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What They Do

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Artists, ironworkers, hobbyists and history buffs -- these words can all be used to describe blacksmiths.

Although people's views on the blacksmithing profession may differ, all blacksmiths do have one thing in common. They thrive on creating something from nothing. By molding, pounding, bending and shaping pieces of hot iron, blacksmiths create beautiful works of art and useful architectural items.

Once known as the pillar of society, a blacksmith is now seen by many as an artist. Where a blacksmith once pounded out tools, wagon parts and wheels, many blacksmiths now create beautifully ornate tables, candlestick holders, wine racks and decorative railings.

Today, few blacksmiths build items out of necessity. Rather, they create items of beauty that people buy as art.

A blacksmith's skills can vary widely, depending on the type of projects they work on. Next time you see a finely crafted iron table, a fireplace poker or even a finely designed iron door handle or hinge, know that you're probably looking at the work of a blacksmith.

Although some blacksmiths are employed by larger blacksmith or welding shops, many run their own businesses.

Chances are, the shop is located close to where they live. It might not be as big as a professional shop, but it will still be equipped with all of the necessary tools of the trade. And for most blacksmiths, that's their favorite place to be.

"The fun time is the time you spend in the shop," says Brian Gilbert, a part-time blacksmith from Chattanooga, Tennessee.

"Unfortunately, you don't spend all your time there," he adds. That's because when you're self-employed, there is always bookkeeping to be done, products to be shipped out, supplies to be bought, and several other things that require time outside of the shop.

Blacksmiths who do work in a larger shop tend to be more focused on architectural work, says Lorelei Sims. She is a self-employed blacksmith from Illinois. These shops often work on larger projects, she says, such as security doors and large railings.

The demand for blacksmiths seems to depend on the types of work they do and what part of the country they live in. For those who focus on ornamental work and sell their items through craft fairs, work may be seasonal, with busier times being just before Christmas and major holidays.

Sims says demand is often determined by style and decorating trends.

Most self-employed blacksmiths will say they work at least eight hours a day, if not more. In fact, 10-, 12- and 14-hour days are not uncommon.

"My shop is my second home," says Sims.

Mark Pearce is a self-employed blacksmith. He says his day begins about 7:30 in the morning and ends between 5:30 and 6 p.m. His shop is open Monday through Saturday.

The amount of time spent traveling will again depend on what types of products blacksmiths make. If they're self-employed and sell products through craft fairs and art galleries, they'll need to be prepared to travel to these.

If they work in a larger shop, travel time will be minimal, except for traveling to conferences. (Conferences are quite popular with blacksmiths, who enjoy sharing their knowledge of the craft.)

Contrary to what most people believe, blacksmiths are not all big, bulky, hulk-like men. "It's not just about brute strength. There is a lot of finesse involved, and there are many women practicing the craft," says Rob Sadowski. He is a blacksmithing instructor. However, a fair amount of lifting is required.

If you're not in good physical shape when you start, it won't take long before you are. Swinging a four-pound hammer day in and day out builds muscle and stamina.

Blacksmiths need to be cautious of the hot iron they work with, as it can cause serious burns. Fred Holder is a retired blacksmith from Camano Island, Washington. He says after you burn yourself once, you're careful not to let it happen a second time. "If you're smart, you don't get burned."

At a Glance

Use hot iron to create beautiful art

  • Blacksmiths mold, pound, bend and shape pieces of hot iron
  • Some are employed by large shops, but many run their own businesses
  • Blacksmithing courses are available


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