Patrick1992

My Second Year of Blacksmithing

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Firstly, I’d like to apologise in advance if this seems like it’s turning into some kind of annual diatribe; It’s more by coincidence than design that I find myself posting my thoughts and feelings around the topic of blacksmithing around this time every year. Whilst I love talking about the act of blacksmithing itself (ask my faux-enthused and often bemused friendship group), I find I cant help but talk around the topic, which can often stray into the abstract and even the irrelevant; So apologies for that as well. At it’s heart, this post is an annual offering that provides an honest account of my ‘blacksmithing year’, and as such, I am always incredibly interested to hear other peoples’ opinions and comparisons on the things I have experienced, as well as the conclusions I have made along the way. As I did last year, I have broken down this account by theme, and included some of the lessons I have learned in this; My second year of blacksmithing.

 

1. You Can’t Always Get What You Want

In the immortal words of the Rolling Stones. I have been struck more than ever about how this differs from many other hobbies I have or have had in the past. Given the option in many of the latter, it would not be beyond the realms of possibility to conveniently acquire all of the highest end kit an equipment needed to ensure that I could participate. If you want to get into playing the guitar, you can by a Les Paul. Into golf? Get yourself a nice set of Callaways, and so on. This has never been my experience of blacksmithing, and this became ever more pertinent when I had to move my entire shop due to refurbishments on the farm.

Before...

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After!

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This is not to say that the experience was a negative one, quite the contrary. I found that the move gave me the opportunity to iron* out a lot of the set-up mistakes I had made when I set up my first shop, and despite the reduction in space, the overall layout is safer, easier to use and better suited to my needs. I also think there is something special and endearing about the lack of uniformity in blacksmithing. Just scrolling through the forums here has demonstrated to me what a diverse range of equipment, techniques and real estate exists out there, and I think that the ‘have a go’ nature of that reality is something that should be celebrated.

 

2. A 70% solution made is better than a 100% solution bought

“[It’s] an indescribable sense of satisfaction. [It] means that you’re living. You’re not cowering in fear, you’re out there taking chances. I think that’s such a beautiful mentality.” - Nick Offerman on making things.

This is something that I touched upon last year, and if anything, my conviction that this statement rings true has only become stronger. I realised very early on into blacksmithing that in almost all respects, I was useless. The problem was not my own, but that of the environment around me. I had worked hard through school, college and university to develop a skill set that would set me up incredibly well for the world of employment. I was educated, computer literate and ready to sing songs to the beat of another organisation’s drum. Like almost everyone in my peer group, I had been conditioned to be of utility to another entity, not to myself. I would find over the next decade that I had enough money to buy solutions to all of my needs, but it turned out to be a hollow victory.

Blacksmithing on a purely amateur basis has reinforced to me this year more than ever that there is something incredibly empowering about investing in the types of things that are of utility to me. The things I make now out of metal and wood, albeit imperfect, are more important than the end product. Every time I learn to do something for myself, I become a little less reliant on buying a solution. The beauty of this journey, despite the initial difficulty learning how to achieve the solution, is that you eventually own the solution, and continue to apply it with more competence each time it is required.  Blacksmithing gave me a clearer perspective on the way I assessed my competencies, and ultimately, who they benefit. I have found this year that learning skills that provide me with solutions for life is an infinity better way to spend my time than repeating the same task or function I always have to acquire enough money for someone else to do it for me, every time I need it.  

The 70% solution has extended to cider making and garden furniture

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3. It’s not a race!

This sounds incredibly simple, but it took me a year to realise this. There is no rush to learn how to make a quality piece of work, and indeed rushing to make that perfect piece often resulted in disaster, for me anyway. Taking knife making as an example, I was far too eager in my first year of blacksmithing to have something that looked like a knife that I could show off, without properly going through each of the steps needed to ensure that it functioned well. This year, I have been taking time to go through each step with a little more finesse and understanding. By way of recommendation (if you don’t want to make the same mistakes as me), if you don’t have the luxury of an experience smith over your shoulder, get a copy of something they have put out there and take it into the shop with you. Steve Sells excellent book on knife making is something I have referred to time and time again when going through each step in slow time. By ignoring the finished product and concentrating on the process I have made better gains in my own knowledge and abilities this year.

Footnote

Steve, if you’re reading this, thank you!

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4. Life will inevitably get in the way

This is as true now as it was when I first got into blacksmithing. Despite my rhetoric on the empowering nature of self sufficiency earlier, I am a realist, and a lot of people here will empathise with the notion of having big ambitions for their blacksmithing but not enough time to dedicate to them. It’s been two years of having small bursts of hammer time for me, and with that comes the need for an enduring dedication. Distractions are everywhere in the modern world, but if you are new to blacksmithing and find yourself in a similar situation to me, try and stick at it. I have found that lowering my expectations as to what can be achieved in the time I spend in my shop, and setting smaller goals, has helped with this. It is rewarding, and feels satisfyingly defiant, to fight off distractions and come back to the shop after a long period away to pick up where I left off, and I guarantee you will feel the same.

 

What do you think?

It is always difficult for me to summarise exactly what I have learned and experienced in a year of blacksmithing in a concise way, and I’m sure that there is a lot more to say. To that end, I always love to hear your thoughts and feelings around my own, as I’m only too aware that mine is but one perspective in an ocean of hard-earned experience. All that is left to say is thank you for reading, and hopefully what you have read has been mildly interesting at the very least. With any luck, I will continue to swing a hammer, and look forward to the prospect of learning more in the year to come.

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I too am only a couple years in. I find this an interesting read. 

You cant always get what you want. But i see you got what you need. 

70% solution has been my whole life so I have the exact opposite problem, i will not ask for help or someone to do it. There needs to be a balance of when to do it on your own and when to let someone else take care of it. But when it is with in your ability there is nothing better than the feeling of a job well done. Even if it is ugly as long as it works you will use it and show it off.  

I like to make a little wine from time to time. Got some dandelion wine aging right now. Nice looking cider bottles. Ever make apple jack with any?

Life does indeed get in the way. Sunday was one day that i had i could go out and work in my shop. Now i watch the grandkids on Sundays. It is a hobby, those are my grand daughters. I can set the hammer down for them. Just have to figure work arounds. But that comes back to what you say as to it is not a race also. Dont let a hobby take over your life. Hobbies are meant for your spare time. 

It is nice to hear your take on what you have learned not only in blacksmithing but life in general. Keep hammering, but most of all have fun. 

 

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Thanks for posting this. Very well put. I'm in just a little over two years. The part about life getting in the way runs especially true for me. Life derailed my blacksmithing journey not long after I started in a severe way. When I finally felt like being back to it, it still was a slow go. I've put in as much time as I possibly can for the last several months and in that amount of time even, I've come a long way. The gang here at IFI have been so helpful and supportive. More than any of them can know. You are right also that it's not a race. I think the basic moves can be learned fairly quickly, but the skill putting them all together absolutely requires time and a lot of it. Especially being self taught. Although that is really not correct, as I've had lots of help, just not directly. I'm doing good to get a couple of hours in two or three times a week right now, but I try to make the most of it. I've recently run into some set backs. I figured out I need to slow down and work on the process not the project. And that is doing me a world of good. Relying on ones self is a big motivator for me. Blacksmithing is just one part of the big picture toward the goal of not depending on outside sources for things any more than need be. Anyway, thanks again for the post Patrick and I hope others will chime in on their experience as well. 

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