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I was wondering if any of the things we talk about here every day, would have at one time been considered 'trade secrets'? Like what?


Are there trade secrets any more?


Would we know if there were any?


Do you know any?


What are they?

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 I was in shoeing school many years ago (40 years) and when it came to forge work, the instructor would demonstrate but not explain. He said the typical good blacksmith of the day was secretive. If you just stood around, kept your mouth shut and observed he was likely to tolerate you. Start asking questions and he was apt to keep his body between you and the work. Associations changed that attitude and now forums like this have speeded the process. As Ptree said  "Virtually everything on this forum was a trade secret at one time."

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There are plenty of great blacksmiths that share their methods and procedures, even if one knew these methods and procedures that does not mean that one could benefit financially from knowing those methods and procedures. The reason for accelerated software development across all hardware platforms, is  the fact that "trade secrets" or methods and procedures are shared by open community of developers. Proprietary methods and procedure does not lead to advancement in any field or trade, that is just my two cent worth.

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There are many ways to get to an end product, if you have the drive to pursue it and learn you will figure out the things that you need. Blacksmithing has been around for just about forever, so if you think you're doing something new, chances are you're not.


Work hard and think creatively.

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When I first stepped into a blacksmith shop, the smith was kind and courteous.  But, he was watching me as much as I was watching him and it wasn't until I had visited several times that he started to open up.  What impressed him, he said, was that for those first few visits I didn't do anything but sit and watch him work.  Most folks that wanted him to teach them wanted to jump in the deep end right off the bat ("I wanna make knives and swords!") or wanted him to drop everything and hold their hand through the most basic movements.


This, he thought, was very annoying and disrespectful.  It's no wonder that those students didn't stick around long enough to learn his 'trade secrets'.

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Trade secrets? Uh, there used to be, almost everything was a secret at one time or another. Knowledge is power and almost everybody is looking for an edge. I'll bet the first human who thought of keeping some of the grass seed and planting it next spring held mum so the guys hunting would give him better cuts seeing as s/he always had plenty of beer. Yeah, recent archaeological evidence shows beer preceeded bread by a long time.


Anywho, sure I have secrets and I ain't telling. I've been working metal long enough I usually don't need to do more than take a look at a piece and I can either reproduce it or decide I don't have the equipment, knowledge, etc. A forged item I can probably reproduce, maybe not as fast nor as profitably but get one done? Probably. One a couple occasions I've been asked for the secret, if the person seems like there's potential I'll tell them. Oh okay, I'll let it slip just don't tell anyone else okay? It's a secret you  know. Knowledge and practice is the secret.


Bring a sketchpad, keep your eyes open and listen closely, then go home light a fire and give it a try. That's it.


Frosty The Lucky.

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There were at least two kinds of trade secrets.


First were those kept within the trade. Things like using swages to get repeated shapes were not talked about outside the shop or the guild hall.


Second were those secrets of need. If you could make better crossbow springs or armor than the folk across the border, you did not advertise the specifics of your technique.


But secrets within a guild or a shop? I concur with others here - that would indeed be counterproductive. Near the end of the 19th century, the more literate smiths began writing books and articles for all other smiths. (Some of the debates in the trade journals were identical to those we hold today on the internet. Trade secrets may have changed, but people have not.)

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One of the reasons I attempt to get noobs to learn basic skills is they need them to be able to make things.  No one will always be there holding their hand like a 4 yr old crossing the street forever, if we teach them to think like a smith, and to learn HOW to move metal, they should be able to figure other things out for themselves. One does not teach well by just telling the students the answer to a problem,  we need to teach them how to see the answers themselves.  This is another reason most USA schools stink so badly now, they are more worried about getting students to pass a state exam, rather than to learn the material.

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very well stated, Steve.......................we are living in a society in which folks are expected to have everything handed to them on a silver platter, with zero responsibility to figure things out ourselves.  And when we guide them, they don't even say "thank you"


I notice that too .....


