Fetterley

Blacksmithing as a Career

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Currently, I have been researching career after career trying to find one that would make me happy in life as I am quickly reaching my senior year in high school. I have mainly looked at medical so far but have recently thought over and came to the conclusion that it is not a good choice to force myself into a career I would hate over time. My entire life I have frequented the Renaissance festival and been fascinated by metal and leather work. Blacksmithing and Leatherworking began to come up time and time again in daydreams and careers I would love to do but I never believed at that time I could make a career out of it. I am in love with both being able to create things and be my own boss. Time after time I find myself wanting to work with metal and leather. After waiting a long while a week ago I told my family that I was considering becoming a Blacksmith and was greeted and given the utmost support (on my mom's side).  My family and I really think it could be a good choice for me and my sister even offered her place for me to live while I get on my feet. In today's world would it be a good choice and idea to pursue blacksmithing full time given the support I would have or should I look into other career options for the time being?

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I would suggest taking some blacksmithing classes. Then looking into local blacksmithing groups, and other learning opportunities. People can and do still become professional blacksmith's. Even youth's, look at Alec Steele and others. Business management classes as well as art classes and welding would help also. 

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Figuring out what TYPE of blacksmithing you want to do is a good first step. Also check to see if the Small Business Administration has any business classes you can take---if you plan to work for yourself you need to know how to run a Business! (That may be the more difficult aspect of it too.)  For example a professional swordmaker once told me whether he showed a profit for a year could depend on how he depreciated his tools. (His work was considered "investment grade" and he had a 2 year waiting list; his stuff sold for thousands---back in the 1980's!)

It can be a big help if you live in a country with socialized medicine; many craft people are 1 medical problem away from total bankruptcy.  (I had emergency surgery when I was 28; 6 weeks *after* I had married a spouse with medical Benefits!)

Does your highschool support students taking any College courses?  Getting some business/accounting under your belt NOW when it's cheap would be nice.  How are your Art classes coming along---can you draw things.  You can learn to make them later but being able to draw them is a needed first step.

Remember if you are working for yourself you need a tough Boss to be successful!

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Welcome aboard, glad to have you. If you'll put your general location in the header you might discover how many members live within visiting distance.

I wanted to link you to one of Mike Rowe's talks, "Follow opportunity, NOT your passion." Nobody your age or heck mine, wants a job they're going to hate. Unfortunately very VERY few of anybody chose a job they end up loving at first. Sure, there are people, some regular posters here who make their living at the anvil. One however makes a living shoeing horses and forging the "good" stuff almost as a sideline.

Chasing opportunity on the other hand will cover the overhead: roof, utilities, food, medical, transportation, etc. and maybe enough to support your passion. Just owning a vehicle is more expensive and involved than you probably realize. I'm not trying to convince you not to do what you want for a living, I'm just advising you find a paycheck job you can stand so you can afford to build a business doing what you want.

That's just the reality of life.

Frosty The Lucky.

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Have you taken the various aptitude tests given in high school that tell you your inclinations for various careers?  They are generally pretty accurate in a general sense.  Then start examining opportunities in that general area.  The harsh reality is that you have to support yourself and your future family, if any.  That does not mean that you have to do something you hate but it does mean that you have to come up with something that is at least OK while providing enough income to live on.  This is not an easy task but we have all had to do it.

Blacksmithing is like any other craft career.  If it is your primary source of income you are filling a small, specialized niche in the economy and you are serving a small part of the population.  This is why there are no longer blacksmiths in every town and village who are a necessary part of the economy.  A crafts person cannot compete with factory made items.  You cannot make a hinge or anything else as cheaply as a machine in a factory.  You have to serve a customer base that is willing to pay extra for a handmade anything.  It is your skill and talent you are selling, not the actual object you have made.  If you understand this reality you will be able to approach decisions about your future in a rational way.

That said, yes, there are successful self supporting blacksmiths just as there are successful artists, actors, musicians, etc.. But they are the cream.  There are many more of us who have to have something else going to bring in the necessary income to live. 

