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A 2015 Blueprint for an “Artisan’s Assembly of Metalworkers”

Posted by bighornforge on February 24, 2015


Cyril Colnik (second row, third from right) and his employees (undated photo.)

This is a compilation of thoughts and ideas spawned from seasoned, and learned artisans in metal who have offered their wisdom in an effort to improve a metalworking organization.  I dedicate this text to these individuals, indeed hoping that this initiates a trend towards positive change, improving and solidifying the future of forging, along with complimentary forms of creative metalwork.


“A leader takes people where they want to go.  A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” – Rosalynn Carter

It has been over 40 years since the renaissance of forging and shaping metal began.  Numerous organizations have sprouted, some flourishing at some points during this time period.  Making a living shaping metal was merely a dream for most in the 1970’s.  Today, though still not common, hundreds of men and women provide for their families by making things of metal; some full time, others part time.  Over the four decades, such progress has been achieved that we can identify some of the metalwork made during this span as being made in a specific decade, or by a certain individual.  Where once it was difficult to find a book on forging, today, not only are there numerous books, but we also have the Internet, providing information on metalwork literally at our fingertips.  This knowledge base has increased at an alarming rate.  What was almost lost has now been re-established in not only the minds of those shaping metal, but also in the minds of architects, interior designers, and even the every-day ordinary person with simply a passing interest.  Many artisans who began their journey in metal in the 70’s have grown by leaps and bounds learning many aspects of design, architecture, and process.  The work that these artisans produce can sometimes be compared to the great masters, while others express new and exciting designs.  For most, this maturation process took much longer than the average college education, and longer than the master guided apprentice/journeyman (guild) system of long ago.

However, while metalworking individuals have matured, metalworking organizations have not kept up with their maturation process. Some organizations began and flourished with their original game-plan, specifically geared towards artists, beginning smiths, and hobbyists, while others targeted specific process, modern technology,  or leaned more heavily towards the business of metalwork.  Unfortunately, these organizations planed out, and failed to take the lead; their original game-plans wore out, and eventually outdated.


For example, learning to forge in the 1970’s was a scatter-gun approach.  Students had no clear path to learning, so they enrolled in just about any workshop, bought any available books, and sought anyone who smelled like coal to teach them. Today, though we have a bounty of resources to learn from, as well as places to learn, learning continues to be the scatter-gun approach.  Even with this vast knowledge base, and with numerous learned individuals, we still do not have an established, clear, and linear path to learn how to forge...not one.  Yes, we can turn to many forging how-to books and instruction manuals, but none have proven to be a thorough treatise, nor a linear method for the student (or even an instructor).  This is but one of the issues that has sadly never been seriously addressed by any metalworking organization. There is a need for metalworking organizations to mature, and there are numerous other outstanding reasons to do so; safety in the studio, as well as product safety and integrity heading the list.

“Leadership is the ability to transform vision into reality.” – Warren G. Bennis

Since 1996, these and other issues have been highlighted through numerous conversations with many people, whom I shall refer to as “senior smiths”, or those who have dedicated their lives to shaping iron, mainly by use of hammer, anvil and forge.  Many of these individuals have pushed themselves to learn the processes  of the great masters, i.e. Tijou, Mazzucotelli, Colnik, Yellin, Benetton, Kuhn, and others like them.  They then apply and push themselves to master like forms, or then progress to design and create fresh ideas.  Many of these senior smiths have offered opinions about what is lacking, what was missed, or what is needed in an organization to more properly lead, teach, communicate, and prepare highly motivated, interested, and devoted individuals in designing, studying, and shaping metal (See “Note #1” below).  This dialogue speaks mainly for these senior smiths, as well as for some younger smiths, who are driven, determined, and disciplined in metalwork.

Kehlhammer work - 19th Century

Kehlhammer work – 19th Century

Note #1: It is interesting to note that many individuals dedicated solely to forging would not be satisfied with an organization based solely on forging. Many of these individuals also understand and appreciate many forms of well designed and well executed metalwork that utilize cutting edge technology i.e. MIG and TIG welding, laser and plasma cutting, and more. Many also understand that to make a living shaping metal without sometimes using cutting edge technology is difficult (though not impossible).  It is also commonly accepted that if artisans and artists expect metal design to progress, that there must be freedom in the processes and technology in order to do so.  Thus, an organization that promotes and represents these many forms of metalwork would be acceptable, however with a caveat: The organization must delineate each discipline as separate from the other(s), strongly highlighting each discipline’s peculiarities to avoid confusion between disciplines. These distinctions are key in order for the organization to be successful.

For clarification purposes in the organization, it must be noted that each of these are indeed separate and distinct disciplines: 1.) Forging 2.) Electric welding (includes arc, MIG, and TIG) 3.)  Fabrication (not utilizing forged elements nor forged joinery) 4.) Casting 5.) Stamping 6.) Machining (lathe, mill, CNC, etc.)

