Marc1

"I want to start blacksmithing"

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As a blacksmithing forum that spans a long time, it stands to reason that a lot of people who for one reason or another want to try their hand to blacksmithing will post here, share their plans and ask questions. 

So I am probably right in assuming that the "newbies" post here, are a representative sample of the larger newbies population ... so to speak.

Well ... I did not keep tabs but if my memory serves me right, 99% of self confessed beginners, start their post with ... I want to make knifes (or swords but let us not go there).

The one percent that do not, are those from the UK or eastern Europe.

Now from someone who does not "make knifes" and has no intention to do so, I believe that making a nice usable knife must be an attractive project if you are that way inclined. Not easy, a challenge but feasible. Why on earth would this be the almost exclusive goal of almost everyone that wants to start this craft is beyond me. 

I don't subscribe to the idea that  ... if you want to make knifes you must first learn to make hooks ... principle. I believe that it is a specialty within blacksmithing, like lock smithing and gun smithing used to be. So you can ... with the right instructor ... make blades without ever making a gate or an ashtray. 

My point is .... what did we do wrong that no one wants to be a blacksmith anymore and everyone wants to be a blade smith and no one knows the difference?

Just saying. 

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As one of the self-confessed-beginners-who-wants-to-make-knives...... A few random personal thoughts on the subject:

  • Many people have a fascination with knives, swords, axes... any kind of weapons. Especially fantasy fans, and a history fans. I've always wanted to own my own sword.
  • I'm also a generally creative and "hands on" person.
  • With the above two things combined, naturally it doesn't take long to come to the conclusion that you could make your own sword.
  • Blacksmithing in general just isn't "visible" to most people. When you see forging in popular culture, it's almost exclusively things like weapons, or something stereotypical like a horseshoe (which your average person doesn't necessarily have an interest in, unless they're a horse owner/rider.)
  • As such, it never really occurs to most people that blacksmithing could encompass making awe inspiring pieces like the attached lamp (by 58er on this forum), useful tools, beautiful hinges and handles.
  • I seriously doubt that most newbies (once drawn into blacksmithing by the idea of making knives/swords) dont end up opening their eyes to the possibility of blacksmithing rather than just knives!

Does that make sense? What I'm saying is.... I came here to learn to make knives, and now I want to make everything else too. I just want to learn general blacksmithing (including bladesmithing, eventually).

Lamp (2).jpeg

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Marc, you raise an interesting point. I don't know what the answer is, but I can certainly back up your observation … just about every boy that comes by my demos asks if I can make a sword or knives or daggers and spears. (I keep a couple of formwork nail 'swords' for such requests.)

I think there is a general association of ideas at play. Blacksmithing (thanks to media and 'Minecraft' influences) is seen as an ancient art from the era of knights and armour, medieval dungeons and, of course, weaponry.

Wrong as it may be, the stereotypical smith is a bearded, brawny type belting some iron into an enormous sword or weapon of war. Forging delicate roses or ornately decorated shelf brackets just doesn't have the same appeal.

Shaking off stereotypes in not easy.

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You might as well ask why everyone who wants to be a jock, wants to be a millionaire football or basketball player in the US, and not take up, say lacrosse, or discus. It is where the media coverage and glamour is. (Ask people on the street to name 3 pro golfers other than Tiger Woods.)

Plus, it'a a guy thing. Y chromasomes just seem to be drawn to flames, noise, hammers, swords, guns, etc. It evokes something primal in us. That is why they keep putting blacksmiths in video games: even nerds dream of making swords.

Someone here said that metalworking is like a funnel, and that you enter then narrow end. The more you learn, the more that broader knowledge base opens the world to you. Simple forging, complex forging, heat treatment (!), metallurgy (!!), buying cheap tools ($), realizing you wasted money on an ASO and buying better tools ($$$), forge welding(!!!), buying an electric welder ($$), learning to weld(!!!!), the fun never ends.

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In my area of the USA, the prime mover seems to be the "Forged In Fire" TV series.  At least that's what finally got me off dead center and learning about the craft.  I've yet to make a quality knife, but I've made tools and useful items for around the home.  Yesterday I made a small shovel and a part for my log splitter.

