Smith Training?

Hi everyone. I am very interested in Blacksmithing and have looked at a number of web sites and books and visited some local smiths and
metal workers here in Houston.
I am considering attending the class at Turley Forge. It is a three-week class costing $2000. This is pretty expensive and before I spend that much money I wanted to get some information and opinions from the experienced, working smiths out there. So, here goes...
Would I bet better off taking the class or investing the $2000 in equipment to set up my own forge for learning and working?
Are there any apprenticeship programs available out there? If so, what is the best way to find them? I have had no luck searching the web including ABANA.com and HABAIron.com or with local smiths. It seems that most of the ones I've talked to are barely getting by as it is and have no money to pay a helper.
This begs the question, how realistic is it that I could become a professional, working smith today?
I appreciate any advice that you can give and look forward to hearing from you.
rvb
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I'm working, and I'm a smith, but I'm not working as a smith. But I'll pipe up anyway. My thoughts are purely from the learning-because-you-love-it school.

Everyone learns differently, but I like to try something myself for a while and see how it goes and then take a class. This way I have some experience and can ask some "intelligent" questions, as opposed to just stitting back having someone had the information to me. I find that if I teach myself (using books, web, etc) something for a while, and then get someone how knows I get a lot more out of it ("Oh...THAT's how you do that!"). I may make more mistakes, but I think things stick with me better that way. YMMV. Also, after the classes you may have more luck getting into work, since you will have some basics.
Consider geting some basic stuff (anvil, fire, hammer) and some books and fool around for a while. Read, experiment, hammer. Make mistakes and learn some basic stuff. Then, assuming that you like it, perhaps a less expensive class. One week, which goes very fast can be a great experience. Then you come home and work on that stuff for a while and extend it. After time go to another school/class/teacher (diversity is good too). I've attended weekend and weeklong classes and I always come home having learned a lot. In the east there is Campbell school, Penland and a couple others. I consider Campbell tuition very cheap for what you get. Many traditional-craft schools have a blacksmithing section. You might also be able to start "networking" via the teachers and/or more experienced class members.
don
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I think you definitely need to work with someone. Learning blacksmithing needs this much more than other crafts such as wood working. Working with someone in any craft will speed you along, but it is especially imporant in blacksmithing from my experience.
You do this by getting together with other smiths (hammer in's), watching demos and taking classes. Join your local group.
Whether Turley is right or not I can't say. He certainly is rated an excellent teacher. Are you better off with his class, or with a couple of other classes, or one class and spending some on equipment? I don't know, but any of the approaches will probably have a good value for you.
I think your comment on apprenticeships "It seems that most of the ones I've talked to are barely getting by..." is telling. Earning a living this way may be difficult for some time unless you have good plans for marketing your stuff.
Steve Smith
rvb wrote:

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RVB & Group, Frank Turley is THE man! His school has been going since the 70's. He has opened the eyes of more budding smiths than ANYONE else on this planet in the late 20th century! Yeah $2000. bucks ain't cheap but I can guarandamtee you that you will come away from Sante Fe with a sense of enlightenment and confidence that I do not think you could find anywhere else. And that friends, is priceless.
Glen S. Gardner Turley alumni class of "73"
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Thanks to all that replied. Great answers and info all. And please keep the advice coming. Also, I didn't mean to imply that this question was for working smiths only. Sorry for the wording.
I've also been doing a LOT of reading on Anvil Fire and that is helping immensely! I have this burning desire (pun intended) to do this. I must do this whether for pay or not.
Perhaps I can start as a hobby and turn it into a profitable enterprise. This would be great, but just knowing how to work metal and create things with my hands will be reward enough. Besides, it'll give me something to do for Christmas presents for people that are truly meaningful and personal. :)
Thanks again, everyone. And keep the input coming.
rvb
wrote:

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I have no desire to smith professionally, because I do not wish to make 1000 hooks. so take my advise for what it is worth, but I took a weekend course which gave me a taste and enough knowledge to start. I then joined the local blacksmith assn and spent the last 12 years learning from others through conversation and demonstrations. A couple of years ago I felt that I needed to take it to a higher level and took a Artist-Blacksmith course for 4 months at Haliburton School of the arts in Haliburton Ontario. It improved my smithing in surprising ways. I still operate on the philosophy that I cant sell it for what it is worth, and I wont sell it for junk prices as it only becomes junk then, so I give it away as people always seem to appreciate hand made gifts and value them. Doug

