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I Forge Iron

Swordsmithing Apprenticeship (Chicago)


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I've been reading around here and i think i have a basic understanding of what i need to start my blacksmithing journey (swordsmithing)

although i was curious if there is any way i could find an apprenticship? or even just a blacksmith apprenticeship i live about 15 minutes from chicago if anyone knows someone closebye or maybe even a shop that does classes? this is something ive always wanted to do and i see it as a great hobbie and possibly even a career if i can get good thanks guys :D

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How much are you going to pay?  Remember your presence in the shop is going to slow down the swordmaker and therefore *cost* them money.  


Many people expect to trade their time for instruction not taking into account that unless they have needed skills the trade off should be about 1 hour of instruction per 10 hours untrained labour and many shops don't have that much grunt labour---and often the smith does that when they are thinking about a problem.


Finally you are asking someone to risk everything they have on you---I know many people who have said "But I wouldn't sue if I got injured in their shop"---without checking their insurance policies that state categorically that in a case of another party they *HAVE* to sue or else the insurance doesn't have to pay for anything.  So one screw-up by you and the maker loses *EVERYTHING*.


Apprenticeships still happen though: learn skills---welding and jewelry making are often taught at community colleges and are very helpful in a typical shop.  Take the courses at the American Bladesmiths Society school.  Become friends with some makers and see where that goes. Finally move to somewhere that has socialized  medicine almost every maker not on their spouses insurance is one medical issue from bankruptcy (I attended a party once by one noted maker who was celebrating paying off the uncomplicated birth of his son---the son was in grade school...)

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at least in Chicago he has the free Cook county Hospital, if he dont bleed to death waiting his turn.   I remember going there once when I lived in Uptown, took about 14 hours to get seen, after all the whinerss with colds, and kids wanting to miss schoool were seen first, the next time I paid a doc to see me. Oh, I had cracked a wisdon tooth, and it needed atttention.

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The apprenticeship method of learning a skilled craft pretty much died after WWII. too many women learned skilled crafts as a result of the men going off to war so the guilds who used to laugh at a mere woman wanting to do man's work were just pushed out as women were doing the work. Used to be a craft had to succeed in a cut throat atmosphere of competition so they kept every trick they could a secret so if you wanted in you HAD to do time as an indentured servant. (Apprentice) You did years of scut work, packed carried, cleaned, whatever though you did (usually) get room and one meal a day, maybe two if the master's wife liked you.


My Father served an apprenticeship to learn metal spinning but he was very good with his hands and smart so he advanced very quickly, only three years and made journeyman. Fortunately Boeing was a short bus ride from his Mother's house and it was WWII so everybody was fast tracked. ONLY three years.


Modern labor laws do NOT allow indentured servitude so apprenticeships aren't really even legal here. However you can, on rare occasion, find what's referred to as an "apprenticeship." They're usually a discount class with a distinct BARTER flavor. Or sometimes a craftsman will take a shine to a person and just take them on. I've done that twice and been richly rewarded for it. Great kids then, greater adults now and two fine blacksmiths.


I don't want to discourage you but you need to know something about how things work, it's changed a LOT since the turn of the last century, blacksmithing is NOT industrial standard so it's a specialty market, there aren't factory blackmsmith shops like there used to be, they're all largely BIG machines and CNC gear. No apprenticeships there except what the union calls one and that's a "discount," sell your soul pay it off for 30 years worth of union dues, school. AND apprenticeship programs did NOT train hobbyists, they trained skilled WORKERS for money.


Your best bets are hooking up with the local smithing organization, listen carefully, be helpful and hit hot iron every chance you get. You might luck out and find a regular mentor. Don't forget to read everything you're interested in here but bring a lunch. <wink>


Frosty The Lucky.

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I get a request for apprentices once a month or so.

My business is not structured for such a situation and I do not know many that are. Most who take on folk live near a university and have art students come through with arrangements via the Univ.

As Thomas said, free costs money and these days insurance is a HUGE issue. I am looking for another company now actually....the folk who advert with ABANA do not seem to return calls.


I suggest you take classes at one of the many craft schools and slowly assemble tooling. Attend local smithing group events (there is a group in the midwest) and build your skills. Do this as a hobby and once to put on the hat of a full time smith you will see that the fun is largely gone and the weight of deadlines and cash flow begin.


I began learning when I was 19 and at college and did it as a hobby in a non-electric shop for some time. When faced with no other work following a move I got a job with an architectural firm and went from there. The pay was low, but the learning high. Following a another move I found no other work and opened my own shop...took ten years to find my footing again.

Been at it 24 years now and feel I have a basic understanding of what the trade is about.


Start slow and grow while doing something else to earn money. Swords are NOT a high dollar item..they rely on folk's disposable income and as such the range of clients id limited.



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I have to agree with Ric's comments, and make a point about swords not being high income, tho they are high dollar to BUY.


After making/sold a few swords, and a few more knives, I can honestly state the best income for ME in blade work comes from  Mono-steel boot knifes and other smaller knives.  The labour hours involved in a perfect sword are high, and I aint perfect so every blade has a little extra work involved to get it right, which ads in more hours, the larger the blade the longer the extra hours,  meaning currently I get about $5 hr for a sword by time I deliver it, from my mostly hand hammered shop.  labor of love.


If I got power tools like presses and air hammers, then I could produce faster, but i would have to rent a larger building off site, because the Historic neighborhood I am in wont allow industrial equipment here. so more expense as I get bigger... because then I would have to pay rent and the machine  payments in addition to what I had before an upgrade.


I will stay at this current level, maybe build a small press, but I can make a little money and I still enjoy it, and it wont break my bank account..

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the advice so far is good.

 I would add the following.

 Learn your craft wide and then eventually  narrow it down.... by that i mean that fabrication is bigger than blacksmithing which is by turn many times bigger than bladesmithing.....which is in turn many times bigger than swordsmithing.....

 If your skills are wide and useful to a lot of people then you are much more likely to survive or be employed.

 I am not under emphasising the specialism part of being a sword smith. It is very important but having that specialism build on a much wider foundation makes it much more likely that you will survive long enough in the craft to allow the specialism to flower.

 If you can build a simple forge and have a go or save some money and do a class . If I lived in chicago and wanted to learn swordsmithing I would be putting in some extra hours to save up and travel and do  a class with a certain mr Furrer not to far from you by american standards (and  he is a sword smith of a world class standard !).

A class can put you years  ahead of yourself in a weeks condensed learning.

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thats interesting you talk about mr furrer i just watched a viking sword documentary with him i looked at his website but im still unaware of how i could get a class im guessing through a college but does anyone know about how i go about trying to get in a class with him

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