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Looking for an Apprenticeship and Advice


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Hi,

I'm currently in my first year of 6th Form, when I finish my A-Levels, I'll be looking for an apprenticeship- hopefully in blacksmithing. I've been doing blacksmithing as a hobby for a few months with a particular interest in bladesmithing, I've made a few knives and have some quite nice ones in the works. I love what I do, and if I can 'forge' a career out of that, then it would be fantastic!

I've considered my options for how I could get into a career, there is the option of becoming self-employed, but to invest in a shop at the age of 18 with only a couple of years experience and expect to earn a living is quite frankly ridiculous. So the other real option is an apprenticeship, this would offer me formal training and an income, and with a couple of years experience, hopefully I'll be of some use to someone!

The question is, where do you look? An apprenticeship in blacksmithing is not something I've ever seen in the papers, and certainly not one in bladesmithing. When I am ready to take on an apprenticeship, where should I look? There is the option of asking local blacksmiths, but it's not usual to walk into an establishment asking if they are looking to take on new staff when they are not advertising.

Now the questions, because I haven't asked enough already! What can I expect from an apprenticeship and where will it get me? I realise this is an incredibly broad question, considering blacksmiths range from sculptors, bladesmiths and toolmakers, but I assume there must be some things in common. I'm expecting lots of striking work to learn how the smith works, but really, I don't know much about the structure, timeframe or anything. If there are some resources I can read into about blacksmithing apprenticeships I would most appreciate it, as I hate asking so many questions all at once.

And then there is the dirty but all-important question of money. I do quite well at school, and it took some convincing to tell my parents that I didn't want to go to university. To convince them that blacksmithing is a viable career option so I still have somewhere to sleep may be difficult. Quite frankly, as long as I can get the money I need to eat and pay the bills, I'll be happy as I am doing something I currently do for free. But what sort of money could an apprentice blacksmith expect to earn, and where do things go from there in terms of pay after, say, 2, 5, 10, 20 years?

I'd be interested in any form of blacksmithing, but I fear that my endeavors so far may have pushed me too far to the dark side of all things sharp and pointy! Really, I like to create functional items that have a beauty of their own such as blades and tools, although I'm sure I could be swayed to the more decorative side of the craft!

Thanks in advance for the feedback, or at least taking the time to read this and tolerating the vast number of questions I have.

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Don't know about the apprenticeships I'm afraid but I think Plumpton College do a blacksmithing degree & I think I remember seeing Hadlow college do some sort of course. Also I think Canterbury College now do a blacksmithing HND but I think that's at their campus near Margate. Appease your folks with some "Higher Education" whilst doing the subject you like?

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Hereford College is another place to look for a blacksmithing course. Also have you considered joining BABA, The British Artist Blacksmiths Association to find out more about whats going on in the UK regarding blacksmithing.

Basher on here is in Kent and worth going to see. He runs many courses as well.

Mick.

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Thanks for the info on blacksmithing courses. The truth is, it's not the choice of course that puts me off going to university, it's the idea of spending even longer in education. I'm pretty good at school, but unfortunately I hate almost everything about it, the repetitive routine, the feeling that you're not achieving anything practical, that's really why I want to get straight into an apprenticeship, so I can start earning some money and feel like I'm doing something for myself. I've never been able to be proud of my grades, even after getting quite good GCSE results, I'd much rather show off something I've made than a scrap of paper with some letters written on it.

I did a terrible job at explaining that, but essentially, spending another 3 years in education would be my idea of hell, even if it is for something I would enjoy. I get a lot of satisfaction out of teaching myself things, many of the things I am best at I have taught myself, and from what I hear many smiths don't like to take on apprentices who have been taught at a university or college as they would rather teach an inexperienced person do to it their way. What do I know, I'm just making excuses I guess, but really further education would be a real last resort.

