We are now at that time of the year when people make all of those noble-sounding, predictable, New Year’s Resolutions. You know the drill: Stop Smoking, Drink Less, Eat Healthy, Get in Shape, etc.
On average these last until about mid January and by springtime, they are reduced to nothing but a distant memory and the rare pang of guilt. Eventually they all morph into a resolution to try again next January.
So the cycle continues.
How about you do something different this time?
First of all, you do not need a special date to make a change in your life. If you happen to read this in the middle February, March, August or October, it does not matter. The time to do something is always now and there is always something that can be done today.
I will also focus on a slightly different choice. Something that some of you wanted to do for quite a while, but did not know where to start. It is the burning desire surprisingly shared by many young people today – the noble wish to pick up a craft.
I will not try to convince you why picking up a craft is a very smart, rewarding and important thing to do in our age of the intangible, of the hasty and the easily discarded. That is a topic for another day. I dedicate this little write-up to those of you who are already interested in crafts, but for some reason lack the courage and resolve to get started.
Let me tell you a story…
Every now and then on one of my many travels, I might stumble of upon a representative off modern society, who might ask me about what I do. Nothing too surprising there, for such are certain customs of politeness. But when I mention that one of the things which I do is blacksmithing, they get wide-eyed and reveal themselves to be a type of young individual which I keep meeting over and over again – the eternally wishful who patiently await a time which might never come.
They start telling me how amazing all of that is, how inspired they are by shows like Forged in Fire and how they yearn to become a blacksmith as well. How they would like to make blades, swords, axes and fancy damascus patterns. The works.
That is a bit bombastic and head-first, but fine. Eagerness is better than apathy.
Being an encouraging fellow, I might tell them that it is an interesting and engaging hobby to pick up. I might ask what is keeping them from getting started.
That is where the excuses start gushing forth.
It is tough. They do not know where to start. They do not have the necessary materials. They lack expensive tools like anvils, grinders, power-hammers. A workshop to put them in.
I try to explain that you do not need much – certainly not professional equipment – to get started. I might ask if they have done anything that would bring them closer to their goals. Here is when the real trouble starts.
They say that they watch a lot of YouTube videos of other people making things.
Yup. That is pretty much it.
So what is the problem?
While YouTube, Forums and Facebook groups can be a great source of information (as well as non-sense), they can also distract you from actually doing something.
Let me explain…
The seductive and dangerous nature of modern (social) media is that they create an illusion of closeness with the one who creates the message – a glimpse of into their thinking process. When artisans show off their projects and aspects of their workflow through a medium such as YouTube, they create the impression that the receiver actually on some level a part of the creative process.
On the one hand this can be a source of inspiration for other artisans – even a way of picking up a trick or two. Something that makes you perform better or try something new in your own workshop.
There is even a lot of very good information for beginner’s as well as more experienced makers to be found on YouTube. The likes of Walter Sorrels and Rowan Taylor come to mind – artisans who provide not just entertainment, but valuable instructional content. The internet can be an amazing source of information. But there is a catch…
It can be become a substitute for personal experiences. The type of wishful thinker described above can accept this narrow window into another’s workshop as an adequate substitute for performing the craft themselves. Thus the observer develops the notion that they are on some level ‘in the know’ – a part of the craft movement.
So instead of trying to find some old tools, a place to use them, a book or two, maybe even a decent beginner’s class – creating their own experiences – it turns out that these people spend countless hours watching other people doing it. At its most basic, it is the equivalent of using pornography to replace actual sexual intercourse.
Instead of looking for ways of making their dreams come true, they keeping finding excuses not to do it. They would like to start something, but lack the guts to do it. They find plenty of reasons to do it at some later hypothetical point in time when the conditions are more favourable. At the same time observing others create things of wonder fuels their longing for that hypothetical point in time when the stars are suddenly right.
Luckily this problem can be solved in a very simple manner. All it takes is some bravery and determination.
Forge Your Own Destiny!
As you should have noticed by now, this is not a particularly unique problem.
Should you have recognised yourself in that scenario, then you can find some solace in the thought that you are not alone. Neither is it reserved to ironworking, or craft for that matter. In fact, most of us at some point find ourselves in a situation where we avoid taking action.
The Fear of Failure can be just as terrifying as the Fear of Success.
The simplest solution is usually not easiest one. To do nothing will always be the easiest thing to do.
Whenever you have to take action or make an important decision in life, it is always easiest to just sink back into idleness and find solace in the comfortable complacency to the status quo.
At the same time it does nothing but further complicate your frustrations.
Therefore breaking the mould and pushing your boundaries might sometimes be hard, but it is very simple. There are no secret tricks. You just have to make a decision to do something, and go with it.
Some forms of taking action will of course make things easier for you in the long run, such as attending a good course, which will give you an initial push in the right direction. There is also an element of luck in many successful ventures, yet relying on luck alone gets one nowhere – it is the equivalent of relying on the lottery to pull you out of debt. Also you need to start taking action before you can make use of a fortunate situation.
