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I Forge Iron

Things I learned from my first craft show

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I had my first craft show on Saturday. I setup a small table and brought equipment to demonstrate basic items. First of all, I learned what to take and what not to take. I took 2 anvils, an 81lb Peter Wright and a 125lb SISCO Swedish anvil, one for me, one for my son who was working with me. The 125lb won't be going to a craft show again and, as luck would have it, I was offered a 65lb NC anvil while I was at the fair which will make a great demo/portable anvil. I also took a portable forging cart that held my small propane forge and had racks for tongs and hammers. I brought several varying sized bars of mild steel stock for making small items and one 3/8 round bar of 5160 in case someone asked me to make a knife. I also brought an assortment of hammers, tongs, punches and drifts as well as a few top tools and hardy tools, a couple of hand files and a wrench for turning, all of which fit into one 5 gallon bucket which I used for a quench tub. In retrospect, I think for demonstrations a coal forge (burning coke) would be the better option. I think I wasted a LOT of propane when people would stop to talk. Second, I learned that the sweet spot for selling is 5-10$ items. I took about 25 of my 4-5 inch split crosses made from wrought iron, which I thought would sell at 20$. I was wrong. I lowered the price near the end of the day and wound up selling 3-4 of them. The items that did sell were the ones I had the least of, small 5$ & 10$ items like hooks, leaf key-chains, necklace pendants and the weirdest one of all, 'cursive letters.' Someone came up and asked me if I could make a cursive 'Q' for them and after that I had a couple more folks come up and ask for their initial to be made. I used small 3/16 round stock, twisted into the letter of their choice. One thing that was really successful, (which perhaps we should have charged for) was making small swords from double-headed nails. My son really enjoyed doing that and the kids that got them really liked them too. Maybe we should have charged 1$ each for them because word spread among the kids like wildfire and my son spent the majority of the day making them and handing them out to little kids. He had fun and they seemed to be treasured by the kids so it was well worth it regardless. Last, I learned that doing a demo is a LOT of work and it can be difficult to slow down, I don't think I sat down or took a potty break the entire day. When I ran out of small items to sell I began trying to make more of them and then I was moving from making one item to the next so fast it made my head spin. I also found it a bit difficult to concentrate on responding to questions and putting my mind on the work so I wound up tossing more than one ruined item into the quench bucket. There's definitely an art to 'entertaining' at the anvil. Overall, my layout worked well but I'd like to refine my mobile anvil stand now that I have a nice, small anvil to use and next time I will definitely spend more time in preparation making smaller items for sale. I received many complements for my work and was asked to come back next year so, all in all, I learned a few things and I count it as a success. I've attached a few pics showing my booth and the little 65lb NC anvil I got.










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Good first craft show. I work a thresher show and one year I decided to make  duplex nail swords . When I got home I had 4 nails left  out of three pounds . The lead blacksmith  told me they had never had that many people come thru shop before  . Now every year since  I still get request for them.  I don't charge for them I figure  if  one or two kids or adults take up blacksmithing or knife making ihave done my job. I always make whoever  I give them to say please and thank you. Every thing I make at this event i  give away to people . So good job on the sword knives cuz you never know it might inspire one more to the dark side. 

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Congrats on the first show. 

Sounds like good ideas for the next one.

I can understand not wanting the forge under the canopy but if you are working small stock you may benefit from having the forge atleast somehow closer to the anvils since small stock cools pretty quickly. Just a thought. 


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On 10/24/2016 at 2:53 PM, Charles R. Stevens said:

That looks suspiciously like my goat!

I can neither confirm nor deny the ownership of the goat.

On 10/24/2016 at 3:37 PM, Daswulf said:

I can understand not wanting the forge under the canopy

That's exactly why the forge cart is behind the tent. I was afraid I'd light it up and we are currently under a burn ban. The propane forge was allowed because it is similar in nature to food cookers. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Congratulations on your first show.  They can be quite daunting until you get a few under your belt and have a system laid out for yourself.  Seems like I was always learning and adapting to what came up.

Things to consider.....

You're right that the shows can keep you busy.  One rule of thumb is that you can either do a demonstration, or you can sell to customers.  You can't do both.  There's no way to know how many people wanted to buy something from you, but didn't want to bother you because you looked busy at the anvil.  Or how many wanted to see you make something, but you were too busy with making change for a customer.

Pick one thing and do that.

If you want to sell items, bring a wife or girlfriend to handle the sales.  Whoever's doing sales doesn't have to be an experienced smith - just good with people and money.  A kid can make change if you can find one that doesn't have their nose stuck in their phone.

Presentation is everything.  Folks love a show and a good show keeps them there longer.  The longer they're there, the better the chances of making a sale.  Maybe not today, but a good show will stick in their mind and they'll remember you when they want something nice for a housewarming gift or birthday present.