Diversion full view

“Diversion” by Dan Nauman. Forged and fabricated, 48″ x 88″, mild steel, natural patina. 2012. Edgewood Orchard Gallery, Fish Creek, WI.

Here is a 2015 combined overview of the existing metalworking organization’s dynamics, as well as the roots of some of their issues, and some potential solutions :

1.) Many observations by the senior smiths speak of a lack of design leadership, as well as forging fundamental leadership.  

So…who are our leaders, and where are they? It would be easy to play favorites here, but clearly a leader would be one who shows proficiency at his or her craft.  Other indicators would be business success, notoriety outside of the organization, proficiency at teaching the respective craft, and a proficiency in organizing and managing.  These attributes largely describe a business owner.  Of the successful business owners I know, many work 50, 60, or even 70 hours per week.  This does not bode well for one who is asked to volunteer a great deal of time to run an organization outside of their work environment.  It is well known that “time is money.” That said, a volunteer based organization will not likely have many individuals reflecting the above listed attributes running the organization on a regular basis, or consistently.  Volunteering gets old in a hurry when there are major problems within your own company.  Many older, and/or retired artisans also feel they have already put in their proverbial dues by serving earlier in life.  (For solutions to this situation, see #3 below.)

2.) Many site the publications as being sub-par, siting several cover images in particular.

Say what you may, but folks do judge books by their covers.  Simply put, the cover ought to represent the craft’s best in design and craftsmanship.  The publication’s contents should do the same.  However, many articles are written in a folksy manner, contain poor images (i.e. poor lighting, background, noise, etc.).  This is due in large part as many articles are written by the membership, not by journalists or professional writers.

Other complaints include editorial responsibilities, i.e. bad lay-out and format (lay-out too busy, graphic noise, contrasting color, etc.)  If an organization pays professional writers to write the articles, the resulting essays will be well written, but sometimes lack insight or substance.  The reason is likely that some of these professional writers are solely reporters, and not familiar with metalworking disciplines. Thus the resulting article may miss key points, miss emphasis on the process(es) used, and terminology is sometimes confused.

Potential solutions for #2 would first be to insure that the editor is of the mindset.  He or she would be familiar with several forms of metalworking. The publication would have regularly contributing writers, all of whom are established in some form of metalwork, some or all of whom are paid to provide these articles.  Member submitted articles would require sound content, and images that reflect professional qualities.  Member submitted articles would also be accepted/rejected by an established review committee that works closely with the editor.  The category (of metalwork), quality of articles, and cover image selection would be by recommendation of this committee.  Specific departments would be established (i.e. forging, fabrication, restoration, reproduction, etc.) for continuity from one issue to the next, with lay-out that is high on essay and image content, and less on exotic page color, design, and font.  Broader content could be accomplished by an “International Communique” department, as well as through regional editors, i.e. East coast, West Coast, Midwest, etc.  If there is nothing to report for a given department in an issue, it would be noted “No Report” or “No Article Submitted for this Issue”.

To help insure quality submissions, an annual “Members Choice Awards” would be held, based on publication submissions.  Awards, based on images and design in the publication, would be for each category (see #II in the outline below), awarding gold, silver and bronze medals.

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.  The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”  – Max DuPree.

Gate Design #2

“Pool Gate Drawing #2” by Dan Nauman. Graphite and ink. 2007. (Artisan’s collection.)

3.) Standards, education, and identification of achievements.

A.) Starting with the latter, if you sign up for a workshop, often the workshop is listed as for a beginner, an intermediate, or for an advanced individual.  We can all define a beginner.  However, what defines “intermediate” or “advanced”?  (Think on this for a moment.)  There are no universally accepted, nor accurate definitions of either as a gauge for learning metalworkers, especially where forged work is concerned.  Ask a room of ten people in a given workshop to describe what an “intermediate” is, and you’ll receive eleven different answers.  You will likely receive a very huge and diverse cross section of what the requirements are for any given level.

Example: When a forging workshop is billed as “advanced”, many might assume that an advanced individual is well acquainted and competent with forge welding.  However, because of today’s lack of level definitions, likely one or more members of a given advanced workshop would not be able to weld very well, or perhaps may never have forge welded anything at all.   This is not so much an issue with a student with a mild interest in forging, but what of the other students in the advanced workshop?  Will they get equal attention time from the instructor?  Or will the instructor be mired down showing a novice welder how to weld?  Or worse…several novices?!  One instructor I know lamented that he taught an advanced workshop that involved knowledge of forging, hardening and tempering of carbon steels, along with power hammer work, only to find out that two of his five students had never had a forging hammer in their hand prior to that workshop.

Thus, to help solve this problem, there is a need for a system that identifies an individual’s forging achievements.

