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I was talking to my mom this morning about takings some money out of my college fund for the shop. I have been blacksmithings for 2 years. I have full intentions of become a full time working blacksmith. She understands this as well. If im correct i belive there is an ornemental ironworking course in Edwardsville, IL, Im not positive but i know there is one within 45 mins of here, which I am planning to attend. Thats pretty much the only college course I want to take, maybe a buisiness course to learn how to properly run a buisiness as well. There is 10,000 dollars in the account, I was thinking about an air hammer or a power hammer. What would you suggest? Ive asked a similar question before but now that my family is taking my desicion seriously and they understand that there is money in blacksmithing, also that its not just some dirty, burly, guy swinging a hammer at a hot peice of metal i think its time to start thinking about investing some serious money into the shop. Please give me your opinions and suggestions for tooling, classes, ect.
As of now my tooling consist of:
2 peter wright anvils 1 120lbs and 1 130 lbs
2 post vices 1 of which is portable
2 forges, a third in the making one is portable
MIG welder
Oxg/Act Torch
1 large welding table
2x70" belt grinder
Angle grinder, drills, and other hand tools
various hammers and tongs
Vertical Bandsaw
Chop saw

Here are a few tools Im interested in and would like some more information on

Power Hammers
Air Hammers
Trip Hammers
Fly presses
Anvils (Would a larger one make working more efficient?)
Anything else you can suggest.

All my forges are coal. What are your thoughts on propane or natural gas forges for a full time shop.

Thanks for your time for reading such a long winded post. I am greatful for all advice and comments.

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I think I might suggest to you what my student is doing.
He just started college last week. He is taking metal working and jewelry making.

I say this as it will give you a very broad base for all metalworking as more and more of the 'pro' smiths are more than blacksmiths.
Also you may think of looking into metalurgy as that can only help I would think. Also some business classes would be rather helpful as well.

While most smiths would like a powerhammer you have to ask yourself if you are producing enought that the cost would be recouped. For myself the answer is no. But I still want a pwr hammer.

It is also my firm believe that a smith should not get a power hammer until he or she is WELL versed in hand hammering. A power hammer is not going to make you better. Or even faster if you do not thourghly understand metal movement etc.

But this is just my own opinion.

Good luck

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Dan; if you are not in a country with socialized medicine I would save that money for the first time you need to get a finger re-attached or other not-uncommon shop incident. (After the first time you have to pay to get metal removed from the eye wearing all your safety equipment seems like a *GREAT* idea and so comfortable and cheap!)

A powerhammer is a necessity if you plan to support yourself but the exact type that would be best depends on what you end up making.

My suggestion is to start making stuff and taking a cut right off the top for the powerhammer while looking for a really good deal. Hopefully your own fund will be close when you run into the deal of the century---and remember buying it is only the starting cost!

As for classes think about getting welding certs; a lot of smiths seem to cover their base expenses by doing odd-job welding.

If you are in the USA ook into SBA classes *NOW*! (small business administration)


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A large anvil does not make a better smith - remember that Francis Whitaker's weighed 150 lbs. In fact, they are sometimes a hindrance so don't waste your money there and too many tools do not make a good smith either.

You are very well set up for a fledgling smith - the only thing I would add is a treadle hammer but that can come later. In the meantime, be a sponge and soak up info - and make sure you go to college to get a degree. Anything is better than nothing but a BA in fine arts would be a good start if you want to continue in this line of work.

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Well the game plan is to make enough money blacksmithing to pay for gas without having to start flipping burgers. I have 1100 dollars worth of items im taking to sell at a large craft show this weekend. Im considering an air hammer being as that we have a large air compressor at the shop. I have been blacksmithing atleast 5 out of 7 days of the week for the last 2 years so I have a pretty good concept on how to work metal. Right now im making roses from sheet metal (power hammer cant do much there). The reason im considering the air hammer is for smaller items J hooks, S hooks, Etc. Which i make from 3/8 sq. The plan was to be able to make these items quicker and sell them cheaper because these seem to be the items that move at craft shows. Honestly im really lost as to where to start in actually making money blacksmithing. I had 500 buisness cards made hoping to get some work in the winter months when the craftshows arnt going on.