Therefore, here is the harsh truth:
The perfect time might never come, but YOU – your determination – is what creates those favourable conditions which make success possible. After all, you cannot succeed if you do not try.
Let me tell you how I got started…
I had my first venture into blacksmithing during a summer break at the tender age of 15. At that point I was day-dreaming about making blades for a while. An interest in role-playing games and historic arms might have had something to do with it.
Growing up in Slovenia, blacksmithing at the beginning of this century was almost dead. There was nowhere to turn for knowledge. You could not get any formal schooling in the craft and most the old master’s were either dying off or closing their workshops. The conditions were far from favourable for a kid to start wielding the hammer.
I spent a considerable amount of time lurking on bladesmithing forums and at one point I even spent some of my saved up pocket money on a copy of the ‘The Complete Bladesmith’ by Jim Hrisoulas. I read the book cover to cover during a very hot family vacation in Dalmatia.
I could have kept on daydreaming, but I heard that there was an old blacksmith on the other side of my home town. I tracked down the master’s number and called him to tell him that I am interested in learning about the craft and to ask if he would be willing to teach me.
An hour later I was standing in his workshop with my father, discussing the details of doing some work as a helper in the smithy.
Instead of spending the long summer waking up late and playing video games, for a couple of weeks I got up every day in the wee hours of the morning to cycle to the other side of town, and help the old alcoholic construct a huge iron gate. Somewhere out there in Slovenian Styria there must still stand a damn heavy iron colossus of gate, adorned by 60 iron flowers fabricated by me. In between the ornamental work, I was given some instruction on basic blacksmithing techniques.
My time as a worker in that workshop was soon over, but in the Autumn I was allowed to set up a little makeshift ‘forge’ in the garage. So there I was, with a converted charcoal grill and a hair-dryer as a forge, and a piece of railroad track as an anvil, hammering my first knife out of a piece of discarded coil-spring. As most first knives, it truly was an abomination.
But guess what happened…
I actually made something. I was proud. Once I made one knife it was it was just a matter of doing it again. I kept improving and this convoluted path of the self-taught brought me to where I am now – holding a science degree in ancient ironworking and working alongside a master smith.
So if a 15 year old kid who at that point mostly played video games and never even kissed a girl before can amass the courage to dive head-first into metalworking, then so can you.
You Need Less Than You Think!
As you can see, every journey has to start with a Single. First. Step. Once you have made that step, things will get easier.
The barriers, which keep you from making that first step are primarily mental, not material, for there is precious little that you need to get started in a craft.
There are very few tools which are actually necessary, and even those can often be improvised or bought at flea-markets and yard-sales.
Let us presume that you want make knives. All you need is a sack of charcoal, some kind air blower (a cheap hair-dryer will do), a few files, a bit of sandpaper and steel. This will be enough to make a stock-removal knife. If you want to forge the blade, then you will also need a hammer, a pair of tongs or vice-grips and some flat-ish solid piece of iron for the anvil.
How about bronze casting? You will need a blower/bellows, a crucible or two (can be bought quite cheaply, even Amazon sells graphite crucibles nowadays), a pair of tongs, as well as some clay and sand for the mould and furnace.
Want to start woodworking instead? With a carving knife, a gouge or two, maybe a hatchet and some wood you can start carving bowl and spoons. Basic joinery also takes nothing more than a saw, a chisel or two, and a mallet.
Pottery? Get yourself some good clay, a bowl of water and off you go.
I could go on and on, but hopefully you get the point by now.
You might instead say that you lack the appropriate space for the craft which you would like to pursue. Let us say that you live in a city-central apartment and you would like to start metalworking. It is not exactly something that can be done in the living room. Again, this is an excuse, which can be overcome if the will is strong enough.
Maybe you know somebody with a workshop which you could use occasionally. In many cities nowadays you can also find shared workshops or craft co-working spaces, which you can use for a small fee. Maybe there is a museum nearby which would let you use their workshop.
Even if none of those options are available, maybe you have a friend who would also like to get started and has a house with a backyard where you can do it. You can get started in the craft together, turning it into a social bonding ritual as well, spending some time on the weekend making stuff. How about instead of going off for a few drinks on a Friday evening, you spend the time working on a fun craft project? (Do not worry, a drink or two is still allowed.)
Sounds like fun doesn’t it?
A Different Mindset for A New Day – A New Outlook For a New Year
After reading all of this, how about you step out of the festive season with a new mindset. If you want to make some kind of resolution, if you believe that it will help, then be my guest. What matters is that you stop procrastinating, seize the day and reach for the stars!
When you do this is completely up to you. It may be today, tomorrow, next week or next year. But the sooner you start doing something, the sooner you can start succeeding.
Fortune Favours the Bold!
You cannot succeed if you do not try.
Not all patience is a virtue and often the best time to act is now.
Every journey starts with a single first step, and once you have made your feet wet, you might as well start swimming.
So how about you stop dreaming, overcome your fears and finally do something great.
Is something still keeping you from getting started? Want to share a story of your own first steps in craft? Write in the comments bellow.