B.) What about the instructor’s capabilities?  How does the student know whether the instructor knows enough about the craft to teach…and if he does have the requirements, can he teach the processes clearly?  It might clearly state “master blacksmith” on the teacher’s card or bio, so he must be a capable teacher, correct?  Unfortunately, (and sadly), there are many instructors out there who should not be teaching or demonstrating.  Since there is no established criterion for an individual to prove an individual’s achievements, nor their ability to teach the craft in any way, shape or form, ….anyone, no matter their capabilities, can bill themselves as a forging instructor, teacher or demonstrator. So, for the unfortunate students, it is truly a roll-of-the-dice as from whom they will be learning…and what they will learn, right or wrong.

I have heard of one horror story where a person was teaching regularly (and charging a fee) with under a year’s worth of forging experience…and that experience was based on only two weeks of formal instruction.  He gets away with it because, let’s face it, in today’s world most people (i.e. beginners) have no clue about forging.  A good analogy would be touting the fact that one can “imitate Abraham Lincoln orating when he was 25 years old.”  If you’ve never seen or witnessed the original, it all looks and sounds fantastic!

Many seasoned smiths can think back upon what they used to perceive was great design and workmanship, only to realize later what a disappointment that work really was back then.  Remember that work of the 1970’s?  Everything was extreme twists, dragons, and letter openers, and many of us thought it was all wonderful.

Thus, knowing whether an instructor is competent will help the young students, as well as maturing students greatly.

“Leaders think and talk about the solutions.  Followers think and talk about the problems.” – Brian Tracy


“Progression of a Bobeche” Storyboard, by Dan Nauman. 15″ x 24″. Repousse’ in mild steel, wax finish. 2005. Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, Milwaukee, WI.

B2.) But because an instructor is capable, doesn’t necessarily mean he can teach the fundamentals well, linearly, or clearly.  A universally accepted curriculum is needed, so everyone teaching can read from the same book. Beyond that, a system to train instructors should be developed, (perhaps a mentor-ship program) to insure the very best teachers for the students.

C.) Today, there are several individuals identifying themselves as “Master” blacksmiths.  A true master (of anything) is a title awarded by a guild (or at the very least, a committee), to an individual who has met the criterion set forth by the guild.  Since the guild system has ceased to exist, these modern day “masters” are self proclaimed, and have done so based on their own criterion.  Unfortunately, this again causes confusion in many circumstances, as these “masters” could potentially be merely novices who went to Kinko’s to have business cards printed with “Master Blacksmith” by their names.  Sadly, their students, and sometimes their clients are duped into believing these individuals are reputable, competent, and proven in their designs and workmanship.  Likely, many times their students will be taught the “long way around the barn”, or wrong altogether.  Also likely, their clients are left with a poorly designed piece that neither fits their style, nor the appropriate proportions of the given space.

“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision.  You cannot blow an uncertain trumpet.” – Theodore M. Hesburgh

Note #2:  Many snarl at the notion of established levels, but as is being shown here, clearly established levels will aid in teaching and learning.  It may be that those who turn up their noses to established levels fear that their true level is lower than they might believe.  In other words, they fear they might be exposed as being less than they pontificate.

Established levels also serve as a benchmark, or a sort of achievement award for aspiring individuals.  Consider this: What good would it have been for you if you had no idea what your grades were in grammar school?  It is no different in forging and other disciplines.

Still others feel that established levels will create an elitist contingent.  Believe me, the contingent exists, titles or not, so that is not a valid concern.

Note #3:  Many who turn their noses up to labels or achievement levels say “My portfolio is all I need to declare and prove my competency.”  That may be true, both to their credit, but also perhaps to their detriment, as it may show how incompetent they are, and sadly many do not even recognize their own incompetence.  Their portfolio might show what appears to be fine workmanship, however we all know an image may be deceiving or enhanced.  We ourselves have “our best side”, and likewise, so do some of our earlier works.

Beyond that, an image cannot prove out structural integrity.  Have you ever approached a table, forged or not, and upon placing  pressure upon it, had it shift miserably…so miserable that you dared not place a full glass upon it?  That table looked just fine as you approached it, however just looking at it did not prove its integrity, or lack thereof.  Likewise, an image proves nothing of structural integrity.  Form follows function, and we’ve all seen seemingly wonderful designs, only to find out later that though it looks great, it functions poorly.  Thus, one’s portfolio is not solid proof of one’s competency in design or workmanship.

“Leadership is an action, not a position.” – Donald H. McGannon

LYWAM Dan and audience

Dan Nauman, Artist in Residence, Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, Wausau, WI. July 2011

The solution to Items #3 A-C would be to establish a well thought out system of achievement levels.  This system should be based on the knowledge and experience of several seasoned and learned individuals who would pass the criterion in item #1 (above).  Once a system has been established, a test period should ensue, and then an annual review board should evaluate how well the system is working, and make any necessary revisions.  This review board should be in close contact with craft schools, forging organizations, and affiliates.