Also for sheet metal roses how much do most of you charge? It takes me 4 1/2 hours to make one and ive been pricing them from 60-85 dollars they sold good by just talking to people and showing off my work but not at craft shows. Most likley do to the rule of craft shows... Around $20 and looks good in a double-wide.

I also understand that tools dont make the blacksmith, the blacksmith makes the tools. Im not wanting to buy tooling to make better items, just make them quicker.

I know there isnt a magic button you can push to make money, it only comes from hard work and determination. I just wanted to make that clear, I dont want to come off sounding like someone who just wants to get rich quick, I just want to follow a dream of mine pretty much no matter what the cost. And look at that there I go rambling again.
please comment.

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Howdy Dan,
I would suggest welding classes, and a lot of ART classes. I'm a pretty mechanical thinking guy, machinist/welder trained, and was 95% lost when i started thinking about art smithing. I took some art classes at the comm. college. It really helps to be talking to a customer and be able to know why groups of three things looks better than groups of two things, etc.
I agree with Ralph about the waiting on the power hammer. I found an old 80# mechanical hammer and have had it running almost two years now. It took me a year or so to get to know it's personality. When I first got it running, I turned it on and asked it to make an eagle catching a salmon out of 3/4" bar. The hammer decided to make a flattened lump instead. We made flattened lumps by the ream for a lonnng time! We're getting along pretty good now, I would be sad if it broke. I've been making a lot of railing components out of one inch square stock, and couldn't do things like that without the old doll. Some college metal shop classes would be good, as would getting a job in a fabrication shop. You can get seriously maimed with a power hammer, and learning how to work safe in a shop with big equipment can help get you keyed in.

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If you have all the tooling in the world, a aircraft hanger for a shop, a new 18 wheel semi tractor trailer for a demo shop and 2 warehouses of finished items in stock, nothing is going to work without good people skills, good marketing skills, and good accounting practices.

The bench mark for business is how much you can push out the door, and if the check clears the bank, it puts money into the business checking account. At some point you will realize that one blacksmith (skilled labor) making a near perfect product will be overrun by the fellow (unskilled labor) making minimum wage and operating a machine. There is room for both, and you can do both. Follow Wendy's hamburgers example, give them a choice and which ever they choose, the cash register rings and you get the money - either way.

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I went the low price, craft show route because I have a production background and can really crank out product when I want to. Not bragging but I can outproduce about 95% of the other guys on "apples to apples" because I build jigs and fixtures to help get it finished quickly. I price stuff at $100 an hour but some of my items wind up at $7 each because they are so quick to do. Almost everything I make is less than $50 each. HOWEVER, you have to sell a lot of stuff to make any money. It's great to make a high hourly wage with very little overhead but selling a few hours per week does not make a living. I could not make it work and took a day job to supplement my blacksmithing.

I know two other accomplished smiths who went the other way. They are very high priced and do outstanding work but do not care if they get much traffic because they only have to sell one or two pieces to have a good month. In hindsight, I like this way better and may pursue that business model at some point in the future. Think about what you want to be before taking the plunge.

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RUN AWAY!!!!!!!!!!!! GET A REAL JOB!!!!!!!!!!!

Just kidding.

Sorry for the long windedness. I just can't help myself tonite.

I wouldn't change a thing, I am a self taught metal artist and blacksmith, self employed since I can't remember when, naturally I can't remember when I last had a real vacation or any real money in my pocket. However I am happy with the job, and there ain't no @#$hole boss to deal with. Of course I work 16 hour days during peak times of the year, not all of it in the shop but much in the office, and I don't yet have good health coverage. But I am free to set my own hours.

You are right about speed and production, you MUST have a power hammer AND possibly a treadle hammer(if the need for special under hammer tooling comes up). I would get one now at the best price you can, and get another one at a steal later. Find a good used one, pneumatics are good and fairly priced but much less efficient energy wise than a mechanical, but you can't get new or barely used mechanicals and they will need work or maintainence. Plus of course you already have air in your shop(although check to make sure its enough-hammers breathe one xxxx of a lot of air). You could of course build your own hammer. See the plans/drawings around the net for how to's on that one. I have a 100 year old Fairbanks25# and a homebuilt 75# spring helve aka Super Rusty style. Might get a 300# Bradley, I am kind of partial to mechanicals ka-chunk ka-chunk.

