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I Forge Iron

Hesitation when Starting?

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I am researching and studying career stuff right now (for personal, and for presentation in class).

I would like to ask:

-How did you find your interest in metalworks (or your calling, if other)?
-Did you hesitate to follow through with it, and if yes, what were the reasons?
-What hardships did you have to endure when you chose it? What easyships (?) were you blessed with?
-Have there been any things you have regretted, such as other paths you were considering, or due to any shortcomings of this path you chose?

Thank you in advance - I really appreciate your time and thoughts!

-Don Nguyen

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To answer your questions briefly;

My freshman year in highschool I dropped out of band and the only open class was metal shop 1 at the end of that class we learned how to oxy-acetylene weld at that point I new what I wanted to do for a living.

Never hesitated never changed my mind.

Not going to Alaska in my early 20's

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I started into a 4yr sheet metal apprenticeship in 1976 and worked at that trade for over 15 yrs. Along the way, I learned to weld. So when I had a chance to become a production welder in a small factory, for better pay, I jumped at it. I was always interested in working with my hands and during my sheet metal and welding careers, started working with heating metal with an O/A torch and pounding out some things that I wanted to make. My only regret is that I didn't get a forge and anvil when I was in my 20s. :D

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Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. Confucius

I have had many jobs in my life; dishwasher, 20 yrs military, 14 yrs Dot, odd jobs, etc...

Had a few I liked, none I loved, been working ever since.

But, since I have started blacksmithing, I have found a hobby I truly enjoy. Had I found this when I was a young man and turned it into a career, I could possibly have been able say that I had never worked a day in my adult life. I'll never know.

Do I regret the choices I have made and the jobs I've had? Not at all. Were some of them "bad" choices? I don't think so because they have made me what I am today. Simply, me. Or simple me.

No regrets, life here is too short to worry about.


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My advice:
Get a job with a retirement program and a good medical and keep smithing as a hobby.
A sure way to hate something is to be forced to do it...if you open a full-time shop you have taken on a yoke and must then pull.

If you have other income then the shop is the refuge.


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I was blessed by the opportunity to spend a year in my 20's apprenticed to a top swordmaker; what I learned was that I loved it as a hobby and disliked it as a "job". I was blessed as I was able to find this out without working myself to death, going bankrupt or having to admit that I had not done work I had promised to do.

I went on to finish college and get jobs that had health insurance---very important here in the USA as as a hobby blademaking has inherent dangers! They also paid for all the fancy stuff you need to do it as a business---even on the side: bader grinder, shop building, powerhammers, tools tools and more tools. Hard to capitalize a shop if you are working a minimum wage job.

I had a student once who was taking metallurgy and making knives and I emphasized to him that letting some corporation pay for his boo-boos and his shop tools was a *good* way to go!

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Thanks everyone!

I added a new question, because I thought it would also be very insightful to know :)

-What hardships did you have to endure when you chose it? What easyships (?) were you blessed with?

Getting my first job in the trade. It is hard to convince someone to hire you with no experience.

I love to go to work every day, always have. I love what I do.

I have never been without a job. Welding and metal work always seems to be in demand.
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Starting out cursed by perhaps my own curiosity.
At age 12 saw a TV ad for a certain brand of hacksaw blade that went right down through a piece of steel pipe. Asked dad if it was real. Also saw dad cut open a water tank using an arc welder. Kind of fascinating even when I watch it today.

Didn’t hesitate one bit.
Took every metal shop class starting with middle school and why hesitate when you’re pretty good at it. Named most outstanding in high school Vocational Machine shop so went for the same thing at the community college. Extra CAD classes, extra Welding classes, and extra Math classes added to it.

Never got into a good company. Always low paid. It wasn’t for lack of ability. It’s more like when your just so good at doing the work all some companies want to do is work you to death because your making them so much money. After a few years of long hours and 6 day work weeks, I said screw it and went to a four year university to obtain a degree in Manufacturing Engineering Tech.

Further Hardship.
Finished my 4yr degree in 1994 at the same time some jackass politician signs NAFTA resulting in migration of employment out of the USA. Not to mention jobs directly pertaining to my background. Opportunities in the geographical area I started in diminished and it took some time to migrate out.

Be mobile. Vote with your feet if your location isn’t right for you. I hesitated a bit too long. If you can’t seem to find what you’re better suited for, then maybe you’re in the wrong spot. It isn’t easy to pack up and move, but the time and money losses for staying in a downward environment add up.