Some form of accepted instructor criterion should be in place to insure instructor competency.  Again, perhaps a mentor-ship program could be in place where aspiring instructors could work alongside established instructors, until they learn the methodology of teaching the respective craft.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that certifying instructors would be a positive step for the betterment of the students, and especially the craft itself.

As mentioned above, a test period for the initial instructor training should be put in place, followed again by annual reviews by a board, also involving craft schools, forging associations, and affiliates.

D.) However, more importantly, before a curricula or achievement levels can be established, there needs to be a forging standard to measure by.  But what standard?  That is correct, there is no standard for forging, so at present, there is no concrete measuring stick to determine the level of competency of any individual.  On another level, in the building trades, there is no “Forging Standard” to insure the safety of the product.  That alone is a recipe for disaster.  In addition, there is also nothing in place to insure safety in the forging studio.

Broken pier leg due to lack of material.

Broken pier leg due to lack of material.

Think on this for a bit:  What denotes a sound tenon joint (see above image), a sound upset right angle bend, or a sound forge weld?  For example, if a railing used as a barrier is constructed, and any one of these should fail, lives are in jeopardy.  Simply stating that a railing can withstand 200 ft. lbs. from any given direction is not enough to insure safety, as if these joints are improperly executed, they may fail over time, and perhaps in a short time at that.

Finally, without a proper forging standard,  it is impossible to develop a proper forging curriculum.  The standard must come first, then the curriculum may be written.  The curriculum should be of a linear nature, gradually immersing the student into more difficult processes.  The student should then be graded, and finally awarded for any and all achievements.

Standards, curriculum, education, achievements, and safety…these all work together to better the craft, as well as the craftsman.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it always has.” – Margaret Mead.

4.) Forged, fabricated, or?

When we see an image in a publication or a piece in a competition, we need to know more specific information.  We can all identify with marveling at a piece of metalwork, then wondering how a specific motif was accomplished.  Some of us can also relate to viewing a project billed as “forged”, only to note that most of it has been MIG welded, ground with a right angle grinder, used cast or stamped elements, and truly the only “forging” were some hot-formed and bent bars.  The problems here are many.  For the learning metalworker, primarily interested in forging, trying to figure out how a piece was formed is hard enough without being miss-identified regarding process.  Many “forged” projects have hidden MIG, TIG, or arc welds…we need to know this, if we are to truly understand and appreciate what we are looking at.  Unfortunately, this information and more is not honestly presented, or it is even hidden for whatever purpose.  Even honestly stating that a piece is “forged and fabricated” does not go far enough, as we need to know what was forged, and what was fabricated.  Example:  How does a student know if a leaf is forged, cast, stamped, or by means of repousse’ merely by looking at it?

On another note, in a competition, it isn’t fair to one who primarily forged something to be competing with another project that is mostly fabricated, but entered as mostly or wholly forged.  In this case we are comparing and judging radically different processes, and nobody truly wins.

Without clearly defined submissions or entries, the integrity of the publication or competition may be compromised.

Altar candlestick for St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Fayetteville, NC.

“Altar Candlestick” , by Dan Nauman. Mild steel, 24″ x 36″, Gilders Paste finish. St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Fayetteville, NC.

Example:  In the image of the candlestick above, can you determine simply by looking at it whether it is 100% forged, 90% forged, or forged and fabricated?  What do those terms (forged, fabricated, etc.) actually mean?

Potential solutions obviously involve honesty on the part of whomever is submitting the information.  However an experienced review board could also determine whether a project passes the criterion for “forged” or falls more correctly into “fabricated”, or “forged and fabricated.”  Further, demand to know what parts of the project were forged, what were fabricated, etc.

Perhaps categories could determine: A.) Period Forging ,100% forged (only forging processes including the nine forging fundamentals listed in #3 of the “Clarification notes” below) 2.) Modern Forging 90% to 99% forged 3.) Forged and Fabricated (Less than 90% forged.)  Note: These are only suggestions, and could be redefined.

Other pertinent information would suggest, A.) Who designed the project? 2.) What determined the discipline(s) used? Certainly these clarification aspects could be defined even further and more clearly.

There also needs to be clear definitions regarding disciplines, i.e., 1.) Forging 2.) Fabricating 3.) Machining 4.) Casting           5.) Welding 6.) Etc.

Some might feel these distinctions are too picky.  However, consider how many times you have asked the question, “How was that motif executed?”, only to find out that the process used was not even close to what you had considered.  You may have even been disappointed to learn that it involved no hand skills by the creator. We need to be more scrutinizing in how we present projects to others, so others may clearly understand and thereby learn.

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.”- Albert Schweitzer

Summary:  This is serious stuff.