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Yes, Ausfire, clearly it does not. And we have only ourselves to blame ... in a general figure of speech of course. 

The part were I believe "we" are at fault ... and don't get hang up on words here ... is when "we" obsess with the old, as if we are curators of a museum. Funny I say that to you Aussie, but I mean nothing personal if that is what you do, good for you. I mean rather the home shop, the hobby blacksmith, even the one getting started, most will have this obsession of doing things the old way ... rather than ... DO things, anyway you can.

When I was a kid, the blacksmith was just what we would call today a metal worker, no mysticism, no black magic, no sulphur under the anvil, tradition was just a word. You needed to make stuff that sold to pay the bills. The artistic side of things a necessity in order to sell. No talent no business. No one would have wasted a minute in pondering the year of manufacture of his anvil, or the history of it. You either had a good anvil the right size or it was a dud and you find another one. It was just a tool and not an object of veneration, and the same goes for all the other tools. Talking about your hammers the way some do here, would have been the object of ridicule for a week. 

We have turned blacksmithing in some form of theatrical play in period customs, were the form is more important than the content. 

No wonder everyone wants to pretend to be Vulcan forging the sword to slain the dragon ... or whatever it is that he is supposed to have done. 

 

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A key difference would be the surge of hobbyists vs people genuinely wanting to start a career in the craft. 

The average person starting a hobby wants something exciting to show off. What's more exciting than a highly polished, glorified, media spotlit knife? 

That is until, they try and fail and come crashing back down to earth. 

You don't get TV shows or media attention around every day objects. 

How many shelf brackets can you make and show off to your mates? 

 

I would guess this site will see more hobbyists than professionals, as they will be going down more traditional routes of apprenticeships or study, and wouldn't be making posts here until they've swung a hammer a time or two and have a more realistic view 

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43 minutes ago, Marc1 said:

Yes, Ausfire, clearly it does not. And we have only ourselves to blame ... in a general figure of speech of course. 

The part were I believe "we" are at fault ... and don't get hang up on words here ... is when "we" obsess with the old, as if we are curators of a museum. Funny I say that to you Aussie, but I mean nothing personal if that is what you do, good for you. I mean rather the home shop, the hobby blacksmith, even the one getting started, most will have this obsession of doing things the old way ... rather than ... DO things, anyway you can.

Well, I suppose as a museum curator, I do get a bit obsessed with old.  I give people what they want to see as far as blacksmithing goes. People come to our Village to 'step back in time' (that's the most oft-used phrase in our visitors' book), and they really don't want to see me drilling holes with the shiny new 24v cordless Makita. So I use the hand forge blower, punch the holes, etc. Some compromises of course, like starting the forge with kero when no one is looking! People often comment that my safety glasses are not traditional, but they are not negotiable. One bloke even said that I need to have a beard to be a 'real' blacksmith.

In my home shop it's a different story.  I often split metal with an angle grinder,  use an arc welder, drill holes on the pedestal drill, use a linisher, etc. No obsession with 'old' there!

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Me, I started out trying to make a knife with a leaf spring after warming up on a couple of other items.  :o  I found out just how tough high carbon steel was to move and stopped realizing I was missing quite a lot of skill.  Not wanting to produce a crappy knife, I began reading a lot and decided I needed to start with the basics first.  I disagree with the notion that you don't need to start with hooks and things first.  Can you start as a blade maker, yes, but I think it will be a tougher road learning hammer control, drawing out, etc. on knives.  I'd personally rather make those early mistakes on hooks.  I'll make a knife someday, but it's not my focus right now only being a few years into this craft.

I think there's also confusion where some believe that being a blacksmith is only making hardware and such.  A blacksmith is someone that heat metal and shapes it with a hammer on a solid surface.  Rather you make blades or dinner triangles, you are a blacksmith.  The dude with a break drum forge and a sledge hammer head in the backyard is a blacksmith.