You don't need a degree but you will need some study for sure. Classes, workshops, intensives, possibly the power hammer school, maybe a video about power hammer tooling and such, see Anvilfire or other for that kind of stuff. You will need to learn alot from somewhere or many somewhere's but you don't have to go to college for it except maybe partime classes. Other blacksmiths are a wealth of knowledge. I just came back from a hammer in, most were there for the social aspects, but I take very seriously the demos, and asked a lot of questions, I learned 3 new techniques. I drove 5 hours back from that and was at my own forge and power hammer trying them out within an hour.

" How to run a business" would be top of my list for classes, its the single biggest factor in self employed failures. My first couple of tries at it will attest to that. My lesssons seem to have stuck now though.

All the successful smiths that I know, myself included, create both true art pieces and a "bread and butter" line of hand made works. Seems to work for us, I would tell you what I charge for time off list if you email me. Different rates for different work in the same shop, sometimes with the same tools and materials, just different brains.

I could rant on and on about this, but I will conclude with this last thought. I highly reccomend self/un-employment with 2 power hammers in your shop. At least they would be pretty to look at and fun to be around you ain't got any real work to do. LOL

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Mr. Crabtree

I fully realize that this isn't what you want to hear. Leave the money in your college fund.

Yes, there's a metalworking program at SIU-Edwardsville. You might also want to look at the Ornamental Ironworking program at the American College of the Building Arts in Charleston, SC. Pretty amazing program there, taught by many full time smiths, including Philip Simmons (talk about a living connection to our trade's past) and Jay Close, as well as others whose names escape me. I'd give my eye teeth to teach there -- and tried -- but couldn't even get past the door for an interview. Because even though I've got many years experience in the trade, most of it full time, most of it teaching the public, plus additional experience teaching other subjects, as well as gigs as a guest speaker in a couple colleges -- I don't have a degree. DON'T LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU.

You mentioned wanting to maybe take a business course to teach you how to effectively run a business. There is no such course. You need to take several courses...and find a mentor, and still stumble and make mistakes and learn from them. You'll need to take courses that you don't want to -- trust me, I did not want to take macroeconomics or art history. Both have had positive impacts on my careers (though I have to think hard about the positive impacts of macroecon...they're there, don't get me wrong, just have to think what they are :mrgreen: )

Please don't misunderstand, I fully support your goal of becoming a full time professional blacksmith. There's no reason that getting a degree will stand in the way of that goal. Getting the education can only make your life easier.

There are other ways to get money for tools. You've got a pretty decent set up now. Gas forges can be helpful for production -- you can work multiple pieces in the fire with less concern about burning them up. But they aren't essential. A power hammer -- air or mechanical would be a good addition -- you'll also need a compressor if you go with a utility air hammer. I'd also add a drill press to your list. Depending on what you want to focus on, an ironworker might come in handy.

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Goodness, a chance to pass on what tiny bit of wisdom I have extracted from my failures... ;-)

Get the Fine ART degree!!! Teaching positions, grants, and High Dollar customers are all easier to get with the BA, or an MA.

Along with the fine art degree you will get help with drawing, designing, and computer classes. Going through the critquing process will help you in selling your designs. You will also learn the language you need to speak, to get the teaching positions, grants, and high dollar customers.

As for classes, you could take a metalurgy class, just to understand what is going in the metal better, but to be honest for most smiths the basic reading you can do yourself on metalurgy is sufficient, unless you want to be a bladesmith, or you want to make tools out of exotic alloys... Business courses, welding classes and certifications, machine tool classes, are all useful. College won't teach you something you couldn't learn on your own... IF you CHOse to... But even the most passionate person will rarely have the self control and motivation to broaden themselves and pursue all of the areas on interest that they have outlined for themselves... College is the place that forces you to learn, it will teach you things that will make you a better person, and more well rounded. And afterwards and possibly most importantly;-) it will help people decide what you are without thinking, sadly a lot of people are too busy to think, or appreciate artistry or craftsmanship. Its a Walmart world out there, and a neat little label to paste in your brosure will help somepeople take your prices more seriously, not to mention get you through the first hurdle in the search commitee.

