'Will you take an Apprentice?'
I wanted to make a general commentary on this whole situation, if for no other reason than to save me repeating the same general reply over and over. (I refer readers to an earlier related piece 'Career as an Artisan Blacksmith? )I have been getting an increasing number of letters like the following:
The simple answer is, well, no.
'Traditionally' (used in this case to refer to the Settlement Era) a
young person (virtually always male) learned the 'art and mystery' of
the blacksmith at the hands of an older, experienced smith, via the apprenticeship
system. A typical arrangement started at age 9 to 11, and lasted anything
from 5 - 7 years. A legal contract (indenture) defined the relationship.
As with any contract, it cut both ways:
The Master was trading off years of instruction against a possible assistant in the later years of the arrangement. A young apprentice was fit for not much more than sweeping up and simple labour at first. By the mid point of the indenture, the apprentice would be able to assume more and more complex tasks. It was expected by the last years he would be a hard working assistant, this labour 'paying back' the effect loss to the smith at the beginning.
At the end of the ideal indenture, the Apprentice left his former Master's shop, with a box of tools (made himself), a store of knowledge, and some store of direct experience. At this point he was considered a Journeyman - a trained blacksmith who moved to work for pay in other shops to accumulate experience and hopefully the funds to start his own business.
This traditional system rarely (if ever) can be applied to our modern world. Young people are in school until well into the age range that once was expected for journeymen (late teens). The only way the apprenticeship system works is with multi year commitments, trading labour against room and board.
So to be clear, what people have been asking me for is really a Journeyman
position, but with no skills to bring to the arrangement. Undertaking
repetitive tasks at a reduced wage for the opportunity of being gaining
experience in more specialized skills as an assistant. I certainly see
what advantage is in it for them. What advantage do I gain as the blacksmith?
The only way I could envision such a relationship would be one framed
much more like the traditional one: Straight out of high school, a multi
year contract, room and board and no wages. Something you could arrange
with a son or daughter, but not likely 'legal' in our modern world.
A practical aspect is - just what kind of work goes on at the typical 'Artist Blacksmith' work shop? Can even a minimum wage level assistant fit into the pattern?
The honest truth is - this is a feast and famine lifestyle.
And never confuse yourself that the * artist * blacksmith is an artist
first, not a business operator! Those who are interested in the business
selling metal objects are not using the skilled labour intensive methods
which these potential 'Apprentices' are so interested in learning. Certainly
one can 'get by' supporting themselves as an artist, but you do this because
you are compelled to the work, and chose the life that this creates. It
absolutely is no comparison to working at GM - no weekly wages, no pension,
no support if you can't work. If that is your hope, it is an empty dream.
So for my own operation, and for most of the other Artist Blacksmiths I know, the only time I can * afford * to have an assistant is when a specific project requires specific help. This is almost always things like a couple of days painting, a couple of hours moving a large piece, a day helping install or deliver a finished piece. I no longer make 'handles, hooks or simple fireplace tools'. That is work too easily available off shore at slave wages, I leave that to the newcomers to compete over.
Advice, however, I am willing to give freely:
(Content now on the main Wareham Forge site.)
|Courses||Training DVDs||Iron Smelting||Smithing Articles||Smithing Sources|