Jump to content
I Forge Iron

How do you get started and then avoid burn out?


Recommended Posts

We all start full of spit and vinegar, full steam ahead. Then we start to loose interest or have other things to do. In blacksmithing, how do you get started every day, get motivated, or decide what to do, IF you can convince yourself you really want to build a fire? Then later, how do you avoid burn out and avoid loosing interest in beating metal? If your in the middle of a large order, or production work, or a large job, how do you stay interested and excited enough to finish?

How do you get started, again, today?
How do you avoid getting burned out on blacksmithing?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I got somewhat disaffected when I began to 'smith, and other things like going to school interfered (although that boredom usually kindled my interest, pun intended). the disafection came from poor technique, and lack of resources. That was five or six years ago, and things are different now. As I've mentioned, I am now trying to turn my avocation into a vocation, and that provides a lot of fuel (oh I'm on a roll today). This past week I felt a little burned out because I have been diligently working on my items, but have had few buyers. I'm mostly over that now as a Trade Faire is soon approaching, and with it, the potential for a wholesale account.

That being said, I am not near my forge everyday, and the drive to make items give me vigor. I make one or two types every time I fire it up, and the experience offers me a new challenge, and by the last item, a new product (typically) under my belt. I feel my biggest drawback is a lack of artistic creativity. I have great spatial skills, but the other also serves to discourage me. Lots of duality.

To quote vonnegut: "And so it goes." :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I like to try something new, or spend about an hour just messing around with hot metal instead of trying to make something specific. I know that I got burned out about a year and a half ago, then I met a fellow smith near me that helped me get started up again,and then I also got my gasser, so now its alot easier than coal. Thats one thing that burned me out was waiting an hour to get a coal fire going, then waiting another hour afterwards for it to go out. But I have a tendency to stop smithing for a week or so because I get a little angry at some of my improvised equipment (handheld belt sander stuck in a vice), but i'll eventually have to start something and I'll get out to the forge.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am interested in the end result and have that in mind when I start (it doesn't always turn out like I initially thought but that's part of the fun). I like to finish things so try to push myself to achieve some level of completion every day. Part of that stems from the fact I have worked in manufacturing for almost 30 years so goals and production output are a natural part of the process.

I get burnt out like anyone else but blacksmithing and metalworking has always kept my interest in the long term.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To me the process is the joy. I like making a finished product that people admire, but it isn't the product that makes me ha[[y it's how I got from start to finish. I guess that the fact that I love what I do gets me going even when I'm hurting.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

How do you get started and then avoid burn out?
Well the hardest part for me is getting started, the fact I have to haul all my stuff out and set it up under the shade tree means I loose a lot of time in set up and tear down. This causes my total time available to be reduced significantly. As for burn out, my problem there isn't mental as much as physical. I'm still working my way back from my motorcycle accident and my body tells me that it has had enough after about 4 or 5 hours of steady work. So I have to pace myself somewhat, be sure I take a real break and let my body rest before picking up the hammer again. By resting I can usually double my amount of work in a day...

As for what to work on I sketch anything I see that is of interest and keep those in a sketch book along with photo's and such. I find also feeding my mind with the craft in places like IFI is valuable in this process as well.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On repetative projects, like 200+ forged pickets, I keep interested by making a game with myself and a stopwatch. I do 10 pieces and see if I can shave some seconds on the next 10.
I have a good stereo with satellite radio in the shop, I try to make the shop a fun place to be. My wife just got me a revolving mirror ball for my birthday, it's great to have on when doing power-hammer work after dark.
There's some days when I just don't feel like working. Good time to chop wood, go to the dump, catch up on paperwork.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Now and again my body just won't allow me to push as hard as I would like, but for the most part, I am just driven to manipulate iron. I work iron at my "job", come home and sneak away to my forge, to "just try one more thing". Then go to sleep and dream of forging all night. If I would have been bit by the steel bug when I was younger, I would have lived at a shop. To avoid burnout, I keep my forge temp down!! ha ha

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have always been fascinated with things mechanical and enjoy using my hands and my brain to figure things out. I started playiing in the my fathers blacksmith shop before I ever started kindergarten, then when I was 7 I started my apprenticeship when not going to school or otherwise occupied. Things mechanical still fascinate me. (I never did get my fathers pocket watch back together so it would run. but there are sure lots of fascinating things inside one.)

Even when I was in the Navy SeaBees, I did nothing different than I normally would. Except, I had lots of fascinating tools at my disposal that Dads small shop didn't have.

I did not do Smithing completely, it was mixed with, welding and machining and other trades.

I did work production for a very short time in a tool mfg place. Now that is boring, nothing to look forward to, just the same old routine for 9 hours a night.

In my blacksmith shop, nothing ever lasted for more than a half day usually, then it was on to some other project. When I did take on large multi piece projects, I varied the work by doing one particular thing for an hour or two, then switching to another part and so on, as well as doing some assembly for a couple of hours at a time to vary my time at any given part. It kept the monotony down to a minimum, and kept my sanity.

