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I Forge Iron

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What if you buy property that includes an old blacksmith shop and 'IRONically' find you are falling in love with it and its history and you don't know you can bear to watch it get pieced apart and the shell sold or destroyed?  If it was you, how would you go about changing your spouse's mind to leave it all in place instead of piecing it out and running with the profits?  Especially when you feel the historic value and legacy of your family linked with preservation outweighs any of property taxes and electrical costs?

When we bought this property I was really in love with the original old bungalow and ignored the shop.  The more research I've done,the more I realize how incredibly special this shop is and its collection and how great of a place it could be for not just me and my family, but others.  So many people have driven by this place and never even knew what was lying inside since it sat undisturbed for 40 years.  I am hoping maybe I can bring it back to life, well, after I manage to really convince the husband.  

And just in case you are wondering, we are not even remotely wealthy and the transaction was meant to be investment property.  With four kids I don't know that I would ever get much time to go try my artistic hand at it but even if I don't, pretty sure a couple of the kids would and love it!

Thoughts?  Advice? Suggestions?

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Well, my spousal unit owned a 120+ YO, 40 acre hobby farm in the UP of Michigan when we met and after an email/telephone relationship I flew out to meet in person.  Her house was about 20' from a brook trout creek and was a century old but reasonably sound structure if you didn't look in the basement when the stream was in spring flood stage. The barn was stone and log and older than the house.

She'd lived there almost 20 years and the little "green house" next to the house was as lousy a design as I'd ever seen so I took a look. It was a blacksmith shop with old wooden and stone pillow blocks for a water wheel leading to the creek. There weren't any tools but everything else was and solid stone masonry. Someone had just filled it with soil and hung widows around it for a green house that didn't work.

It broke her heart to sell the farm and most of her stuff to head to Alaska. If there were decent jobs and I wasn't less than 10 years from retirement from the state of AK I would've moved down. I loved the place too. However about 6 years after she moved up major floods about destroyed everything but the barn and the house was condemned demolished. 

If you keep and restore your Father's shop you can still dispose of it all at a later date but if you sell it all off now it's gone.  It's a tough call.

Frosty The Lucky.

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If it were me, I'd keep it.  I suspect from your previous photos that you might get a few thousand dollars out of it with the Little Giant power hammer probably representing 80% of the value (IF it is in or close to running condition).  It will not go down in value in the future.  If you hold on to what is there you can always sell it in the future if you really need the money.  If you dispose of it now I will bet that in a year you will be wondering where the money you got went.

I don't know how old your kids are now but even if the youngest is pretty small he or she will be gone in 18 years or so.  That time will go by like a flash and then you will have the rest of your life to live without most day to day kiddo responsibilities.

Blacksmithing has been a really good outlet for me for over 40 years and my life would have been poorer without it.  Also, it is one of the few hobbies that can bring in some extra income.

Finally, I think that women have some natural advantages in becoming smiths.  They have less upper body strength and have to be more efficient with their energy than many guys who try to power through.  So, women develop a better technique sooner.  Women also seem to have a better eye for what looks good.  There are a fair number of really excellent female smiths around, Jennifer of JPL Services who often posts here is one of them.

Finally, it might be something you and your husband and any kiddos could learn and do together.  The family that hits hot iron together stays together.

"By hammer and hand all arts do stand." 

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This all depends on your marriage. In my marriage we put each others wishes/wants/dreams as generally more important than money.  As such we are not "upwardly mobile"; instead we are very happily contented and since we don't judge things by fancy cars or clothes we do very well with what we have. (As in we paid off our house in 15 years, went to Wales as it was my wife's dream, and recently I "borrowed" $5K from our savings to buy a hoard of smithing stuff I found in storage in our small town. (Selling off what I didn't want or need has paid back all but a couple of hundred dollars and I still have 3 post drills and a 248# PW to sell---didn't need an intermediate sized anvil!)

So a heart to heart discussion on how you want your lives to go may be a good thing.   Blacksmithing is definitely not a gender linked craft---there are medieval/renaissance European guild laws that show that women were involved! I can think of at least 1 president of ABANA and there are several excellent books out there done by "Lady Smiths".    Brains & powerhammers/presses can easily trump brawn in the smithy!

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In reading your threads I feel your conundrum.  Buying property for an investment and preserving historical relevance is a tight line most cannot manage.

A few questions for consideration:

1) If the shop is cleared out is the intent to sell the building, razed or?

2) What would it take to preserve the structure in its current state to ensure safety and usability?

3) If you keep the structure and smithing contents for use does this allow for other needed building space?

As you continue to discover and organize don’t overlook insurance needs on both the structure and contents.  

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I've been tracking things since your first post. My thought on the issue would be to first identify the BS stuff and separate it out from the other junk. Sort the junk into scrap and viable sellable stuff and then deal appropriately. This is getting the place cleaned up and showing husband you are serious about making it work. You will need to take a serious look at the building- maybe bring in a contractor friend for a realistic appraisal, to access the viability of keeping/repairing it. This might end up forcing your hand or give you some ammo in favor of restoration. This is where the heavy conversation will probably need to start. Regarding the pile of set-aside BS stuff, you probably need some help from someone knowledgeable to help ID what it is, what it is worth, and what would be appropriate for you to keep for your own setup, both present and future. Just try to get the unknowns answered so you can have an educated conversation. Good luck.


