Blacksmith Jim

Augmenting the cost of tools...

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Howdy all,

I was recently pondering how to help augment the cost of tools I have been acquiring. I started smithing a little more then a year ago. Since that time I have been slowly gathering tools and building my shop space. I haven't really gone nuts or anything buying tools (though it is easy too if you want!), instead I generally wait until I have a reason to buy (or make) a tool before acquiring it. But boy do some things add up quickly. Picking up a few sets of tongs, a box of rivets, some new band saw blades (oh yea, a band saw too!), that 25$ railroad monkey wrench from the flea market I just couldn't pass up, 20$ in scrap steel every few weeks or so, etc., etc., sure adds up. I think I have done a pretty good job only getting what I think I can immediately put to use, but I still know I have sunk a lot of money into it. And there is so much more I would like to be able to do or get.

So my question is this. What is a good way to start making a little bit of money back from smithing? I'm wondering what other people have done, and what kind of success they have had. I know that I can make certain basic items well enough that I imagine they would sell (if there is a market for it to tap into). Things like S-hooks, pot rack hooks, plant hangers, etc. And I am working on getting the drill down for other items, like trivets and sign brackets, etc.. I haven't made nails, but imagine I could make them fine with a little practice. I know I am not that far away from these items being decent quality. But I also have a day job, and a family. I'm not trying to be a full time blacksmith.

In the future I would like to be able to sell sign brackets to businesses at 250-300$ a pop. (I am just guestimating a price there..) But I'm not quite there yet, and won't be for a little while. What I'd like, is to be able to sell some simple items as I have them available to sell. I don't want to feel rushed to make 20 hooks by such and such a date, when I know I have a new baby, a wife and 3 other kids that may demand my time, indefinitely and without notice.

So... Should I set up a website and post my inventory when I have it? How successful have others been doing this? Should I try to sell them on ebay? or etsy? What about approaching local hardware stores with some of the items? Flea markets? Saturday markets? Farmer's markets? Ren Faire? Have people had any luck with these?

Personally, I was thinking about stockpiling my inventory all year, then getting a booth at a holiday market. Only I hear our local holiday market charges several hundred dollars for a booth, which would likely eat any money I might actually make... We have a Saturday market, but aside from the time commitment, I would have to start out as a wandering street vendor. You work your way up to getting a booth. It seems like custom forged work might be a little heavy to carry around with me. I have a friend that does this, but he only brings in 20-30$ a day, and it runs until 3 or 4 pm. I don't really want to sacrifice most of my Saturday for 20 or 30 bucks...

Anyway, I'm open to any and all ideas. I've been kicking this around in my head for a few weeks now...

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There is a local "home decor" shop that has S-hooks, trivets, nails/spikes, candle holders for sale. They have a display with the smiths name and the city where he lives.

I don't know if they are on consignment or what kind of arrangement he has with the store but it certainly got my attention...

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This is what I do, YMMV.
1) I went to our local museum last fall and left my card. (they are cheap and I think well worth the money and you can print your own if you have computer skills!) The "Head Lady in charge" was very excited and asked if I would be interested in demo-ing at their Christmas open house in Dec. Yep, did that and got several good calls from it. Was asked to do it again and I will be there this Sat. I do have some items made up to sale, that was one thing I did wrong last year, no inventory.

2) I took some steak turners to work with me a few yrs back and still get orders for them. Last yr a friend ordered 9 at one time for Christmas gifts, the day before we got off for Christmas! (I was busy that night!) Yes, I do get bored with making a bunch of the same thing but the $$ is good.:)

3) Have some pictures of your work. Doesn't have to be professionally done but they do need to look nice. This will generate ideas with a customer..."Wow, do you think you can do this n such to one of those?" I have done several different "this n suches" to some items because of pictures.

When you price your work, charge enough to make it worth your while. Otherwise you are cheapening all hand forged workand some folks will not buy it if it is priced too cheaply. They want to tell their friends how much they paid for it! go figure....

Look through the BP section here, TONS of good ideas and you can alway tweak some simple item and make it uniquely yours.

Good luck, hope I haven't bored you but, you did ask....

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I am not good enuff yet t go to market but some people have suggested to me I should sell stuff....I say well yea I would love to ....I personally do not feel comfortable selling some of the stuff I have....I can always do better, is how I think. However people have offered me actual money for some of the stuff I have made....coat racks is one I have made 3.5 of them the 1 isnt finished but they have found there way out of my shop up on someones wall. One is in my home and I hate it cause I can do way better now...lol....so I agree and been told the same by many smiths Thomas Deans post....you gotta charge them way more than what they could buy junk from home depot or walmart....my buddy is waiting for me to give him an inventory of items he can put in his home center, kind of a hardware store,.....i gotta get beyond some of my critisism of my stuff cause i wont sell anything unless it is approved by qc...me... the other thing is the common person doesnt notice what you consider a fault in your work....weird thing....I was a sales person the majority of my life...figure that

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I am not good enuff yet to go to market but some people have suggested to me I should sell stuff....




