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Blacksmithing as a profession

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Who here is a smith by profession?

Do you end up doing more fabrication or artistic expression?

How do you go about getting business in the beginning?

How much money did you have set aside/invested in your shop when you started.

What sort of income can blacksmithing bring?

What sort of hours are you working?

Any chance at retirement as a smith? I imagine it's like football in the sense that it's hard on the body.

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I'm not a full time smith,but thought I would give the info I came up with when I looked into this. I have taken about 4 classes at Campbells in NC,which gives you a week to talk to the teacher who is a pro and to get some pretty good info on the life style.
The first thing you come up against is there is only so many hours in a day and consequently only so many items you can produce. This is you're ceiling and thats if you are good with a good name and a quality product. Taking a 1/2" steel rod and putting a twist in it and calling it a fire poker ain't ART! Meaning most of the things you make,people don't really need,they have to want it!
I like to make knives,but if you buy a shop full of tools and then you spend a week to make the knife,making the best one you can make, what is it worth??? If you sold it for $150 is that good money??? I think not! This is not to be taken as a negitive post but the next time you run into a full time blacksmith going to work in his shop everyday to feed his wife and kids,buy the man a drink, because he's a hero as far as I'm concerned!!! Like I said just my 2 cents worth!

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Well i am close to a full time smith... and know a few that are and the best ones are good salesmen and real go getters.you have to be able to self promote and do 3 things at once . would also help to have good funding (i never have ) and a backup incase of problems. probably best money is selling gates and railings but also easyest to fall into a fabrication job instead of blacksmithing..i dont think you can ever "retire" from blacksmithing you just slow down and teach younger people to do it till your gone.. it is more a calling than a career or a proffesion... as for where to start you make something and sell it! i would start makeing little things and selling them at local art shows or swap meets.. stuff like that..as how much equipment and the cost it is intirely up to you .. ive seen setups that cost almost nothing but that takes a good scroungeing skills . i would get a decent anvil if i was going to only buy one good tool . everything else can be made (so can the anvil but not easily) .there are loads of info on starting out on this websight . good luck!

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Well i am close to a full time smith... and know a few that are and the best ones are good salesmen and real go getters.you have to be able to self promote and do 3 things at once . would also help to have good funding (i never have ) and a backup incase of problems. Probably best money is selling gates and railings but also easyest to fall into a fabrication job instead of blacksmithing..i dont think you can ever "retire" from blacksmithing you just slow down and teach younger people to do it till your gone.. it is more a calling than a career or a proffesion... as for where to start you make something and sell it! i would start makeing little things and selling them at local art shows or swap meets.. stuff like that..as how much equipment and the cost it is intirely up to you .. ive seen setups that cost almost nothing but that takes a good scroungeing skills . i would get a decent anvil if i was going to only buy one good tool . everything else can be made (so can the anvil but not easily) .there are loads of info on starting out on this websight . good luck!

Yeah, the people I have met have gone this route. They both make sculpture and other trinkets but their bread and butter is railings. I guess this is more of a metal fab shop than a blacksmith shop. They both seem to be doing ok but they've been doing it for 15+ years. Rough estimate of their shop value runes around 15-20k mainly due to the the power hammers. Hard to say how much they make. I would say one of them grosses around 60k a year and the other would be much more than that (100-150k) but he has a crew and a shop to pay for so I can't clearly say how much he's netting.

Before I venture into this thread, could you define what you mean by "blacksmithing"

What I would like to do and call blacksmithing would be mostly forged work with some minor fabrication mainly due to the fact that the old world methods of joinery are so labor intensive and harder to sell due to cost. I don't want to be making railings for a living unless they're commisioned and have a strong taste of custom forged elements. Furniture, sculpture, wall art and other functional/artistic pieces would be my focus with the occasional rail if the customer was looking for something fancy. I haven't researched the viability of craft shows yet but I am not opposed to heading that direction.

