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I Forge Iron

Career or Hobby?

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I've been smithing for several years now, but never taking it seriously until the last year to 6 months. I'm really getting into it, and I'm wondering if I'd like to continue it as a hobby, or maybe make a career move towards it, and this gets me thinking, how many of you out there do this as your full time job?

I'd like to get some first hand perspectives here, after all, I'm sure most people don't just up and go "I want to be a blacksmith". In truth, I'm not even sure where I'd begin. Did many of you apprentice in any way? Is it common to get paid during an apprenticeship? Or did you just hobby-up until you had the skills to start on your own? I'm in Ontario (and I'll be joining the OABA soon to ask them all these sorts of questions) and there's a college here that offers an Artist Blacksmith program. Anybody go to blacksmith school for lack of a better term?

I think it's a great hobby, but I'm just curious when it comes to a full time profession. If anyone cares to share and spill the beans that'd be great.


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+1 on that , if you ENJOY it now and maybe make a little side money keep it that way, you should use it to your advantage, meaning if it is at all pleasurable for you why would you risk ruining it by having to rely on that for the bills and what not... Just have fun with it and if you are making any money that is just a pluss!

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i figure that less than 10% of the blacksmiths i know do it for a liveing.. it kinda depends on what you have for finances as far as it being able to support you... most people go from hobby to liveing and as far as apprentice it isnt common anymore in some countries its still in effect but not so much us and canada...schooling is always worth doing if you can afford it there are many places now to take classes .the thing to remember is that your blacksmithing skills dont determine your finances your selling skills do....so practice retail sales (if you choose that path ) or make contacts with buisnesses to wholesale to ... sometimes its who you know (and get to buy!) that make a difference between makeing money or being poor... think of it as being a artist ... most of what you make will be worth more when your dead!

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Alex, One thing I know for sure you can starve if you want to do this professionally. I could not survive on blacksmithing alone. I do a lot of fab and welding work plus a part time job to make ends meet. Not to mention the most important thing is the support of my wife who has a steady job. Some would say " If you want to ruin a good hobby turn it into a job " Not me. I love what I do.

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I've taken orders over the years, but in general, I never liked dealing with the public. I have found that many clients tend to be fickle. They sometimes like to change their minds in mid-job, which is a pain. Some have a haughty attitude, treating the smith as low-esteemed blue collar worker. THAT'S JUST ME! If you're good with people and a natural salesman, it helps.

Always get an advance of maybe 1/3 to 1/2 on big jobs. Keep a record and date of every letter, every visit, every phone call, every e-mail, and what was said. Learning to estimate is difficult: labor + materials + overhead + profit.
Installation can be a pain.

You'll be lucky to be in the forge 15% of the time. The rest of the time is traveling, measuring, presenting drawings and estimates, purchasing material, laying out, cutting stock, assembling, finishing (usually with paint), and maybe installing.

It may be helpful to specialize. For instance, one of my old students makes only fireplace screens and fireplace tools.

It's not a rose garden; a guy must be driven.

A true story. "Getting even" with a finicky client. Yesterday, I had lunch with a woodworker friend. He had finished a table and the capricious team of architect, interior designer, and client thought it would look better if it was 1/4" lower. My friend said that there was now work ahead of theirs, and they would need to wait 6 weeks for delivery. They agreed and the table was moved out of the way to a corner of the shop. When the 6 weeks was up, the team picked up the table, being completely satisfied that something was done to it. Nothing was done. Hardly anyone can judge 1/4" by eyeball alone and not measuring. Ha! I laugh.

http://www.turleyforge.com Granddaddy of Blacksmith Schools

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I've been running my own business with "Blacksmith" on my business card for 14 years now. There is a lot more to the business than the smithing. That may actually be the easiest part, it's certainly the easiest to get motivated about. Running a blacksmith shop takes all of the skill of running any small business, plus smithing and designing experience. Unlike other businesses, there are no estimating software or business management packages targeting smiths.

Art schools (I don't know about the canadian blacksmithing degree) are notoriously bad for not giving their students the business skills they will need to succeed. I would still recommend school, having a degree provides a certain degree of prestige and expertise that can be used to set the tone when dealing with clients. They are commissioning art, not buying a gate ;)

(Plus the wonderful opportunity to concentrate on smithing for its own sake, without trying to please clients and schools usually provide access to equipment that might otherwise be unavailable.)

Most of my income right now is from fabrication and repairs. It takes a concentrated effort on my part to educate my clients about what is possible and what is smithing versus simply welding. I stopped making that effort a few years ago due to some personal issues, combining that with the economic downturn has led to a large number of small, annoying jobs in the shop.

I'm too spoilt at this point to work for anyone else, so I am gonna just knuckle down and try to rebuild my business the way I want it. I just wanted to point out some of the many issues to be aware of.

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Thanks guys, I value the input (and yes, sorry, this is more suited perhaps for the business forum). It sounds like a tough go, which isn't the answer I wanted to hear, but it was the one I was expecting. However, I'm surprised at the large emphasis on business skills and marketing which makes a lot of sense now that I think about it.

I'm 24, have a BSc. in Psychology, and am at the point where I've got my basic degree and am deciding "Where do I go from here?". Oddly enough, I've been considering doing a master's degree or maybe college diploma in business or marketing to combine with my psych degree (but hey, maybe it's good for smithing too!). I guess my main concern is spending a lot of money and time in school, and then not really gaining much, which is why I'm considering my options at this point before I jump into something.