I'm not sure if Owen would like to wait a couple of years for me to finish school, or if I'd really be the sort of material he is looking for, but if I could apprentice under a master bladesmith like Basher it would be everything I have been looking for and more! As it is, I will also have to wait another year before I can enroll on any of his courses as he has a minimum age of 18, likely because of liability, at least I know what I'll be asking for my 18th birthday! Also keeping my eye open for any forge-ins near me, may be just what I need to get to know other blacksmiths and really get into the 'community'.

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You'll know more about apprenticeships than me but from the little amount of research I've done into them they're not easy to come by and if you find someone who is willing to take you on, it might be making things you're not interested in.

Consider things like how much you'd get paid, travel costs, rent etc. (Your parents might say to you what they said to me - if you're in education we'll help you out, but if your working then you're paying your way). I don't think apprentices get paid much/aren't always full time apprentices so once you factor in fuel and the like it might not be financially viable.

I'm not trying to put you off, I'm just highlighting some points to consider. Uni isn't like school at all regardless of subject. I was as if not more head strong than you when I was your age, I knew exactly what I did (and didn't want), 10 years later I wish I did a few things differently. Your tastes and interests WILL change over the years and the things you think aren't worth the paper their written on now might be valuable to you in the future.

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I wouldn't mind it if there was a clear goal at the end of it, I'd just hate to spend those years in education to be in the same situation when I finish! My plan is to get more active with the blacksmithing community, start attending forge-ins, events with BABA, it's difficult to make it work while in full time education, but hopefully I'll make myself known a little and perhaps meet someone wanting to take on an apprentice. I wouldn't mind moving to the work either, I'm not the biggest fan of where I live, so would have no trouble moving.

If I went to uni there would still be the accommodation, travel costs etc, minus the income and having to pay for the privilege, which is why I want to avoid it unless I know it can secure me a better job!

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If you can then I'd say go for Hereford. If this is really what you want from life then it's a pretty small inestment in the long run. What I did was pretty unusual compared to most Smiths when it came to my education but if you walk into a shop with the degree behind you I'd guess you'd stand a much better chance of getting paid work. Otherwise start looking for grant making bodies. Most Smiths are wary of taking apprentices because they simply cant afford them.

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As it stands (from my research) blacksmithing apprenticeships do not exist currently in the uk.
I would second hereford.
I did a year there in my early twenties and without doubt the best year of my life from an educational and fun point of view.
have a look on british blades there is a norfolk forge in happening in 3 weekends , lots of forging and fun.
I would recommend evening welding classes, it is probably one of the most useful metal skills for employment or for making your own tools etc.

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Look into herefords ba hons artist blacksmithing degree i have jus qualified an now im in australia workin for a blacksmith for a year or so as a journeyman, best 3 years of my life wasnt at all like 6th form or normal education if your serious about learnin hereford weather its the technical course or artist blacksmithing degree is the place to go! Plumpton is okay but not as good as hereford but it is run by a great guy called ricky! If ya go say hi from me! Good luck there is hope you jus gotta work for it an really want it an keep a very open mind!

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You're really selling Hereford to me now, I'd definitely like to go, but am unsure as to what happens after. Is it the case of contacting smiths and offering to do work, then being kept around for paid work if they want to keep you? It's a real shame the apprenticeship tradition has all but gone, I'd say it is was a really good way to teach from master blacksmith to apprentice, but I guess the time and money involves makes it impractical these days.

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Hi Gundog, to quote you,

I'd be interested in any form of blacksmithing, but I fear that my endeavors so far may have pushed me too far to the dark side of all things sharp and pointy! Really, I like to create functional items that have a beauty of their own such as blades and tools, although I'm sure I could be swayed to the more decorative side of the craft!

When you say functional items, there are not many forged items that are not functional,

Hereford should be the first choice, there are bursaries available, and the way the smithing industry is at the moment re apprenticeships is not going to change dramatically within the next few years IMHO, however what has, and is changing is the type of work being sought after,

The 'traditional ' smith is being replaced by the forge/fabricator, and the general public do not have the perception to know the difference.