It doesnt need to be good :) just label it as "rustic" or "old fashioned" ;)

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Thanks for the feed back guys. Its exactly what I'm looking for. Thanks!

Thomas, I'll have to brainstorm and come up with a business / forge / website name. RegionalChaos doesn't really work, and Chaos Forging isn't as professional sounding as I'd like, Eugene Ironworks is available as a domain name, but I'm planning on moving in a few years... I'll have to work on that one... I've thought about putting cards together but didn't want to until I was really ready to market stuff..

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It doesnt need to be good :) just label it as "rustic" or "old fashioned" ;)

Even rustic or old fashioned items should display pride of workmanship and the skill of the maker if you want continued sales.
Finnr

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It doesnt need to be good just label it as "rustic" or "old fashioned"

I was just at a craft thing and there was a blacksmith there selling "rustic" " Antique period items" I would have taken his stuff and tossed it let alone buy it....

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Gifts to friends get my name noticed (works also) business line for phone, gotta have a phone eh slightly higher than private line, not much though, that also gets you a free listing in the yellow pages.

I also donate items to silent auctions for fund raisers. This is good for tax time also. The fund raisers get exposure to the people who can and will buy.

A table at a flea market? (costs 5 bucks in Athens) course you don't want to try and sell high dollar stuff there, maybe just a piece or two. Stick with small inexpensive projects.

Antique shops have been very nice in putting stuff out on commission. I've also sold fireplace sets to a local fireplace specialty shop.

craigs list? I've advertised works and labor there with some returns

The list isn't as short as you would think.

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You should try to target some privately owned decor shops. . .the kind that sell incense and polished river rocks and sand blasted glass and stuff like that ...

Women especially will buy anything if it looks like there was a lot of work put into it and there are a lot of hammer marks on it. ..the whole HANDMADE thing is big right now.
The work can't have obvious welds ( regular, not forge welds those are nice) or material that's been left as it came from the steel-works.

Make stuff look like you shaped them from a meteor in the fire of a volcano under the light of the moon and quenched it in dragon tears. . .( I hope you understand what I'm trying 2 say here.)

Also pictures and a website would make you look a bit more official..
Get a fake beard or mustache ( if u don't have one) and take a picture of yourself wearing an apron behind an anvil with something red hot it ure tongs. .and a hige hammer. . .( wearing your apron without a shirt and being a shinny with sweat and coal dust may bring you more than just customers. .but you say ure married..so .:)

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Thanks for the feed back guys. Its exactly what I'm looking for. Thanks!

Thomas, I'll have to brainstorm and come up with a business / forge / website name. RegionalChaos doesn't really work, and Chaos Forging isn't as professional sounding as I'd like, Eugene Ironworks is available as a domain name, but I'm planning on moving in a few years... I'll have to work on that one... I've thought about putting cards together but didn't want to until I was really ready to market stuff..


I'm not sure why you would want a website but will wait to put a business card together. I have no website, just the cards and I can't keep up right now. I am having to put off some folks til March or April due to my work load, (of couse, this is along with my day job;) ). I have a friend near Dallas that HAD a website, didn't get any work from it and had some unscrupulous smith using my friends site as his! needless to say he shut it down. (he didn't say what the other smith was doing now. :) ) IMO, the cards will get you all the work you can do, that is along with a "new baby, wife, 3 other kids and your day job".

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IMO, the cards will get you all the work you can do, that is along with a "new baby, wife, 3 other kids and your day job".


The web site appeals to me because I am computer savvy. My day job is as a programmer. It seems like with the web site I could set it up easy enough, and post pictures of inventory as I have it. Then I don't have to do much work, if people find the site and want something they can purchase it or contact me, etc.. I guess the work I would end up doing for that would be to promote the website.

I'll definitely put together a good card, but it still leaves me looking for a name. I guess with a card though I could just use my name, and not have a business name...

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Call yourself, "Form - Out of Chaos" (no charge for the name...:-)

I have a website and it has brought in most of my work - maybe 90%. Craft fairs didn't work for me and I never made more than $500-$600 over a weekend. I know three professional smiths who worked the craft show circuit and all made decent livings - however, they started in the late '70's and are now all doing something else. The plethora of hobbyists and pressure from overseas made it a losing effort for them. It might vary some from place to place but you will eventually get tired of people whispering "I can't believe he wants $10 for a steak flipper!" I now do mostly architectural work and have more than I can handle.