As it stands, I'm an excellent salesman and very good with people. And I would love to run my own business (headaches and all). What I lack are any serious smithing skills, but I'm ready, willing and eager to learn/develop. I find that the hard part, it's not like you can just up and be a blacksmith. As for the whole "ruining" the hobby by turning it into work, I'm going to have to go with HWHII, on the contrary I think it's the dream to do what you love for work.

Thanks again,

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Hey Alex, as an OABA member, you are more than welcome to come out to some meetings (2nd Saturday of (virtually) every month), whether you join or not. Also, don't forget CanIron VII in Fergus this year, which is a terrific opportunity.

You should check out an article from fellow OABA member Darrell Markewitz on this topic, it should be very helpful. To dumb it down to a sound bite, its a lot of work for very little money, but can be very rewarding if you accept these limitations.

For my vote, given that I already have a job that puts bread on the table, and very little talent at blacksmithing, it'll always be a hobby, albeit a rewarding one.

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Thanks to all for posting on these forums. I'm newly starting into blacksmithing myself, but already completely enthralled! Hearing the practical experiences of working (and hobbyists) is helping me develop a much more realistic plan forward. The business side especially is something I'm going to have to do a lot more research on.. very glad to be figuring this out now!

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I think you should take a drive out of your area and find a working shop. That way they won't see you as a competitor. Talk to the boss and find out the details. I know my local shop does way more welding and machining than blacksmithing. And he is always complaining about health care prices for him and his guys, the light bill, price of steel and if the women who ordered the garden gate paid us yet. I have a Monday tru Friday job and do this as a hobby. I go to a few craft fairs and a historic village weekend or two and I make enough money to keep me in tools, coal and steel. Also it is still fun for me after 10 years, if it were work I'd need to find a new hobby! Hope I helped. TC

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I'd do as some have suggested. As much as I love waterfowl hunting. When I guided people it was Amy fun. Sure it paid for more shells. But I wasn't hunting with my friends and Had to entertain them somewhat.
Possibly off topic, but if You enjoy smithing And wanna continue. Do like Done said. Make some pieces and sell a few to keep up with the cost of your hobby.
If you wanna get deeper into it and purchase power hammers or whatever. You can make a few knives, headboards, tables to sell and get the satisfaction that people like your work. And That you don't go broke doing it.
At least this hobby can pay you back a little. But you Need to educate yourself all.you can. No matter what. Welding classes, machine skills, work with journeyman.blacksmiths or go to meetings is best way to meet people and all are welcome to help too.
Build Your skill level.up and things will come To you. As far as opening a business. Sounds like you got That business sense. But your gonna have to have more years under your belt to Be able to handle what people are wanting made. You'll need to know how to build it prior to taking the job or you'll be gambling with your time and eventually your money.
You sound Like a smart man. Just worry about getting your skills up to.par and then it will take you where you.need to.go.
Good luck in your endeavors.

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I agree with frank keep records when dealing with customers, General contractors and architects. A hand shake means nothing any more. A very good friend of mine who has a very big and successful shop spends about 95% of his time selling and meeting with clients. The 5% of the time in the shop he is dealing with payroll and personal. He misses the day he just stood over the anvil. As a Hobiest or should I say an artist Blacksmith I make more money blacksmithing than my full time job I reinvest into the shop only take the jobs I want and control the end product. In the community I live in I spend half of my time educating my customers and keep trying to break into the artist community most people see blacksmithing as a craft not art. and they compare craft work to what they can buy at the box stores from china. Looking back at history how much time did Yellin spend in the shop when he had 150 blacksmiths working for him. sure it would be nice to be that big but I am happy in my little world. you have to find the balance that makes you happy

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If you cruise around the site and read the post on this topic you`re sure to come across the examples of a sign that some smiths have on the wall of their shop that says something along the lines of;

Services available here
Pick no more than two

From what I`ve seen if you want to make this a sole source of income you you need to make a sign that reminds you to that the choices available are;
Stay in it long enough and you`ll find yourself concentrating on two at the most.Most of the guys I know who started out doing something they enjoyed and made it into a big business rarely get to do what they love anymore.They`re too busy "growing the company" or "expanding the market" and rarely trade their suit jacket or windbreaker for an apron anymore.They visit the guys in the shop rather than work along side them.

The successful artist friends I have work to meet deadlines set by galleries,promotional groups,etc and mostly get to do what they love but hand a large cut of the incoming cash to the people who "manage/promote" them and their art.

Most guys I know who just love to make things out of metal find themselves to be most happy if they do just that as part of a team or working as a subcontractor for someone else.They don`t want to have to negotiate with architects and engineers,vendors,machine tool suppliers,etc never mind customers.They want to look at a print or proposal and say "I can get to it in XX days and I`ll need XX amount of material to start and XX to finish.I don`t do finishing or polishing,talk to the grinders and painters about that".

The more you take on the closer you get to killing the pure joy of what you`re doing till you get all of the pain and someone else gets the joy of making what you`re chasing.One day you find out you traded your hammer for a high level management position and your metalworking skills for blood pressure and ulcer medicine.

All those guys on TV who used to make cool stuff and now have their own shows may be rich but very few of them are happy anymore.
Just sayin...

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