Gyrovague

What's the best place in the USA/World to learn & practice smithing?

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Let's say...theoretically...that you could move anywhere in the country, or even in the world.  And your wife is ok with this.  What would be the best place in the U.S. to learn and practice black/bladesmithing?  Is the answer different if it's the whole world?

Criteria I'm thinking of (I may have overlooked some):

  • Smithing Community
  • Density of Smiths (which may not correlate perfectly to community)
  • Courses/Schools (ironically, my hometown is Auburn, ME)
  • Industrial history  (For availability of used anvils and heavy equipment like power hammers) 
  • Availability of supplies.  (Coal, used tools, steel, handle materials, etc.)
  • Proximity to shows/venues/gatherings
  • Local market for products
  • General quality of life vs. cost of living
  • Anything else I'm overlooking

 

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Wow that's a sort of Encyclopedia Britannica question. I can't afford the days of typing needed to answer it but a few thoughts:

Sort of depends on what TYPE of smithing you want to do.  Blacksmithing is not a monolithic thing it is a massive amount of subspecialities under an umbrella term.

If you want to do industrial smithing don't live 1000 miles from heavy industry.  

If you want to do high end ornamental smithing try to be near places that are using high end ornamental work.

If you want to teach blacksmithing it's a balance between cost and population of students.

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24 minutes ago, ThomasPowers said:

Wow that's a sort of Encyclopedia Britannica question. I can't afford the days of typing needed to answer it but a few thoughts:

Sort of depends on what TYPE of smithing you want to do.  Blacksmithing is not a monolithic thing it is a massive amount of subspecialities under an umbrella term.

If you want to do industrial smithing don't live 1000 miles from heavy industry.  

If you want to do high end ornamental smithing try to be near places that are using high end ornamental work.

If you want to teach blacksmithing it's a balance between cost and population of students.

Oh, great feedback...thanks.  I'll edit original post to clarify.

EDIT: It seems there's a time limit on editing your posts.

So to narrow things down a bit:

  • Definitely not industrial smithing.  More small-scale artisan work.
  • I don't personally anticipate doing high-end ornamental work, but I would think that being near a market for that would mean also being near an active community of blacksmiths.  No? 
  • Likewise, although I also don't anticipate teaching, being in a place that could (or does) support a school would fit into my category of being in a "community" of blacksmiths.  

Maybe there isn't a good answer to this question.  I'm new to blacksmithing, but it seems that for a lot of professions/hobbies/interests there are epicenters with a high concentration of like-minded people.  Not true for blacksmithing?

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Well it depends on your budget and how many free hours you have in a day. week, month..   Definetly not true in blacksmithin as far as groups go.. There are people 

who get together, but usually friends and it's a luncheon kind of thing.. 

  Try to remember full time blacksmiths are rare and forging of metal at the blacksmithing level is way out of date..  While Blacksmithing is cool and neat. if you are doing production and you need to make 100 of something it gets very boring.. you will get really good at it, but it just becomes shear work of pounding out the profits.. 

I'd suggest joining the New England Blacksmiths.. They have meets 2X a year spring and fall, and they have many meets inbetween with local smiths helping out..  They have a group here on IFI... http://www.newenglandblacksmiths.org/

Sadlly, if you are looking at jumping into a heavy smithing population the need for good smiths is still out there, but it really does depend on what you want to make and how diverse your skill sets are as well as how much money you need to make to live..  If you are a newb unless you find someone who really takes a shine to you the Master, apprentice thing is very rare.. 

Back in the late 80's early 2000's. I was making a decent wage at making colonial style hardware, latches, etc, etc..  Since then I retired from professional smithing 13 years ago and since that time frame the hardware gig has dried up.. There is still work out there but for pennies on the dollar unless you have a name for yourself or you know someone.. 

Other thing is. there are a lot of retired folks whom are getting a full time retirement pay and doing the smithing on the side for less money than someone could do it for if having to pay all the bills..  Retired, hobbiest, part time, full time.. 

Anvils are hot, hammers are hot, tongs are hot but at a reasonable price point..  

Your welcome to come see me when I am doing demos.. I"m in Rutland, MA.. I will be teaching and forging at the NEB spring meet which is in June and will be at the Brentwood teaching center.. I've only been involved with NEB for just over a year..  From what I have been told,  Tongs and hardies is what will be taught..  It will be a working event so bring your sweat bands.. 

 

There are a few videos I have posted to Youtube with some basic "how to"s ..    

Anyhow, welcome aboard..  It can be a lot of fun..     

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Anywhere in the world?

How about England.

Loads of anvils, good quality farriers coal readily available, plenty of blacksmithing heritage,  small geographic area (compared to the states) allowing for travel to see the historical sites, classes to learn, visit other smiths, etc. 

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First you must define what you want to learn to do. Then go to the folks that are doing that type of work. Learn from the best as they know what they are doing and have figured out how to do it. 

Reread JLP's post and contact her for when and where she demos. Then go to the demo.