I also have a day job so BS work is part time but I am in the shop most every weekend and weeknights to 10:00 or so in all, I probably put in 20-30 hours blacksmithing and 45-50 in my day job so I don't loaf much. This year, I probably grossed about 12 grand so reckon I made about $10 an hour (I'd be quite broke if I did it fulltime). Of course, my total time includes designing, running for materials, job site visits, installations, etc. and I quote $50 an hour but it's obviously not enough. However, I get a lot of work and stay busy. I have been doing this part time for 25 years and don't plan to stop until I'm dead or feeble.

You need to decide where you want it to go. A hobby is just that - maybe sell something once in a while but no deadlines for the most part. Trying to make consistent income will require an exponential jump in equipment if you hope to get any throughput. You could also go the knife route but that too, will take time and effort to develop a style and loyal following. Decisions, decisions...

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If you can, get some work out where people can see it, not everyone goes to antique stores or decorator shops.

When a local "rustic" restaurant was installing a dining room with a large stone fireplace, I made them a fireplace tool and rack set to match. I gave it to the restaurant in trade for a custom dinner for my wife and I (yeah, I work for food). Other customers asked where the set came from and the chef always gave them my card. I've got a good bit of work from that one fireplace set. I also had another restaurant asking for a duplicate of the large hanging pot rack that I made for the kitchen, and it's not even in public view.

Also keep an eye out for an oportunity. I went by a winery and saw that they had a crappy small fireplace set (WalMart style) sitting on the hearth of a huge, beautiful fireplace. The next time I went by, I brought an example of a set that I made for a larger fireplace. Side by side with the cheap set, it was no comparison and they ended up with my set.

Steve

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Oh, I forgot...I've got a beard and moustache too. I actually look a bit like my avatar, except I think I have just a bit more hair. Gee, the jug fits right in too...hmmm.

Steve

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I do a number of craft shows, this is the best time of year to do them of course, sometimes we do quite well, also I do home shows if they allow dirrect sales (not all do) the State Fair can pan out also. I have never done the Ren. fairs but have heard they are good. the key is haveing a huge diversity of inventory and a lot of it. A lot of the times those shows that charge more are the ones that you want to be in if you have the stock to handle a large show. In the mean time you might want to do some of the smaller shows to find out about your market, what sells at one show is not nessisarily the hot item at the next. Anytime I do a show this time of year I try to have $10,000 worth of enventory on hand, you want to charge twice what you would be willing to sell wholesale for, as that is what a wholesale buyer would pay you and you are incuring those expences in marketing yourself.
I have tried the web site but so far it has not paid off I don't have your skills there so maybe it could. Customers at the shows like it as they can see some of the stuff or show it to their spouse. I just don't seem to get the new customer there.
This is a significant part of my income and it may not really be what you want to do as you can kill your hobbie and may never make what you do in your day job. On the other hand you could make more than you ever did.
Just some thoughts. Mark

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Great feed back guys. I really appreciate it. It gives me a lot to think about.

Hollis, your site is great, and the suggestion for the name is definitely in the running!

