Current Weather
The Spy FM

Blacksmiths Forge A New Kind Of Artisanal Future

Filed by KOSU News in US News.
June 3, 2012

Adam’s Forge is a dark, high-ceilinged warehouse space in Los Angeles. It’s set up with anvils, medieval-looking tools and black ovens that breathe fire.

Recently, about a dozen people gathered for an advanced class taught by master blacksmith Mark Aspery.

Blacksmithing is an ancient trade that, like other crafts, saw a downturn during the Industrial Revolution, when machines took over jobs that humans once did. Now, blacksmithing is having a small revival, as smiths build new ways of connecting with customers.

‘This Is My Craft’

Aspery makes it to L.A. a couple times a year, and his students get more from him than the finer trigonometric points of blacksmithing. During lunch, Aspery tells an old story about King Arthur.

In the story, the king asks artisans to explain why their work was important to building Camelot. Tailor, carpenter, stone mason, goldsmith — each make a strong case. But then Arthur thinks twice.

He asks them where they get their tools, and all say they go to the blacksmith. Then Arthur asks the blacksmith who makes his tools. The blacksmith says, “Sire, I make my own tools. That is my craft.”

Aspery learned the ancient craft through a traditional apprenticeship in the UK. Now, he’s spreading his knowledge throughout the U.S. by literally writing the book on blacksmithing. His three-level program was adopted by the national Artistic Blacksmith’s Association, and it routinely sells out here at Adam’s Forge.

“It’s exciting for me. There are a lot of people developing crafts, and I really think the time is right to help those people along, whether it’s structure, whether it’s financing,” he says. “The time is right.”

Making A Living

Still, it’s not a huge industry. There are between 5- and 10,000 blacksmiths in the U.S., and of those, only about 10 percent do it professionally — they make things like custom railings or artistic hardware for homes.

Back in the classroom, Scott Higgins is learning to punch a hole in metal.

“I’m having a great time. … If they didn’t throw me out, I would stay here the whole time,” he says.

Higgins’s day job is making electronic equipment for rockets. He’s deep into blacksmithing in his spare time.

“My target is to do everything and learn everything within six years, when I do an early retirement, and then this is just what I’ll do,” he says.

He plans to make enough money to cover materials “and maybe an occasional beer.”

‘Not Just Banging On A Hammer’

Blacksmiths can make money these days finding customers on the Internet. That means they need to be entrepreneurs, and have an artistic vision to sell. Len Lodish, marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania, says blacksmiths are doing more than producing products.

“Instead of having to spend time in front of an assembly line doing repetitive things, we now have people who are making artisan crafts and selling those and learning to banter and learning how to deal with customers,” Lodish says, “and I would expect that that’s a much more satisfying life.”

Aspery agrees: Being an artisan now means making human connections.

“You need to have some form of verbal repertoire. It’s not just banging on a hammer. And so you’ve got to have a few jokes,” he says.

As for Aspery’s story about the blacksmith at Camelot, It wasn’t just something to do during lunch. In fact, charming customers is an important part of the blacksmith’s new skill set. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

7PM to 9PM Juke Joint Revival

Juke Joint Revival

Juke Joint Revival rivals any Rockabilly/Roots show on the air today, and the host of that program, Jenni Zee, lives and breathes the Rockabilly lifestyle. Her show has drawn the attention of Rockabilly fans the world over.

Listen Live Now!

9PM to 10PM The Spy

The Spy

An eclectic mix of the Spy's library of more than 10,000 songs curated by Ferris O'Brien.

View the program guide!

10PM to 11PM The Blank Generation

The Blank Generation

Our punk show, The Blank Generation, is hosted by Katie Jones and Chad Hunnicutt. Katie has been attending punks shows for more than half her life. Chad is a member of local band, The Muck Savages.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center