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I'd suggest you FIRST find your local ABANA affiliate (ABANA.org) and join. Then attend as many meetings, especially open forge meetings or beginners workshops. Different groups have different ways of bringing in beginners, so ask.
Spend some money on minimal equipment. Home-made or inexpensive forge, a few hammers, an anvil (even if a cheap Chinese anvil) a few tongs. Then do some forging yourself.
As someone else said, you might want to smith for about a year before taking a serious course like Turley's. Frank Turley is an excellent instructor, and can help you no matter what level you are. But you'll get more for your money if you know the basics already.
I would suggest you take a shorter course to start out with, unless you really want to jump in with both feet AND have confidence in your own abilities. If manual arts are new to you, go slow and determine your skill level first. Going too fast will just discourage you.
You'll know you're ready for Turley's course when that $2000 sound right to you for a 3-week course. Sounds pretty good to me, depending upon what it includes.
Bruce Nj
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Dorothy Steigler got her start at Turley's class - a good recommendation for sure. It's been highly recommended for years. I got my training at the Campbell Folk School and at Arrowmont, because when I started learning I couldn't take enough time from my consulting business to go to Turley's class. But it would have been a good investment.
I'd vote for the class. You'll select better tools and equipment, and arrange them more efficiently. You'll have a foundation of basic skills on which to build. Some things just can't be learned from books. (Many of us have tried.) Once you have a good start, you can develop in your own direction and learn from books too. But you really need that start.
As for making a living - as my adopted father Francis Whitaker said, "There's always room at the top." If you get good enough, there will be work at a good profit. -- Catherine Jo Morgan Iron & mixed media vessel sculptures online artist journal: http://radio.weblogs.com/0120691 /

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rvb wrote:

The problem with any short smithing or farriery course is information overload. You'll be unable to process all the valuable information you'll receive and it'll be essentially wasted. I think you'd be better off buying the basic tools, working on your own, and hanging out with as many smiths as you can. There are several extremely active blacksmith organizations within easy driving distance of your home in Houston. HABA is in your back yard and the Balconies group is primarily the San Antonio/Austin area.
After you spend a year of so learning the basics, Turley's class will be extremely beneficial to you because you won't be plowing all new ground.

Apprenticeships, in the formal sense of the word, are virtually unknown in the United States.

While smithing is not the most lucrative of vocations, having or not having a helper in a commercial shop (as opposed to a hobby shop) is usually a question of balancing what the helper brings to the table against greatly increased liability exposure and compliance with government regulations. Additionally, in many commercial shops, time constraints are such that a working smith may not have enough time to teach an apprentice much beyond "Lift here" or "Hold this steady."

That ability would depend largely on how you define "working smith." Folks who make a living while worshiping at the feet of the great god Traditional are few and far between. In other words, if you think a coal fire is the only way to get metal hot, that a plasma cutter is heresy, and that a TIG machine is an abomination, your chances hover around zero.
On the other hand, if you're willing to embrace a changing technology, seek niche markets, and accept that the old way of doing things is not always the best way when the need for efficiency rears its ugly head, you might have a chance.

Sorry I haven't answered you email, this'll have to do. (g) p&m
--
Tom Stovall, CJF
Farrier & Blacksmith
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I don't know any smiths who turn traditional methods into a religion. But I do know smiths who've made a good living using traditional methods. Francis Whitaker could forge weld faster than most smiths could machine weld and clean up. He taught machine welding during WWII, however, and he sometimes gas welded pieces for specific reasons.
For myself, I like modern abstract designs and prefer MIG welding. But that doesn't mean either choice is best for everyone. You could do modern abstract designs using traditional methods, or do traditional designs using MIG welding. And earn a good living either way. Speed and skill help - as do business skills and the simple drive to do a superb job and keep learning.
If someone is looking for an EASY, SIMPLE way to earn a living, I don't think blacksmithing is the answer. But if it's something you love to do, and if you keep learning to do better, it's certainly possible to do well. -- Catherine Jo Morgan Iron & mixed media vessel sculptures online artist journal: http://radio.weblogs.com/0120691 /
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I was following that rust thread, and I came across the following link:
http://lametalsmiths.org/news/page10.htm
which gives a list of "skills expected of an apprentice".
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don schad wrote:

Hmmm. Is that when he/she starts? Halfway thru (Like an end of year test?) Or a test for promotion to journeyman?
Interesting site tho, thanks for the link
-- Big Egg My name is not "news". If you reply to that address, I won't get it Visit my ebay shop for welding and tools and stuff: http://www.stores.ebay.co.uk/honyaservices
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rvb wrote:

Spend the money on tools. For two Large, you can set up a nice little shop in a garage. But First... think about exactly what kind of smithing you want to do. Different kinds of smithing require different tooling. What do you want to make, and I'm not talking about Big Bux. Yeah, you can pay the bills with smithing, but you'll work your arse off in the process. Ornamental Iron is good, but the upfront costs are a bitch for the equipment. Gates, doors, and burglar bars will feed you, but you'll be using the machines to fabricate and the TiG to weld in order to get the production up. Edged weapons are good, but the market is Very competitive and there are some really Good makers out there. Sculpture art is good, if you can find enough patrons that want to behold your work. Sheetmetal is good, but 15th century body armor can be really labor intensive in the finishing.
You live in Houston, ever heard of the SCA? I hear that they're starving for a good armorer inhouse to make helmets and such for their combat game. I'm tooled for weapons, not sheetmetal, so I thought I'd mention it.
Talk to me.
HL Charly the Bastard the Last Dworf In Ansteorra Head Metal Forger In Charge, Dwarven Metals OKC
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Wow. Interesting post. I've never heard of the SCA. Who? What? Where? When?
rvb
On Mon, 06 Oct 2003 12:57:41 GMT, Charly the Bastard

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rvb wrote:

A couple of short descriptions: "If it's medieval and fun, we do it." "We are a bunch of 20th Century people trying to re-enact a 19th Century idea of the Middle Ages." "Re-creating the Middle Ages as they should have been."
Each of these misses the mark, mostly to the same side, but not by a lot.
SCA stands for "Society for Creative Anachronism". You will find an entire spectrum of people in the SCA: from the ones wearing garments they sewed from fabric they wove from yarn they spun from the fleece of the sheep they raised to the here-for-the-beer bunny-fur-barbarians eating corn-on-the-cob. Some do serious scholarly research, others just do stuff. The SCA is all across the US, and there are groups in Australia, Austria, Germany, South Africa, Finland, Ireland, Sweden, France, Italy, Turkey, Greece, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Canada... there used to be a group on the U.S.S.Nimitz.
One of the major activities is called "Heavy List" or "Hard-suit" or "Rattan Combat" or simply "Fighting". It's done with rattan weapons while wearing fairly real armor. "Fairly real" can be anything from layers of discarded carpet to finely crafted Maximillian-style plate armor. There are rules about what the armor has to cover and minimum requirements for construction of certain parts (helms in particular). Lots of fighters make their own body armor, but when it comes to the metal bits like the helm they're at a loss and need to buy one.
You can learn a lot starting at: http://www.sca.org You can drill down to your local group and find out what goes on when and where. If you're between groups, try them both, they'll be different.
I've been playing in the SCA since 1980, it's still fun, and certainly educational.
-- Carl, known in the Society as Meister Frydherik Eysenkopf, OL, CSagg, OTC, etc. but call me 'Fritz'
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Carl West wrote:

spectrum of people in the SCA: from the ones wearing garments they sewed from fabric they wove from yarn they spun from the fleece of the sheep they raised to the here-for-the-beer bunny-fur-barbarians eating corn-on-the-cob. Some do serious scholarly research, others just do stuff. The SCA is all across the US, and there are groups in Australia, Austria, Germany, South Africa, Finland, Ireland, Sweden, France, Italy, Turkey, Greece, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Canada... there used to be a group on the U.S.S.Nimitz.

Combat" or simply "Fighting". It's done with rattan weapons while wearing fairly real armor. "Fairly real" can be anything from layers of discarded carpet to finely crafted Maximillian-style plate armor. There are rules about what the armor has to cover and minimum requirements for construction of certain parts (helms in particular). Lots of fighters make their own body armor, but when it comes to the metal bits like the helm they're at a loss and need to buy one.

Good post. So, Fritz, where in the Knowne Worlde do you hail from?
Charly (who will never be a Laurel "because he's pissed off tooo many people")
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http://www.sca.org should have all the information you need. Well, a start, anyway.
The Society for Creative Anachronism is a semi-serious medieval recreation society. Some members are really interested in historical authenticity. Some are just in it for a bit of a laugh. Then there's the rest of the members that fall somewhere between those two extremes. All in all, it seems to work pretty well.
There's also a newsgroup, rec.org.sca, which has a much higher bandwidth than this one.
--
Politas
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rvb wrote:

Houston is part of the kingdom of Ansteorra. Go to www.sca.org, there will be links to the Ansteorran page and links there to the Stargate (Houston) page. There should be a schedule of local events, contact numbers, group officers, directions to sites, etc. You don't need an invitation, just show up and meet people, they'll take it from there. The SCA should be considered a nitch market, quality over quantity. This makes it perfect for the part-time smith. And... the parties are pretty good. I used to play a lot, but the ground got too hard and the miles got too long a few years back. No doubt some still remember me, usually with a growl and spit, so I don't think it would be politic to show up at a populace meeting saying "Charly the Bastard sent me." I learned smithing in the SCA. It bought me a house and a good shop and cars and bikes. I worked my arse off, but my swords have a service life that will most likely be measured in centuries. I won't be forgotten for quite some time, a bit of immortality, that.
Charly the Bastard since AS Single Digit
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