I really enjoyed what I did and looked forward to going to the shop every day, If and when I had any slack time, I was making or repairing something of my own.

Another way of counteracting boredom on a large project was to take some time from the big project to do some little minor jobs that walked in the door. Especially for very good customers and I usually didn't charge them for 5 to 15 minute jobs, I was happy to have the relief from the boring large job.

One of the worst jobs I ever took on was fabing 4000 small pieces of angle iron cut to the same length with 3 holes precisely drilled in each one. I had 2 band saws and 2 power hacksaws running continuously with a rest every once in a while to let the motors cool off and for me to take a pepsi or tea break.

The first 6 months I was unable to work because of my back injury almost drove me nuts. I couldn't sit, stand or even lay down without pain. And working in my woodshop in the basement was not an option either. I am an avid reader and my personal library setting around in cardboard boxes and such numbers at least several thousand as well as my small library of old technical manuals and old historical catalogues. When I found a postion that I had a minimal amount of pain, I would usually keep some pain pills handy and stay in that place(positon) till I had read a complete book. I still average about 4 or 5 books a week at this time, along with working in my wood shop and other various volunteer jobs, etc. I also at this time have to keep a close watch on my wife as her health is not good.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Timely subject for me - I'm approaching an "I'm done with this" phase in my work. I'm really starting to burn out on spending all my time doing what sells and no time working on my creative ideas.

I've never had a problem with repetitive work - I can stand all day long doing the same thing over and over and over - it gets kind of "zen" for me and becomes about the pace of it.

The other factor is for the first time since I started doing this ten years ago, I'm really interested in doing work for myself. I'd really like to fix up my place and turn some of my talent to what I want instead of always satisfying someone else's creative direction.

I've never really enjoyed the process of blacksmithing but I truly love "having blacksmithed" - when the finished product is in front of me, I always think "that was worth doing".

Wow - it felt good to put that in writing. I think I'll go back out to the studio for a bit . . .

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm really starting to burn out on spending all my time doing what sells and no time working on my creative ideas.

Perhaps there are other things that will sell which you have not yet found. Your creative ideas are worth a try even if you only do 2-3 of each to see if they will sell. From looking around and talking to other smiths about what sells and to people about what they would buy I find that most of my ''artsy'' things do not have enough ''function'' to be a selling item. I am now thinking about ways to add some function, perhaps turning one of my standing flowers into a candle holder, a key ring stand, or a soap dish.
I am going to give drawer pulls a try, seems like there is almost infinite designs one could put on the ends of a knob for a drawer, will they sell? For how much? To what crowd? I try not to compete with the other blacksmiths who are at the same demo so I have to diversify and use my imagination, once my skill set is developed I hope to have a better selection than the 3-4 items most smiths take to demos, but I may find that is the only selling items and that I have no choice. If I don't try I will never know!

To avoid burnout let off the breaks while applying the gas... :D
Try finding a student you can teach a little to, this will motivate you to go to the shop and will help keep the art alive. As the student progresses it will also help you to try harder just to keep ahead of the student.
Find a history teacher that can work with you on doing a little living history demo at a school, the teacher can help you with the research so your historical accuracy is as good as you can get and build a demo setup for that purpose. This type of setup doesn't have to be too complicated just make sure you are showing it as the teacher wants it done and you should be about right, you will learn a lot as you go as well.
Personally my motivation has kept me from burnout so-far. I am doing this as a way to relieve stress and spend time with my boys. I was going to the gym and found it to be more stressful than just letting it build into a hart attack! Now I go out to the forge and get as much or more exercise and at the end of the day I find I have created something to show for the effort.

Just my $0.02
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hey Nate,

I'd call that a super .10 worth! Great suggestions all!

Unfortunately, I'm in the "been there done that" category on most of them.

I was an interpretive blacksmith at a national historic site for about 5 years and I've done more demos (historic and otherwise) than I can count. It was a great experience and I'll always treasure it but it no longer holds any attraction for me.

I've also done enough teaching to know it's not my cup o' tea - I do enjoy watching the students as the act of discovery of what they are doing takes hold, but it isn't what motivates me.

I already specialize in "creatively functional" work. I combine wood and iron and non-ferrous metals into unique accessories for the home (see attached pics) Most of the work I do is food-safe serving dishes and vessels / utensils along with your standard fare of BBQ tools, fireplace sets, small furniture etc..

Selling isn't the problem - my work is popular with my clients - what it really comes down to is I just really want to do work only for myself.

Because this is my sole source of income, it takes all of my available time and energy to stay ahead so I feel a bit trapped by the fact that if I just stop selling work to pursue my other ideas, I have to seek another way to make money for a while and I just haven't come to terms with that yet.

In reality, it's a great problem to have - I just need to find a way to balance it all out.

Once again - thanks for the thoughts!!





Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well, for what it is worth those pictures are truly inspirational!
I do understand the desire to '' quit the day job'' to pursue the hobbies and even if your day job and hobby is the same technically ... it just isn't the same thing. Perhaps you just need a good long vacation? (God knows I do! Though not from smithing.)