As a profession I would consider teaching basic lessons just because there's enough interest and it would pay fairly well. There's a guy about an hour from where I am who offers classes for 300$ a weekend. He usually doesn't hold a class unless there's 5-10 people. Has one every month. Could be a nice supplemental income.
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I'm not a full time smith as I am only 16! However that is my goal. I do quite well at craft fairs and CW reenactments; Usually making enough to cover gas, coal, steel and have a little to put aside for myself. If I had a larger set of products I am pretty sure I would do much better! I would sugest starting there!

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Another consideration is this, unless you plan on selling entry level dinged up products, you are looking at a number of years getting your skills up to a level that will support you and or your family as a full time smith. If you have to work other jobs to finance gaining those skills, it will take that much longer. Unless you have family that can support you while you go through intensive training / skill building. My guess is you are looking at 2-5 years minimum to get to a skill level that you might be able to support yourself. I think 5-10 years before you have the skill and experience to teach. That is provided you can teach. Just because someone is an excellent smith does not mean they know how to teach their skill to others.

I don't mean to stop you or anyone in their quest but just trying to show what "I think" some of the stepping stones / timelines might be.

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First of all if you want to do blacksmithing on your own as a career what you really are saying is that you want to run a small business that happens to be blacksmithing. If you are in the USA check with the Small Business Adminstration as to what that entails. Remember as the "Boss" you get to make sure all the paperwork is handled *correctly*.

Secondly if you are in the USA how are you going to get health insurance? I don't know many smiths that haven't had an ER run or two in their time and something like that can bankrupt you fast! I had a friend who was a top blademaker have a grinding accident that meant he couldn't work in the shop for a month or two as well as the high priced repairs. He had a cushion to eke through that time period; but a heart attack or other *expensive* operation could put most small businesses out of operation without insurance coverage.

My suggest is to get a good "day job" that will pay for your equipment and supply benefits as you build up your tools and skills and smith on the side. When you can make a good fraction of your "day job" income smithing start exploring going full time.

Marrying a person that has a job that can provide medical coverage insurance is a great help!

Edited by ThomasPowers
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I worked 10-years in a forge-shop, but I wasn't a blacksmith and most of the parts produced were enormous.

It was a modern-day producer of seamless-rolled rings and forgings for the aerospace industry. We forged titanium, nickel, cobalt, chromium-based alloys, aircraft-aluminum, stainless, etc.

Schlosser Forge, USA - Firth Rixson

Still, each crew of 4 to 6 people was lead by a blacksmith. They just used bigger tools (like fork-lift manipulators to move parts, 4,000-ton hydraulic press, 10,000-lb Chambersburg steam hammer, etc.)

In addition to the artisan, farrier and small-shop blacksmiths, there are careers in shops that produce large forgings for industry, and many of the skills the hobbiest employs apply to heavy industrial forge shops as well.

We made everything from 4-inch to 120-inch diameter rings and used tongs (on the smaller parts) same as most of us here on IForgeIron do.

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Blacksmithing is part art part science. if you just work for a master smith you only have to be a good blacksmith if you intend to start your own forge you will have to be good at buisiness as well so some training in this is very important as there are good buiseness men that are not so good at forge work that are successful and some very good smiths that cannot make a liveing on there own, over the years I have trained a few in some of the art of blacksmithing some have gone on to open there own forges some have gone on to full time courses,thing to remember is if it takes 5 of 7 years full time to train with a good smith teaching you ,part time self teaching will take a lot longer. the main question I would ask myself is why then plan around the answer.

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The above people have provided excellent information. A first step is to look around at what various people are doing and decide what area of blacksmithing you are aiming to do. Then you can find out how other smiths gained the skills and business understanding to become a professional in that area of blacksmithing.

