Kromac

How do I get in to blacksmithing?

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Hello, I am a 19 year old college student living in Pennsylvania, and I hate every second of it.  I have always been interested in medieval weapons and high fantasy like dungeons and dragons and Lord of the Rings.  I have done research online and it seems the main way to become a blacksmith is to get an apprenticeship with a blacksmith.  I have looked in to getting a small anvil and other tools to try blacksmithing as a hobby but I really do not have the money to buy the expensive tools needed to work the metal,  I was wondering if it is at all common for a blacksmith to take on an apprentice who has no experience?  The only thing close to blacksmithing I have experience in is the very limited shop classes my high school offered.  I was hoping to finish my first year of college and look for an apprentice position over the summer before I decide if I want to drop out of school or not.  I realize that I won't just get to make cool weapons, armor, and other such things most of the time and that blacksmiths mainly make tools, metal parts, etc.  I realize that metalworking is very hard work and I have been lifting weights 3 days a week to try to build up the muscle needed to swing a hammer and lift heavy sheets of metal all day.  I was really hoping for any tips that could help me get in to this awesome profession.  Also, do apprenticeships ever pay?  I have an apartment with my girlfriend and I was wondering if I would have to keep my job as well as work as an apprentice or if I would have to find time to work and learn the trade.  Thank you in advance for any tips! \

Edit: Just to be clear I was looking to possibly pursue a career in blacksmithing, and not just do it as a hobby.

Edited by Kromac

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If the results of your research indicates that the main way to become a blacksmith is through apprenticeship, then you need to go back and do some more research. There are almost NO apprenticeships available in this country.  Expecting to make a living as a blacksmith is problematic, especially if you have no experience.

The way most people who actually become reasonably proficient in blacksmithing get their training is either through a local chapter of ABANA or through private lessons.  If you think you might prefer to be in a trade as opposed to some sort of white collar work, I would suggest  you find a school that teaches a certified welding course.  Welding skills with also be useful in blacksmithing and there are many more opportunities for certified welders than there are for blacksmiths. Take up smithing as a hobby and as you develop proficiency you can begin to learn if there is money to be made from your work.

 

 

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Welcome aboard, glad to have you RPG character handle, guy. If you'll put your general location in the header you might be surprised how many of the IFI gang live within visiting distance.

NO. Keep your job, stay in school I dearly HOPE you're majoring in something that's a marketable skill. There are thousands of Art, English, History, etc. etc. degree holders flipping burgers.

NO again, you aren't going to find apprenticeships this side of the Atlantic. If you did find one, NO apprenticeships do NOT pay, you are entering into indentured servitude. You work for nothing but room and one meal a day, you'll spend upwards of 7 years doing scut work, sweeping floors, hauling, packing, stacking and cleaning. Just whatever dirty low work the smith or his wife come up with. For much longer than you anticipate your "blacksmith" training will be getting to watch if the smith lets you slack off that much. Maybe if he really likes you you'll get to pump the bellows, crank the blower or even OH JOY!! Strike for him or OH HAPPY HAPPY hold a top tool or tongs. Eventually you'll start doing basic stuff to free him up for more skilled work, say 2-3 years in. Eventually he'll allow you to make your own tools. IF you've picked enough usable scrap out of the bin you'll be able to make them without having to BUY the material from the shop master.

Years down the road, he'll be letting you do projects on your own, under HIS mark of course but your projects. Once you become proficient enough and have a good enough reputation (that's assuming you can) to start taking HIS business he'll declare you a Journeyman and send you packing.

In reality your opportunities for learning the craft to a useful level of skill is as simple as collecting some tools, building a fire and getting to it. Join or at least attend meetings of the local organization, you'll find a long list towards the bottom of the Iforge opening page. It really isn't that expensive to get into the craft IF you get over the mythological BS. forget the RPG crap, it's just fantasy imagery come up with kids with zero practical experience let alone any real blacksmithing experience.

You do NOT need a "real" (London pattern) anvil, check out what the Japanese MASTER bladesmiths use. One who who was declared a national treasure and moved back from Alaska probably 25 years ago can afford most anything in his shop and he uses a slightly domed square block of steel maybe 5" square driven into the ground. He forges sitting down or squatting.

Find yourself a heavy piece of steel, if it has a flat place, good, if not flat is over rated, don't worry about it. RR rail gets a bad rap, especially here, especially from the new guys. Most of us old timers have at least one old startup RR rail anvil on duty as a bench anvil. Don't grind it flat, forget the horn, lay it flat and spike it down or stand it on end. Being at proper height for YOU is the important thing. Rail anvils are wonderful things IF the smith knows what he's doing.