To implement any of the above ideas and programs will take a dedicated force, and years to conceive, refine and finally establish.  If it happens quickly one should question the integrity of the program.

For now we can agree that no existing organization:

A.) Caters well to a solely forging based member.

B.) Clearly distinguishes between forging, fabrication, period work, etc.

C.) Has a linear, progressive, and well-planned teaching program for forging.

D.) Insures the competency of instructors, teachers, or demonstrators.

E.) Has established a forging standard.

F.) Has attempted to establish achievement levels or status, based on an individual’s accumulated knowledge and skill base.

LYWAM Folks examine sample  pieces

Audience participation at “Dan Nauman, Artist in Residence”. Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, Wausau, WI. July 2011.

Action:  A new blueprint is needed to establish a new or existing organization that addresses the above issues.

An “Artisan’s Assembly of Metalworkers” association likely would be widely accepted, with proper monitoring, and implementing the above thoughts and ideas.  Again distinguishing between disciplines, is of the utmost importance.  Also there will need to be solid leadership in the senior category, and likely the organization would not be of a non-profit status…and much much more, as discussed above.

The outline below is designed to begin the process of organizing these thoughts and ideas for whatever organization that realizes the value of such wisdom.  (Note that the items are not listed in order of importance.)

Some clarification notes:

A.) This text has avoided the use of the word “blacksmith” as it does not clearly describe what one does, nor does it define a process.  The word “blacksmithing” is not recognized by most dictionaries as a word, and also does not describe a process.  Thus, neither word will be found in this text.

B.) The word “artisan” is used in this text to describe a creative metalworker.  As one must be an artisan to be an artist, we are not excluding artists from this dialogue.

C.) The word “forge” and its derivatives define a unique discipline defined by primary processes of which there are nine fundamentals: 1.) Drawing down 2.) Upsetting 3.) Cutting (splitting, slitting, or surface embellishment) 4.) Bending 5.) Twisting 6.) Joinery (rivets, collars, lap joints, mortise and tenon, etc.) 7.) Punching 8.) Drifting 9.) Forge welding.  The products created by forging use only these fundamentals to produce a piece in its entirety.

D.) The word “fabricate” and its derivatives define a discipline where forging is not used as the main process, where metal is fused by electric welding, and by use of catalog parts, i.e. cast or stamped, are employed.

E.) There may be a category of metalwork that employs both forged and fabricated disciplines, and thus will be denoted as “Forged and fabricated.”

“Leadership and learning are indispensable of each other.” – John F. Kennedy


for a 2015 “Artisans Assembly of Metalworkers”

I.) Define Vocabulary

   A.) Forge 1.) Period forging 2.) Restoration 3.) Style 4.) Other categories

   B.) Fabricate

   C.) Etc.

II.) Categories/Departments

   A.) Forged 100%

   B.) Forged and fabricated (hybrid) 1.) Percent forged 2.) Percent fabricated

   C.) Fabricated 100%

   D.) Art/sculpture

   E.) Period/Historical

   F.) Restoration

   G.) Decorative Art

   H.) Level 1.) Beginner 2.) Amateur 3.) Seasoned professional 4.) Or?

   I.) Organizational leadership panel

III.) Publication

   A.) Good quality articles 1.) Pay for articles 2.) Regular seasoned contributors 3.) International communique 4.) Regional editors 5.) Leadership panel (accepts/rejects articles) 6.) Refuse folksy articles.

   B.) High quality, professional quality images only.

   C.) Editor must be of the mindset.

   D.) Articles must declare specific criterion 1.) Material 2.) Process(es) 3.) Size x, y, and z 4.) Approx hours to complete 5.) Designer 6.) Category (see #II.) 7.) Finish 8.) Year made 9.) Creator’s name(s)  10.) Level of metalworker based on experience  11.) Accept that all categories might not be addressed in every issue.  a.) If a category/department is not addressed, say that “No report” or “No articl submitted for this department.”

   E.) Editor should seek authors for specific categories.

   F.) Cover 1.) Chosen by leadership board (not by any one person, i.e the editor.) 2.) Must be from an article in current issue.  3.) Must be highly representative of a specific category/discipline.

   G.) Advertising review committee.

IV.) Annual Member’s Choice Awards”.

   A.) Awards for each category/discipline 1.) Gold, silver, bronze medals awarded

   B.) Awards given for works shown in last year’s publications only. 1.) Helps to insure quality articles and images are submitted 2.) Competition helps insure best works are represented in magazine.

   C.)  Annual awards banquet.  1.) Separate awards for special works.

   D.) Awards announced through bulletins in creator’s hometown.

  E.) Online voting?

IV.) Develop Forging Standard

   A.) Create before creating a forging curriculum.

   B.) Establish committee to do so

V.) Develop a Forging Curriculum

   A.) Teach fundamentals first.

   B.) Teach stylistic, national, period, and process differences

   C.) Have targets (levels of accomplishments.) 1.) Recognition of achievement.