Part of presentation is how you and your setup look.  You did great with your "business casual" approach.  Smart and classy, but not something that'd be out of place in a modern metalworking shop.  Blue-collar, but with a hint of uppercrust, maybe.  The only thing I'd change is the lack of an apron.  Maybe it's just my bad luck talking, but that white/grey shirt wouldn't have lasted five minutes with me and then I'd be walking around the rest of the time with a shirt all smudged and burned.  A nice apron might be warm to wear, but it looks the part and saves on shirt expenses.

I always preferred an apron that didn't look cheap and chintzy like those $10 ones you get at Harbor Freight.  Folks can tell quality even if they can't put their finger on exactly what might be wrong.  They expect your apron to be dirty because they realize it's a blacksmith's apron, but cheap and chintzy will stick in their mind.  Something home-made, or something like what Moonshine Leather turns out... something with a hint of class is a good thing.  It tells folks that you're successful.

Your set up is your stage.  You're performing on it and you want it to say something about you.  

You're right that a coal forge seems to go better with the spectators.  If you can get one with a chimney that gets the smoke a good 10' up, great.  A nice hood that keeps the sun's glare out of your fire also creates a black void that folks can better see the fire in - people love fire!  With a chimney to get the smoke up over peoples' heads, you're less likely to have complaints or people moving on to get away from the stuff.

Little things like the way you decorate your anvil stump make a difference.  Burning the wood gives it a sense of age, but random branding with the same iron looks a little rushed and fake, for lack of a better word.  If the brands were in a nice pattern, that would be different.  I'd also recommend drilling some holes in the wood so you can stick some chisels, fullers and other top tools into it.  Even if you're not using them, it will make the whole stage look more "blacksmithy".  

To minimize weight when you're loading up the kit, you can use hidden pegs to join the two pieces of wood.  Simply life the top block off the pegs when you want to load up.

Your bucket does the job, but it would look infinitely better if you stashed it inside an old galvanized bucket or wooden keg.  Again, function takes a back seat to looks because it's something that makes the customers enjoy the experience.  The covering doesn't have to even have a bottom to it just as long as it hides the fact that you've got an ugly plastic bucket for a quench tank.

You don't want to go overboard with the kitsch, though.  The "industrial" look is really popular, and you're running a propane forge, so you can play off that idea.  You could roll a bit of sheet metal into a cylinder and slip it over the bucket so it looks more like a piece of heavy pipe or ductwork from a factory.  Give it a touch of potassium permanganate to age it slightly, or some distressed paint, and you're golden.

Fleshing out your display out will give customers more options.  It's a way of saying, "Hey, I don't have time right now, but I'd love to show you what else I can do."

Storyboards are the best way to add visual interest to your stage.  And you never know, someone might want to buy the thing just because they think it's neat art.  I found this online and thought it was a great way to demonstrate how making a penny end scroll... but I could very easily see someone wanting them as decorator pieces!


Put something like this out there and I bet someone is going to ask if you can make them one while they wait!  Better be ready for it. :D


Since making door hinges is too large a project for the setting, create a storyboard that shows customers what hinges look like.  Not only does it take up visual space, but storyboards like this are easy to make when you're practicing things.  Make a different finial every day or every week between now and the next show, then put them on some old barn lumber.  It gives the customer something to think about.

Hinge Finial Board.jpg

As for pricing, don't sell cheap just to make sales.  Shows are hard work and I firmly believe demonstrators should get a cut of the ticket sales, but don't sell your work cheap just so you can say you made a few bucks.  The best thing you can do is go in knowing that you're going to lose money on the deal.  That's just how it seems to work out until you've built up your clientele and have something of a local reputation.

Price your stuff competitively.  The "perceived value" of that price tag tells the customer that you're a serious craftsman.  Selling a $40 bottle opener for $10 just so you can see it go out the door is doing yourself a disservice.  If you give a good show, folks are going to want to buy the product.  The sizzle sells the steak.  

Kinda running on at the mouth a bit, I know.  I used to really enjoy doing demonstrations and getting the crowd riled up a bit.  Oh, and giving those kids a free nail sword is something they'll remember for a very long time.  Every happy kid had an appreciative parent behind them, and don't think that didn't count for something.  That's the kind of stuff the parents wiill remember!



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Hi Derek, 

Congrats on the first show! You did well!

I think Vaughn left pretty little unsaid - there are some things we all can use for our benefit, good to keep 'em in mind.

When read your OP I was thinking of lots of things but I really want to tell about one: the pricing is really the most difficult part for the beginner. In the Business side section you can find many threads on this subject. It's worth its time in gold to read those thoughts, literary :)

Bests and happy hammering:


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Wow, thanks a bunch for taking the time for such a thorough response, it is much appreciated.  I've spoken to a few other vendors from the same show, no one really sold much that day,so I don't think my pricing was the issue after all. It was a very small and under-marketed event. With that said, it was probably a good thing to start somewhere so small. I did learn a lot. The brand markings on my anvil stand weren't planned. Those were courtesy of my 11 year old daughter who got a little 'brand happy' one day in the shop. Every time I see them, I think about her so I keep them there. I really like the idea of hiding the bucket in sheet metal and making the overall look of my booth more industrial and I definitely want to make up some story boards, those are excellent selling tools! I have a shop apron coming, a really nice one from http://www.forge-aprons.com/ which will replace the crappy harbor freight yellow-suede apron I have now, I decided not to wear it and to display my brand t-shirt that day instead. ;)   As for minimizing weight, I came across a new NC big face 70lb anvil that is now my 'mobile' anvil and will make moving things a lot easier. 