And, finally, remember that running a business, of any sort, is different from having a skill or craft.  They are not the same skill set.  That is why several people here have suggested business classes.  This is true for black smiths, carpenters, plumbers, attorneys, doctors, accountants, and just about any other craft, trade, or profession.

Good luck to you and make your decisions with all the knowledge you can get so that your decisions are truly intelligent and informed.

"By hammer and hand all arts do stand."

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On 3/15/2019 at 8:11 PM, ThomasPowers said:

Figuring out what TYPE of blacksmithing you want to do is a good first step.

Thank you! My high school offers PSEO (post secondary enrolment option) for free and that would save me a year worth of classes. Would be best to go for a bachelors, associates or just certificate?

 

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Thank you for helping me out! This has given me a lot to think about and i'm going to do more research and if all else fails maybe blacksmithing could be a hobby and then a retirement job. Thank you all!

Sincerely, 

Fetterley

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Well I had one student who got his degree in MatSci/Metallurgy and does smithing on the side.  Another who was the IT guy for a law firm and does smithing on the side. Another who is a Security Guy at White Sands Missile Range and does smithing on the side,....

I found it nice to have a "fall back"; especially when I was diagnosed with Diabetes in my 40's and so have been pretty much restricted to large companies and ones that have to follow federal guidelines here in the USA.

As for the "other" career: try to find one that leaves you time for smithing and pays well enough that you can buy smithing stuff!  How far to go in college?  What will support your end goals best!  And not only near term.  My employer told me to get a CIS degree mainly on my own time.  Took a decade but shortly after I got it the dot com bust took out the company and I was on the street---with a new degree and almost 15 years of experience.  Sure helped get me the next job where I wanted to be!

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23 minutes ago, ThomasPowers said:

I found it nice to have a "fall back";

Now there's a parental adage I got sick and tired of hearing. My folks used to tell us, "Always have a fallback." Meaning a marketable skill but you do what's necessary to cover the basics, I mentioned earlier. 

Only having one marketable skill means you are a "one trick pony," you are dependent on your ONE skill being in need. The more you know how to do the more likely you will be the last person laid off and the first one called back or hired elsewhere. You'll also have more places to apply. Heck the last time a supervisor "threatened" my position by saying, "he always felt lucky just to have a job," no, bright wasn't his forte. I returned to his office, literally 15 minutes later and gave notice out of professional courtesy as I'd accepted another position. Before I tried catching a tree with my head I collected skills so I operated in that position for 20 years with several open job offers I could take with a word.

ANY honest job is worthy of respect.

Oh, "Always have a fallback" is as true as any word of advise I've ever heard. The more options you have the better you get to live. ;)

Frosty The Lucky.

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If you are a VoTech type of person Welding and Machining are suggested; if you are otherwise; matsci/metallurgy, business, pretty much anything that has a sound prospect for a job. I've had several industries collapse under me over the years; but was able to keep my family sheltered and fed even when unemployed.

 

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Most of us have had to have different careers over the years, usually driven by forces beyond our control.  The factory closes, the general economy changes, a technology changes, a geographic area goes into decline, government policies change, a war occurs, and many other factors play out.  It is rare for someone coming out of high school to embark on a job or career and stay in that field for the next 50 years.

Therefore, as several people have suggested, keep your options open, be nimble, and be realistic in your choices.

I have had to change directions several times in my life and while it was stressful at the time I do not regret it.

I think for most people the reality is that you need a job/career that you reasonably enjoy to pay the bills and put food on the table and blacksmithing is a hobby/avocation.  Often, it can be a hobby which pays for itself which is rare as hobbies go and can be a supplemental income which is nice.  But the economic reality is that it is probably not something you can plan on being your primary source of income.  The best case scenario is that you start as a hobbiest and progress in skill and economics to a point where it becomes your major focus.

That said, in my 40+ years of hitting hot iron I have always tried to keep blacksmithing fun for myself.  If you have to be doing it to keep a roof over your head the fun factor decreases quickly.  I have made my living as a smith at times in my life, though it didn't pay much more than unemployment but it felt a lot better.