VI.) Dues

  A.) Dues should be significant to insure the best service to the membership

   B.) Significant dues help to deter wishy-washy membership

VII.) Organization may not be a Non -Profit entity.

   A.)  Allows organization to pay for: 1.) Articles 2.) Board of Directors (justifies their time spent away from their business, and helps to insure board member works…no work, no pay.)

   B.) Allows organization to write articles promoting business, products or entities.

VIII.) Board of Directors

   A.) Must have a representative from each discipline/category.

   B.) Will be paid for tenure

   C.) President must be a seasoned professional

   D.) Former presidents help guide newly elected presidents for one year.

   E.) Limited terms

   F.) Annual meetings 1.) Fall on same day every year 2.) Paid for by association a.) travel food, lodging, stipend.

IX.) Conferences

   A.) Education Focus

   B.) Concentrate on addressing skill levels

   C.) Concentrate on categories/departments 1.) Period forging 2.) Restoration 3.) Design 4.) Others

   D.) Location 1.) Different and rotating locations

   E.) Demonstrators 1.) Chosen by leadership committee 2.) All expenses paid.  3.) Stipend 4.) International flavor

   F.) Gallery

   G.) Public involvement

   H.) Auction

X.) Social Media

   A.) Web-site

   B.) Forums

   C.) Discussion boards

XI.) Funding

   A.) Dues 1.) Divisional fees a.) Beginner b.) Professional c.) Student d.) Small business

   B.) Grants

   C.) Patrons

   D.) Benefactors (bequest)

   E.) Event fees

   F.) Workshops

XII.) Membership Empowerment

   A.) Biennial survey

   B.) Board responsiveness

   C.) Membership forums 1.) Blog oriented 2.) Letters to the editor 3.) Complaints and solutions

   D.) Review cycle of organization status.

XIII.) Structure

   A.) Mission statement

   B.) By-laws

   C.) Procedures

   D.) Infrastructure 1.) Publication(s) 2.) Technology a.0 e-mail b.) Web-site c.) Forums

(Conclusion of outline.  Obviously, much needs to be added, massaged, and clarified.)

Cyril Colnik

Cyril Colnik (Undated photo).

   Conclusions “For the Good of the Craft”

Solid leadership from well seasoned artisans is essential for a truly successful metalworking organization. However the reality is this: If we expect leaders to lead, and to do so with vigor, likely they will need more of an incentive than simple “passion for the process.”  Compensating them for their work (i.e. articles, board membership, demonstrating, teaching, etc.) would be a win for all parties involved.

Create a forging standard to A.) Produce a forging curriculum B.) To establish achievement levels C.) To teach D.) To insure safety in the shop E.) To insure safety of the products E.) To potentially certify forging students and forging instructors.

The purpose of compiling this information is in response to the many who have shared their wisdom over the last 25 years or so.  This text is put out there for any existing organization to adopt, dissect, or glean what they can from it.  Perhaps some energetic individuals will rally and create an entirely new organization based on this content.  In any event, it is hoped that those who care will review these thoughts and ideas in earnest, and some benefit will result for the good of the craft, the good of the students, and for general safety.

Any and all comments are appreciated regarding this text.  Only reasonable comments will be published. Vulgar language and sophomoric comments will be deleted.

This text in no way indicates my attempt to launch a new organization, or to undermine any existing organizations.  Rather, this labor is intended for the good of the various disciplines of metalworking.

Lastly, I resounding “Thank you” to all who contributed to this text.

Respectfully submitted,

Dan Nauman/Artisan-Designer- Owner/ Bighorn Forge, Inc.

February, 2015

(Note: Images used are intended solely as examples, and not intended for self-promotion.)

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Aislinn Lewis Completes Internship at Bighorn Forge

Posted by bighornforge on July 5, 2011

Aislinn Lewis at Bighorn Forge, July, 2011

Aislinn Lewis, from Virginia, and a student at the “American College of the Building Arts” (ACBA) in Charleston, SC, recently completed six weeks of training here at Bighorn Forge.

In 2009, Bighorn Forge began accepting student-interns from the ACBA to learn more about forging, as well as the business of forging. The students live and work with me and my wife Toni at our home and shop in rural Kewaskum, WI. The first student-intern here was Jimmy Breazeal of Charleston, SC. Jimmy spent 10 weeks with us in 2009. In 2010, Colon Crader, also from South Carolina, was with us for six weeks. This year, we welcomed Aislinn.

Along with occasionally helping me with my current project for “Lynden Sculpture Garden” , a driveway gate, Aislinn made five basic sets of repousse’ tools for me, as I will need them for a class in French Repousse’ I am teaching in late August at the “New England School of Metalwork” in Aubern, Maine. (See link to this school at the upper right of this page.)