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R.C.- Hmmm, you seem to be about where I am at on the road to becoming a blacksmith. Not quite at the start anymore but a long stretch yet ahead in the quest for attainment. If experience and deft ability could be had for cash on the barrelhead then we would soon be awash in "experts". Notice the trend in recent years of the boomer yuppie class such as lawyers, dentists, etc. ad nausea, who on the weekend don leather and invade the countryside on $30K Harleys pretending to be bikers. "Posers" is more like it. I am under no illusions that I can yet call myself a blacksmith. Certainly I would like to enter the arena of craft market vendors and here close to my home is a great open air market each sunday from May to October, some 500 tables and large crowds each Sunday. I am not ready for this but will be by the 2009 season. My wife and I are presently house shopping and realistically I don't think I can cram and get into gear for 2008. Where we now live, a rented farmhouse, a smithy in one of the outbuildings is out of the question, unfortunately so is adding a shed to the property ( increasing the landlord's property tax). My smithy is literally 'neath the spreading chestnut tree, really, an actual chestnut tree. Nice in mild weather but this is New York and I'm not ashamed to say I won't be out there much between now and spring. Of course if we find ourselves a house sooner than later then perhaps I could begin to amass an inventory of forged handiwork within my skill level and realistically priced to move at a flea market ( $20 or less per piece and capable of being carried of by a woman in one hand.) That is an idea I have been entertaining and sharing with you for quite some time now, building up an inventory over the winter, that is. The sooner we get moved and settled elsewhere in our own diggs, the sooner the new smithy goes up:D. Also, the sooner my skill level continues to advance on the learning curve and that is bought and paid for with time and sweat equity over an anvil.(Period.) Yes I belong to an abana local and attend the monthly meetings (an hour one way) but that is at best once a month so with the onset of cold nasty weather I am relegated to my meager library and my forge remains cold. I need a roof over my anvil! Cabin fever is one thing but cabin fever with a burning itch to continue forging is tough to take!:( So let's just say the wife and I get lucky and find a suitable house by let's say, February- and I can get a roof over my anvil by then. That gives me about three months to pile up some goodies for sale and I make the beginning of the 2008 season at the flea market and am there each Sunday from 7:00 a.m. when the throng arrives till at least noon when the crowds dwindle, for the whole season, 14 to 16 weeks. That amounts to at most a total of 80 hours of sales time. Could be good if I play my cards right, that is to say if I am offering items which catch the eye and not cause it to blink (wince?) at the price tag. I could be wrong here but my take on it is this- and I,m quoting from memory another members post on this forum from last year-which paralells my thinking, "The woman controls the pursestrings so appeal to her sense, not his", or words to that effect. I will offer small sized items of low price so it moves. I want to go there with iron and come home with cash, not iron. I won't be hauling any 4 ft. diameter chandeliers there or forty pound andirons that take hours to create at the furthest reach of my ability. Display some pics or a photo album maybe of larger wares. Of course I want to begin recouping some gains from my investments in tools and I am pushing myself to immprove my skills, but I am a realist and I know this comes with time. Also I believe in myself and am confident I can reach the lower end of the market with simple items well rendered. I have sunk some money into tools over the past few years and not yet earned a dime from it, the larger items were;
269 lb anvil, $65
114 lb anvil, free
125 lb anvil, $75
92 lb anvil, $230
cone (floor) mandrel, $500
large cast antique firepot, $25
champ 400 blowers (2) $50
champ 101 post drillpress, $75
6" heavy postvice, $90
6" heavy postvice, $50
4" postvice, free
a heap of hammers, tongs, $50 or so?
Plus I'm sure a lot of other little things I'm probably forgetting, not to mention the list of stuff I'm omitting specific to carriagebuilding and wheelwrighting, not directly specific to smithing which would no doubt double this sum, and then there have been the books, some of which weren't cheap. Also I can't omit the cost of the hundreds of pounds of coal I've sent up in smoke, some stock though most of what I heat & beat is skillfully had by scavenging (an art all its own;)) The time and gas going to sales and auctions for naught, coming home from the hunt without having made a fresh kill, and well, you get the picture- it's like putting a kid through college. That is exactly what I am doing though, investing in my future, but not strictly in that sense; I simply love blacksmithing. It's in my blood almost like I didn't have a choice, as if maybe I've done this before in another life. So yes, that is a pile of cash to have invested so far and I'm not lost on the fact that I've fallen into some sweet deals, but still, beginning to get something back out of it monetarily is going to be nice. So I persevere and do what I can to keep a haze of coalsmoke about my head and my nose at the anvil so I improve. I am and will continue until someday I might hear someone say of me " hey look at that blacksmith, he's pretty good at that". Maybe if that day ever does come I can silently think to myself "finally, I am a blacksmith". :)Dan.

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Hi RC. I have never tried a website. They work for some folks. Don't work for others.

The thing that has worked best for me is word of mouth. No business cards even. My greatest enemy is the false lead. You have got to be able to recognize this. People are cruel in the way that they undervalue you. One of my largest commissions was being installed, and the client joked with me. "How many leads did you get when you were installing it?" He really valued my work. On the contrary, I saw some of the neighbors gawking, and I could just hear them saying to themselves, "He's installing that monstrosity in our neighborhood????!!?" You have to be able to glance at that nosy neighbor, and decide immediately that he is not worth one of your business cards, let alone another glance.

And these creeps do you a service by letting you know how crappy they think your work is. What is even worse is the people who undervalue you and show it by not paying or paying slowly. Sometimes they have a big smile on their faces, and a firm handshake. I just remember what the old smith said in Foxfire 5. Let 'em slide twice, but on the third no pay, send them to the other smith. Fortunately, my old company made me do a marketing rotation (ugh) to the district offices. That was an eye opener, and it helped me see through the BS a lot better.

So, word of mouth is a double edged sword.

I have spent enough time doing lucrative things that are no fun, and you gotta have fun. Remember what Warren Buffet said about how tragic it was for a man with enough money doing something he did not like just for the pay.

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