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I have a very active part time business that has slowly matured over 26 years; my work is split about evenly between custom machining services and ornamental ironwork. My machining work is all done on older manual machines but my knowledge of forging, welding, machining and sheet metal stamping helps me get jobs that no one else around here will touch. For example, I recently made a run of 400 custom throw bolts for a large mansion that was built in the early 1900's and currently undergoing renovation. The contractor found my website with an internet search and was happy with what I delivered, so that relationship has grown into a great deal of additional work. I also do repair jobs on industrial machinery for various local businesses who cannot find anyone to work on their broken equipment. That often involves welding or other repair followed by machining or other hand-fitting to make things work but I can charge a premium to put something back on line and into production.

My only real shortcoming is that my time is primarily on nights and weekends so it's hard to get supplies during the day and I can only devote about 30 hours a week - add that to my day job and I'm putting in 75-80 hours. My leadtimes reflect this, which has cost me a couple of jobs that required fast turnaround times. I tell clients up front that I work part time; a few people may not be comfortable with that but fortunately, I am never forced to land a job to make ends meet.

There may be good money in craft work but I have not found anyone who is doing it. You can make a few thou a year but not a real living - at least around here. Of course, "making a living" is subjective and each person has to answer that for themselves. On the other hand, there is a high demand for custom architectural ironwork in commercial and private residences. I'm looking at a nice job right now that will run around $15K by the time it's completed and probably tie me up for six months but we are still in negotiations so it's not a done deal. However, I won't lose any sleep if it doesn't materialize.

Follow your passion, honor your word, do exceptional work for a fair price and the work will find you.

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This is an interesting thread...... and I'm enjoying reading all the different perspectives.

fwiw, I've been a full time smith since '84. Starting out as a silver/gold-smith and in '89 was introduced to blacksmithing and architectural metalwork. It was then that I learned to make larger jewelry (house jewelry). :D Since then I've just "added" different metal arts processes to my creative palette.

So .........for me......I do more artistic than basic "cut and weld" fabrication. That being said.......there is "fabrication" in every artistic project I do.

In the beginning ........I got most of my work via friends, word of mouth, "juried" art shows, interior designers. FOR the last 5 years or so.......the internet(website) has been my main SALES tool.

I didn't have any money "set aside" specifically. I found that I was able to "find/get" projects that enabled me to purchase or build tools as they were needed. This was a very controllable approach to growth.

As for "what kind of income" can blacksmithing bring...........as with almost any kind of specialized work......that depends MORE on the individual.
As they say "your mileage may vary" :o

Same goes for the "hours you work"...... different strokes for different folks.....but that will be reflected in the "degree" of success.

As for retirement............sure. IF you work for someone else and they have a benefits package..........or if you are self employed and start your own 401K or similar "retirement plan". But as was said.......I too...........can't imagine retirement......I'd be happy if I passed away with a hammer or piece of decorative metalwork in my hand. Retirement is for folks that WORK,:o. When you do what you love.....and love what you do.......I, for one, haven't worked a day....since discovering decorative metalwork.

And as for it being "hard on the body".......if done "with respect for your body" then it could actually be GOOD for you mentally and physically. IF not......it can leave you deaf, blind and/or broken........if not just dead.

I look forward to following this thread.......good questions, Mulciber.

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As Bill as said, I have enjoyed the comments.
Ever hear of the term starving artist? I have been there. I have also seen 2 guys get ambitious enough to try the self employment thing as blacksmiths over the last few years. They did not last more than 3 years each. One reason, they had families to support while they were trying to learn the craft and the business. I have been a full time smith for over 25 years. The first 4 years I was single. Most years I could have made more money than I have. However, as much as I love the craft, I also love my family and other parts of life. So one must define a "living". I have had to pay my own health insurance, but also take advantage of my wife's coverage when possible. There is some personal struggles and triumphs I won't bore you with, but they still affected me and my business. 2 years ago at age 46 I bought my first brand new pick up truck, well me and the bank. It does not have leather seats, but nice cloth seats. It is basically a jazzed up work truck, perfect fit for me. I was at it for about 10 years before I got my first power hammer a 100 lb. Bradley Compact. I ran it on a gasoline engine due to power and motor situation. I finally switched it to electric in 2001, a year before selling it to help pay for my new SayHa (now Say Mak,) 50 kg. self contained hammer I bought (again with help from the bank,) from Tom Clark, God rest his soul. Last year things got good enough for me to hire an apprentice for the summer and buy my second self contained hammer from Tom. In 1993, about a year or so after getting my first power hammer, I switched to gas and have not burned coal in my shop since. I only on a rare occasion due any fabrication work, mostly for me. I really forge, heat up mild steel and beat it to shape and do a lot of forge welding with propane. I have adapted to certain modern tools and developed some of my own. I still have debt and worries, but I have work, and still like to go to work. I tell most people that after 25 years plus, I am starting to get comfortable with the craft (I still have my days.) Now I am working on the business end of things. I pay my bills on time, and when possible early. When I stay focused on the good things and producing a quality product, I can make what I call a good living, not what many might call a good living, but I am happy.

