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I Forge Iron

blacksmithing on the next decade.

michael klemz

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Hello, So I have been really enjoying blacksmithing to the point where I might start a shop in the next decade or so. but my real question is in ten years will blacksmithing even by a viable job anymore because with all the advances in machinery large companies could just manufacture large quantities of the same thing I would be making and the would be able to make them cheaper than mine so the normal person will see the price difference and buy the large companies products am not sure if that is what will happen I will let you guys tell me i don't know.

learning to use punctuation would help

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It's unlikely that the "High Custom" end of things will be replaced by machines until we can totally get rid of the human components.

You may have noted that knives have been a commodity product the last couple of centuries;(Sheffield knifemakers were exporting "bowie" knives by the barrel in the 1800's for instance) but custom knifemakers still are going strong.  Improvements in machinery help the custom maker as well; the belt grinder has dropped process times by a huge amount!

So what you need to focus on is marketing, design and process---sounds like a business doesn't it?

When I moved out here I was surprised to find that Santa Fe NM has about 5 times as many professional ornamental smiths as Columbus OH; even though Columbus was 10 times as large. There was a market here,

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That has been happening through history. There have always been advances in technology that make processes easier and cheaper. There are still people out there that will buy hand crafted items for the price because they appreciate it. 

Just imagine what 3D printing will be capable of in the next decade or two. 

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As a general rule, it's profitable to apply yourself to anything that is difficult, rare, and useful to others.  

Ever notice how there are no hobbyist accountants?

That's a profession that's just as ancient as blacksmithing that has remained relevant throughout centuries of technological and cultural changes.  Why is that?  

Most people don't like accounting so they're willing to pay someone with the skills to do it for them.  Perhaps more critically, most people understand that poor accounting can bring about their demise so paying a professional is a good investment.  That's as true today as it was 200 years ago.

There's very little subjective evaluation of the accountants craft which is why they've always been paid well.  Accountants don't advertise much, and the ones I've met weren't particularly good salespeople.  The world beats a path to their door because they do something difficult, rare, and useful to others.

I don't mean to imply that everyone should be an accountant.  I detest it myself.  My point is that we have enough recorded history to show without much doubt that many vocations reached a dead end because they weren't consistently difficult, rare, and useful to others.

As a very simple baseline measure, if the vocation has a larger hobbyist contingent than working professionals, it's probably not a sound career path.  I grew up with kids who were certain they'd be in the NBA.  I wanted to be a rockstar. My alias here is about as close as I've managed to get.  There's nothing wrong with dreams, or pursuing things that interest you.  That being said, a whole lot of things are easier to enjoy when they're not your source of income.  Long term success in business requires a lot of knowledge and perspective to spot the right time to make the most of an opportunity.  The less universally needed your product is, the narrower your window to success will be.  




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You are right that many of the "bread and butter" jobs of the blacksmith of yesteryears have been super succeeded by the factory made items and the trend is encroaching on more ornamental stuff; an amazing amount of stuff is coming out of Italy these days where all you have to do is lay it out and weld it up to get ornamental railings that *most* people can't tell from custom forged work.  They do very good work using powered equipment skilled labour and economies of scale; but  I expect that their customer base will shift to items made in cheaper labour markets fairly soon..

I would suggest a thorough examination of the market and what's currently available and ask yourself what you can add to it and then do the market plan to see if you could survive on the margin.

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Latticino,  Thanks, and I agree with you, it's sad.

Thomas, Your comment got me thinking about something.  Doing market research is excellent advice and has been for a long time.  One thing that is seldom mentioned is how larger trends will affect the answers you're likely to get.

For example statistically speaking, most American's haven't seen a pay raise in the last ten years.  That has a huge influence on what people actually do, versus what they'd like to do.  

A whole lot of business plans won't really be viable until that improves.  

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All the rise has been going to the top few---so try to sell to *that* market!

I remember Paley talking at Quad-State about his Zoo gate and how it originally didn't get funded. He had the drawings still up on the wall of his studio during a "Studio Crawl" and a lady came up to him and asked about buying it.  He tried to explain that they were project drawings and not for sale and she said; "not the drawings I want to buy the gate!" She also mentioned that she had donated several megadollars to a local zoo and thought they would be amenable to accepting a gate as well...You can go see them in place now... or (www.albertpaley.com/index.cfm?Page=Animals Always)

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