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Sadly, blacksmiths are few and far between these days. Certainly there’s not a whole hell of a lot of need for a guy with a forge to shoe horses. But the artistry of blacksmithing goes way beyond the practical. I’ve seen lots of cool projects ranging from iron gates to pot hangers to a fully-forge-welded table you wouldn’t believe.

But what’s better is that you, too, can see such work — and see it made. Because the art’s effectively on its deathbed when it comes to large numbers, those who still work the trade spend a significant portion of their time demonstrating the art to others. You’ll find them at forge council and other organization meetings — plus fairs are all sorts of gatherings — banging out roses and leafs, and sometimes even teaching others right on-site.

Even more important, you’ll find (or at least I have) that most blacksmiths are a friendly sort, often willing to give you significant (and often free) advice to help you get started in the art, assuming you’re willing to get a little sweaty. (Let’s face it: Forges are, by definition, hot. And summertime is, well, hot. Put the two together, and you get damn hot. But you also get a hell of an experience.)

Where am I going with this? I’m simply suggesting that if you’re interested in learning how it’s possible to turn plain old iron into beautiful objects with the help of a surprisingly-heavy hammer, there’s help. And there’s no excuse not to find out if it’s for you.

So have you seen a demonstration?

(Thanks, brightlifephotographydotcom, for the great CC-licensed photo.)


16 Responses to Have You Seen A Blacksmith Demonstration?

  1. PutnamEco says:

    Blacksmithing is alive and well, here in rural Florida. There are actually quite a few hobbyist blacksmiths in my area, who also supplement their paychecks through paid work. They do all sorts of interesting stuff, from fixing farm machinery to making Civil war reenactors wares, even some knifemakers thrown into the mix.

  2. G says:

    As a matter of fact, the option of keeping horses for hobby or competition (as compared to working horses of yesteryear) have swelled the population of equines until there are more of them now than there ever were. There’s a lot of work for farriers out there! And they do tend to carry around a forge for hot-shoeing horses.

    But yeah, they don’t tend to have time or energy left over for a lot of traditional blacksmith craft. Some do it as a hobby or on the side, but mostly they’re overworked in their primary job.

    I’m also in rural Florida, and I go to the various harvest/pioneer/craft festivals in the small towns around me. If the festival is large enough there’s usually somebody doing a blacksmith demo. I love watching these, and I do my best not to harass them with too many questions. Every one I’ve met has certainly been willing to talk for a while.

  3. JKB says:

    I saw a demo at the fort on Dauphin Island, AL. A guy that was apprenticing was working and did short demo making nails. That inspired me to attend a class at the John C. Campbell Folk School near Murphy, NC. I haven’t got a forge set up yet but it is in the plans. Tip, if you take a class, take it in February. Work is still hot, well by the end of the day, but you can walk outside to cool off.

    Check out http://www.abana.org for the Artist Blacksmith’s Association of North America.

  4. DocN says:

    Deathbed? I’d wager that if you count farriers, knife makers, commercial fab shops that have some smithy capability, decorative iron smiths, many of the “off the grid”/”back to nature” types, and just plain hobbyists that inherited grandpa’s old anvil, there are probably numerically (not necessarily per-capita) more blacksmiths today, than there were a hundred years ago.


  5. kyle says:

    i saw a farrier doing a demonstration at the local octoberfest festival, he is there every year

  6. Sam says:

    Blacksmithing is alive and well. Coolest thing I saw, though, was a guy who sand-cast a bronze bell using pennies, charcoal, bellows, and a LOT of volunteer labor.

  7. dreamcatcher says:

    I took two blacksmithing courses through Tiller’s International (Portage, Michigan) and loved it. Although I don’t have a forge set-up of my own, the experience was mind changing. I suppose if I really wanted to get back on a forge I could just walk down the road to the local farrier shop. There’s farriers and blacksmiths (don’t confuse the two) all over central michigan.

