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scoobshagg

Teaching Lessons

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I know I'll get some great suggestions and want to say thank you in advance for them. I will also probably get some constructive criticism as well and want to say thank you in advance. So Hold on here we go. 

 

Well I taught a blacksmithing lesson last night. It's been forever since I've given a lesson, probably been at least 4yrs. I have recently had a few people ask me if I could show them how to blacksmith, and I enjoy sharing this great craft/art/hobby what ever you would like to call it. I thought I would share what I learned from last night.

First let me say that up till last night everyone else that I had taught blacksmithing to was either a college student sent to the Historical Blacksmith shop on campus to learn the trade for the purposes of their degree. The rest were in the same Historical Blacksmith shop and were community volunteers. All of  them had plenty of time to learn the basics and I had there attention for entire weekends. Last night I only had a couple of hours.

I covered most of what anyone needs to know. How the forge works, the various parts of the anvil, the vise, how to hold the hammer and how to hammer. The importance of your stance and of course how amazing it is that we take a hard substance like metal soften it by heating it up and then shaping it into an item using forge, hammer, and anvil.

How did the lesson go you ask? Well they enjoyed them selves and walked out the door with 1 S hook, 1 j hook, and 1 leaf hook. All in all I'd say that's not to bad.

 

But I was reminded of a few things.

 

1. pay attention to your student how they stand, hold the hammer, and how they interpret your instructions because you may thing your explaining things clearly. But what comes out of your mouth and what they hear you say can be completely different. Are they afraid of the forge or the glowing piece of metal because they don't want to get burnt, no one wants to get burnt. 

 

2. Help them walk out of the shop with some items that they can be proud of. My student last night made a couple of hooks which is great. But in hind site I could have helped make these items look a little nice if I had for instance stepped in and fixed some of the minor mistakes on the hooks. Here is an example. My student wanted to make a leaf, that great I told her and showed her each step as that goes into making a leaf. We went step by step side by side I would show how on my peace of metal and then they would do the same on theirs. In hind site I think I should have done all of the hard forging and then allowed them to flatten out the leaf themselves. By doing this I could have helped them walk out the door with a little better looking leaf hook. Still forged out by them but perhaps made a little nice by my minor intervention.  

 

3. We were crunched for time at the end and so we were unable to put a nice polish/finish on the hooks that were made I feel that I should have held onto the hooks and polished them up and then given them back at a later date. I see this person fairly regularly and that could have easily been done. 

 

4. Pictures I didn't take any pictures perhaps a small thing but if I want to offer classes in blacksmithing I should have some pics of the students enjoying themselves and what they made during their time spent with me.

 

5 Charge a fair price for your time, in this instance I charged for the lesson depending on whom I'm teaching will depend on what I charge. For this lesson it was my boss's kid and this person is also a coworker so I charged less. I also used this as a chance for myself to relearn how to teach. The next time I will charge more but it's a sliding scale if it's a real good friend I'll do it for free or perhaps just the cost of fuel (I have a propane forge). 

Ok so if you are still reading this thank you, we smiths only seem quiet once we start story telling look out. Any how the important things are Fun was had, an positive experience was given and everyone learned something. Oh and yes we both had on safety equipment on as well.

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In order to provide continuing education, please refer them to IForgeIron.com.  They can use IFI for a resource for many years and many skill levels into the future.

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Some people get a kick out of having made things all by themselves regardless of how imperfect it is, so I wouldn't worry about the leaf too much. You're looking at the leaf imperfections with your eyes, they probably don't see as many imperfections as you, and even if they do the buzz of having done it themselves probably trumps them ten fold.

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One thing I found kind of neat this summer was my forging instructor had a wireless remote for his camera. He could set the camera up in a couple of places and still take picts of the students even when he was helping them. he just had to have one hand free to hit the remote button.

 

I've also seen people set up some of these small video cameras and later pull stills from the video. Digital video is getting better and better ans well as less expensive all the time. Probably not really suitable for a long day class filming full time , but for an hour here or there it would probably work well. You can also give your students the video if you wanted.

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The one thing that kind of goes together is to take pictures and let them do all the work. Those little imperfections that you are seeing in the new work would be an excellent gauge for the new smith a year or so down the road to compare his work from then to the future. For you as a teacher you can do the same with pictures and you yourself can see if your teaching methods are improving the student. By forging the harder parts for them they are not learning. Just my thoughts.

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I think we're seeing a consensus here. How's that for weird on a blacksmith's forum? Don't make their work look better for them. They'll cherish every ding and squiggle THEY put in it. Seriously, no student is going to show off a piece the teacher made look perfect for them.

 

I only help if asked or it needs a powered wire wheel to clean up. I almost never let other people use powered wire wheels in my shop. And certainly not students. It's an old rule of mine, I learned from Dad, not a result of Gordon's accident.

 

There is a way to spiff up simple hooks that's not only well within a first timer's ability but really WOWS them. Show them how to twist it. Glenn often suggests simple twists as a good first session, first lesson. It's provides a very valuable basic lesson as well. The student gets to FEEL the transition in resistance to movement as it cools.

 

Students usually need to hammer quite a while before the feel of the steel as it cools starts to sink into their muscles. Till they get a good working handle on: when to quit, when to go fast and how far to take it, when to plannish, straighten, etc. Twisting will give the student a real time feel in a way that's easily interpreted on the reflex, or muscle memory level.

 

Frosty The Lucky.

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Do something once, you did it... Do something 10 times and you should get at least 3 that you really like and can be proud of... Do something 100 times and 80-90 should match real nice. Do something 1000 times and you might have 3 duds, 20 that are so so, and everything else should be real nice.  It takes time and devotion to the craft to achieve a level of mastery of a technique and a certain product. 

 

Teaching should be encouraging, tell them the truth, if you focus on getting better each time you will.  Blacksmithing is constantly evaluating the effect of the hammer on the steel and adjusting what your doing to get the effect you want. Let them fail, but don't let them quit, encourage, encourage, encourage. You cannot learn to blacksmith without learning perseverance.  If it were easy anyone could do it... Try really hard to let them do all the work, if you do tweak a project a bit, try and explain what your doing, why your doing it, and how to do it. Step by step, a piece in your hand, and them following your example in their is a good way to teach, if you have time, you can do a complete project quickly in front of them, and then do it step by step with them.  Introduce the concept, go over the process, and then have them do it.

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Thank you all for the great suggestions. I hear you all loud and clear, let them do the work, let them make the mistakes, the students are having a positive fun experience just by trying and being there.

Thanks again.

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I do quite a bit of teaching, I explain everything ahead of time to manage expectations, I then break the project down to various techniques, explaining the step by step process. I then do a technique, then have them do it, then I do the next one, and they follow, and so on, untill all the various steps bring them to a project completion. Sometimes tools need to be made, but I always stress the techniques, and explain why if they get it correct, it can be transferred to endless other projects. I stress correct technique, not perfect projects. They will get it in their own shops after their own trial and error.

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