JW513

I had a revelation last night.

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I haven't forged in 2 months since, I finished my class. I have all the tools, smithing coal, forge, anvil... Anyways, everything I made in class was decent but I kick myself for all the mistakes I made (never got burnt yet, though:D), but I'm very hard on myself, I'm not really a perfectionist but I like to do things right, if that makes sense.... Well, it takes a lot of practice to make things look good...

Anyways, this older friend of mine who's a welder, did a lot of smithing when he was a kid, now he does mostly railings. He's literally a genius, when it comes to physics, the properties of metal, and welding.   He has given me a lot of tongs, punches, chisels, a buffalo forge blower, and basically all the scrap stock I want. Last night he said I got another blacksmithing thing for you.. He pulled it out, t was a spoon he made when he was younger. He said "you know what this is for?"  I said, its a flux spoon...  Anyways, he did a decent job making it, but like everything I made it isn't perfect.  I know its kinda obvious, but everyone does start somewhere. 

 

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Your first attempt at any project is never perfect. You accept things based on if it works or not. As you use that project you learn what you could have done better. The second one includes those modifications and you learn. Many times it is what fits your hand or your way of doing things. As you get closer and closer to what works and pleases you, make one more and take the time to customize it as a one off tool, or show piece. Be sure and put your name or touchmark on the project.

For instance after you make your tongs, take a little time to make a couple of chisel marks and a couple of punch marks to make them your tongs. Practice in modeling clay first to get the expression right and then make it in metal. (grin).

dragon tongs epps 3a.jpg

You are correct, you have to start somewhere. So get started with something simple that you CAN make and proceed from there.

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Sometimes it's the imperfections that make forged things different from punched out things at the hardware store.  The mark of a true artist and craftsman is seeing all the mistakes practically nobody else sees, but he or she also knows the work is good though.  I know a guy who is so critical of his own work that he thinks everything he makes is junk and he's constantly in a state of frustration.  In short, he's not having any fun along the way.  

My thinking is to enjoy where you are at.  Strive to learn and perfect and make better things, but don't rob yourself out of the joy of what you are making today.  I kept my first ugly S hooks.  I put them on a welcome sign right as you walk into our place.  They aren't that bad, but they aren't that good either.  I smile at them though and think about just how much I've learned since I made them.  Things I'm making now will look pretty bad 10 years from now.

You are blessed to have a friend that gives you quality tools.  You'll have to remember this generosity when you are bringing someone into blacksmithing and then it's your turn to pay if forward (PIF).

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I totally understand your friend that is critical of his own work. Mine isnt so much with smithing but in my job. I paint in an auto boby shop and I rarely like the look of a paint blend into a door. As a whole the jobs end up passing but I wish they were better. Sometimes I see a problem that in the end would pass but keep going to try to make it better and actually make it worse but it still passes. If I would have just stopped trying to fix it it would have been fine. A painting instructor once told me "don't be a hero, you have to know when to give up and it will be fine"   But its hard to do that. Its a total reversal from my thought pattern sometimes. Its hard to say "It's good enough" and move on. 

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Progress, not perfection.

A man was visiting a foundry and saw an old workman patiently polishing a set of bronze church doors. After watching for a little while, he said, "Those doors look absolutely beautiful, but you're still working on them. How do you know when they're done?" The old man replied, "They're never done. People just come and take them away."

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Kevin - I totally understand.  As a flintknapper I want that perfectly proportioned blade with evenly opposing flakes in an eye pleasing pattern.  It rarely all comes together for most flintknappers.  I've chased fixing imperfections and made things worse as well.  As I season I realize that this is what the stone has given me and work with it.  I've knapped with others who think that if it's pointy and could have killed something then they hit a home run and their work never seems to improve. 

I think good artists and craftsman are hard on themselves and it pushes us forward until we reach the limits of our capabilities.  Something I did early on in my flintknapping career is to save my very best work for me.  I have keeper cases and when I make something truly that is my best it goes in the case and a lesser one comes out to sell.  That lesser arrowhead was at one time my best.  I do this because artists tend to not own their best work so at shows people can see my best work displayed.  I suppose if I were a knife maker I would do the same thing so long as it wasn't someone's special order they've been waiting weeks for :D

Another thing I do is save my firsts.  I have my first slug successfully punched out of a piece of hot steel.  I have my first S hooks and so on.    

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Watching a guy on YouTube forging he recommended making 100 leaf keyrings to learn hammer control. I decided to do that (might get bored before 100 though). The first one was awful, the second one was awful but not quite as bad as the first. The third one was awful but again slightly better than the other 2. I made a long s hook and fastened it to the wall and I'm going to stack the rings in the order I make them. I would have done more than 3 but I got called out to a job but Saturday is another day. 

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This reminds me of something related.  The mindset around finding mistakes can really influence how well you progress.  People are great hunter/gatherers which allows them to find whatever they are looking for.  If you want to see failure, you'll find it where others might have overlooked it.  Aversion is a potent motive for a lot of unhappy people. Being focused on avoiding a negative outcome forces the perspective to where spotting a mistake is almost a relief because it gives the person something to justify their fears.  There's no lesser stress in making a smaller mistake.  We often hear the old adage; "Insanity is defined by doing the same thing expecting a different result." Well if the person is emotionally committed to feeling awful about every shortcoming, the repetition necessary to develop skill provides all that is necessary to generate insanity.