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First of all if you want to do blacksmithing on your own as a career what you really are saying is that you want to run a small business that happens to be blacksmithing.

This sums it up really well.

If you're thinking about doing smithing for a living you have got to put how you're going to structure your business first. Write up a business plan, where will your funding to get started come from? What kind of work will you focus on? Who is your market? How will you make yourself known to that market? This list will be very long - check to see if you have SCORE (I believe that's their name) volunteers locally - these are retired business professionals who volunteer their time to help people make sure they have all of their ducks in a row.

I've been a full time blacksmith and woodworker for a little 8/9 years and like Ornametal Smith, I started out selling to family,friends and coworkers. I made the decision early on to purchase everything up front. I worked long and hard and made a lot of sacrifices so that when the time came, I paid for my home, shop and equipment outright. I then decided to only use no-cost reclaimed materials for all of my product - My operational overhead is very low and only consists of consumables, power, insurance, taxes and marketing/office expenses.

I developed a very niche product line (hammered iron serving dishes, small furniture, components for other artists work etc.) and have enjoyed a level of success that up till now has provided me with a comfortable living. I'm certainly not getting rich by any means but I do get by and I love what I do.

My approach certainly won't work for everyone - I'm single with no family to support - I'm totally dedicated to my craft and forgo many (or all, as my friends tell me) luxuries and distractions that most people indulge in.

All that being said and even with advantaging myself the way I did, the current economic situation in the U.S. has made for a 70 percent reduction in my sales over the last 6 months. I've recently started working part time with another artist in his studio/gallery to make ends meet so I wouldn't have to dip into my reserves. The point here is, always expect the unexpected. You won't be selling anything anyone needs - it will all be based on impulse buying and disposable income and that's the most fickle market you can service and much scarcer in today's situation.

The other posters here have made great comments and suggestions - take heed of them and don't get discouraged by the challenges but make sure before you start full time that you're willing to give it 100% of your effort, energy and attention - anything less and it won't work.

Good luck and keep us up to date and what you decide!!
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Aside from the more personal side affects of being a self employed blacksmith for over 25 years, I apologize about not more information on how I have done it. I started out selling my wares at Revolutionary War events, mostly to the reenactors as that is what lead me into this. I still do Rev. War and F&I War events, some times going out on the field as a soldier, sometimes setting up my demonstration stuff (historic traveling forge,) or just a selling set up. That end of the business is very difficult to make a living. I also did a few craft shows a year, for a number of years. This was mostly before the internet was even around. I would try to find shows that had the level of quality in other crafts that I would not mind being associated with as that would also bring in the type of clientele that would be more likely to understand and want to buy the stuff I make. After my business really started to pick up with more and more orders, I had to face reality and not do as many shows, both craft shows and reenactments. At about the same time, my major client to date started to place bigger and bigger orders so I stopped doing craft shows. Now as those orders wind down, I decided to "hit the pavement" again to remind previous customers and potentially new ones that I am still in business. This fall I did a couple of paid demonstrations with the historic set up and a couple of reenactments as well as started my web site. I recommend trying different venues and not rely on one. I think people still want to touch and feel what I make, not just see it in pictures. I also keep a portfolio ready to show potential customers. I can't have everything on a table, but if they see some stuff then look at photos, it helps. In fact, last night I went to visit a potential new client that got my phone number from the yellow pages. Because I had my portfolio, they understood better and tripled the order from what was originally discussed as a possible order. I also believe that the nature of this type of business takes longer to get established than what someone at SCORE might say. They think a year or two and you should be there. Maybe, but I say more like 5 or more years. First you must have the skills in the craft and running a business. You have to first produce a quality product, be able to work with people (your customers and suppliers,) and be flexible to go where the market takes you. Until you get the business coming to you, you have to go to the customers. Also until you start getting orders, make some things that you really want to make so you have something for people to see and touch. Be ready to not have work and be patient with that, especially if you don't want to get trapped making a lot of things you don't want to make.