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I find old wooden ice cream make buckets at the flea market cheap.  Out here I usually have to re-set the straps and soak them to get them to hold water but they look much more appropriate for a smithy.  If you are someplace where you can use it as your shop water---don't let it freeze! then they will stay tight.   I take off the metal hardware and run natural fiber rope through the holes left for a handle.

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On 11/7/2016 at 11:36 AM, Derek Melton said:

Wow, thanks a bunch for taking the time for such a thorough response, it is much appreciated.

Glad that you found something of merit in my loquaciousness. :D

Each show is different.  That's why I don't take much from the lack of sales you report - and you shouldn't either.  It was a great venue to learn the ropes at, and you did. Some shows will be better, and some items will always sell better.  Heavier items require the potential buyer to consider if they want to lug it around to the rest of the show or walk it out to the car.  You should still have them available, but don't feel bad if they don't sell like hotcakes.

Women control the money.  Every marketing study I've ever read says that women in the US make 70% of the purchasing decisions - so you need to focus on appealing to their sensibilities.  Neat, clean, professional set up, with small items that are cute, fun, happy, or whatever other word women use to describe stuff as we just sit there shaking our heads.  

Your dinner triangles are nice, but they're heavy and a woman will see that right off the bat.  As much as she likes it, will she want to jam it into her purse?  Does she have a man handy that she can have carry it?  Or are you providing a nice little bag to put it in so she can tote it around with relative ease?  If you do have a bag, is it a recycled grocery bag... or something new and pretty with your company logo on it?  The latter wins every time.  If you do use grocery bags in the beginning, at least stow them in one of those neat tubes so they look good hanging from your awning's leg and folks expect them to be wrinkled, etc.

On your anvil stand.... great story and something sure to make a person smile when you tell it.  Honoring your daughter like that is a great thing.... and a great selling point - if you tell folks the story.  When I first saw the brands, I was thinking it didn't look very "professional" and your story confirmed my thinking, but explained it in a way that made you look really good. 

Think of me as one of your customers taking a first glance at your stage.  Only after you've told me how the brands got there does my impression change.

It's not a big issue, but it does serve to illustrate how the little things can catch someone's eye and give them an impression.  Folks are always asking me if I'm a truck driver, and the first dozen times I marveled at how they figured out I have a CDL-A.  Then it hit me: old, fat, white, beard, ball cap, boots.... yea, I guess I do look like the stereotypical truck driver.

Developing the look of your stage takes time.  Little things can make a big difference - even if it's just making sure that any nails or bolts in view are hand-forged, square-headed, and not shiny new chrome.  

Something as simple as painting your forge stand with brass and copper highlights will make it stand out.  Because it's so far away from the customer, they won't know that it's not actually made from brass and copper, but their eye will be caught by the bright color and the brightness will help illuminate that dark area in the photos.  It adds visual interest and a sense of uniqueness to your shop.

Moving your tools from the forge stand to the anvil block will do likewise.  Something as simple as a 2x4 that's been drilled with holes will add a bit of "otherness" to your anvil block and move the "blacksmithy" stuff closer to the audience so they can better appreciate it.  Quick to make, it keeps all your punches and chisels right there on the front of the anvil stand so the customers can see them, and see you grab them when you're doing something.  It gives them more of a connection with what's going on.

Tool Block.jpg

Back ages ago when I worked in the greenhouse industry, we had to go to trade shows every year and every year there was one impressive company there.  They stick in my mind not because they were good at their job (which they were), but because they had every single person wearing bright orange everything.  Their business cards, hats, overalls, shirts, socks, brochures, bags...... everything was fluorescent orange.  They created a very memorable look that stood out from everyone else that was wearing the ubiquitous khaki and green like you'd expect from people that worked with dirt and plants for a living.  And all these years later, I still remember them.  That was my first real lesson in marketing and putting on a show.

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  • 8 months later...

This is a perfect example of where "special show price" really matters. I ran in to a similar issue this summer at my first show where the only things that sold were the items under $10. I had table with my blacksmith items, my wifes cakes, cake pops, and face painting, and a buddy of mine who does wood burning using 2000 volts of electricity. We made back what we spent to even have a set up thanks to my wife's face painting. I had made a bunch of horseshoe hearts, garden trowels and bbq meat flippers, and all that sold for me was one heart. If I do it next year I will probably make a bunch of smaller items and sell the hearts for $10 instead of $20. Typically when people go to a market they are there to browse, see the talent, and pick up a few small things (usually for a friend who would really like that).

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  • 8 months later...

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