I think it's also important to point out that a hobby and a livelihood are much different.  Someone can take up golfing or blacksmithing for a season and give it up with little investment, but if someone desires to be a blacksmith to feed his or her family the commitment is much more intentional as is their investment in tools and instruction.  In America we have a lot of hobby junkies.  I taught one fellow how to flintknap that I met while out looking for arrowheads.  He dropped the hobby slowly after a few years and I'm sure is onto something else.  Time will flesh-out those truly interesting in learning to be a craftsman and those that are just a hobby junkie.  I think it's really important not to overlook the fact that some people are on a journey.  Perhaps woodworking got them interested in forging after watching Roy's forging episodes on the Woodwright Shop.  Some may have been into collecting old guns and in learning to make them decide they need to learn to forge their own parts.  Some <sigh> may watch forged and fire and want to make blades.  Is one motivator any better than another?  As a flintknapper I was set up at a show next to a blacksmith and that peaked my interest and was my motivator.  

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I feel that before you try to make a knife you need to have the basics learned so you don't keep on making beginner's mistakes on advanced projects.  I teach regularly and my starting projects are ones that are *VERY* hard for a new student to mess up---especially with me and my 1500gm swedish crosspeen to hand to smooth out mistakes.  (I've even bought a couple of lighter versions for students to use when they claim that the hammer is making the difference; they can use a similar hammer and find out that it's the learned skills and experience that makes the difference---also why I now try to fix the issues they are having using the hammer they were using.)

Having them succeed in making something is what sets the hook rather than them trying a more advance project and having to throw it away after botching it time after time.  I also tell them that everything they learn working on such projects is *directly* applicable to bladesmithing.

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I think a small part of people jumping into knives instead of campfire sets, corbels, etc is they want to be remembered.  To be a part of history.

A good quality knife has a better chance of being handed down through the generations than a set of brackets for a shelf.  It can be usable or a display piece.  Someone can look at it and say my great-grandfather made this.

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"The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water." -John W. Gardner

 

I feel that suitably modified this would be applicable to smithing as well.

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I'm just excited to finally be a 1%er!  Marc1, I think you are correct.  Most newbies are influenced by the TV show.  When buying my anvil, post vice etc, all the sellers assumed I'd be making knives, they didn't know what to say when I said I had no intentions on making knives or swords.

Nothing against those who's desire is to make knives and swords, I admire the craftsmanship.  I wanted to get into blacksmithing to make practical things I can use and decorative items the Mrs. will like.  I'm still very new and enjoy learning from taking classes, reading and of course utube.  I just completed a tong making class, all of a sudden 50.00 for a nice pair of tongs doesn't sound so bad.  I enjoyed the class, made two tongs and will no doubt make more as needed, but I enjoyed learning the skills, talking with my classmates and the instructor more, learning why they started, what they make etc. 

im still excited to finally be a 1%er! 

Duane

 

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Thomas, I love that quote!

Marc1,

I think there are a lot of people who feel that everyone should be guaranteed an equal outcome regardless of all other factors.  To these people, anything that empowers one person over another is considered a weapon and an evil one at that.

Individual skill, excellent tooling, personal accomplishment, it's all the same.  Trades aren't respected because success isn't equally distributed. Basically, anything that's practical and functional is forbidden.

In such a situation, anyone seeking rebellion via independence will find that a knife is perhaps the single most useful and utilitarian implement they could pursue.  It may well take more skill to craft an ornate fireplace screen, but that won't open a box, prepare dinner, remove a splinter, start a fire, or otherwise save your life.

Once you've got a knife, you start to see why pry-bars, chisels, pliers, hammers, etc. are all worth having.  

So it might just be a good idea for blacksmiths interested in continuing the craft to stop enforcing the tut-tutting about knives.

 

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The “tu-tu” about knives from my point of view is all the separate steps that need to be mastered and can be mastered with simpler projects that only require a cuple of steps.

Now coming from the side of horse shoeing, where ones first project is to bend 1/4x3/4” stock the hard way, and scroll each branch into matching curves that match a pattern, plus  stamping and punching a pattern of countersunk holes to match and fallow a pattern I am not afraid to learn things the hard way...

Now if one takes the forging out of the equation then one is looking at more of a repeatable recipe using patterns, known steel and filling/grinding jigs. This in no way detracts from the skill and patience a cutler exhibits in his fit and finish or the more advanced stock removal guys who free hand on 72x2 grinders, draw their own patterns and work with heat treat methods that don’t involve controlled temps. Their is still art and skill to be found there, forging a blade just adds several layers of complication to the task, particularly if one chooses salvaged steel as your parent stock and a solid fuel forge as your heat source. 