And there is no reason you can't be a fulltime/parttime smith while you are in school, lots of people have parttime jobs to subsidize the cost of their education (some squander it in morally bancrupt binge drinking and other less savory immoral behavior:-( damaging the mind they are supposed to be expanding...) Although art classes are notrious for requiring long hours outside class working on endless projects:-)

As for tools:-)

A power hammer can help with roses, it is just a question of tooling:-) and if you have a mechanical hammer, of having a good BRAKE:-)

Everything depends on what you want to do, and how you want to do it...

Do you want to be a Bladesmith, doing patternwelding and highend knives and swords?

Do you want to do architectural ironwork?

Small traditional forgings?


Furniture and household fittings?

All of these different types of smith, would have a different ideal shop, and tool set. Most would have a use for at least one power hammer of some type or another (or several:-).

My preference is for a utility style air hammer with flat dies, tooling is pretty fun and easy to make, and quicker than all the old style dies to change, and even some of the new dies that are currently popular, but if you like the heavy texture that items forged with crown dies normally has... You can do very nice smooth work with crown dies if you want to, but it requires more skill to reproduce the same component over and over again. Whereas with spring tooling under flat dies, you can reproduce your work more easily. (Can you tell I am biased toward industrial open die forging type power hammer work:-)Watch the Clifton Ralph Power Hammer technique video, and the Wild Rose, Power Hammer tooling and techniques to see what I am talking about. The more modern artistic school is represented by Uri Hofi, Tom Clark,Big Blu Power Hammer School. Crown dies are nice and have their place, but if you can only afford one set of dies go big and go flat:-) Utility hammers tend to have really good manners and are very versitle, Self contained hammers have very good manners too, and are gererally better at drawing than the equal sized utility hammer (most i have seen cycle faster than a utility hammer, but it is harder to get one good hard blow onto tooling. Mechanical hammers tend to be finicky, some are quite stable and well mannered once you learn how to handle them, and they will hit harder and draw better than most any air hammer. With a good brake they can use any hand held tooling you would use under a utility hammer, but they take more skill to adjust for different tasks, or to keep them well mannered:-)

As for other tools that might come in handy:-)
Several gas forges, one size does not fit all;-)
Swage block (preferably with punching holes...)
Sandblaster, blasting cabinet/Booth...
Paint booth
Ironworker with several die sets:-)

You already have one of the most important things...
The trick is to get serious about learning, if I had taken things more seriously and taken advantage of learning opportunities when I had them while I was younger, I woud probably be pretty good now;-)

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Anyone have some info on SIUE, ofcourse a college isnt going to come right out and say oh well this class is horrible dont bother with it. Im going to get my welding certificate while still in highschool thanks to my shop teacher so I can get that out of the way. Im looking into SIUE Metal smithing for after college, and would this be considered a Fine Art degree?
I know very little about college so please fill me in. I decided to leave the money for college and make enough money to buy an air hammer or what ever tooling I want, And i forgot that I have a drill press, the table just needs to be welded back on.

just google SIUE Metalsmithing to get a look at the class, Its only a 30 min drive from where I live so that would likley be the ideal college if some of you recommend it.

Thank you all very much for the information you have given so far.

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Dan, Mouko The courses offered at SIU are well worth looking into. Courses at Carbondale have been offered for 30 years or so and have had some well known blacksmiths & damascus bladesmiths get their start there. Carbondale was only 55 miles south of where i grew up, if it weren't for a priority disorder ( I.E. full time job and full time girlfriend ) I would have gone fresh out of high school. Oh to be 18 again. Don't let things get in the way of your dreams if you are seriour about this craft! I would guess that the courses at Edwardsville are about the same but research is always a good idea and much easier than it used to be. Sorry I don't know about the fine art degree part of it. You may be able to get more info. from SIU website as well. I am sure I am like many others here that wish they would have gotten started at such a young age. Best of lick to you, it sounds like you have a good goal

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Mouko I have been on campus many years ago. Had friends that went there for other classes. I did catch a program that the history channel ran a while back and there was a 20 minute segment on the metals, blacksmith shop. It showed a girl working in a coal forge and she had two male strikers helping her. The shop looked very well equiped. The program was all about metals and is well worth watching if you ever get the chance to catch it.

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