Monday, August 13, 2012

How Strong Do you Have To Be For Blacksmithing?

How Physically Fit Do You Have To Be For Blacksmithing?


I noticed that you have a blog where you answer questions about blacksmithing.  I am hoping you might answer mine as it is something I think other people wonder about as well.

I am thinking of taking a blacksmith class because I appreciate well-made items that are not mass-produced and like the idea of working with metal.  I don't intend to make my living this way but hope to make some basic items, like knives, hooks, etc.  However, I am curious how strong and in-shape one has to be to do this.? Also, realistically, what kinds of skill sets make a good blacksmith?   I am a woman in my 50s, moderately good condition but not an athlete or weightlifter, a bit on the short side.  I know how to use basic tools but have never built anything before.  Would blacksmithing probably be beyond me?  Perhaps you can describe the physical qualities and basic skill sets which make someone a good blacksmith?

Thank you in advance for your reply.


 Hi Tara thanks for your question and I will put it up on the blog as I agree it may be a common question.

How Strong to be a blacksmith

In this modern age strength is less important than stamina and willingness to look at new ways of doing things. I am by no means what people think of as a hulking blacksmith. I explain to my students that it is really about coaxing the metal to shape not muscling it to shape. This means that there are many repeated hammer blows to create the shape desired. The object is to apply the right amount of force at exactly the right spot to move the metal the right amount. Of course bigger bars require more force to move them.

There are a miriad of techniques and tools that help us manipulate the steel. I know a number of women of all ages that do blacksmithing with out any problems. They tend to think more about design and how to work with the steel instead of handling huge bars.

Realistically it is a physical activity and it requires standing for long periods of time. There is movement of the hammer. Usually a 2 lb hammer swung many times in a day but you get to take a rest every time the steel heats. This is almost 50% of the time. Most of the starting projects use small bar and this is easy to manipulate. Larger projects often use multiple small pieces that are later assembled. The final project might be quite heavy but we can use over head cranes and hoists to move things around. If you set up a larger shop power hammers can help manipulate the steel. These are expensive machines but the amount of work that they do is incredible.

Where I would caution a person with blacksmithing is if they have a previous ailment such as carpal tunnel, tennis elbow, or rotator cuff injuries to their dominant side. The smithing can make these conditions flare up.

Skill sets that make a good blacksmith

There are many common skills that serve the blacksmith well and some specialized skills.

  • Be able to look at a problem and figure out a solution given resources at hand
  • Willingness to learn and do a bit of research
  • Learn from your mistakes
  • If you are fighting with a problem being able to stop and look at it from another view point
  • Willingness to experiment
  • Understanding that this endeavor requires practice and lots of it. You usually can be successful with minimal effort but to be really good takes a lot of practice.
  • Some ability to roughly sketch on paper what you want to make helps a great deal. Especially with later complicated projects.
  • Not be afraid of the hot metal. Yes you will get burned. Usually they are minor.
  • Specifically being able to electric weld will help
  • Good hand eye coordination
In short from your description I would say that you would be fine at blacksmithing. Be realistic that it takes time to get good at it but you should have a good degree of success from the beginning.
I hope this helps.

David Robertson
Artist Blacksmith