Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Song of Fire and Fire

"Are you offering to teach me something?"
"Teach? No. Ain't got the patience for teaching. But I might let you learn."
- Maskerade by Terry Pratchett
Jon Snow was wrong about winter this year and frankly I barely noticed spring either. This I suspect had more to do with our interminable and suspiciously good weather and less to do with time flying by. Indeed time ground by like a millstone being worked by a team of kittens - slow, but ultimately better then a sweaty donkey. Working with the guys at Orion has been really great. I've learned a lot just by being around them, but I understand now why they said they were offering an internship, not an apprenticeship. They're too busy to teach, but they've been kind enough to let me learn around them. Not that I'm complaining, in fact I prefer to flail about in the deep end most especially when there are no life guards on duty, but it sure can be a devil on the ol' biceps.

I also had a chance to help out on a job with Joe over at Dry Canyon Forge, and he loaned me a few books to learn from. And of course I've learned a lot from the internet and the library books, and the COMAG (Central Oregon Metal Arts Guild) meetings every month. I want to say that being autodidactic isn't as wonderful as it sounds, but that sounds like a thinly veiled humblebrag way of saying that I'm inventing blacksmithing which - to your great surprise I'm sure - I am not. More like polydidact (not to be confused with a polydactyl, which would be way cooler, but probably not nearly as cool as being an autodactyl, which, in my mind, is a category that includes Wolverine and Inspector Gadget) - trying to learn from everyone and everything except myself because I certainly have very little helpful advice to offer myself. 

Anyways, the good news is that at this point nothing is particularly holding me back in my shop! I've got the forge tuned pretty well (it's at least not oxidizing too terribly now), the anvil has a sexy stump to rest upon, the post vice is pretty well rooted, I've got the welder just about figured out so as to be useful, the floor is mostly level and satisfactorily covered in dirt but not made of it, and I've made a healthy array of tongs, bending forks, twisters, chisels, punches, drifts, slitters, etc. I don't mind saying that I've come a hell of a long way from where I started, and in fact it puts a smile on my face every time I see the place and how much it's filled out since the beginning. Plus look at all this stock material I've got lying about now!

Ok, it's not that impressive compared to some of the blacksmith's shops I've seen, but most blacksmiths have piles of metal that screw with airplane compasses and would make the most dedicated of hoarders blush and I will never be like that. Nope. Never.
Finishing the "build a forge" project and beginning the "make a living using your new forge" has been a challenging experience. This definitely didn't come as a surprise like, "Woah, what?! I thought starting a small business with no prior experience was supposed to be as easy as finding my belly button! Thanks Obama." It isn't as if I'm going into cobbling where as soon as your shop is set up the elves move in and start cranking out shoes (I'm pretty sure). Even still, I guess I had hoped I'd have more sooty, muscular shoulders to lean on by the time I reached this leg of the journey. Not that the COMAG crew et al aren't supremely helpful, but I feel like I can lean on them to the same degree that one might lean on one's proverbial neighbor for a hypothetical cup of sugar (but of course would never actually, I mean really metaphorical Safeway is just down the road). 

Being your own task master and teacher can be really frustrating sometimes. How do you gauge whether you're doing well for your skill level or if you're just not cut out for the job? How do you judge your technique and give tips to yourself? How do you give rousing motivational speeches to yourself when you're looking at the product of a whole day's labor and it's redefining ineptitude? Where do you draw the discipline to go back to work every day when you feel like you haven't been successful at anything for weeks? How can you tell if the pain you're in is normal or doctor-worthy? How do you discern when an expense is worth the investment and when you're trying to paper-mâché over your lack of experience with dollars?

Sometimes I think I wax a little too dramatical-like about the hardships of this admittedly self-inflicted project here, but then again the whole point of this blog is kind of a spillway for catharsis when Bucket is already working at capacity; yes, despite what I may have led you to believe with all my insightful and informative posts on such thrilling topics as charcoal and Papers I Have Made. 

Despite my struggle for objective clarity, I can tell just by looking at what I've made that I've made at least a little progress in the past few months. Hindsight is a better optometrist than the present for putting things in perspective.

Left - February sadness; Right - May gladness
I've gotten a lot better at planning, drawing, and measuring before acting, knowing what tools I'll need and how to use them, and knowing how to make the metal look like what I see in my head. I've also become a lot more realistic about my capabilities so early on in the game. I am not ready to forge very complicated things, and it has been really humbling to realize that the hard way. I've started to set much smaller goals for my days that end with products that might not be super exciting (e.g. Make Five Wall Hooks Today!) but that I can do successfully. When you don't have anyone around to give you feedback on your work, your work itself becomes a primary source of feedback. By tackling projects that are too difficult for me now, I'm making things that say, "You majorly suck at this. Probably you should be making sandwiches for people instead of this," all day long.

Making piles of basket hangers all day may not be as intellectually stimulating or challenging as pattern welded candelabras might be, but I've had to be more respectful of my emotional limitations when it comes to accepting abject failures as Valuable Learning Experiences.

A major motivator for me recently has been talking to a manager at a local garden center who said he'd buy such things as basket hangers and trellises from me if I brought them, so I have at least one market besides Etsy to lean on now! Which is great news as I am also celebrating my two-thousandth dollar spent on blacksmithing! Hooray!? Does it count as a business if it spends more money than it makes? Probably. For example, take my bank...PLEASE! *mic drop*