Teaching, Learning and Being a Blacksmith on the Internet

     I am a big fan of learning from the internet, just today I watched a few videos on how to fix my washing machine, and it went pretty well.  There is a ton of info about everything you might want to know, no matter how weird.  I love it! 

     It also happens to be a good place to help you learn about blacksmithing.  I have been a lurker and sometimes poster on several metal working, blacksmithing and knife making forums on the internet, and it has really been a boon to my knowledge base and skill level. 

IT WILL NEVER REPLACE LEARNING FROM A REAL LIFE AND EXPERIENCED SMITH.

But I will say you can learn quite a bit.  As I learn and grow with experience I find I have things of my own to share and to teach as well.   The thing is I often see folks posting incorrect information.  I also see folks who should be teaching instead inadvertently(so I hope) discouraging people from getting started by answering simple questions with non-constructive criticisms and unhelpful advice.

So I thought I would share my ideas on this subject, maybe it will help some folks more easily navigate learning and teaching blacksmithing on the internet.  Maybe someone will drop a power hammer on my porch in the morning.  I mean come on it could happen right?

 When I was first getting started I knew next to nothing.  I was asking the classic questions "What kind of steel should I use?"  "If I want to make a sword what size stock should I start with?"

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"Can I make a knife out of this?"

 

 

 

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"How about this?"

 

 

 

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"Can I make a knife out of this?"

 

 

New folks ask stupid questions, and it becomes very hard to answer the same stupid question over and over again.  When its coming in from a forum, or facebook, these questions on an emotional level feel like they are coming from the same person over and over again.  So as a teacher it gets frustrating to answer the same dumb questions over and over again.  Remind yourself that these are all new and disparate people of wildly different experience and back rounds.  Cut the new folk a break it's not their fault they don't know anything

As someone who has taken it upon yourself to teach and offer advice, it's really important to make sure the advice you offer is actually helpful.  Often when someone asks what stock size they need to forge a sword,  the answer I have seen from the unhelpful side of things is "If you need to ask you are not ready to forge a sword."  I am not at all saying that this statement is incorrect, it very likely is correct, the problem with it is that it doesn't answer the question asked.  It's really just a bit of unasked for advice.  If the person isn't ready to make a sword, they will learn that soon enough on their own. 

As a beginner going through the forums and asking questions, often times not even knowing the right questions to ask, I would very often get hit with a big ol' wall of negativity.  No you cant do that, no that wont work, if you have to ask then you wont be able to do it.  I hate that last one the most. 

 I aint afraid of not having power tools!

I aint afraid of not having power tools!

After awhile I started to feel like I would never get into this game.  I would ask how to do a certain task, and was told I needed a powerhammer or a thermonuclear quenching vat if I wanted to really do it right.  I think it's important to remember that there are many different ways to preform a task. 

There is more than one method to heat treat a knife for example.  If I tell you I am a backyard smith, give me an answer that will suit a backyard smith.  Don't tell me I need to drop $1000 on some fancy bit of machinery if I really wanted to do it right.

When I post an answer I always ask my self three questions.

"Did my reply answer the question?"  "Was the answer I offered helpful" "Am I sure I am not talking out of my ass?"

If you don't have anything helpful to add, just dont post.  Its actually easier to post nothing than it is to work out a snarky unhelpful reply.

I think that's enough on the teaching end.  On the whole the people who voluntarily take time and effort to teach, very often for free, on various forums on the Internet are excellent at it and we should all be grateful for their help and advice.

Trying to learn through the internet can be pretty tough.  Here is the best way I have found. 

Google search blacksmithing club (your state here).

Find out when the next meeting is, and go to it.

Never touch your computer again.

LEARNING FROM AN EXPERIENCED SMITH IN REAL LIFE IS ALWAYS THE BEST CHOICE!

However, sometimes it's one in the morning and you cant very well go wake up another blacksmith and get them to show you something, you want to go on the internet and learn there.  Good, go do it.

My first bit of advice is to stop asking questions, and just read.  Likely your questions have all been asked already at least a thousand times.  Browse around that forum and read every post.  Get some books, read them.  This isn't high school, no one is making you do this, but if you really care about learning this Trade/Art/Craft you should naturally be curious about it and want to learn all you can.  If you dont have that kind of urge to learn then you may want to take a second look at why you are trying to do all this in the first place.

I can't tell you how many hours I have spent looking at what I call "knife porn".  Hours of scrolling through posts looking at other peoples works.  Reading the advice and forming my own opinions.  Good, Bad, Ugly, all of it gets fed into your brain and stored there.  Its like a good scrap pile,  you'll be able to dig around in there and pull some useful info out when you really need it.

So how do you know you are getting good information?  This is a tough one, and its why I suggest you do alot of reading, especially real actual books.  Publishers wont waste their money on an author writing a blacksmithing book, if that author doesn't know jack about the trade.  It's not good business.  So in general if you are getting conflicting info go with whats in a book over what someone says on the internet.  There are of course exceptions to this, but you are a blacksmith, so I am sure you are smart enough to figure them out.

Pay attention to the moderators, very often they are the most knowledgeable people you are going to get.  Its part of their role to make posts and correct wrong information, so in general if the moderator tells you something believe it.   After that it can be a crap shoot.  Anyone can say they have made a hundred gates for 50 years, anyone can sound like they know what they are talking about, not all of them do.

A little trick I have come up with which works especially well on Facebook, is I check out an individuals other posts.  If they have alot of pictures of their iron work you can get a very quick sense of their skill level and experience.  I cant tell you how many times I've seen someone act like they know what they are talking about only to go to their FB page and find a hundred photos of Silly Cats and just one photo of a knife like this.

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Just take the time to check on your sources, remember that you care about this stuff, so make sure you get it right.

Last bit of advice is this.  Don't be afraid to learn that what you have been doing is wrong.  This is advice for all of us, teachers and students alike.  We are here to learn our craft, to make cool, beautiful, and useful items.  It does no one any good, especially yourself, to be stubborn and close minded.  Keep your brain open, keep it willing to change as new skills and information become available.

Last off I wanted to suggest some reading and a couple forums that I like to go to, that I feel are pretty good at handling beginners and really seem to have a good helpful communtiy.

Blacksmithing for Beginners on Facebook is an excellent resource

Bladeforums http://www.bladeforums.com/  These guys are really top notch when it comes to knives and blades.  Stacy A Pelt is the moderator for the knifemakers section and really knows his stuff.

Books

The Complete Bladesmith by Jim Hrisoulas

New Edge of the Anvil by jack Andrews

This is where i got started.  So good luck, keep hammering, stay safe.