Above are tools Aislinn made for herself: (from left) A double ball stake, a planishing hammer with round/square faces, a large ball stake, a ball hammer with full ball/half ball faces, a double ended raising stake, and a raising hammer with standard/fine faces. She became proficient at making these because, as I stated above, she made an additional five sets of these same tools.

Aislinn was also learning…from scratch mind you…the process of repousse’ from me. She has a keen eye, and it was soon obvious to me that she would excel rapidly at this aspect of metalwork. Below are pieces she worked on while here.

The bottom most piece are her first attempts at repousse’, forming a half vein, full vein, tapered vein, and two curved veins in the same arc, (as they were opposing shoulders.)

Counterclockwise from the top left: An anticlastic water leaf, a water leaf, an acanthus leaf, a grape leaf, a rosette with center ball-husk, a copper husk sitting upon a copper bobeche’, and an unfinished copper husk.

Among other activities while here, we took Aislinn to Milwaukee to “Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum”, the “Captain Frederick Pabst Mansion”, as well as several other places to see the work of famed master blacksmith Cyril Colnik (1871-1958).

But Aislinn’s journey doesn’t stop here…as she continues this year’s internship by going to study for two weeks with my friend and fellow smith, Tom Latane’ and his wife Kitty in Pepin, WI.

I look forward to seeing what the future brings to this bright and ambitious student of the craft and trade. We were blessed to have had Aislinn here, and will miss her dearly.

….Dan Nauman

“Endure the betrayal of false friends…fulfill the dreams of children.”…Author unknown.

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Maximizing Your Power Hammer Demo

Posted by bighornforge on February 23, 2011

“Maximizing Your Power Hammer”

Note: The image above is only to show what type of hammer will be used for this demo, not an advertisement for the hammer.

When: Saturday, March 26th
Time: 8:30 AM to 6PM
Where: Bighorn Forge, Inc.
4190 Badger Rd.
Kewaskum, WI 53040
Cost: $20 to $25
Demonstrator: Steve Parker, Illinois

This will be a demonstration as to how to make the most of your power hammer in everyday situations. Steve Parker, from Illinois, is an industrial blacksmith, who has studied with long time power hammer guru Clifton Ralph.

Steve was a featured demonstrator at last year’s ABANA Conference in Memphis, TN.

Steve will demonstrate how to make tongs, how to use spring dies, and much more using everyday tooling, or easy to make tooling in the shop. Much of what you will see can be applied to other aspects of your forging.

The power hammer used for the demo is a Sahinler SM-50, with a 110 lb. ram. Though your hammer may not be of this type, likely much of the procedures demo’d can be applied to your hammer.

I will also provide an antique iron disply, featuring works by Cyril Colnik, (1871-1958) Colnik, from Austria, made Milwaukee his home in 1894. If you have never been to “Villa Terrace Art Museum” in Milwaukee, you may wish to go while here to see two fine galleries of Colnik’s works, including his famous “Masterpiece” (See more on Colnik by checking out the pages and the other entries in the upper right portion of this page.) I will also have other decorative items displayed, as well as tools, locks, and more.

Cost will depend on the attendance, so the more folks that show for this event, the less it will cost. Most of the proceeds will go to Steve’s expences, and to cover the cost of the demo. I am not wishing to make a profit on this event, simply providing a service.

Bighorn Forge is located in rural Kewaskum, about 45 minutes north of Milwaukee. Kewaskum is on Hwy. 45.

Contact me if you wish to attend by emailing me at I will then let you know if there is a spot available for you, and send you a registration flier, directions, and lodging info.

Hope to see you in March.

….Dan Nauman

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Blacksmith/Client Relationship I

Posted by bighornforge on December 3, 2009

Fireplace Crane by Dan Nauman

Photograph by George Lottermoser.

The following information may be useful for the blacksmith, as well as for those who wish to commission a blacksmith for a future project.

Based on recent dealings with a current client, I would like to take time out from discussing images of ironwork to discuss the relationship the blacksmith should have with his/her clients, and the potential for problems, and how to avoid these problems.

Today I will address a matter foremost on my mind, and that is of design.

Typically, I produce the design for the piece I am to make for my clients. Occasionally, as with the current job, the design concept is presented by a third party, in this case, the client’s architect.

In the first meeting with the client, I always establish the groundwork, or the order and basis in which the project will develop on this end. Before I touch pencil to paper for a design, I require 10% of the perceived value of the project, i.e. a $15,000 job would have a $1,500 design fee. My minimum is $400.

Though a design may be already established, you still need that 10%, as more often than not, there will be many revisions to be made so the rendering made by another accommodates what you, the blacksmith, can actually construct. Though an architect, or anyone else, (shy of another blacksmith), may have somewhat of an understanding of the function of the piece, and even an idea of the forging process, there will always be revisions.