What about knocking off an hour per day to just do what you want to do as a break? Say the last hour before you shut the forge down for the night you work on Your Own Stuff. Divide your day up just like you would if you were punching a clock and set aside time to relax doing your hobby at the end of the day. You may not get other things done quite as fast but life is about the quality of your life not the money you make, though you do have to balance one against the other and each person is different and must find and attain that balance for themselves. The old saying goes ''All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy''?

Edited by NateDJ
Link to comment
Share on other sites

My hobby took over my life and became my day job when my back made it impossible for me to work at a "real " job as Mom calls it. Making what I don't have the cash to buy has been a life long thing inspired by a Grandmother who raised 12 children during the depression, and a Dad who would refuse to spend a cent on anything he could make himself.
All in all, it,s been FUN!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 10 months later...

We all hit slow periods, get discouraged and wonder how to restart the fire. The IForgeIron archive is full of gems, you just have to pack a lunch and a cold drink, go to the archive, and dig them out. This thread has been idle for almost a year. It will be interesting to hear new suggestions and comments.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have watched people enter and leave smithing over the past 36 years and have made a few observations. People who do smithing tend to gravitate to spending their energies on what they are comfortable with. The various categories of smithing activity include but not limited to:

- Making knives and edged weapons.
- Making hand tools for other smiths
- Making power hammers for other smiths
- Making gas forges for other smiths
- Making simple items, usually for home owners
- Making Civil War reenactment items.
- Making Reenactment items for periods other than the Civil War
- Making small decorative items in increasing complexity
- Making large decorative items, often in increasing complexity.
- Going to auctions and reselling blacksmithing supplies and tools to other smiths.
- and people that make stuff from a variety of categories

It has been my humble observation that those that burn out the quickest:
- Specialize in making simple stuff and try to earn needed income making the simple stuff.
- People who specialize in making stuff for reenactors.
- People who quickly reach the limit of their blacksmithing and become disappointed and/or frustrated.
- People who want to make very advanced stuff without spending the time and energy learning the skills necessary to make the advanced stuff.
- Have a massive ego investment in being "THE" smith.
- tend to look down at and criticize other smiths. If people are critical and unpleasant, I don't expect them to last long.

If you want to not burn out I humbly suggest:
- Don't make stuff for reenactors
- Don't try to make a living making hooks and other stuff that a first-year smith can make.
- Learn the skills in the Journeyman list of skills provided by ABANA
- Learn to make your own tools, by both forging and fabricating
- Keep learning and experimenting.
- Keep your ego in check, remain humble and be willing to make mistakes, and don't try to be *THE* smith.
- Have patience, smithing is a long distance marathon not a sprint, so pace yourself.
- Spend time each week doing smithing that you enjoy doing, don't limit yourself to mandatory *chores*.

It is mainly when you stop learning and experimenting and when the fun goes out of smithing that people quit, and when smithing becomes a repetitive chore that seems endless.

I found when I took breaks of a year or two from going to blacksmithing meetings, that when I went back to the monthly meetings that there was usually a whole *new* bunch of smiths at the meetings. There were only two people at this month's meeting whose names were listed as members on the first issue of the guild's newsletter printed over 21 years ago, myself and Albin. Definitely something to think about.

Edited by UnicornForge
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree with UC above. When you get set in a routine of making the same items over and over, it is not so much of a burn out as it is reptitous boredom.

My main smithing is for re-enactors as that is where my passion lies since I started out as one. I get in that rut some times, and think of what new items can I create for them. I also tend to mix things up in order to get a variety of smithing unrelated items with differrent ventures.

I have the CW re-enacting circuit which I just finished for the year. I still sell from my website and make thing for it.
I also have events that I do with the Union Mills Homestead.
And lastly I ave Blacksmithing Guild events that I do.

So by keeping a mix, you can also keep it fresh. Keep pushing to learn new things will also keep it new and excitingly frustastrating at times.

'nuff said. Laid off this week, I'm headed to the forge.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

UC had some excellent points, couldn't have said it better so read again his post!:)
I just finished a project for "Campus Crusade". They are making a video series and I was asked to make some tools from the Biblical times. Fun, (not much money) but happy to do it to "get my foot in the door". Stretching yourself to try more difficult projects keeps the mind active, hence no burn out. I am 55yrs young, been at this since Shep was a pup, and find it very rewarding. I welcome the challenge of working on new materials, those jobs "no one else can do...yeah RIGHT, they just don't want to possibly fail! I just pray for continued health so I can do this and pass it on to others for many, many years to come.
Reb, sorry to hear about your job. Most folks are totally lost if that happens, at least you have something to keep busy as well as bring in some income.

Edited by Thomas Dean
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've gotten discouraged because I couldn't do what I wanted to do. Some projects are just hanging in the ether until I learn more. Some I've let go for now.

Most often when I don't forge for a while it's because I don't know what to make next. I usually only make something I have a purpose for be it to use or as a gift. When I started I kept making the few things I could to practice and ended up burried in trinkets and scrap.

What fires me is the satisfaction of having created something when I'm done.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...