Any smooth faced hammer will serve, hit the yard/garage sales and keep your eyes peeled for ball peins for cheap, broken handled ones are meat and drink for us. They make a wonderful selection of tools other than striking hammers. There is plenty of discussion w/pictures here.

No need for a BIG hammer, 2lbs is a good starting weight, I rarely reach for the 3lb. and almost NEVER the 5lb straight pein. Cross peins are very useful as is a straight pein, I have and use both. Another go to hammer on my rack is a drilling hammer, these are sweet little 2-2.5lb double faced (no pein or special shape) short handled hammers. (the shorter the handle the more accuracy) I use mine for fine tuning shapes say finishing fork tines, etc. A turning or rounding (same hammer, different names) is an outstanding smithing hammer I have a couple in my go to hammer rack. Very well worth spending the money on or making when your skill attain the level. Of course club members often get to attend workshops for making things like . . . hammers, gs forges, power hammers, etc. Good things, clubs.

Unless you have: a very high aptitude for the craft, come up with a golden bullet product and are lucky, you're unlikely to pay so much as your materials and utilities for a few years, at least till you build a name and rep. Blacksmithing, especially fantasy weapons and armor is a severely limited and highly competitive niche market. Don't worry,(metaphorical example coming) it's a common fantasy amongst student drivers to become the next Indy winner. Ain't going to happen without learning the craft and building the clientele. Become a good certified welder fabricator and you'll be able to pick and choose amongst jobs. Better still you'll be in the right neighborhood to pick up blacksmithing skills and tools. LOTS of fab shops have smithing tools collecting dust in a corner, you might luck out.

Ah, I've talked enough to let you go with one last bit. This forum has many hundreds of years of experience, examples, how tos, blueprints, etc. about blacksmithing. Pull up a comfy chair, pack a lunch and refreshing beverage, pick a subject and settle in for hours and hours of reading. You can build up a REAL knowledge base so you can ask good questions, we LOVE good questions and you'll have a shot at understanding the answers.

Welcome to a very addictive craft, the learning curve is endless. Enjoy the ride.

Frosty The Lucky.

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Are there any Forts, stations, historical villages or historical outposts somewhere near you ?? Penna. was chock full of historical places starting in the early 1700's, all thru the revolutionary war and beyond. All of those places mentioned could have a blacksmith shop where you can volunteer if you talk with the site manager. Most sites are happy to have volunteers. Then you can pound away every weekend. Most places have a shop manager that can also help teach you what you need to know.

Ohio Rusty ><>

The Ohio Frontier Forge

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Where about in PA are you located? Bryn Athyn College in Bucks Co just a bit north of Philly runs 4 day blacksmithing classes in July. I've done several of these classes over the past few years and it's a good program. I'll probably do John J. Rais's class July 13-17th this year and if not then Warren's class later that month. I wanted to do their spring class but work got busy and I didn't have the time. I'll probably also try and do their stone carving class if I can swing the funds this year. I highly recommend the program.

http://www.brynathyn.edu/academics/workshops/

Peters Valley in the Delaware water gap also does Blacksmithing classes

http://www.petersvalley.org/html/Blacksmithing.cfm

 

There are also a number of blacksmithing groups you can join here. Pennsylvania Artist Blacksmiths Assn here in the Eastern part of the state ( PABA) and Pittsburgh Area Artist-Blacksmith Assn (PAABA) in the western part of the state. Both are good places to hook up with both part time, full time and Hobbyist smiths in our area. There's also a group in NJ as well.

http://www.pabasite.org/

http://www.paaba.net/

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I live in west Chester Pennsylvania 30 minutes outside philly, and don't worry I won't be dropping out or quitting my job until I find a paying job as a blacksmith or decide that I'd rather pursue it as a hobby

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Welcome, depending on how far you wish to drive, some guilds that may be within driving distance include:

- Blacksmith Guild of Central Maryland http://www.bgcmonline.org/

I highly recommend taking a course or two at the Blacksmith Guild of Central Maryland, you can find further information about beginner and intermediate courses on their website.