Again, best of luck and I hope that you will find smithing a life long love.

"By hammer and hand all arts do stand."

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I spent a year apprenticed to a swordmaker back in the early 1980's, (6 days a week in the shop, no pay, 2 meals a day with his family, type of apprenticeship---lived on my savings). What I learned was that while I loved it as a hobby; I didn't as a job. At the end of the year I got married and had a family to support and worked any job I had to to support them. (Including taking a strenuous job before I had recovered from serious surgery.)  Working my way up I now have a job that supports me and my wife has good benefits and pays for the fun smithing toys---if I wasn't so cheap I refuse to buy them...

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Well I would say go for it!

but the truth of the matter is that if it is rite for you you will have no choice.... so there you go.

I feel incredibly lucky to have found  Job that gives me so much satisfaction...so many people do not get that chance.  

Is blacksmithing rite for you ...I don't know .  but I would recommend trying it. see if you can make it work...or if it works for you.

I have had a 25 year long relationship with my craft (23 years as a pro) and its been the making of me...ups and downs for sure and hard work most of the time . but interesting always ..

anyhow Im off out to the forge to teach a knifemaking class...have a good day!

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On 3/18/2019 at 12:14 PM, Frosty said:

Now there's a parental adage I got sick and tired of hearing. My folks used to tell us, "Always have a fallback." Meaning a marketable skill but you do what's necessary to cover the basics, I mentioned earlier. 

At 18, plan "A" was to become a rockstar because it was everything I enjoyed.

Thank goodness for plans B through Z!  It's really tough to know what your priorities will be ten, twenty, or thirty years down the line.  

A lot of jobs don't pay what they should, and a lot of life's necessities are incredibly expensive. 

My wife and I both have "fallback" careers that played a vital role in keeping food on the table.  I think it's really important to stress a distinction that rarely gets made in discussions about career planning.

Certified, doesn't mean qualified.  Being the person who gets things done is what matters to an employer.  Sure, they use credentials as a proxy for job suitability, but what they really want is to hire a person who will solve their problem.  The tricky part about this, is that you have to see what the boss cares about, so you can apply yourself to what matters .  That assumes you can bypass the H.R. obstacles to actually access the boss.

There's usually a huge difference between what matters to your boss and what the coursework stressed for certification.  Also, it bears mentioning that most certifying agencies do no quality-control on their graduates.  That's not accidental.  If these programs were actually accountable for professional incompetence on the part of their graduates, they would probably focus on things that matter in the working world.

It's been my experience that accountability tends to improve performance.  Before you jump into a trade school or a higher-ed program, look into what the employers are actually after.  Things are so bad in the trades right now that most shops will literally pay your way through a trade school that doesn't suck.  

Good luck.

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I think I made it through several waves of layoffs because of my scrounging and metalworking skills---I was  Computer Lab Support and could convert a oddball rack to fit our components; mine the recycle boxes for working cables, and once straightened a chassis that a forklift had run into and have it work!

My stepson was once rated as a forklift driver; but his group was using him for sql work---and worked a bunch of tricks to keep him on when they had layoffs!

I think an important thing is to not limit yourselves; add skills every time you can!

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I've one thing to add to Rockstar's post. A certificate or diploma doesn't mean you know how to do the job at best they mean you have the basic tools to LEARN the job. If you have basic skills, come in a few minutes early, do what you're told, take correction well, don't cause trouble, and go home a couple minutes late, you'll be in the groove.

One of the poison pills to avoid at all costs is trying to dodge responsibility for mistakes.

Frosty The Lucky.

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14 hours ago, Frosty said:

One of the poison pills to avoid at all costs is trying to dodge responsibility for mistakes.

Frosty, I honestly believe that about 80% of the "soft skills" lectures in business school could be replaced with that sentence.  

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One piece of advice I always give to someone just finishing High school and are trying to decide what to do as a career, is to join one of the military services (Navy or USCG are my favorites). You learn a lot not taught in any school about life and get benefits for continuing education when your term is up.

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