Good luck. Spears.

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Thanks again for the input everyone.

I think I made my opening a little confusing though. I already have an idea of what I want to do, so I'm not asking "if I should do -this- or whatnot".

I just wanted to hear your stories and experiences :)

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I have always been creative. When I was around 5 I was hammering nails heated in the fireplace on a small anvil that my Dad had cast , and it even has a tool steel top. My Dad had lots of tools, and he was a machinist too. Both of my parents let me explore my creative side, which included building a bridge in the backyard, to wiring salvaged electrical components into various whatchajiggers. So for me the interest came naturally.

The hesitation to start a machine, and fab shop came when I had to cut the paycheck loose. We made a go of it for 6 years before shutting down. We never got big, but we had fun-maybe too much fun :rolleyes: The end came when the building we were in was sold, and we were told to be out in 30 day because the new owner was moving in.

Hardships? Yeppers, we had them. It is a lot different when YOU have to bring the money in instead of just clocking in for an employer. The money situation was a rollercoaster, sometimes you had it, sometimes you didn't. To be honest, we were in our mid 20's and really didn't push as hard as we should have. As long as the bills were paid, we were cool with it. Then there were the bureaucrats that you have to deal with when you have a business, and they all want $$$$$$$$. The main thing I learned from our experience was that we never charged enough.

Regrets? Not enough room here for all of mine :unsure: Here are a few though; Not joining the military, not traveling more when I had time to do so, not getting out more in general when I was younger, not buying the 1969 Superbird with a 440 6pack, 4spd, 4:11, for $4,000, or the 67 Charger with a 426 Hemi, and 1,000 original miles on the clock for $22.5K Either one of those would have paid for a decent house now. :(

So, where does this leave me now? In a job where I have a great boss, and great coworkers -BUT, and that is a big but, it is where I do not want to commute to. It is 206 miles round trip every day to LaVerkin Utah and back. Ever since I closed my shop I have wanted to open another business. After closing I have worked in a small dental alloy foundry, an automotive hydraulics shop (lifts, compressors,pumps), did gunsmithing on the side, the Jelly Belly Candy Co. as a graveyard shift mechanic for 7 years-which is the longest single stretch so far, a machine gun dealer, and now I am back to machining as the tool maker for a screw machine company. Another reason I am looking to start another business is that the current company uses CNC machines that have a very loud high pitch whine when running. 36 machines screaming all day for 3 years has taken a toll on my hearing, even with ear plugs in all day. I figure my Tinnitus is at least 2x louder now. As with most places I have worked I am getting bored, and when I get bored I start looking around for something new.

The only time I was happy working was when I was working for myself. Yes I had headaches, but they were my headaches. They were not given to me by someone else. I don't care how much you are getting paid. If you are not happy, it isn't worth it. Starting a business is scary because it is all on you at that moment. You have to have utter confidence in your abilities to cut a steady check loose. I know I have the skills, but I don't currently have a sufficient financial cushion to make the jump. I have around 60 ideas for products, or services that I would like to explore. Would I open another machine shop? NO. Too cut throat now, and my location in Da Boonies isn't a good one. My next business will be in a building that I hopefully own. I run on the principal of no debt. That was one of the few decisions that we made that was right. We owned every piece of equipment in our shop. Everything was purchased with ca$h, that is how we knew we could afford something.

I would never tell anyone to not start a business, just to do it smart. Don't get in over your head with debt on a dream. Stack up cash, do your research, make a plan, and stick to it. Most important of all is to do something that you enjoy. You need to want to go to work, not dread it.

Kinda long winded, but this hits home for me at the moment.

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I've been working with metal for just around two years. In that time I started working on my own knives, swords and crafts while working part time.

Decorative ironwork was booming a few years ago I hear. Now every shop I've called, stopped by or know has had to scale back. Some going under. I've respected my employer, he's got a wife and kids depending on him. I've never held it against him that he hasn't been able to work me more often but it's been very difficult. When ever I've taken "real" jobs I've had to miss shop time and experience. I'm trying to grow up a bit and the traditional classroom environment doesn't work well for me. If you're like me and learn hands or kind of a have to touch the iron a few times to know it's hot type. Find someone you can communicate well with and is successful learn everything you can and stick with them as long as you can. That's what I'd really like to do.. speaking of it's late and I'm luck I have work very early in the morning. I've found this very helpful personally and professionally and look forward to reading other post on the subject.