Simply put, they are not building the piece, so they have no idea as to how you typically approach the particular project. This is not to say these individuals are lacking in design, rather they are usually unfamiliar with how we, as blacksmiths, make things.

Remember that our trade is no longer common, nor is it taught in school. Most folks will not know our mechanical language, which speaks of collars, rivets, forge welding, mortise and tenons, half laps, etc. An all important part of your job is to educate the client, and the designer about the general aspects of forging. After all, it is what separates us from the more common fabricator….mind you there are some fine fabricators out there.

Therefore, you must take it upon yourself to be correspond graciously and often, documenting everything, doing your utmost to keep the the client, architect, and yourself clear on every aspect of the project.

This will mean many e-mails, phone calls, sketches, and drawings on your part as the smith.

Remember also that every and all changes must be validated by the client, not the designer alone. That includes you, if you are the designer, as even the simplest alteration may become an issue when it is all said and done. By that time, it may be too late, and may require altering the project at your expence.

Design Conception

When a client inquires about a project, you need to know several initial things:

1.) What does the client want?
2.) What is the function of the project?
3.) What is the budget?
4.) What is the deadline?
5.) What is their concept of design?

Get to the root of things right away. You do not have time to be on the proverbial “wild goose chase”, and you do not want to waste a potential client’s time either.

For example, if the client is interested in a simple, functional railing, they do not need a blacksmith to do the job. I did not become a blacksmith to make basic functional railings. Plus, I am a better balcksmith than I am a welder, which is the forte of a fabricator. You may point the client to having the rilaing fabricated by someone else, as a fabricator will typically have a more reasonably price for the simple job. I refer many folks to a fine local fabricator, Dean Derge Ironworks, who has a fine track record.

This is not to say you cannot sell the folks who wish for basic, functional work on the merits of finely forged ironwork. If you get the sense that they might be a candidate, then discuss the differences between a forged and a fabricated piece. They may come to understand that you can provide more than just a functional railing, designed and executed in a fashion that stimulates the eye.

However, if their budget suggests otherwise, and they will not entertain a higher budget, recognize that you are wasting their time and as well as yours.

Make an Appointement to See the Client.

Once you establish the basic premise of what you can provide, and how you do business, then the next step is to take a visit to the job-site. This allows you to see the environment in which the piece will reside, and also gives you valuable time with the client.

A discussion of design and function is essential. Bring a portfolio of your best works, and have them page through it. No matter what it is they want, show them all your work…. gates, railings, furniture, etc. Ask them to tell you what features they enjoy in the works seen in the portfolio. Take notes about their comments. When they are through reviewing your work, you should have a fine idea of their tastes, likes, and dislikes.

Also, ask the prospective client about their work, hobbies, and family history. You may entertain the notion of incorporating some aspect of these into the design.

Remember also that some clients may not have a clear understanding of the function of the piece, and also the relationship to the architecture, or how the piece will be installed. You should be the expert in this regard, voicing your considerations and concerns up front.

By all means, ask questions, and then listen intently to the client, all the while taking notes.

If the job-site has yet to be built, you also need to be in close contact with the masons, carpenters, electricians, and the contractor, providing them with as much information regarding your product as possible. Not only will these individuals appreciate this, you will too, as when installation day arrives, you will be all the happier when the installation goes without a hitch.

Get the names, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers of all related individuals, whether you feel you will need them or not. When you need to contact them , you will then be prepared.


If the deadline is not realistic, be up front about this. You do not want to dissappoint your client by being late, especially if they are depending on your work being installed by the time they entertain their friends or clients. Most of the time, if you explain your schedule, the client will understand, and allow you the time needed. Never say “I cannot do it by that date.” rather, give them your own projected completion date, and let them decide.

If however there is an impass on deadline, then you need to again be honest with yourself…….can you adjust to their schedule? This may mean longer hours in the shop. In this case, I personally need to adjust my pricing so I get compensated for the extra effort. Again be honest with the client by letting them know you need to inflate the costs to meet their deadline. This is not a method you should use simply to inflate your prices.

Usually, my clients do not have a clear concept for the design, leaving that entirely to me. If they do have an idea, listen intently. You are working for them, and you should try to address their wishes.

On the other hand, if they seem to be off base, you need to discuss in a manner which will not discourage them. Remember, other folks will see your work, and you cannot afford a reputation for producing a piece that does not fit the style of the environment, or misses the boat functionally.

The drawing of the design you present should be to scale, should reflect all aspects of construction, i.e. mortise and tenons, rivets, collars, etc. You may need to do suplimental drawings to show details.

The quote should also be prepared, outlining the bar-stock sizes, dimensions, finish, price, down payment, and any progression payments, etc.

Once the design is completed, I make a fine copy, and then frame it.

In another installment, I will address other aspects of dealing with your client.

…….Dan Nauman

“Every problem has a gift for you in its hands.”…….Richard Bach, Author

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