Meeting a blacksmith

The Blacksmith Shop at The Farmers’ Museum was built in 1827. It was used continuously as a forge until 1934. Today, it is still a functioning forge turning out product the traditional way, but it does not operate full-time.

I talked to one of the smiths at work. This man is 26 and started smithing at 13. His trade is traditional, like the smithing of the 1840s.

He told me that apprenticeships last six or seven years and that it takes about five years of steady work to become proficient. The nice thing about the museum, he said, is that it facilitates the education of people who want to learn traditional blacksmithing on the traditional timeline. The first couple of years of an apprenticeship, the apprentice is not paying their way because they don’t know enough, and the shop loses money because the shop pays their living expenses and for their materials. The investment does pay off but it takes years, which isn’t something the private sector likes in the modern market. In the museum, the apprentice gets paid while following the traditional schedule.

As a college student stressing about the job hunt and surrounded by people in similar situations, this really resonates with me. Because of the saturation of the job market today, you have these entry level positions barely paying above minimum wage demanding years of experience, or worse – positions that don’t pay at all. In theory, internships are not cheap/free labor for employers, but true investments in people they want working for them in the long term. Unfortunately, reality doesn’t match up.

The modern smithing community is so small you can’t fake your education even though a blacksmithing guild regulating professionals no longer exists. This smith is the head of the shop at this museum, which has four other smiths. Some people at Colonial Williamsburg, another living history museum, apprenticed here. He also has his own shop.

There was one other person working in the shop when I was there. He was using some kind of bellows. The shop was filled with rhythmic noise.

Nice to see modern safety precautions!

You can read more about this blacksmith shop on the Farmers’ Museum’s website.


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