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FLEXIBILITY! The degree I ended up with was not the one I started out "thinking" I wanted. I've changed careers several times already and may have to change again. Even if you run your own business being able to take a wide range of work on can mean the difference between eating beans and having a steak now and then.

"I already have an idea of what I want to do" don't narrow your self down too much! Right now you probably *think* you know what you want to do. Go try doing it and see and DON'T be upset if it turns out you actually don't want to do that.

Remember if you want to run your own business you have to be a businessman *first*! Look into all the small business courses offered in a local college; learn about sales, accounting, TAXES---knowing how to depreciate your assets may be the only profit you make some years! If you really want to *work* on metalworking get a job with someone else and let them spend all the time in the office!

If I was going to design a course of study to end up getting a person set up in a metalworking business it would include: Welding, Machining, Art, Small Business Administration and may include Mechanical Engineering, Metallurgy; etc classes.

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TP is spot on. I might add that a multitude of continuing art classes in various mediums will help immeasurably. I know that sometimes it's hard to justify spending the time/money doing something that does not directly seem viable to the present, but all I can say is that it will bear fruit more often than you can imagine. An art education will allow you to no longer struggle w/size/proportion. When a client says: "Be creative", you won't struggle, rather you'll be elated! What looks good will just come to you...


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  • 1 month later...

If you want to be a metal worker you should do it but remember if you have one shred of common sense such as, what about retirement what about health insurance what about starvation then you should not do it. I have been a metal worker working for myself mostly for 22 years and it has worked out ok but I have been blessed with a lack of common sense. I am willing to bet the farm at every turn but luckily I married above my pay grade and my wife is paranoid so we have never been homeless or gone hungry due to my bad decesions. I still love doing metal work and even with the down turn in the economy I have been fine.

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Started welding in metal shop in high school and quickly learned that i was a bit of a natural at it. We were fortunate to have local experienced welders come in and school us on running 6010 stringer beads uphill on joined plate with 7018 low hydrogen cap welds as well as O/A welding and a bit of mig. I joined FFA and started competing on a team throughout La. I went all through high school fine tuning the little skill i had and ended up spending a significant portion of both my junior and senior year in the Vo-Ag shop building bbq pits and other misc projects for FFA to sale in order to help our welding team to cont to compete. At that point, I had no doubt that welding would be what i did for a living. I joined the Navy fresh out of high school and went in as an undesignated fireman(bilge rat)thanks to my recruiter and all his finite wisdom. :angry: Anyways, i learned real quick that i didnt want to stay undesignated for long. So i maneuvered my way into the Damage Control division and when i was up for E-4, i tested to become a Hull Technician and all its glory. Over time i showed that i was worth sending to a welding school. I was sent to the Navy 4955 advanced coded welders school and graduated top of my class of around 20 Navy welders. This qualified me to weld nonnuclear component high pressure pipe systems with both SMAW(stick) and GTAW(tig). During my Navy career i also learned a good deal about brazing in any and all positions as most of the plumbing pipes onboard were copper-nickle. When i got out of the Navy in 2001 i started working at a machinist/millwright shop and going to college. I changed my field of study 2-3 times before settling on Nursing.... yes i said it, Nursing. I NEVER would have thunk it but my wife was a nurse at the time and she worked 3 days a week(12hr shifts) and pulled in 50-60k/yr. I decided that i wanted a job like that and after much discussion i decided to give it a go. I've been in Nursing now for around 7 years and am currently charging and/or working a 24 bed cardiovascular intensive care unit. For the past 10 years or so i have not done much of any kind of metal work with the exception of the occasional weld job for my dad. I decided a few months ago that my hands were idling to much on my days off and that i needed a hobby. My dad was picking up leather working at the time so i decided to try my hand at knife making with the thought of giving us something to work on together. I make the knives, he makes the sheaths. Sinc then, I haven't stopped and my interest in blacksmithing as well as my tool collection has only grown as has my knowledge base and skill set. Don't get me wrong, I wouldnt even consider myself to be at the blacksmith apprentice level now but plan to continue learning and putting what i learn into action. This site has been one of my biggest resources and a great place to meet some really good people. Thanks IFI!!

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