Now if a person was looking for signs of progress, they could greet their mistakes and their successes as markers on the path of personal improvement.    

 

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^That is very true. Like I said, I haven't forged since my 9 week course 2 months ago. But I've learned a lot in these last two months just  examining what I've made. I look at everything I've made and noted where I went wrong.. I look at mistakes as lessons... Repeated mistakes are still mistakes. But every mistake I've made, I've also learned some valuable information... 

 

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Whenever I look at something I've made that has a mistake, I make another without the mistake. I'm not an artistic person and have struggled with making an iron rose (Russian) for years. Today I started another and so far it's coming along better than the last.

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When I make something with a mistake at Demos I make a couple more with the same mistake the tell folks how hard it is to do it that way. Sure I know I need to correct the cause but making a bit of theater humor out of them is good for the soul. It removes the feeling you get when you screw up, sort of like laughing at the devil.  Occasionally doing a thing by mistake is a lot easier than doing it on purpose however once you know how to do it on purpose you know how to NOT do it.

It's an abstract way of improving your work but it works. . . Sometimes.

AND, just because it was a mistake on this piece doesn't mean it won't be THE perfect thing on another. 

Frosty The Lucky.

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A one time student, and now long time friend uses the following statement to his students which he attributes to me.  "It's better than perfect, it's done." I'm sure I followed it to him with, "Now do another one."  Al

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14 hours ago, rockstar.esq said:

Well if the person is emotionally committed to feeling awful about every shortcoming, the repetition necessary to develop skill provides all that is necessary to generate insanity.

I think acceptance is the only remedy for the above statement.  Seeing a shortcoming and obsessing about it will just rob your joy in this great craft.  If you acknowledge the shortcoming, resolve to do better on the next one, and accept the work that has the shortcoming, you'll still have joy. 

A friend of mine will finish something with a flaw and be disgusted.  For him it's all or nothing - it's either perfect or worthless.  He has no joy and lets the expletives fly with the least little set-back or problem.  Some days I wonder why he even flintknaps.  One of my mentors has a 3 strikes and your out rule.  When he broke 3 points in a row, he'd just hang the tools up for the day and come back the next day.  That kept his joy intact and he pretty much figured his concentration was shot by then.  It's a good principle that I've adopted.  One reason I love blacksmithing so much is that you can fix things and worth them until you are happy with them.  Stone isn't that forgiving.  

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10 hours ago, Frosty said:

AND, just because it was a mistake on this piece doesn't mean it won't be THE perfect thing on another. 

that's my view. Sometimes when I do the above, at my own expense will add this newly discovered detail, sometimes I put it on my sample wall for another day.

 

A quote from another blacksmith, especially if you are working for someone else,,,

" If you make a mistake, for gods sake, be consistent!"

I look at "mistakes" in this way. First I remove the negative conotation. Mistakes are always positive. For instance, I've stated here a few times that I work to a 64th". Do I hit this all the time? Nope. Take a run of say 100 pickets wirh a tenon on each end. When done I always figure how many I had to tweak to hit that goal. 1?, 10?, 50?. This tells me my percent error. I use this constantly to determine my skill level at this moment compared to other jobs. This tells me if I'm on the mark, better, or worse. If worse I know I must spend more time in "conscious mode" instead of "automatic". And the fewer corrections, the less time on the job.

Also, I'm my own harshest critic, and my most honest critic as well. 

How else can you know what you need to work on to improve your skills and the esthetics of your work?

And finally, "the difference between a master and a journeyman is the master knows how to make those mistakes work!" And this is a most important developed skill. How do you develop it? Lol, by making mistakes.

 

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JHCC,

Good deduction.

Your mastery was never in question.

It was  always a given.

There is another way to look at mistakes.  For example, If I make a mistake that is not glaringly obvious,  nor affects the function of the object, then I can consider it a design element.

For example, some messy hammer work can be disguised by repetition of the blemish.   This cunning approach makes  it a decorative touch.  Artistic even.

Practice makes perfect. Making numerous mistakes is one of my special talents. So creating design elements becomes a skill through such repetition.

(I'm getting good at it)

Of course,  I will strive mightily to avoid said blemish whilst fashioning the next similar object.

I have found that many lay people will not notice the blemish if I do not point it out. Look at it from your client's point of view.  Confession is not the best policy in this situation.

And generally mums the word chez SLAG.

Spending too much time correcting an egregious work product, is a waste of time.  Better make another one,  or other thing.

Such mangled objects are promptly hidden in a container out of sight.  Later those bits can be retrieved and fashioned,  (put together), as a work of modern sculpture.

I am looking forward to a future trip to the Museum of Modern Art to peddle such artistic brilliance.

There is no point striving for too much perfection. We aren't paid enough.

Look on the bright side,  In the worst scenarios, my most ghastly creations will eventually rust away,  or end up in a Shanghai mini-mill !

