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What is a Master Blacksmith?

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Though I know many very talented and experienced blacksmiths, I know of very few that call themselves a "Master Blacksmith".

What and who defines a Master Blacksmith? What's the process for attaining this title?

Or is there no such thing, in a formal sense?


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I have to reason by analogy here, because this is my first post and also because I haven't done any blacksmithing (although, thirty years ago, I did some reasonable metalworking with my Dad).

I'd say that a really good blacksmith is someone who can do just about anything with a hammer, a forge, some files and some steel. And a "Master Blacksmith" would be someone who could teach someone else to do those very same things.

The late Jeff Cooper, in an entirely different context, used to say that the highest level of an art is in teaching it properly.

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I am certainly not an expert witness on the subject but will impart my take on the subject.

In the USA, there are many local blacksmith groups that may have a certificate program that may bestow a master certification to members that can demonstrate skill to a certain level. I'm not sure if demonstrating the ability to teach those skills is part of the program or not.

ABANA, is the US National level blacksmith association and if they have a certification program I have not seen anything on their website about it.

In Europe, I believe there are still certifications given by the government, that certify smiths as apprentice, journeyman and master levels. I won't swear to that in court but that is the impression I have from posts written here by some of our European brothers / sisters.

Please those of you who actually know, fill in the gaps and make corrections to my inaccuracies and outright fabrications!

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Refering to the posy above I can say that it is much more complicated being a farrier in the U.K than it is here..They are indeed certified after apprecticeship(which is 4 years and 2 months I believe)..You just cant buy a forge,hammer & anvil in the U.K and start shoeing horses...Not legally anyway..

Edited by KYBOY
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generally i figure that the term master blacksmith is one used when talking about a blacksmith you think highly of .... not a term you use about yourself. I met a few smiths i wouldnt hesitate in calling a " master" but i would bet they dont think of themselves that way...It isnt a well defined thing ... guilds used to take care of nameing masters but in america that system went away .. there is nothing stopping anyone from putting master in front of theyre name and i know of at least one case where it is a sad ego boost of a fairly poor smith...

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To me there are some definate pros and cons to "certifying" a trade. Most of the certifications require a Professional Organization of some type. I heard of a Blacksmith in the UK not too long ago that had completed his "masterpiece" for judging by his local guild.

You would need to have some form of Standard Test both achedemic and perfomance based, and a group to administer those tests.

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I would suggest looking at BaseTemplate The Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths, a livery Company who have long been responsible for the standards for blacksmithing in the UK. They were the original standard setters, and still operate a system of awards that can be attained by practicing smiths.

There are also a number of colleges in the UK who give accreditation for 'smithing.

However sadly anyone can call themselves a Master Blacksmith with little chance of them being challenged on their ability.

The original line to Master 'smith was: apprentice (usually indentured to a Master 'smith for five to seven years, payment being made to the 'smith in the early years,) then Journeyman for a number of years, travelling around learning different skills as they went, they usually then set up their own 'smithy and when experienced enough they were recognised as a Master Smith usually by the WCB and they were then allowed to train apprentices etc.

One of the spin offs from this was that a 'smith had to be capable and have worked for many years before being officially recognised as a Master of his Craft. Nowadays with modern communication available, skills can be learnt and mastered much quicker, although the manual dexterity can only be achieved by practice and execution over a number of years.

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Calling someone a blacksmith is akin to calling somebody a scientist. What type of scientist are they. Blacksmithing is a very broad subject and when you feel that you have one part of it 'licked' look around and survey the hoards of things that still await your attention.

The Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths do offer an awards scheme. It is funny that they choose to use the term 'Fellow' of the company and then define that term as a 'Master Blacksmith'.

They have three levels of Fellowship - Bronze, Silver and Gold.

The requirements for Bronze are as follows.

The Bronze Medal is intended for Blacksmiths who have evidence to show that they can produce articles significantly above the standard normally associated with decorative and general blacksmiths. In addition to the skills achieved at the Diploma level, the applicant should be able to show that he or she is conversant with all forging techniques.

The commissions should include larger forgings than required for a Diploma and would be expected to include work in the public sector such as ecclesiastical commissions. These may have come from the private or public sectors and may include restoration work but a Bronze Medal would not be awarded on the basis of restoration work alone. The work should show individual influence on design with less input from external sources than required for a Diploma. A wide portfolio should be available to support the application and be representative of current projects.

Often at this level an amount of team work may be encountered, especially with the larger commissions. If this is the case it must be demonstrated that the applicant is capable of performing all the skills and techniques used in _making_ the piece(s) examined. If the applicant's main function is to manage the team then only a Company Award (see below) will be considered.

An applicant must supply photographs of his or her work and if satisfactory the work will be examined by two Master Blacksmiths.

No fee is required from applicants for this award.

Holders of a Bronze Medal are titled "Master Blacksmiths" and may use the letters FWCB (Fellow of the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths)

You will notice that design plays a part in the qualification.

I have no input as to what I think of the title of 'Master Smith' or the skills required to get it.

I am glad the position exists as I feel it is something that we all can strive for - even though that may be like trying to find the gold at the bottom of the rainbow.

Green you grow - ripe you rot!

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Here in Finland we have certifications given by the government. You can get a journeyman and master blacksmith certification. You can go to a test regardless of your background, although most often people go through training courses; roughly a one year course for journeyman and a two and a half year course for master blacksmith.The courses aren't, to my understanding, very demanding. On top of smithing you need to show knowledge on marketing, running business, designing and using/knowing other materials than black iron.

