Journeyman Blacksmithing Skills, Calibrate Yourself

By Pete Stanaitis

Last updated: January 22, 2017


Pete at the anvil (62K)


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Here is a way to calibrate your own blacksmithing skills against the Journeyman Blacksmith Skill Set that Bob Bergman published in The Anvils Ring some years ago.
Everyone who wants to improve their metalworking skills should have a copy of those 26 requirements handy for comparison's sake. While I'm certain that there are many other ways to determine your own skill level, this one can be done "in the privacy of your own home".

I recently got out a copy of the Blacksmith Journeyman Skill Set and scored myself in all the categories. I figured that a full fledged blacksmith expecting top dollar for his or her skills, ought to rate "A" in every category, as far as ability to perform and demonstrate that skill or skill set.
For grading purposes, I developed my own reference points from watching and working with other blacksmiths. And, of course, from critcally evaluating my own work. If you want to learn what the best blacksmiths do and how well they do it, you should attend every blacksmith meeting and conference that you can.

After working my way down the list, (making my A to E entries on the left side of that page), I had developed a basic personal blacksmithing skill inventory. I could see exactly where I needed to work to improve.
Okay, so now I know what I can and can't do, but any employer would ALSO want these things done rapidly, productively AND with accuracy.
To calibrate myself for those attributes, I examined the list again, with the above in mind and scored my ability to do each skill rapidly, day after day, with little or no scrap. These A to E scores I placed on the right hand side of the sheet. For me almost every score on the right turned out to be lower than the score on the left. Now I really know where I stand! And, in priority order (D first, B+ last), that I should work on next.

For the grading process, I simply figured that an "A" (think 96 to 100 percent perfect) would be required for getting paid (and deserving) the highest pay available as a blacksmith. An "E" would mean that I don't possess that skill at all --- I wouldn't even know what they were talking about.
For instance, I think I'm pretty good at "drawing out" and I would be quite confident in demonstrating my ability to just about anyone. But I'm not perfect at it, so I gave myself an "A-".
On the other hand, I'm not much of a welder with oxy-acetylene or electric welders. I can make simple welds, and I can stick things together to stay, but my welds often don't look very professional. In this case, I actually scored myself in each of the 4 categories listed in that skill set. I gave myself "C-" for oxy-acetylene, "D" for brazing, "B+" for soldering and "C-" for electric welding. (I have since made great strides in this area!)

When I got all of the skill capabilities rated, I looked back over the list. I could see which areas I was the weakest in, but I still felt there was something lacking --- that's when I came up with the need to evaluate "productivity, accuracy and speed". I figured that just because I could take all morning to turn out a pretty good scroll, I wouldn't necessarily be qualified to take on a job where hundreds of scrolls had already been estimated using the times that expert blacksmiths would take.

So that's when I rated those characteristics along the right hand side of the list. For instance, in "drawing out"; although I rated myself an "A-" in ability to do the skill, I rated myself a "B-" in ability to draw out to exact dimensions, all day long, and fast enough to make my boss the money he wants to make on me.
In the machine welding areas, I had rated myself "D" to "D-". I wouldn't have wanted to pay ME good money for most of the machine welding that I did.

This is, or can be, a pretty soul searching experience, but I think it's worth doing, even if you're never going to sell your services. I am a hobbyist, do some work for others and I have taught beginning blacksmithing classes. I also demonstrate often to the public. So the idea of making sure that the students of blacksmithing know "where they are" is always on my mind.


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