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Thank you all for the input!  I finally talked to hubby about building and we are strongly considering keeping it.  His dad works in the iron industry and lives only a few blocks away and husband admitted how he has entertained the thoughts of playing in it with his dad and the kids.  Only thing is it ties up quite a bit of money we would have instead, gained for other endeavors.  So far, it looks like I may have to give up that house to keep the smith shop but in all honesty, there are tons of houses but how many smith shops are there?  Food for thought!  He said I have to do the numbers....so I will be doing my numbers the next few days! 

Frosty - Sad to hear about your wife's property!  Also, this property was part of an estate we purchased - not my dad's.  And I agree that once it's gone, it's gone.

George - I totally agree on the kids gone soon enough but how great it would be to see them learn such a trade, it could change their life?!

Steve - Hahahahahahahaha....hmmmm....it's a thought!

Anvil - That's typically my feeling

ThomasPowers - I had the heart to heart today, thank you for the suggestion!

BrandingIron - Exactly what I agreed to start undertaking and considering after heart to heart with hubby!  Will definitely need to look into insurance on contents and building....insured right now just as storage :(

Stash- Been working on that this week and he is actually more like a kid in a candy store than I have ever seen because of all the neat tools and findings!

1forgeur - I AGREE!  I really want to see them moving and a glow in the forge!!!

Irondragon ForgeClay Works  - True....although we are in the middle of nowhere.  HOWEVER, they are finally going to start putting on the annual festival in town again and this could definitely be a draw!  Already talked to a few smiths and hoping they would be willing to teach us some things if we keep!

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As you go through photographing and identifying everything, keep both in a notebook for reference.  When it comes to insurance, you have a piece by piece inventory, with photos, to work from.

For the photographs, get a cardboard box the size of a refrigerator or appliance comes in and use that as both a background and a way to hide the clutter behind the subject.  Use good lighting from two light sources 45 degrees on either side (left and right) of the camera.  Block off or cover any outside windows so there is not a white spot that contains no information in the photo.  One subject per photo.  If there are any serial numbers, write them on a 2 inch wide piece of masking tape (in large 2 inch letters) and include it in the photo.  Additional photos of name plates, stamps, serial numbers, IDs, etc with each subject photographed is great.  Hard to say it is just an anvil when you have photographs of the anvil from 6 sides, the name stamp, weight stamp, serial number, and identifying markings in the photo.  Now it is a xxxx brand anvil, which weighs yyy, shows the condition of the face and sides, and marks (chips, dings, chisel marks etc) that could only be on THAT anvil.  

Yes it can be a pain or a challenge, your choice, as you inventory the shop.  But if and when it is needed, and you bring out the photographic evidence, and and all arguments seem to go away.

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Glenn:  Very good advice for everyone.  It's a hassle but cheap insurance.  You can scan all the info and should keep it off site in both electronic and hard formats.

IL Gal:  If you do start to learn the craft there are very good videos on line, our Jennifer at JPL Services does excellent ones, and there are good books available for purchase or through inter-library loan.  I am self taught and did not even meet another smith until I had been at it for over 10 years.

Also, there may be some large piece of scrap such as a piece of railroad rail which you could use as an improvised anvil until you can afford a larger one.  You could even sell some of the equipment that you don't think you will use to finance the restoration or purchases.

"By hammer and hand all arts do stand."

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George, the same technique of photography applies to your house and contents.  If nothing else, grab overall photos of the contents of each room, contents of each closet, drawers, etc.  Pull out any special or unique items and photograph them separately.

Keep track of your squirrel rifle, or deer rifle. But what about that old box that got shoved to the back of the closet shelf and forgotten about for many years.  After you showed someone the photo of just an old pistol passed down for generations, just a old Colt Dragoon something or other.

In a normal house, how many pair of shoes are there?  Really, that many pairs of shoes !!  You can count each pair in the overall photo.  How many pots and pans are in the kitchen?  How many spices are in the spice cabinet.  (Want to take a guess at the replacement value of just the spices alone?)  

Photos make it real numbers and real items.  Takes the pain out of trying to remember how many dress shirts you own, and how you ever thought madras or paisley shirts were ever fashionable.


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  • 4 weeks later...

ThomsasPowers I think my husband outgrew his lederhosen! :lol: 

For everyone else - I didn't disappear, just fell into another project past few weeks that involved a lot of labor and time so haven't been able to devote as much to the shop and it's keeping.  The good is I still have a desire to save it, bring it back to life and learn it.  The bad - husband is fighting me every. single. inch.  Eh, good with the bad.  Good thing I am part fightin' Irish and German to go up against my strong Kraut husband!  I am not giving up on this shop yet ;)

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