- Philadelphia Blacksmiths Guild https://sites.google.com/site/stuarttheblacksmith/home/hammertymephilly-the-philadelpia-blacksmiths-guild

- New Jersey Blacksmith Association: http://njba.abana-chapter.com/

- Pennsylvania Artist Blacksmith Guild: http://www.pabasite.org/

- Central Virginia Blacksmith Guild http://cvbg.org/
- Blacksmith Guild of the Potomac  http://www.bgop.org/
- Mid-Atlantic Smiths Association http://masametalsmiths.org/
- Tidewater Blacksmith Guild  http://tidewaterblac....com/index.html

- Chesapeake Forge Guild meets at the Kinder Farm Park in Millersville http://www.chesapeakeforge.org/

For a more complete list visit: http://www.abana-chapter.com/

 

Edited by David Einhorn

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Just telling us in a post where you are isn't going to last beyond this post. It's not a rule so you don't have to put your location in the header but having it right below your Avatar makes it accessible to anyone. This will remind guys in your general area to let you know there's going to be a potluck BBQ and hammer in next Saturday afternoon, bring a side dish and come hungry.

If you don't know how it's easy enough, click on your Avatar, name, etc. at the left. There's an Edit Profile button at the top right of the screen. Like I say it's not a rule but there are definite benefits.

Frosty The Lucky.

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I once built a complete beginners set up of "Forge, blower, anvil, basic tools" for under $25  as I was getting tired of people telling me it was too expensive to start smithing. May I commend to your attention "The Complete Modern Blacksmith" as a book on how to DIY on a budget.  If you can't afford the US$20 book you can probably ILL it from a public library.

I just unloaded 380 pounds of metal chunks from a scrapyard for students to use as anvils They cost me 20 cents a pound. This is in an area with NO heavy industry; they were scrapped from the university.

In a bladesmithing forum we once had a discussion of apprenticeships and the consensus was that an apprentice should expect to spend 10 hours of unsupervised grunt labour for each hour of one on one with the "master".  Also that few shops had that much grunt labour and often the bladesmith liked doing it while thinking over an issue.

I have had a number of students wanting to stop attending university and go into smithing.  Most I have managed to convince that having a good paying job with MEDICAL BENEFITS!!!!!! was a great way to start collecting the equipment necessary to do smithing as a business.

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I'll add my 2 cents here. I'm new to the blacksmithing world but had similar aspirations from the sounds of it. I would love to quit my job and hammer and grind all day. But I'm almost 40 with a family and that isn't in the cards right now.

First I think you need to ask yourself do you want to make blacksmithing stuff like hooks, gates, tools, sculptures, etc. Or do you really want to make weapons? Most youngsters like yourself are usually more interested in making blades and axes than stair rails and fire pokers. Personally I find enjoyment in both. But you may not and may be speaking generally because you want more varied responses and hope to find some master smith toiling away in your area in desperate need of a young buck to help hammer out katanas under his tutelage. Sadly those days are gone and though it is possible to become an apprentice it is very rare as has already been stated.

Depending on what your answer is to my question above, how much money you have to spend and what your space is like (you aint smithing anything in an apartment with angry neighbors). As others have said stay in school, get a good job and work in your spare time towards your smithing goals. If you want to blacksmith Frosty's post is an excellent start. In fact read all you can here on new guy stuff and watch videos that are out there to get an idea of what blacksmithing is all about. Go to local hammer ins and blacksmithing gatherings like Sofa's quadstate.

If you want to get into knife making I've seen guys do it on 3rd floor balconies in apartments with little more than a file guide and files, some clamps, sandpaper and epoxy. That is probably your cheapest method of getting into it. If this sounds up your alley then start with stock removal knife making since you really need to grind every knife anyway, forged or not.

My aim here is to encourage you and point you in the right direction because I wish I would have gotten into this when I was younger, starting at something like 25 would have been amazing to me and for you that gives you six years to build up a plan and equipment. You now have two "budget" methods to get into either. As well You may graduate, get a good job and have all kinds of tools and anvils by your mid twenties, it goes by quick. And if you want to do both eventually a lot of tools will cross pollinate. Grinders, drill presses, bandsaws, etc are useful in both blacksmithing and bladesmithing.  

The key to doing one or both is passion. There is more than enough free information on the internet in the form of forums, videos and how to sites to give you an idea what it takes. Read up and watch as much as you can. You will find that anyone doing this and worth their salt has spent many years perfecting the craft and acquiring and building tools and knowledge they need.

Good Luck!

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Kromac- I'm just down 202 in Glen Mills. Shoot me a PM if you want to stop by and see the shop, maybe catch me with a fire going. I'm just a hobbiest, with delusions of grandeur, but I have fun with it.

 

Steve

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The best way to make a million dollars blacksmithing is to start with two million dollars. 

​for the skilled yes, if not start with five million

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I take it you do not like what you are doing in college.  Why not find a better program?  What about Millerville in Lancaster?  Look into their Technology Education program.  Today's version of a 'shop teacher'.  I am a recently retired old school shop teacher....wood and metals.  School are closing programs because they cannot find shop teachers.  A neighbors son graduated a few years ago and had ten job offers before he left.  When I retired, they tried to expand the program and hire two teachers.  They only found one.