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Hi Guys
I come from a woodworking background (the dark side), I served an apprenticeship as a Joiner (the "workshop" side of carpentry) and the definition of a master in my opinion, is someone who has mastered enough of the art/craft to be able to pass it on.
kinda like YODDA!! SOOOO!!
_i _n _s _e _r_t_ am I (forgive me Mark) Asprey am I. Or Frosty, Glenn, Jymm H, Gerald B, mike T, or whoever masters it for your needs. One way to surely start an argument is to take 10 blacksmiths in to a room and start by saying "the only way to do this is_ _ ". Because, like wood, what you KNOW to be the truth about wood or iron today, will make you a liar by this time next week. Every job/process is different, everytime you do it, if it wasn't , it wouldn't hold your interest the way it does.
My family were Coopers for 840 years, in the same location, so I am a big believer in tradition. Formal trade qualifications are every bit as valid as a degree to become a doctor/lawyer or any other profesion, but let's put it into perspective. Today how many of us ARE profesionals at this craft (granted on this site a lot, I know) and need the protection of a guild, as a Joiner I never did any turning, the turners guild did that, the "job security" of guild membership is not as relevant today as it once was. In this economic climate I'm not so sure it should be that way, but then even my wife tells me I am living in the wrong century, she says I'm a child of the sixties, and then qualifies that by telling her audience it's the seventeen sixties, so what do I know!

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Without a governing body to confer the oh so grand title of 'Master' and ensure the abilities of said smith does it really matter? :rolleyes:

In one sense, yes, because a rookie like me claiming to be a master can make many other smiths lives and livelyhoods more difficult by giving smiths in general a bad name. Just as an incompetent doctor, lawyer, mechanic gives all of his trade a black eye. Guilt by association. So in the commercial realm having a ranking system that would guarantee a certain level of ability that people could use as a criteria in selecting a smith might be useful.

In hiring coop programmers (3-6 month gig while going to school) for my company the level of degree and the GPA, when coming from a single institution, are helpful in narrowing the field and making sure that I weed out guys who might not motivated or have not mastered the set of skills I know they are being taught.

On the other hand , no, I have no degree and was hired solely based on my drive and later, my accumulated knowledge. My work, once I had the experience and happy employers, spoke for itself. I think it is the same in the smithing world. Once you have a baseline experience, whether through formal training or not, the ensuing experience and how you apply the craft are what truly matter. In the end the degree or title only matters at the start of their careers.

For me personally a master is anyone who's work and technique I admire and would like to learn more from and if I am lucky would like to teach me.

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Colleen how have you been? Haven't seen you much around lately.

Hello A-Man! I been lurkin' around... I closed my workshop and taken a much needed break- been across the pond visiting with family (in States and Canada) but will be setting up a new workshop in the New Year... (Horray!)

Anyway, the link I posted which I thought was self-explanitory but obviously wasn't, was a link to the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths bronze award which is the first award which denotes someone a "Master" -much better explanations provided in previous posts by John B and Mark Aspery.
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"What is a Master Blacksmith"? I have only encountered one "Master" blacksmith. I know several smiths who in my eyes are masters of their craft. But, I have only met one individual who introduced himself as a, "Master Blacksmith". After watching him work for about an hour, it became very clear that my 9yr. old daughter was just as capable as this, "Master Blacksmith". Sometimes being a "Master" is just a matter of opinion. And now you have mine.;)

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I have been a humble hobby-smith for about 35 years. In that time I have seen and read about smiths such as Francis Whitaker. I don't recall any of those fine professionals referring to themselves as master-smith, but everyone active in the blacksmithing community and guilds seemed to know who they were and respected their skills.

I have seen a large number of beginner-smiths pump out volumes of work beyond their ability and skill level (less than well made) prance around announcing their presence to all who would listen. Because they did not take the time to learn the basic skills they eventually reached the limit of what they could produce, lost interest in blacksmithing, and faded away.

My feeling is that you know a smith by his/her work. If the smith is consistently producing a wide range of masterpieces, his/her work will speak for itself.

If a person has to tell others that they are a "master smith", then perhaps their work is not speaking for them.

If you want to become a master smith I humbly suggest to *begin* the path by learning:

- hammer control. A person who is hitting the anvil as well as the iron is not a master smith.
- fire control. A well controlled fire does not put out a lot of smoke. Coal is moved in from the sides and allowed to coke. Water is used to help the coal coke, to control the area of the fire, and to control the flow of air within the coke walls.
- develop an eye for your work. Burned, bent, and dented iron are not part of a desired end-result.
- have patience. Work on projects designed to refine your hammer control and other skills. Skill building is a life long process. Master the basic skills, the rest will come in time.

Have poor work habits, do work beyond your ability, brag, and puff-up and people will just nod their heads and wait for you to fade-away.

Edited by UnicornForge
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"What is a Master Blacksmith"? I have only encountered one "Master" blacksmith. I know several smiths who in my eyes are masters of their craft. But, I have only met one individual who introduced himself as a, "Master Blacksmith". After watching him work for about an hour, it became very clear that my 9yr. old daughter was just as capable as this, "Master Blacksmith". Sometimes being a "Master" is just a matter of opinion. And now you have mine.;)

Is this something like "A Legend in his own mind"
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