New England blacksmith's Spring Meet is June 1,2,3 at our facility in Brentwood, NH. Go. From there you will have answered many of your questions.

 

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Yes, I'm looking forward to Brentwood.  And it does seem there's a lot going on in New England in general.  Just wondering if there's someplace better.  Seems like western North Carolina shows up a lot.  And, yes, the UK.

Sweden?

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Since your just starting any place will get you going, save the travel  spots for when you need special training

 

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I would say the UK and Europe if you want a formal apprenticeship training. They still treat blacksmithing as a profession, and have apprenticeships, while here in the States anyone with a hammer can call themselves a smith. It also seems from postings and other things I have read that over there they appreciate handmade items, and craftsmanship more so than here, and are willing to pay a decent price for it. My friend from Germany mentioned something similar when I told him I worked in a bakery. Over there it is a 6 year apprenticeship to become a baker. 

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18 minutes ago, Gyrovague said:

Yes, I'm looking forward to Brentwood.  And it does seem there's a lot going on in New England in general.  Just wondering if there's someplace better.  Seems like western North Carolina shows up a lot.  And, yes, the UK.

Sweden?

20 years ago the places to learn in the USA were the living history museums like Colonial Williamburg, VA  or Old Sturbridge Village, in Sturbridge, MA..     They had great opportunities for people interested and you could learn the craft while being paid  to do it.. Not only that, but you could take your sweet old time making something to perfection which is how you refine and better your skill set.. 

Most the government funding is dried up now and a lot of these places are operating on a shoe string budget..  OSV is still a decent place to go but most people there are newer smiths and interested in their own thing vs Vintage blacksmithing..  

I can't say about Colonial Williamsburg as I have no experience there.. 

3 minutes ago, BIGGUNDOCTOR said:

I would say the UK and Europe if you want a formal apprenticeship training. They still treat blacksmithing as a profession, and have apprenticeships, while here in the States anyone with a hammer can call themselves a smith. It also seems from postings and other things I have read that over there they appreciate handmade items, and craftsmanship more so than here, and are willing to pay a decent price for it. My friend from Germany mentioned something similar when I told him I worked in a bakery. Over there it is a 6 year apprenticeship to become a baker. 

A lot of places have apprenticeship programs as a way of keeping the trades for only those who are wanting it..   Casual users are rare..   Guilds also play a large part and were self governing..   

Here its a free for all..     Depending on how things are ran, it can stifle creativity or exploration...  Imaginations are a powerful entity.. 

 

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I know a guy in the flintknapping community that moved to the central hub of one of the big name circles of this craft.  Now 2 of the big names are dead and he's just kinda hanging out there as a retirement home with none of those people around much anymore.  I don't think I'd base my living place on a hobby personally.  Think about where you want to live because things happen and you may be medically unable to smith or perhaps the hobby loses it's luster with you in 5 years and now you are kinda stuck where you are at.

With that said, anywhere in the midwest or southeast would put you in concentrations of blacksmiths.  

 

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Western NC does have a lot of artist smith types, along with plenty of retirees. Low cost of living, close to Penland and John C. Campbell Folk schools, reasonable amount of smithing tools available, and lots of active chapters for meetings. And a plethora of opportunities and shows within a day's drive, like Quad States, SERB, FABA, AACB, Blade Show, Tannehill, Great Smoky Mountains Hammer-in, Fire on the Mountain. Oh, and this summer's ABANA Conference in Richmond, VA.

At one time, a famous anvil collector lived quite close to JCC Folk School in Murphy, NC, and invited Instructors and their students to tour his horde amassed store of vintage anvils. Alas, he is deceased and his collection was sold at auction and dispersed.

There are still quite a few artist types up in them hollows.

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As for teaching; the TV shows have created a new wave of students.  One of my old students and friends called me recently and told me he's working on opening a smithing school smack dab in the old industrial part of Columbus Ohio.  I'll post the details once it's a done deal.  For bladesmithing there is always the ABS school in Southern Arkansas.

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I'm from North East Scotland, and I can think off the top of my head at least 5 places within 100 miles someone could get a formal apprenticeship in blacksmithing(This would include college and papers), ranging from tool smithing to large industrial stuff.

I also know of tens if not hundreds of different "blacksmiths" (Smiddy's) locally.

big demand here, though most of their work is made up of fixing farm machinery nowadays.

Stew

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I've lived and worked in 3 different areas of the states during my smithing journey. When I started I was about 60 miles north of the population center of the U.S. Moved to the N.E. Moved to the south.( It would seem I get run out of places on a regular basis!) I have always found a community of those interested in metalwork. I've always found tools, equipment, material, that I've needed to work with. I've always found individuals I could learn from and inspired me to do better work. Find and get involved with the closest group to you. Ask question and listen to the answers. Make the best of everything near you. Practice, practice, practice.  Al

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Got to agree that UK or more so Europe has likely the most oportunities to learn a diverse selection of Smithing skills and types, within short travelling distances and the chance to gain both formal qualifications and learn from world renown Smiths, some even contamplate taking on trainees and paying them, In fact I know of a renown UK Bladesmith who is currently contemplating doing so.