Restoration work is a market that a few people are cleverly trying to manipulating into a closed shop type situation, and the companies in this area may take on "apprentices" but semingly only ones having the relevant paperwork/qualifications, and favouring ex Hereford students.

For the individual/small blacksmithing shops,the market is for custom made items, Interior furniture, room features, garden features and other bespoke items, and this is where you need the college/arty background input.

If you do attend college then you should be in a situation where you are attractive to an employer, or you could go self employed with a reasonable chance of a degree of success

Our Guild www.blacksmithsguild.com have for over fifty years being helping smiths to learn, start and survive in the marketplace. The Frank Day Trophy is awarded to a student of less than three years who produces an outstanding item that they have made, these are judged aginst other students work at our Guild's AGM,

This years winner was Barney Cheeseman from Plumpton College. This prestigious award can be used as a springboard to publicise the winner.

Barney brought his piece entry down and was given the award, The award consists of a framed certificate to display as he sees fit, a cheque for £250, his name engraved on the trophy base, and the opportunity to use the actual Trophy as a marketing tool,

In this instance it has been arranged to take the trophy and make the offical presentation at Plumpton College, and there will be a press/media conferance to enable him to get vital local (and wider) publicity to help him launch into post college work, and in this case he is hoping to start his own business.

The guild can and do help people to self fulfillment and employment as blacksmiths, usually the more mature ones, but also those who by reason of age or other reasons cannot source other training in the craft.

By taking the two or three year course, you will give yourself a far better chance of success, there are also other colleges available but Hereford would seem to be the most preferred one, Warwick and Plumpton, also provide good quality students for the industry, plus others like Kingston Maurward, Chichester, and Myerscough, some are better than others. IMHO.

Which ever way you choose to go, good luck and enjoy it. You may never get rich, but you should be able to pay your way, and it will be much easier with a firm foundation course behind you.

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I'd definitely like to go, but am unsure as to what happens after. Is it the case of contacting smiths and offering to do work, then being kept around for paid work if they want to keep you?


I would have thought that the point of a degree course is for you to learn enough to set up shop yourself and not need to work for someone, though that obviously depends on how much of a niche market you want to get into.

Don't discount the value of degree opening doors for you in the future as your interests vary over the years. This might not float your boat but just the sake of example...props makers in the film industry have amazing jobs IMO, and it pays well. Blacksmithing is one of the ways people get into that, but competition for jobs is stiff so having a degree to your name helps sway employers opinion.

Unfortunately most things in life are based around "who you know". If you don't know the right people for what you want to do, you have to go the extra mile.
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  • 9 years later...

gundog48   I'm a little late to this conversation! I'm not even sure this will work... but hey ho. My son desperately wants to become a blacksmith and everything you said is everything he says! Where did you end up? Did you become a blacksmith after all and if so...how?! If you can help me help my son, I'd be so grateful!! Kylie. 

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Welcome to IFI, KylieLisa! Thank you for supporting your son on his path into blacksmithing, and might I suggest you get him to sign up as well? You don't say his age, but we do our best to keep the language family-friendly.

The answer to this question can be very different in different parts of the world, so you should add your location to your profile settings. We will then be better equipped to send you in the right direction.

Also, this is a rather old thread, and gundog48 hasn't been on the forum for a couple of years. Still, we should be able to help you out.

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Location? Not sure if gundog84’s experiences in Kent, England will help you in (?).

If you here in the US, look up your local ABANA (Artist Blacksmith Association of North America) affiliate.  These affiliates are usually state based and often have small chapters through out their state. My local IBA (Indiana Blacksmith Association) chapter has been very good to/for me, and we try to help anyone out who checks in…

We’ll try to point you in the right direction here as well, but you can’t beat in person experiences.

 

David

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