Friday, February 08, 2013

Some advise to the young and keen...

On 06/02/13 8:07 PM, David wrote: 
My thirteen year old son has a fascination with Blacksmithing and can see himself as a sword smith.
He enters high school next year and I would like to ask you if there are any recommended courses that might benefit him should he decide to follow this path.
Sightly edited from what I wrote back

That is a very difficult question - although I suspect you do not mean it to be. How does one start, to equip yourself as a sword smith?

First thing - I am going to suggest some reading off my own web site for you.
Check the articles in the section 'On Blacksmithing' :

Two main things to think about :
1) Getting started - and when?
'Teens as Students' :

Now the truth is that the best smith is not really the *strongest*, but the one with the best *control*. "It don't matter how hard you can hit - if you miss!" This is especially true with bladesmithing. To prevent warping, the force applied on one side needs to be as close as possible as the force to the other side. As blades get longer and longer, even small distortions start to really magnify.
But you do need to understand that at your age, your body has not finished growing, your bones are not completely set. It is extremely important that you do nothing to damage either bones, or worse still your tendons. Tendon injuries *never* completely heal! (Learn this from someone who partially tore the tendons in his own right elbow, years ago.)
It is not necessary however to be physically huge. I have been smithing for over 35 years, full time professional since about 1988. I stand 1.75 cm, and only weigh 70 kg. 

'Work SMART, not HARD'

2) Smithing as a job?
'A Career as an Artist Blacksmith' :

The truth is that you will work long and hard. You will never really make much money. * You have to do this because you love it. *
Some of the very best blade makers do make fairly good money. There is an awful lot of competition. 'Luck' is often a big factor. Although excellent work is always valued, there is much more to being 'successful' than just being able to make things. You need inspired designs. You need to know how to promote yourself. 

So - now going back to your original question: What courses might prove helpful ? 

I would suggest that to become a good bladesmith there are going to be four things you need to gain knowledge of:

A) Design :
So here, take all the art classes you can manage!
Honestly, you are going to need to learn how to draw. Enough to record your ideas and communicate them to others. The more other types of artistic work you learn, the wider your imagination, so the more original your blade designs will become. You never really know where an idea might come from.
Second - take some history courses, especially anything in 'Ancient and Medieval'.
Big piece of advise here? Steal ideas for designs from 'dead guys'. Living artists work hard for their original designs, and we are very protective of those. Something from 1000 years ago? Who knows or cares!

B) Technique :
If your school does offer any shop type classes, take them.
A blade combines work with steel and iron, both in the forge as blacksmith and later with machines in polishing. So learning how to run tools in machine shop will assist you later.
A knife needs a handle, so you also need to understand how to work with wood, bone, antler - maybe even plastics. So take wood shop too.
Hilts often incorporate the fine skills of jewellery making. Your school may not have any courses here, but fine metalworking skills are extremely important. Look at the top blade makers, you will see there is more work *decorating* than actually in making the blade itself.

C) Promotion :
Read here *computers*. In our modern world, you absolutely need to know how to utilize the internet. (Just how did you find me?)
Writing (English). You need to know how to effectively describe your work, communicate your skills. (Look at what I am writing you right now!)
Photography. You do need to know how to record your work, both as a record and how to display your work.

Take a look at these two web sites of some excellent sword makers:
Jake Powning :
Jesus Herandez :

D) Business
Believe it or not, its not enough just to make the stuff. You have to be able to sell it to.
So at least some basic business courses will prove helpful in the long run.

Best single piece of advise?

Get yourself one of those black empty page sketch books. 

Start drawing, cutting out magazine photos, making notes. You are recording your ideas. The drawings don't need to be art. Just good enough that YOU can remember your idea, what you saw that interested you. 
Truth is, if you start packing enough ideas into your brain, eventually they start leaking out of your fingers
Other Truth, drawing is mainly about practice, start now and you will be amazed how good you get.

'Gut Ripper' - c. 1979. NOT my first knife (!) but the oldest I have an image of.
Frequent readers know, the price of the often long return e-mails from me is the chance your question might show as a blog post!

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

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