Knives are tools, and as smiths we are all to often making tools, if not for our selves then for others. 

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Charles,

I think it would be fair to say that there may be more mingling with your point and mine than either of us have acknowledged thus far.

That being said, I suspect there would be far less curmudgeonly pouncing if 9 out of 10 new folks posted that they want to make strap hinges instead of something "dangerous".  

Getting back to Marc1's original question "where did we go wrong that nobody wants to be a blacksmith?"

I very firmly believe that's a function of the equal outcome strategy.  Anything that encourages personal excellence, independence, or competition has been discouraged by a large part of the population.  Everything from shop class to camping has been systematically reduced, restricted, and removed.  

In their place we have industries that focus on creating bottlenecks to protect their own.  It's not about being better than the competition, it's all about making sure the client/society can't find relief from the "best practices" that ensure everyone working in that vocation gets the same outcome.

From a bystanders position, no vocation will be inspiring.  Seriously, consider what would happen if you asked any particular vocation why the dysfunctional stuff from fifty years ago is still happening today.  In my experience, the answers are remarkably consistent.  Fixing anything brings nothing but misery down on the person, often at the hands of the very same individuals tasked with ensuring quality, productivity, and vocational stability.

If we can all agree with Marc1's contention that the majority of newbies are starting out hoping to make a knife, it stands to reason that most of us arrived by that same point.  I doubt the tut-tutting about how stupid it is to start by making a knife will be winning any new hearts and minds.  This site has huge resources for aspiring knife-makers.  I'm proud to be affiliated with people doing work that good.  Their excellence inspires me to improve.  

So to answer the question, we need to quit pretending that prioritizing equal outcomes will ever advance humanity.  We may need to admit that not everything we did is pertinent to someone else achieving their goals.  Giving people room to fail will often free them to exceed all expectations.  If you want people to come to your wisdom, you've gotta act less like a traffic cop and more like a living legend.  Do something awesome and let that speak for your ability.  But if you do, be prepared to get picked on by the equal outcome set.  That's what they do, heck, it's all they do.

 

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I started blacksmithing without really thinking about it.

Using a O/A torch set, I made many parts to restore an old Jeep and repair/restore old original muzzle loading firearms. Then I met a master blacksmith who taught me to light and maintain a coal fire and move metal on the anvil efficiently and make my own tools. Just sort of slid into the craft you might say. Even made knives back then, some I still have and some are with friends still doing the job.

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I feel a person needs to learn basics first, and I find it odd listening to a person that admits to not making knives telling the rest of us how to make knives,   Stating  one does not need to learn basics before  going to advanced stuff isnt doing anyone any favors,  I am not saying that everyone needs an apprenticeship like I did before making blades, but a few weeks of basics goes a long way.  People should have enough sense to listen to the blade makers about what is needed and not their feelings about it. 

I admit that I can walk someone through it in a weekend, but  will they actually know anything about what they are doing ?

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Steve,

I understood this to be a different situation than the one you've presented.  People who want to be their own obstacle are very time-consuming.  I try to pay it forward to recompense all the people who taught me, but some folks aren't a realistic investment.

If a newbie comes on asking about making knives, I'd point them towards your knife making tutorials without discouraging or disparaging them for not being wanting to be a blacksmith.

I don't see anything wrong with a new person focusing on bladesmithing, even if their inspiration was sparked by something less than ideal.

 

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nothing wrong,  my last apprentice did.  but I got the burr in my bonnet from the OP statement of starting out making knifes with out prior smithing experience, perhaps I misunderstood

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Me; I've already deleted one comment on this. 

I don't see that equipping a student to succeed at what they want to do is holding them back. I have seen folks who ended giving up on bladesmithing in frustration because after weeks of work they still were destroying their blades with beginner's mistakes.  Even the folks with a natural talent for it still profited from learning hammer control and temperature control before working on blades---they just learned those scary fast! (And at least one who worked a long long while learning  before going on to be a pro in the field...)

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I don't find the fascination with making swords or knives strange at all.  When you boil it down nearly all other tools are possible because of fire and cutting edges. 

While I do agree that learning basics first will produce far more success when transitioning to blade making than starting with blades, I also believe there is more than one path to the destination.