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With my smithing and wood turning I just get by. I do what I do because I love it.
Sounds about like me, except I'm trying to work up to getting by...

I'm afraid of ruining my hobbies by trying to make a living at them - I used to like to work on cars. :rolleyes:

But I'm more afraid of going back to 40 hrs of making someone else money, commuting, ACK! :o

Good Luck!
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Great question. You have brought up an interesting and perplexing aspect of our shared pursuit. When does a pursuit, hobby or interest become a viable employment alternative. As you can tell from the responders it is not a question easily answered and the results are divided between ones passion and the reality of making a living.

From a personal perspective, I have always had a full time other profession (day job)to supply the needs of everyday living; insurance, retirement planning etc. . The day job also supplied me with the wherewithall and the valuable time off in order to pursue the finer aspects of metal work. Schooling is not that easy to come by in this profession. As an apprentice you learn the trade from the smith under which you serve but you do not make much in the process. The period between wanting to be a professional smith and actually getting there can be lengthy and expensive. Training and travel notwithstanding, the real cost of setting up even a small production shop is formidable.

To a certain extent most shops are production facilities and the rules of manufacture are as applicable in Detroit as they are in ones own back yard. R&D costs are supported by the sale of product. The greater the cost of the former the more of the later you must produce in order to break even. As a business venture, it does funnel down to money going out and money coming in. Commisions are great but they can be few and far between. Word of mouth is your best advertisement and QC is or should be your guide. A sound market analysis is in order if you plan on investing your time and cash in this venture. Know and understnad your market, what to make and how to sell it.

I know several professional full time smiths. One very skilled individual teaches to offset costs and another confided to me that it would not be possible if his wife did not have a conventional job with benifits. You can see that the competing forces are love of the pursuit balanced against survival.

All the best and good luck my friend.


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I dont have any information to add but i do have a question. what do you think about being a metal shop teacher in a high school or college and being a blacksmith at the same time? the school job would give you the insurance and a steady income and then when you have the summers off you could do blacksmithing and teach classes. Im 17 and i hope that i can become a professional blacksmith/ metalsmith one day. what do you think about the two careers being combined?

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This post has brought out a lot of excellent information for a person to chew on if they plan on going into the blacksmithing business.
I think you have the right idea to proceed with, in order to have a successful outcome.
In fact I know a man who has done just what you have described.
He has now retired from the high school, and teaches blacksmithing in the trade school!

My (2c worth):
Just a note about my experience with the blacksmithing business.
Many years ago I was employed as an Industrial Blacksmith that had good benefits.
But then I went to the mode of owning my own shops (total of three times in a 50 year period).
Due to the cost of insurance (bonding) for the business and my family

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lots od greath info in this post!!

my plan is to combine blacksmiting with working as a farrier, that was a traditional combination around here, do ornamental and general repair work in winter time when the work on the horses is slow, but make your main income out of shoeing horses in summer en spring... its just a plan, don't know if it will work, so for now i'm still keeping my dayjob as a designer.
annyone around here who combines blacksmith and farrier?