People are forever asking, ... "Where'd you learn to do that ?"



Well DUH, ... I probably read about it somewhere, first, and then went out and WORKED at it, until I got it right.



As stated above, ... you don't have to be a genius, ... but you do have to get off the couch.



In no way do I mean to discourage beginners from asking questions, ... but the notion of "self help" seems to be lacking from the modern thought process.



Further, I blame the over protection of young people, ... for their obvious lack of the necessarry self confidence, to go out and learn on their own.


"Mandatory" car seats, bicycle helmets and such, are unarguably "GOOD" things, ... but a pattern of behavior is created during those impressionable years, that changes how those young people view their place in the World.


And I think it instills a sense of inferiority.



You've got to be just a bit arrogant, to tackle the "unknown".   :P





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I have to disagree about folk wanting things "handed to them on a silver platter" any more than people ever did. People are built to want to take the path of least resistance. I don't think anyone ever wanted to spend more time and energy to accomplish something than was necessary. No hunter gatherer turned down the atlatl because it was "easier" than a hand held spear to take down big animals. Not many people have rejected the internet in favor of encyclopedias and libraries to answer questions because harder is better. I don't think that many smiths would be in favor of a 7 year apprentice program before the guild allowed you to sell any of your own work. Maybe it would result in a higher level of craftsmanship across the board but that is not the society we live in.

My experience with young people is that some of them are lazy dopes and some are hard working intelligent people. I doubt the ratio is largely unchanged from what it ever was whether the 1950s or the 1250s.

Also, my experience is that the "good old days" were seldom as good as they may seem in retrospect. In the 2060s today will be the "good old days." Today's young people will be codgers complaining about how tough it was in 2012 and how easy the younger generation has it.

George M.

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I want to add to George M.'s comments. In my experience, which includes some historical perspective, young people today are what young people have always been; strong, optimistic, and hard working. Old people today are what old people have always been; dedicated to complaining about the younger generation. The complaints are essentially meaningless, a matter of tradition rather than actual observation. It is interesting, however, how the attributed cause of the perceived degeneracy of the younger generation changes with time. I have a book on the history of textiles, La Draperie au Moyen Age, by Dominique Cardon, which includes a quotation from a document from Late Medieval Spain. The writer attribute the perceived degeneracy of young people in that time and place to their habit of oiling wool with olive oil instead of using goose grease like decent people.

For a humorous take on the whole issue, written about 100 years ago, i.e., before today's codgers were born, read the poem "Farewell Romance" by Rudyard Kipling.


PS Martha is my wife. The brains of the outfit. Yes, we're George and Martha, just like the Washingtons.


Here is the Kipling poem


"Farewell, Romance!" the Cave-men said;
"With bone well carved he went away,
Flint arms the ignoble arrowhead,
And jasper tips the spear to-day.
Changed are the Gods of Hunt and Dance,
And he with these. Farewell, Romance!"

"Farewell, Romance!" the Lake-folk sighed;
"We lift the weight of flatling years;
The caverns of the mountain-side
Hold him who scorns our hutted piers.
Lost hills whereby we dare not dwell,
Guard ye his rest. Romance, farewell!"

"Farewell, Romance!" the Soldier spoke;
"By sleight of sword we may not win,
But scuffle 'mid uncleanly smoke
Of arquebus and culverin.
Honour is lost, and none may tell
Who paid good blows. Romance, farewell!"

"Farewell, Romance!" the Traders cried;
Our keels ha' lain with every sea;
The dull-returning wind and tide
Heave up the wharf where we would be;
The known and noted breezes swell
Our trudging sail. Romance, farewell!"

"Good-bye, Romance!" the Skipper said;
"He vanished with the coal we burn;
Our dial marks full steam ahead,
Our speed is timed to half a turn.
Sure as the ferried barge we ply
'Twixt port and port. Romance, good-bye!"