Some people would would rather fail repeatedly in attempts to create something that interests them than to be successful repeatedly at something they have no desire to accomplish.  For others it's the reverse.   Insisting that someone hammer out a hundred S hooks, tapers, etc. to develop their skills will no doubt make them better at crafting blades.  However, that same insistence may cause them to lose interest entirely.   Understandably anyone running a shop as a business would want apprentices to turn out quality work in short order and therefore insist on those apprentices becoming proficient at basics before moving on.  For those of us who are hobby smiths there isn't the same pressure.  If I spend 50 hours to turn out a piece that someone who is more skilled/experienced could turn out in 10 hours it's not really causing any major problems to anyone else.  If indeed the process or journey rather than the end product is the goal, then the time spent in either case does have equal value to the person spending the time.  On the other hand if the goal is to turn out quality products for sale in a timely manner then it is a different story.

Personally I do not enjoy making (or attempting to make) the same things repeatedly.  Nearly everything I do at the forge is a "one off."  That would be a very poor way to run a business since making something for the first time tends to be quite time consuming (in my case at least).  For me it's a good way to enjoy a hobby though. 

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 I got into bladesmithing because I use knives on a daily basis and was always looking something that would be better than the knife I had. I've bought a lot of knives that looked good and then turned out to be just nice knives that weren't very useful.  That's when I started making knives (without any prior experience) and I was tripping over myself at nearly everything I was doing. I was trying to decide what solid fuel forge design I liked best, what temperatures to forge at, how to forge the steel, how to heat treat, etc. I didn't read any books. Looking back, I could have saved myself a lot of stupid mistakes by before ever picking up a hammer going and buying a bunch of books on blacksmithing and bladesmithing. After my first knife I set down the hammer and bought many books and read them, then I fired up the forge. 

A big part of why so many people are into knifemaking is because of the "cool" factor, because it's the trend to make knives. It's already been said about Forged in Fire.  I'll admit I am part of that bandwagon two years back, but  I wandered off that path.  I made a sword to test my skills and learn more about bladesmithing. It was very challenging but rewarding and the sword turned out pretty good, but after that I realized that I enjoyed making everyday things more than I did things that just sit around as a wall decoration in someone's house. I made a Damascus buckle for the scabbard belt, because I wanted to, and to me that is the center of the whole setup, it isn't the sword or the leather scabbard that catches the eye, it's the buckle. I haven't made a knife since instead I've focused on making tools and other practical things and branching out into different areas so I have a better feel for being a blacksmith. Besides I have a whole box of knives and I can't use them all everyday, might as well make something that I or someone else will use regularly. 

 

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Thomas,

What you're saying is certainly true.  Growing up I used to hear about how football players should take Ballet so they would become more agile and precise with their footwork.  I recall hearing about several professional football players who followed that advice.  

When I gave guitar lessons, a lot of students would burn out because it's difficult starting out.  Focusing on fundamentals makes playing less difficult, but makes burnout more likely because it sounds terrible and doesn't appear to apply to the students goals.  To kindle their desire to improve, they have to actually hear themselves sounding like their hero.  Even a few seconds can be life-changing.  With that motivation, they're often willing to stake more effort on fundamentals.  I think that's just human nature.

 

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Perhaps we can all agree that there is more than one way to get places in smithing and there is no "once size fits all".

(But I really really want the new smiths to not have spent the years I wasted doing things the hard way back in the early 1980's...) 

Folks often come into smithing  having very strong beliefs in the way it's done; many of them not based on research or experience and fight to preserve those beliefs; often because they are strongly supported by Hollywood, Video games, and fantasy books.  I've had a few students that when I asked them for their proof actually went out and researched and found that their beliefs were based on urban legends and wish fulfillment thinking.  They generally ended up doing well.  Of course it was my interests in Medieval Ferrous Technologies that helped me to *learn* how to research in depth---to evaluate sources,  follow bibliographic trails, talk to professors, even attend an academic conference of two when they aligned with my specific interests.  And then there is "Experimental Archaeology" to which we owe such a depth of gratitude to for many things we work with; but have to always be wary of as folks can go merrily astray trying to put modern beliefs back into times they were not held...

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