    And lets not forget those who are akin to the modern version of blacksmithing. Just the other day I was over at the H.A.M.B. forum checking out the amazing tin tapping abilities of the hotrod builders. Some even make their own bead rollers, english wheels, body hammers. But anyone who can bang out a complex form from a sheet of steel is surely to be as highly praised as the skilled blacksmiths of old.

    If you ever get a chance to take a course on blacksmithing, auto body, casting, or even just welding you should do so. Once you grasp the skills required to manipulate metal you will find that the information is quite liberating. Never again will you look at retail products the same way, this is especially true when it comes to tools and machinery. Instead you will find yourself analyzing those items for a chance to make your own; better and custom to your needs.


  8. Dave says:

    @Sam – metal casting is definitely not what a blacksmith does. At least, not normally.
    I agree that there are tons of blacksmiths still out there. Before the housing bust, a lot of them were busy making ornamental gates and fences for expensive houses. A lot more are farriers (which is sort of the low end of the craftsman spectrum), and there are a ton of hobbyists.

    John Campbell is the _the_ place to take an intro course.

  9. Chris W says:

    The Saugus Iron Works near Boston MA is a recreation of an early colonial iron works run by the National Park Service. They explain how iron was made and cast into bars. They show some simple blacksmithing like nail making. I liked the water wheel driven 500 lb hammer.

  10. Bajajoaquin says:

    I’ve never seen a demonstration, but I have been attending workshops for the last six months. It’s a program that offers classes once a month, and they have programs that cover a pretty broad range, from introduction through journeyman.

    I keep telling people that it’s “fun,” but I know that’s not really the right word. “Engaging” or “captivating” might be better. It’s really fantastic to just be totally absorbed in what I’m doing.

  11. Mike47 says:

    Here in California, we see evidence of the blacksmithing craft at virtually every Celtic festival and Renaissance fair (and there are lots of them). The craft is also displayed every year at the California State Fair in Sacramento.

  12. BG says:

    The suggestion that farriers are at the low end of the blacksmith’s trade is like suggesting that people who make prosthetic limbs are at the low end of the sculptor’s trade. It’s not a perfect analogy, but there is a hell of a lot more than just making ornamental metal items to the farrier trade.

  13. dreamcatcher says:

    A blacksmith may quip “Farriers just make shoes, but I can make anything, and I don’t smell like horse shit doing it”.

    Where as a farrier might tell you “You’re better off just shooting that horse now than letting a blacksmith shoe it”

    While they usually poke fun at the other, they each have deep respect for the other’s craft.


  14. Bruce Caldwell says:

    I work for a structural steel fabrication company which originally started out as a blacksmithing operation when the owners father stated it back in the 50’s. In fact, we still do blacksmith work. We re-furbish the points & spades that go in the ends of jack hammers & such. We have contracts with rental tool companies from Texas to Florida. I first worked for this company a little over 30 years ago & back then we had an old man that went by the nick name of “Bozo” who was the real deal when it comes to blacksmiths. I used to like to watch him do his thing on the forge & hammer but only in the winter time. I don’t know how he stood the heat in the summer.

  15. I’m a fifth generation blacksmith in the Atlanta area, and was doing great before the economic downturn. Just got my business back up and running last January… Invictus Forge, a tribute to my late mother.
    http://www.invictusforge.com if you’re interested. I work mostly in the classical French style, got to train and work there off and on for several years. I was born to be a Blacksmith.

  16. Smithingguy says:

    Lots of demos and education available most areas. In NJ, Peters Valley does expensive classes, Allaire State Park and Old Millstone Forge Association teach members (cheap) for free, Allaire has an apprentice program, OMF is less formal, both are all volunteer.

    And BTW Dave, METALsmiths do casting, chasing, etching, repousse, fabrication, engraving, toolmaking, bladesmithing, and a host of associated arts. Excavations of early smithing sites reveal most of the above being done at or near the *same* site, once you have a forge/hearth up and working, processes needing heat tend to go there. I’ve done all the above myself, started over 35 years ago as a hobby and expanded skills with time. Don’t shoe horses though, allergies.

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