Thursday, May 07, 2009

A Weekend Course - 'What will I get out of it?'

... I am interested in your Blacksmith courses. What I am looking for is a business I can start that involves working with my hands and making everyday items. ... I know a blacksmith will be a life long learning process but what I would like to know is how long will it take me to make simple items I could sell at local markets (pot holders, wine bottle stands, plant hangers, etc.)? Is this a realistic goal? If I took your basic course how much additional practice would I need to produce items with consistent curves, quality etc.? ...

Once again - this article is edited from my response to the question. With the current economic trend, I have been getting an increase in this type of inquiry.

1) Estimated start up Investment - minimum $1200 (of course you may have some of this stuff)

Anvil - $ 300 plus : That assumes you can *find* an anvil, and you get a reasonable price on it. You need at least 150 lbs for any serious work, and figure about $2 per lb is typical in Ontario right now.

Forge - $350 : That's for a professional level cast iron fire pot, brand new (John Newman), and assumes you make up the actual table itself, and use an electric blower. If you use one of the shallow dish forges, those run (Ontario) anything from $100 through to maybe $200 (that's will a small blower). Note that dish forges are not for serious, sustained work. At the bottom end, a brake drum and pipe forge could be cobbled together for maybe $30. A small commercial gas forge runs closer to $450. (Check those sold by David Robertson)

Post Vice - $75 : A lot of variation on price here, assume a smaller 4 inch in reasonable shape.

Drill Press - $250 : a small bench top from some place like Busy Bee

Bench Grinder - $50 : also from cut rate tool supplier

Selection of hand tools - $100 : This assumes low quality, gives you a couple of hammers, pliers, hacksaw, few punches...

Sundry - $100 : Largely expendables, things like coal (Robb Martin), drill bits, sand paper, safety glasses...

Of course, this is just for a simple, almost hobby level set up. To work at a small business level, a suitable vehicle (van or pickup) will be required. A complete sales booth set up with storage containers. Considerably more investment in power tools (band saw, sander, torches, welder). Also the physical workshop itself, which might include a purpose built construction.

2) Time to Target - variable!

Each individual will develop hand skills at wildly differing rates.
An example: I am finding the typical student these days will take anything from 45 to 90 minutes (sometimes more!) to make their first pair of 'S' hooks. Now, when I am on form, I can do the same in roughly five minutes (that's three heats each). Why? I've done it a thousand times!
So the real truth is that you will have the raw knowledge on how to make any number of the individual *shapes* that combine to make simple objects after a weekend Introduction to Blacksmithing Course. The course will certainly not cover all the possible combination of those basic shapes into objects. Most importantly, being able to make some object, and to be able to make it consistent enough and *fast* enough for economically viable production are two entirely different things. That speed and ease will only come through practise and repetition, at a rate that will vary by individual.

3) Goals - "You can have it FAST, you can have it CHEAP, you can have it GOOD. But only ONE of those!"

You can speed your time from first training to viable production by using a number of short cuts: Simple designs requiring limited elements. Cold forming methods in place of hot forge work. Extensive use of jigs and dies.
However, speed gained at the starting end will be skill limitations in the long run. If you make up jigs for all your standard shapes, that will quickly allow you to crank out those standard shapes. You will at the same time seriously limit your ability to progress past the most basic types of objects, and even your simple pieces will have a very mechanical look.
For that reason, in my programs I stress the use of hand forming over the anvil. It makes work harder and slower *at first*. In the end however, skills will develop which allow you to be able to create any form you can imagine.

4) Meat on a *good* weekend Course

A well balanced weekend 'Basic' program, taught by a skilled (and experienced) teacher should give you almost more information than you can absorb. There should be a large amount of practical working time, under close supervision (ie - low student to teacher ratio). There also should be considerable background and theoretical discussion on tools, safety, working methods, applications. I expect my students to acquire enough raw information that it will take several months of practise to refine the skills taught.

A comparison : Students will learn as much in the 18 hours of my own Introduction to Blacksmithing course as I was able to figure out in the first 18 *months* of working on my own.

Other articles you really should read:
'Will you take an Apprentice?'
'A Career as an Artist Blacksmith'

I also refer readers to the details available on my own Courses on Blacksmithing and
Educational DVD


Albert A Rasch said...


Great commentary, and once again it is fantastic that you take the time to explain these things to everyone.

The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles.
The Range Reviews: Tactical.
Proud Member of Outdoor Bloggers Summit.

STAG said...

I often wonder what goes through people's minds when they decide they want to tackle this as a trade.


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

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