“Uh, it’s not the 1600’s, why are you blacksmithing?”
“Why don’t you just buy one at the store, that's what I do.”
These comments here are but a very, very tiny fraction of the things I’ve heard throughout my time learning how to blacksmith. At the time of writing this post it is June, 2022, and yeah, the truth is that there are plenty of ways to get cheaper versions of what I make. You can buy spoons, coat hangers, knives, artwork, and a host of other things. I have built my business around things that take more time, manpower, materials, and supplies than what is needed to mass produce them at factories. If you want something smithed for you, it will always take much longer and cost much more. As an example, consider my knives. My base price starts at $300 for a basic knife, but you can go almost anywhere and buy a knife for $20.
So why would I try and make a business out of something that has so much stacked against it? Economically speaking, it doesn’t seem to make sense at first glance. However, many smiths still do just fine for themselves. Why? I’ll give you 4 reasons. Quality, craftsmanship, sustainability, and the cool factor. Let’s talk about them.
It's very common to buy a mass produced knife. They are stamped out of a large sheet of steel, ground and sharpened, and heat treated by the truckload. This allows the factory to produce a high number of identical knives at a very, very cheap price. Even the high end brand knives are a steal when compared to the cost of a custom hand forged blade. However, as with most things in life, there is a trade off. In this case it is quality.
Hands down, a mass produced blade will be outclassed by a blade that was forged by a skilled blacksmith. Where a store bought blade will maybe last a few months or years of constant use, a hand forged blade from an experienced maker will be an heirloom that you can pass down through your family line.
Not only are mass produced blades not quality checked like handmade ones are, examining and testing each product for maximum performance and strength, the big factories choose simple, passable materials that are slapped together by robots or assembly lines. All a factory wants to do is produce a mediocre product that meets a mediocre standard so they can cash in. And honestly, it makes sense. Factory knives have their place. A simple, cheap option for simple tasks. But a true craftsman knows quality materials, and they know how they work. Added to that fact, each blade is made with careful, experienced hands. You can’t out perform that, even if you can out produce it in a factory. The well known saying is: Quality over quantity.
Even if we aren’t talking about blades, you can’t ignore the craftsmanship of a blacksmith. To move steel with purpose and determination, using fire, steel, and muscle, the men and women who forge items that people use are to be appreciated as artists just as much as the ones that hold a brush. It takes an artistic eye, attention to detail, and hours of meticulous work to produce a piece that functions well and looks good.
Each smith will have their own specific take on things. 10 smiths will make 10 different bottle openers, because it becomes an expression of themselves and their style. That is honestly a beautiful thing. We, as smiths, are not just in manufacturing, we are contributing to the arts. From the absolute beginner to the grandmaster, there is expressionism and individuality.
So who can become a blacksmith? Many times the metal worker is subjected to a stereotype. Big, burly beards and a huge gut that hangs out over the anvil. The reality is, however, that...well there are a lot of blacksmiths like that. Admittedly, though, that isn’t a prerequisite. Male, female, large, small, ugly, pretty, young, or old, it doesn’t matter. Whatever background you’re from is the right background to pursue blacksmithing if it interests you.
Truthfully, at the onset of the Industrial Age the world began rushing into a mindset of disposability. Use it once and toss it away. While it isn’t necessarily wrong (in moderation), there must be a balance. I bring this up to highlight a benefit of learning to blacksmith. This is a skill that can be used to either learn how to become more self-sufficient, or develop our existing ability to do so. Need a spoon? Make one. Need a knife? Forge it! The more you learn to smith, the more you develop the ability to think and work for yourself and lessen your dependency on stores and factories. While those things aren’t bad, being able to do it for yourself is highly valuable.
Fire, steel, hammers, and muscle. Come on, blacksmithing is just cool. All throughout history humans have done things because they thought it was cool, highlighting the aesthetic that appealed to them. And who isn’t at least a little impressed when they see a blacksmith in action? Well, if you persevere then that blacksmith they watch could be you. You too can be cool.
To ensure that you have a reason to trust me, next time we'll give a little background information before we go further. Buckle up.
This post is a small excerpt from my Ebook, "So you want to be a blacksmith?" Available on Barrett-knives.com for $4.99
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