Being a shop teacher gives you the opportunity to do your hobby and vocation at the same time.  Pay you bills, and eventually set up your own shop at home.  PM for more information.

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I take it you do not like what you are doing in college.  Why not find a better program?  What about Millerville in Lancaster?  Look into their Technology Education program.  Today's version of a 'shop teacher'.  I am a recently retired old school shop teacher....wood and metals.  School are closing programs because they cannot find shop teachers.  A neighbors son graduated a few years ago and had ten job offers before he left.  When I retired, they tried to expand the program and hire two teachers.  They only found one.

Being a shop teacher gives you the opportunity to do your hobby and vocation at the same time.  Pay you bills, and eventually set up your own shop at home.  PM for more information.

​Now this is brilliant! I only post here in order to repeat this.

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Makes for some good reading. I always enjoy Frosy and Thomas P's replies.

Two real world methods.  One; work a full time job and build your own shop. DIY ......SELF TAUGHT. 

two; Historical Orgnization. That worked for me. They could'nt find anyone to work the shop.I began as a volunteer with ZERO blacksmith backgound. They gave me a shop. Gave me coal. Steel. Forge. Anvils. Etc. Now I am paid and operate  their shop. 

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Lots of great advice above.

One extra thing. If you really want to work for yourself, stay in college, learn bookkeeping, business management and sales.

It is one thing to make stuff, something else to run a business.

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READ! Watch! Listen! Since most time spent at the anvil is devoted to thinking about what to do next, it really helps if you do a lot of the visualization before you even buy your first hammer.

Back when I started in the mid '70's, there were not a lot of books on 'smithing let alone videos, youtubes, etc.  I thought I had a handle on the process but the most humbling moment of my life was standing next to the anvil, work and hammer in hand and thinking to myself, "Now what?"

ABANA, PABA and other relatively local (to you) groups like MASA, BGOP, etc.are great places to get to see and talk to other smiths.  I started in a real vacuum.

There are many articles and videos out there on minimalist set ups.  For a absolute beginner, the major advantages are size and affordability.  Remember the rule of hammer weight to anvil weight is about 1:10.  For a 2 pound hammer all you need is 20 pounds worth of "anvil".  My first anvil was 135 pounds and I have yet to pick up a 13.5 pound hammer.

A close by resource is Hopewell Furnace, NHS.  From West Chester it is 100 N to 23 W to 345 N.  I am the Master of the Blacksmith Shop.  Sheep Shearing is in early May and Living History starts about mid-June.  The best way to contact me is the call Hopewell and have them get in contact with me.

I know smiths that drive Mercedes, I know smiths that can hardly feed themselves.  I have a day job, thank God.  I do not take commissions as I pass the work on to other smiths who really need them.  It is a great hobby, it is a path to a career.  The best path is to stay in school and work you way into it.

 

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About bookkeeping:  I know a crafter who once told me his entire profit for one year came from how he depreciated his tools.  If that doesn't even make sense to you; you are not running a business!

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Welcome aboard Hochewa, good to see you posting!

Frosty the Lucky

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READ! Watch! Listen! Since most time spent at the anvil is devoted to thinking about what to do next, it really helps if you do a lot of the visualization before you even buy your first hammer.

Back when I started in the mid '70's, there were not a lot of books on 'smithing let alone videos, youtubes, etc.  I thought I had a handle on the process but the most humbling moment of my life was standing next to the anvil, work and hammer in hand and thinking to myself, "Now what?"

ABANA, PABA and other relatively local (to you) groups like MASA, BGOP, etc.are great places to get to see and talk to other smiths.  I started in a real vacuum.

There are many articles and videos out there on minimalist set ups.  For a absolute beginner, the major advantages are size and affordability.  Remember the rule of hammer weight to anvil weight is about 1:10.  For a 2 pound hammer all you need is 20 pounds worth of "anvil".  My first anvil was 135 pounds and I have yet to pick up a 13.5 pound hammer.

A close by resource is Hopewell Furnace, NHS.  From West Chester it is 100 N to 23 W to 345 N.  I am the Master of the Blacksmith Shop.  Sheep Shearing is in early May and Living History starts about mid-June.  The best way to contact me is the call Hopewell and have them get in contact with me.

I know smiths that drive Mercedes, I know smiths that can hardly feed themselves.  I have a day job, thank God.  I do not take commissions as I pass the work on to other smiths who really need them.  It is a great hobby, it is a path to a career.  The best path is to stay in school and work you way into it.

 

​This to the 1,000,000th power of ten.

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