Alternately you could travel the world and learn from as many Smiths as you could find and still be back home in time for your 60th wedding aniversary and christening of your first great grandchild.

However, you could just chose to stay put, and seek out local knowledge and skills and add to the pool.

As I'm too old to spend that long travelling the globe in search of smithery and happen to live in the UK, I'm taking the final option.

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The best place to be is right where you are. And that's anywhere. 

However, no matter where you are, it's not easy to learn what's needed to become a full time working traditional smith.

Not easy, but not impossible.

First you need three things and they are called the 3 "D's". That's desire, dedication, determination.

Without them it still doesn't matter where you are. You can be a part time or hobby smith anywhere.

Second  you have to realize that there was a reason that apprenticeships were ~7 years. That's the time it will take to learn the skills to succeed in one of the catagorize as an architectural blacksmith. 

It may sound trite, but it is "right on the money". The pathway is truly different for each and every one of us. 

With the 3 "D's" you will prevail,, without you will fail.

Many of us have started out after a bit of time mastering the basics such as fire control by doing hardware. This is relatively easy stuff to make and a large catagory to get into where ever you are. Thus, you will always be challenged. In or close to the mountains? Custom log/post and beam homes etc are your ticket. Hinges, lighting, brackets, switch plate covers, fire place accessories to name a few items.

Live near the southwest? Adobe and iron details go hand in hand.

East coast? Colonial restoration rules as does log/post and beam iron of all sorts  in the mountains.

I'll not repeat the advice already given. 

And never forget,,, architectural Blacksmiths are the 1%'rs of the iron industry and, most important,,, there's plenty of room at the top!

 

 

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Locate a local blacksmith's organization, attend a meeting maybe even join. Meet the guys and find one who'll teach you the craft. There is one of your original questions I have a definite answer for. Re. Blacksmith density. NO DO NOT LEARN FROM A DENSE BLACKSMITH! Oh sure there are all the DON'T do THAT! Lessons but you can pick those up from just watching, no need to take lessons.

Frosty The Lucky.

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It's sort of like asking what is the best vehicle to purchase.  Depending on who you ask, you will likely get a different answer. 

If you are a young person "the best" may be to go to a college/university for a degree in design where they also have a blacksmithing program.... also learn German, French and Italian fluently so that you can, after the university, work in various shops around Europe.

If not that, then start with the closest blacksmithing school, practice, then take specialty courses at whatever blacksmithing schools are offering courses to add to your skills. 

All said and done, try a couple of courses to see if blacksmithing is something that you really want to do.  

 

 

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New England school of metalwork is right there in Auburn Maine with you. There are also like others have pointed out local blacksmithing groups in your area. LEarn locally first then go from there as you need/desire/specialize.

 

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Another good piece of advice is to stay in one work location. If you stay there long enough, they will find you.

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44 minutes ago, anvil said:

Another good piece of advice is to stay in one work location. If you stay there long enough, they will find you.

If the work is good enough to warrant the demand.. :)    

Training wise the options are just so open today..   As for making pay while doing it.. That is a different thing all together..     Mr Anvil,  Turned me onto a great book " Blacksmiths Cookbook" and while it's the first time ever seeing and reading the book it has information in it that I found to be true in my own journey...  

Sadly I got burnt out to soon to really make a go of it, but I started to get work from other areas of New England vs just locally..  That is when you know things are starting to get moving.. 

Quality work is key..  Skilled, quality work, done at a fair price starting out is key..   A fair price is dictated to by a lot of things..  Skill plays in maybe the most.. As then you can produce at a higher rate which can make piece work a better pay day.. Just be careful getting caught in a rut.. 

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i can honestly say i'm a well traveled smith, learning things is easy in some parts of the world and really difficult in others. there are the obvious difficulties like language and culture and then there is also a fear of competition . a part of the world that is full of working blacksmiths is the middle east Syria used to have thousands , if you venture to the rear of the Khan Al Khalili market in the old part of Cairo you will find in excess of 40 different metalwork shops all a close walk from each other. in England the successful smiths are very open and very friendly  others not so much, Europe is a difficult place to see and meet smiths meeting one or two with prior contact isn't hard but most are far apart and accommodation and travel is pricey , for me the easiest was the northern and northwestern parts of the USA . travel food and accommodation is relatively inexpensive.  the folk are really hospitable and keen to share  info etc. the organisations like NWBA host really good conferences that are well attended so what more could you want? remember its easy to make a small fortune blacksmithing you just need to start with a large one. :P

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On 4/23/2018 at 11:18 AM, jlpservicesinc said:

Quality work is key..  Skilled, quality work, done at a fair price starting out is key..   A fair price is dictated to by a lot of things..  Skill plays in maybe the most.. As then you can produce at a higher rate which can make piece work a better pay day.. Just be careful getting caught in a rut.. 

And there it is in a nutshell.

I'd add this: quality and skill go hand in hand. If your quality matches your skill level, and you continually press your skills, you will prevail. 

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