Tuesday, January 21

Blacksmithing Schools and Apprenticeships

Aside from How to make knives and How to build a forge, a question that comes up a fair amount is: Where can I get an apprenticeship/Where are the blacksmithing schools?

For the most part, traditional apprenticeships in blacksmithing are a thing of the past. Pre-teens no longer get dropped into the care of the village blacksmith to work the bellows and organize the shop. We have stricter labor laws and the general public's interest in blacksmithing as a profession is limited to watching someone else do it at a renaissance fair or colonial reenactment. Not to mention, it costs a blacksmith time and money to train someone (you won't find a paid apprenticeship these days).

So, given our interest in learning the trade, where do we turn if we have the time and, in some cases, the money to hone our skills? I'll give my experience as an example and then provide a list of other places to look.

I learned the basics of blacksmithing at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina. It draws craftspeople from all different walks of life including woodworkers, weavers, painters, musicians, bakers, and blacksmiths. They have an outstanding blacksmith's shop with coal-fueled forges, great instructors, and all the tools of the trade at your disposal.

It usually costs a few thousand dollars for a week of instruction. I didn't have that kind of money to put toward it, but it wasn't a problem. The Folk School offered and still offers a Work/Study program.

In exchange for six weeks of work involving maintenance, gardening, and being generally helpful, I received three weeks of courses for free. The only things I paid for were my materials (coal, steel stock, wood, etc.). Room and board on their historic campus were provided. The food is southern home-style and the rooms are shared.

Other Options:

The Artist-Blacksmith's Association of North America (ABANA) has a HUGE list of blacksmithing schools.

My suggestion is to use 'Find' to search the page for your home state or neighboring states. How to use this function varies from browser to browser and between Windows and iOS.

For example, on Macs: You'd hit 'Command F' to get the search box in the upper right of your Safari browser window. Then type in 'NC' for North Carolina to find all the schools that list NC for their state.

Jock Dempsey from Anvilfire.com wrote a lengthy article on blacksmithing apprenticeships a while back. He provides some history and emphasizes the importance of paying for what you learn.

One of his main points is that blacksmiths don't tend to make a ton of money and to spend time showing someone brand new how to do it is eating into their productive work time.

That, to me, is where the blacksmithing schools mentioned before come in.

Next Steps

  1. Do some research into schools nearby using the ABANA site
  2. Figure out how much time and money you can afford to spend.
  3. Sign up early. The work/study program at the Folk School is very popular and they don't accept everyone. It's better to put your name in early and spend some time talking with them. The more they know about you, the better your chances of getting a slot.
  4. Use the Blacksmithing School Map right here!
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  1. The guide link doesnt work. Any other location we could get that from?


    1. Hi there! I fixed the link. The guides are also always available through the page tab "Blacksmithing Guides" at the top of the page. Thanks for catching that!

    2. Also, if the link to download the guide still doesn't work, it could be an issue with the browser you're using.