"Romance!" the season-tickets mourn,
"~He~ never ran to catch his train,
But passed with coach and guard and horn --
And left the local -- late again!"
Confound Romance! . . . And all unseen
Romance brought up the nine-fifteen.

His hand was on the lever laid,
His oil-can soothed the worrying cranks,
His whistle waked the snowbound grade,
His fog-horn cut the reeking Banks;
By dock and deep and mine and mill
The Boy-god reckless laboured still!

Robed, crowned and throned, he wove his spell,
Where heart-blood beat or hearth-smoke curled,
With unconsidered miracle,
Hedged in a backward-gazing world;
Then taught his chosen bard to say:
"Our King was with us -- yesterday!"

All too true. For some folk every day is another day down the road to degeneracy from an imaginary golden past. It has been forever thus.


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I wonder how any of us old goats ever survived our childhood.....no seat belts....parents smoking....no bike helmets, shin guards elbow guards, knee pads, bb guns, ( how many eyes were actually shot out ? ) what the XXXX is going on ? No more cowboys and XXXXX .......(native americans).....fist fights....(learning to be a man, or standing up for your self ) getting your XXX beat if you screwed up, by the cops ..then your dad, ( nobody sued ), There was no Ms., only Mr.Miss or Mrs. , sling shots, don't get me started, this country has turned to XXXXX, because of the meek, and what about theXXXXXXXXXX ?, I ate one, I've tasted the belt too ! now its abuse, I call XXXXXXXXXX

when did all this shooting stuff start to unfold ? with all the" time out" XXXX...instead of a good ole XXXXX whoopin'

sorry for venting...but then again , XXXXXXXXX

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Miss, Mrs., and Ms. are all contractions of "Mistress" (as in the feminine form of 'Master', not any B&D connotation). I don't see much difference or preference in any of the abbreviations except that individuals may prefer one or the other as is their privilege.

George M.

PS I never had my fundament whooped by either the police or my father and I probably turned out all right. I've never felt that it was a hole in my life experiences.


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Our ancestors, even one generation back didn't have access to the knowledge /tools/stores/money that our generation has access to.
I myself, as well as many of you, built our own coaster carts out of 2 x4 's and lawnmower wheels. We improvised! Today we give the kiddos a hundred or two and tell them to go buy a coaster/ new truck, whatever. We, as parents, are stifling their mechanical creativity as well as their desire to go out and hustle some lawns to buy that bike, etc. And we wonder why America is falling behind on developing things other than video games. At one time, Germany and Great Britain were THE powerhouses financially due to their mechanical and work ethics. If we continue to farm out our products for other countries to build we are headed for tough times. All stemming from taking the easy way out and giving our easy money to our future leaders instead of letting them earn their money/figure out how to problem solve by making do with a board or two and some elbow grease.

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The best advise I can give is take a class from a smith and learn the basics, I took my first classes from one of the young smiths trained by Brian Brazeal, his name Aaron Cergal, then by Aaron's suggestion I took some classes from Brian Brazeal, did I learn "trade secrets", yes I did, forge to dimension, forge to finish, surface area contact...that is all I will share.

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I figure that I have an obligation to the craft to pass on what I know.  If I keep "secrets" it is more of an exercise in power and dominance than anything else.  Nice for my ego but not much else.


How many times do we tell our kids to "learn from my mistakes?" (They seldom do but that's the nature of the young.) Whether it is in relationships, careers, finances, etc. we don't want to see younger people make the same mistakes we did and suffer the pain or problems our mistakes caused.  I don't see much difference with a craft.


And I don't think that deference and respect is all that necessary except common courtesy.  Very few of us are "masters or mistresses" in the sense that, say, Sam Yellin was.  We should have a good dose of humility ourselves.  I haven't taught nearly as many students as some people here have but I have learned things from those I have.


Maybe we have learned the hard way to stand a certain way at the anvil or swing a hammer in a certain way or plan out a project in a certain way.  Those could be considered "trade secrets."  Those also are the exact things that we will and should teach to a novice. 



George M.

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