Category Archives: The business of smithing

Of Similar Minds

I came upon this site today from The Remodeling Guy. It reminded me of an earlier post I made. Here is an excerpt from his post:

If someone told you to go out and have your own unique custom new car made, you would probably think they were either way too rich or just plain crazy.  Cars are expensive enough when mass produced, let alone made just for you. Interestingly, the price bump for custom made building products is rarely as substantial.

There! Why settle for mass-produced when you can get what you really want?

I agree with most of his points, except one. If someone were to show up at my smithy with thoughtfully considered drawings, I would give them a discount. Not only do good drawings make my job easier, it conveys to me that the customer wants to work as a team.

When I have services done for me that I cannot do myself, I try my best to make their job as easy as possible. I try to think what information I would want, if I were them. And I try to keep an open mind, knowing that I don’t know everything.


The Courage to Explore Possibilities

candle stick

A candle holder with traditional joinery

I’m often asked what I do and what things I make. A large percentage of what keeps me busy is fulfilling custom orders. I enjoy interacting with the numerous people I get to meet and discussing their likes (and sometimes dislikes). Every project has its own challenges and considerations. The ever-changing variety of what I am working on each day keeps my creativity fresh.

It often comes as a surprise to people how many objects today’s blacksmith’s can make. A garden gate can seem very different from a candlestick, when viewed from the point of view of how we interact with them. But from the point of view of a blacksmith, all projects have a similar degree of problem solving. A garden gate takes into account placement of hinges, how the latch performs, a form rigid enough not to sag under its own weight and designing it in a manner to be compatible with its surroundings. A candlestick needs to support a candle, protect the surrounding area from heat and be stable enough not to tip over. A similar approach is taken with handrails, sculpture, lighting fixtures, cutlery, door hardware, fireplace screens, pot racks, tables. . .the list goes on. And it is a pretty long list.

It is not that different from picking up a pencil and discovering what marks can be made on paper. The pencil makes a mark, it is only a matter of how it is wielded that determines the result. Letter writing can be done, lists can be made and some pretty beautiful drawings can result also. It is just a matter of understanding the tools and materials while exploring their possibilities. Most blacksmiths (and I like think myself among them) are pretty astute at figuring out how something is supposed to work and fulfilling it to the best of our abilities.

The process of commissioning something bespoke can be a mystery to some people. It can also feel rather daunting when the item needed exists merely as an idea before it becomes a line drawing. I remind myself that a potential customer does not know all that I know with regard to metal work and that this may be a new experience for them. It may seem strange, when claims to be a specialist set ourselves apart from those in a related field, to not strike a claim at being a “fireplace poker specialist” or the like. It’s about problem solving through understanding the potential of the material (in this case, steel) and understanding the needs of the situation, including making the person it is intended for happy with the result. There is usually a learning curve associated with this, but that is part of the process also.

Today I am polishing a titanium jet turbine blade for a client, to make it worthy of presentation. I am also working on a stand for a wooly mammoth tusk that once belonged to a mammoth that roamed Alaska 12,000 years ago. I am also completing the last few components of a railing project and working on some designs for a stool that I hope to make in the near future. It might seem like it is all over the map, but for me, it all meshes seamlessly. Like my father (who spent 30 years working in a foundry) used to say, “metal is metal”.

By the way, the candelabra was the result of my wishing to combine traditional joinery techniques and end up with a two-candle holder.