What I am trying to say is, changing our perspective is the best way to look at blemishes, and make forward progress.

There is one downside, as we continue to progress,  in this art,  we make less and less mistakes. I don't know about you   but the SLAG. is nowhere near such skill.

Those are just the SLAG.'s private thoughts. 

Regards,

SLAG.

p.s.  hand wrought products should never be too perfect. That is the hall mark of factory made things. Some blemishes are expected in bespoke, hand-made things.

 

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3 hours ago, JHCC said:

I deduce that I am well on my way to mastery!

Excellent!  ;)

 

And one more one liner

"You can tell the quality of a blacksmith by the quality of his scrap pile".  

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Mr. Anvil,

HAH !,

There is NO way you will see my scrap pile!

The contents are proprietary!

Fodder for future brilliance!

Regards,

SLAG.

Four asterisks in a row.  That's progress.

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16 hours ago, SLAG said:

Making numerous mistakes is one of my special talents.

I'm in this club for sure!  I learn a whole lot when I have to fix all the mistakes I make.

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I have always said " When I make a perfect project there's going to be a lot of tools for sale!".  I started serious woodworking 45 years ago.  I still have a basement full of tools.  Most people never find the flaws even when they are pointed out.  When is good enough good enough?  Don't know, but I hope my kids have to sell all my tools when I'm dead!  

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I have been at the blacksmithing for nearly 90% of my life..  I have found that having a mentor or someone who you can see do a particular skill and then gives little helpful suggestions is the most helpful out of all the teaching I have seen or experienced..  This type of mentoring is quite rare as Not one of the smiths I know or teacher I know will do this kind of thing.. 

The reason why I bring this up is I am pretty nearly 100% self taught..  I mean I read books but up till a few years ago I didn't even know who anybody was or is other than a few smiths in the local area.. 

This also meant I would make mistake after mistake after mistake..  I would try to make something and it would be terrible..  I would then double my efforts.. 

I would make 50 or 100 of just 1 thing till it met my desire to have it be what I thought it should be..  I made millions of mistakes.. I had the scrap pile to go along with it initially.. 

I then started understanding and started to see things in a different light.. Instead of simple beginner mistakes I started to make other mistakes that I would have never seen as a beginner..  These were subtle.. a little cold shut or hair line forging crack where something was over worked.. 

I then started to see a difference in the way the metal moved and could see how with each hit of the hammer the metal was moving towards what my mind saw.. Eventually it would turn out to be exactly the object with which my mind saw.. 

I then turned tail and packed up shop and took 13 years off from blacksmithing only to come back out of retirement few years ago..  I once again was making mistake upon mistake..   The neat thing is.. I know where I was vs where I am.. I also know how to get back to a place that was forging success..  Mistakes for me now are just a way of telling me I need more practice and that is exactly what I do..  Last strap hinges I made I made 8 or 10 extra hinge barrels till I had the look i wanted... 

Anyhow.. The point is.. this is a unique craft as there are so many variables that we have a tendancy to overlook..  Temperature, hammer, anvil, vise,  coal, airflow.. Really is amazing how it works out...   Today I was working on a wrought iron hammer and steeled 1 face.. The guys were watching and video taping..  The face welded perfectly on 2 diagonal corners.. the other 2 stayed unwelded..  took another 5 heats to get the corners welded successfully..  

The key was to get rid of the coal (use up) the coal that I had tried (bought 2 bags from a place) and switched back to my old coal and it was welded completely in 2 more heats..  

I should have just taken the coal out to begin with and switched it over to the old stuff.. It would have saved me a bunch of time and extra work but it's all part of the journey and lessons like this have to be learned so they can be remembered..  

Anyhow, just keep at it.. This is truly a practice makes perfect and again finding a mentor can speed the process up but practice is still key.. 

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Jennifer: I learned to use whatever was at hand for fuel and understand . . .Poison fuel(?) where welding is concerned. What about the new coal could've told you to go back to the old coal before you decided it wasn't working?

Until I transferred from a field job to a city job and grew a life I never had a consistent fuel source. It was mostly wood but sometimes I burned some weird stuff, dry peat was one of them. I HAD to learn to note how fuel behaved to make it work at all. I REALLY like feed corn, the stuff pyrolizes like coal and will stick together into a closed dome for welding while it converts to charcoal from the outside in. You can often get deals on moldy feed corn from feed stores, they can't sell it so it's a dumpster item anyway.

Anyway, I have an interest in what you observed in the fire that was poisoning the welds. I got to where I could spot poor fuel before attempting certain processes like welding.

Frosty The Lucky.

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On 9/13/2018 at 8:47 PM, Irondragon Forge & Clay said:

I'm not an artistic person and have struggled with making an iron rose (Russian) for years. Today I started another and so far it's coming along better than the last.

Finished up the rose and it has mistakes, but it is better than the last. Still have to make many more to get a good enough one for me.

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Evvvvvvrey rose has it's thorn :lol:  Couldn't resist.  I think that's a fine rose, especially since I've not even attempted one.  I see some guys using the precut sheet metal forms and wonder how many of the absolutely perfect roses being made are being made from them.  They look difficult, but something I'd like to try.

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