Wednesday, December 13, 2006

'Career' as Artisan Blacksmith?

"... My son/daughter has become interested in blacksmithing. Would your recommend this as a good career choice ..."

I am getting an ever increasing number of requests like this one. In an attempt to provide one well reasoned commentary, I have drafted up this article.

IF you put that question inside the frame of reference that question outlines, the answer is : NO

Most typically, the use of terms like 'career choice', modified by works like 'good' or 'successful' carry a certain value weight. Usually what is really being asked here:
• Are the wages / monetary return high?
• Are the working hours standard?
• Are the working conditions safe / pleasant?
• Are there normal paid benefits / pensions?
(Right now, I can hear any Artisan Blacksmiths reading this killing themselves laughing...)

Now I want to be quite specific here, and divide the field into Fabrication Blacksmithing and the Artisan Blacksmith. I am obviously an Artisan Blacksmith.

If you approach blacksmithing as one of a range of methods applied to a Fabrication shop - then it MAY be possible to maintain a standard 'career', with all of the elements listed above. Considerable investment will be required in labour saving equipment. None of the machinery required for an successful fabrication shop is inexpensive. You will find it necessary to undertake specific technical training and apply for various certifications (like a registered Welder's Certification). The types of work you will undertake will tend to the industrial and the repetitive. To make back a suitable return on your investments in equipment and training, the projects will tend to be large -and duplicate standardized designs. True success, measured by the factors listed, will see you become a workshop MANAGER, not actually a hands on worker at all. This goal is certainly achievable, given hard work and sound business decisions.

The opposite side of the coin is that of the Artisan Blacksmith. Undertaking this path means adopting the life of an ARTIST, with all that entails:
• Working long, hard hours for very little money returned.
• Expecting to work almost every weekend, with no 'holidays' in the classic sense.
• Fully expecting the work undertaken to result in the slow accumulation of physical damage over the years.
• No benefits are likely, and certainly no possibly of paid retirement.
To support yourself as an Artisan Blacksmith, you must be designer, fabricator, salesman, and business manager. Four separate roles, all undertaken with some measure of effectiveness if you expect to produce any income.

Why on EARTH would anyone become an Artisan Blacksmith? Put simply - it is a LIFESTYLE, one to which you are driven to because of the work you enjoy. It can be immensely satisfying, but any financial rewards are entirely separate from exercising your urge to create. The objects you form using forged metals as the medium of expression have a durability that no other medium can match. The life span can potentially extend to centuries. The mark of your own hands will be borne by each and every object which leaves your workshop. Given time, good work will almost always find its level.

So in framing the question 'Is becoming a Blacksmith a good career choice', the answer must be considered in light of what your expectations for your life will be.


Anonymous said...


I understand you run classes out at your forge? How far are you from Detroit, Michigan, and how much do you charge to teach, say, bladesmithing?

Stephen Renico

Anonymous said...

And here I am caught in the middle.

I don't mind creating new designs and creations, however my clients don't want to pay for development time. I dread those conversations that start out with "I went to the Anime convention and I saw this armour...."

A hobby? Well, sometimes it pays like a hobby! Normally it doesn't pay to do truly custom work...and when the client hates it and returns it, it doesn't even pay in satisfaction. I have a showroom full of stuff nobody likes. (maybe not even me...grin!) I find that the more artistic I make it, the more likely it will get returned.

A friend of mine who makes a precarious living as an artist metalworker in California tells me that by the time he masters a technique sufficiently to make it look good, he is bored with it, and is on to new things.

(the above could be made into a coherent statement...however this is just commentary.)


February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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