Friday, July 3, 2009

Can you learn to be a blacksmith?

A question that comes up often in the shop is, “How did you learn how to do this?” Many visitors are surprised to hear that blacksmithing is still a skill that can be learned. The traditional guild and apprentice system is no more in the U.S. but there are other ways to learn the skills. Many people start as hobbyist. They join blacksmithing organizations, buy some old tools, and set up a shop to start learning the craft.

But how can you try blacksmithing to see if you like it? It seems like a big commitment to buy an anvil and build a forge just to try it out. That is where organizations like The Farmer’s Museum can help. Our shop is open, working, and demonstrating to the public daily from April to the end of October. Everyone is welcome to visit, watch, and ask questions. We also have two-day classes that let you roll up your sleeves and learn some skills.

For those who just want a first taste of blacksmithing, we are trying something new. On two Tuesdays each month we are offering mini-sessions. These are one hour classes that give you a chance to “Come behind the rope” and try a simple project at the forge.

Throughout North America there are more than 50 organizations that seek to preserve knowledge and teach the skills of Blacksmithing. These groups have newsletters, monthly workshops, special classes, and large conferences. The largest blacksmithing conferences are held by the Artist Blacksmiths Association of North America (ABANA) and the CanIron conference in Canada. In New York there are several organizations including the New York State Designer Blacksmiths in the Northern and Western part of the State, the Capital District Blacksmiths around Albany, the Northeastern Blacksmiths with two conferences per year at Ashokan, and the New England Blacksmiths meeting nearby in MA and VT.

Blacksmithing was a dying trade in the U.S. in the 1960’s. But the growing passion for learning the skill has led to a revival of the trade few would have predicted 50 years ago. Today there are thousands of professional Blackmiths and more than 10,000 hobbyists. If you are interested in blacksmithing there has never been a better time than the present to find instruction. Heed the most common advice given to new students, “Get it hot and hit it hard”!

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