he already had one or 2. That was when I was around 19, 25 years ago. I sometimes wonder how things would be different if he'd accepted.

Joseff

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think a master and an apprentice must both make sacrifices in the modern age. Obviously an apprentice must want to learn and put forth the effort to do so. That means alot of sweating fruitless hours. And the same goes for the smith.

Alot of it has to do with discipline. In the time of apprenticeships things were alot different. The apprentice lived with the smith and worked with him from dawn til dusk. Today we don't have those kinds of arrangements. I think most apprenticeships happen at schools and colleges today.

I teach alot of kids and adults alike, usually just short sessions where they make some small item and are pleased with their results. Once in awhile it catches on and that person starts seeking. Forge, anvil, hammer, tongs, file, grinder, etc.. That is how smithing is moving ahead around me. Slow but sure the traditional arts are preserved and grow. Only because all of us, newbee or old coot alike, put forth our efforts.

I just joined this site tonight and I am very pleased with the discussions here.

Vinlander

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In canada as an apprentice you go to school for one month to 2 months a year depending upon the trade,
and the government gives you EI money

The reality in this world is that there is no place in the world for a blacksmith,
everyone will doubt you can do it,

You will have to simply prove them wrong

Being a blacksmith is a nobel trade something that FEW people manage to make a living from in comparison to any other trade its among the rarest,
its like being someone who takes a sheet of metal and forms it and fits it to something, it takes incredible skill to do a good job, nearly 100% of the price directly goes to labour, it takes very little to entirely ruin it,
And no one can really truely teach you how to do it they can help but its all practice and determination

Honestly you cant limit yourself to one thing though I hope one day I can become the complete metal sculptor, someone who takes metal and makes image's in the mind reality
Regardless of the medium whether it is forming sheetmetal or forging, casting, engraving, whatever it takes to make your vision complete

If your willing to sacrifice everything to achive it, I seriously doubt anyone could fail

Edited by Bryce Masuk
to add a few things

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.