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Hi All
I started my apprenticeship in 1982 (yes you can still serve an apprenticeship in BS in Aus, when you finish your time you get a trade Certificate from the Government, stating that you have completed your apprenticeship in whatever trade) We attended Tech College 1 day per week for three of our 4 years of apprenticeship where we learnt trade theory, calculations, metalurgy, welding, cutting, workshop practical, (eg firewelding, drop forging, hammer work, anvil work, ornamental smithing, etc, beer drinking).
After working for a boss for about 12 years I decided to go it on my own. I had grand visions of making gates, candelabra, bakers stands, etc. The reality was that just about every metal fabricator In Aust who owned a ute welder oxy set and an angle grinder had the same idea, just they did'nt plan to use "authentic" blacksmithing to make their living.
So I ended up getting more work of the industrial nature, tools for railways, tools for steelworks, lifting gear, eg hooks and shackles, lately we have been getting more and more outright forging work such as gear blanks, solid forged rings etc.
We have gone from a 1cwt hammer and a forge fire to a 400 ton forging press and 3 oil fired furnaces at the moment, and we are soon to move to an 800 square metre workshop. We now employ 2 apprentices full time, we will start another 1st year apprentice in the new year and we are always looking for good tradesmen smiths. We should see turnover approx $500,000.00 to $600,000.00 AUD this year. We are still blacksmiths doing blacksmithing work as has been done for 100s of years now. OK we will use a mig instead of firewelding coupling rings on chain assemblies, but if you had to weld 20 of them a day what would you rather do, drag assemblies weighing 150KG each between the forge and hammer/anvil or use the MIG I reckon the MIG is a good idea. So to we use a seeing eye cross carriage profile cutter, remember I am doing this to make a living, not to preserve a time in history. If blacksmithing is to survive we have to embrace technology not shun it.
I have wanted to be a smith since I was about 8 or 9, I'm 43 now.
If you want to do this for a living you have to realise that you are a business man now. Your work must be good, you must make a product that there is a market for, you must be able to produce enough to sell to pay yourself a wage. Its no good wanting to get a salary of $50,000.00 per year if you work each day for 10 hours and only make an article thats worth $150.00.
If you want to pay yourself a wage of say $20.00 an hour you will need to turn over approx 2.5 times that an hour to be able to keep your head above water, ie you need to charge your work out at at least $50.00 an hour plus materials.
I normally work an average of 60 to 70 hours a week, thats broken up between working on the shop floor swinging off hot steel, cutting stock for the next day, repairing tools and equipment, quoting, chasing orders, accounting, OH and S requirements etc etc.
If you have it where you live do a small business course, write a business plan, learn some accounting skills all these help towards running a business successfully.
I recall the statistics for small businesses failing are somewhere around 75 to 80% fail in the 1st 12 months. Most don't plan to fail they just fail to plan.
Oh and one other thing is Cash flow, many small businesses have been profitable but have gone to the wall because they did not have cash flow. I'm talking about cash flow inwards not out.
If anyone has any questions I'm happy to answer them if I can.

Edited by forgemaster
paragraphs and added some
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Most schools in the USA have stopped offering metalshop---I've bought a lot of equipment at their auctions when they close down their metalshop often converting the space to computer labs.

If I wanted to teach metalwork I would look to do it at the community college level which often has classes in welding and machining; when you get folks who *want* to take the class they are a lot easier to teach! If they have a fine arts dept you might be able to start up a smithing class for artists too! Teaching at the community college level should provide benefits and have a better schedule for side work as well.

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If I wanted to teach metalwork I would look to do it at the community college level which often has classes in welding and machining; when you get folks who *want* to take the class they are a lot easier to teach!

The above is a good idea.
My metal arts professor did exactly that and revived a defunct course in welded sculpture at the local college a number of years ago. She integrated it into the commercial welding courses and it's seen great success in enrollment. It spawned a whole new group named 'Women Who Weld" and they've done a number of public arts placements in the last couple of years.
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