Blacksmithing - Teens as Students

I now require all parents indicate they have read this commentary.

The Bullet Points:

1) Parents of individuals less than 19 must sign a legal liability disclaimer.

2) Students between 14 and 16 by special permission only, and must have an attending parent for the course. (detail)

3) No students under 14 are accepted.

4) Absolutely no supervision is provided outside of stated course hours.

5) There is no provision available for those 'physically disabled' in these programs. (detail)

Before enrolling in any Blacksmithing program, consider the following :

1) This is a strenuous physical activity, with the potential to damage joints and tendons (detail)

2) This is a complex physical activity, with a number of specific motions and body positions that have to be performed in each forming step. (detail)

3) This is a technical activity, requiring learning and understanding certain concepts. (detail)

4) Individuals are required to follow specific instructions for safety and effective working. (detail)

5) All courses are conducted in close quarters in a larger group context. Only limited time can be devoted to any single individual. (detail)

The Full Commentary...

"... My 14 year old son / daughter is keen to learn how to do blacksmithing.  Are your classes or private lessons open to teens?..."

I am getting an increasing number of e-mail messages like this one. Often enough that I feel I need to create a 'standard reply' to the question. My concerns in accepting students younger than 16  is based on my own (considerable) experience - both working and teaching.

My response question is : 'How physically robust and developed and how mentally mature is the young person.'

I normally set 16 as the lower limit for a potential student in blacksmithing. This is primarily since below that age - with boys especially, the possible range of size, strength and co-ordination is so wide.

Physical Impacts

The tools required to undertake any effective work at the forge are a minimum of 800 gms / about 1 1/2 lbs. The student MUST be able to not only move this weight - but more importantly be able to CONTROL the tool in motion. Now consider the amount of repetition required - the course extends over a 8 hour day. About 50 - 60% of that time is applied to direct forge work. This amounts to * thousands * of individual hammer strokes.
As a comparison, the basic forging hammer is somewhat heavier than a standard nail driving hammer. The degree of control required is considerably greater.
For several of the basic forging exercises, use of an even heavier 1000 gm hammer is required (making tongs).

I am quite concerned personally about the effect of the kind of high impact physical activities that blacksmithing requires on the body. For that reason, I devote considerable attention not only to related safety concerns, but also to correct physical dynamics. Using a forging hammer correctly and effectively is * not * like driving nails. Individual body size, strength and proportions will effect what determines the most effective - and safe - working pattern for each student.

The truth is that teen agers are by definition still growing and maturing. This effects raw strength, physical coordination, bone and joint solidity, attention span, potential frustration level.

As a blacksmith works, all these factors combine to produce physical strain.  As someone who is light framed (ie - not that strong) myself, I know that joints and tendons are cushioned by the muscles. Younger joints and bones are not as strong to begin with, and when there is less muscle mass supporting the underlying structure simple fatigue can result in potential injuries.

What happens when someone is attempting to use a hammer that is too heavy for their effective control is that they will instinctively hold the handle with a tighter grip. This in turn tightens the tendons. As fatigue mounts, the likely hood of the hammer head striking slightly off angle increases. If this happens, the hammer suddenly will rotate, the firm grip transferring the rotation into the arm and rigid tendons. The potential exists to physically damage these tendons at the elbow. Tendon damage is basically forever.
A parent may chose to risk potential crippling damage to their own child. I most certainly will not assume this risk.


There is often a problem with less mature students with simple frustration. Without ability to manage the hammer weight - effectively - it will just take too long to finish the various forming tasks during the day. Also, there is a noticeable tendency to keep working well past the point where the student is obviously too tired to continue. The very control required for effective work, and more importantly to prevent physical injury, has long been lost. I obviously watch for this with all students, but it can be very difficult to convince even an adult student that they stop working during a paid program. As you might expect, I try to keep the instruction paced to the group average. Any given course may not get through the entire outline as posted - it all depends on the work speed of the group.

Pace of Instruction

Increasingly, I am being asked to accept younger students who are having trouble with normal academic studies. Individuals with learning disabilities may not be suited to the complexities involved within the working environment of the blacksmith shop. There is usually a lack of understanding how technically demanding effective blacksmithing work actually is. New students will need to undertake at least FIVE new physical elements SIMILATANIOUSLY to work effectively. Ideally the individual must also be able to visualize often complex shapes and sequences.

My normal teaching technique (based on over 30 years teaching experience) involves the flowling steps :
A quick verbal description of the forging step, illustrated with a completed sample
A slow physical demonstration of exercise, providing details of position, motion, expected results.
A second repeat demonstration, undertaken at 'normal working speed', indicating primary elements of the task
A quick verbal review of the exercise, indicating possible problems
A project card is available for individuals to refer to, with both illustrations and point form list of the main elements
The individual student will then undertake the indicated forming task. Every attempt is made to provide direct supervision, both in terms of of reminders, suggestions, corrections as required.
Individual forging exercises are designed to include considerable repetion of previous undertakings.

Although this may seem harsh, I am not able to provide specialized training or extensive personal instruction much beyond that sequence, within the framework of a regularly scheduled training program. Please remember that these courses are *group* situations, and the pace and delivery methods utilized must balance the needs of the group as a whole, not a single individual. As each course progresses, each builds new skills on those previously undertaken, and students must increasingly be able to work independently.

Other Possibilies

I have had boys as young as 14 as students before who have been successful with the work in the course. Mind you - these have been the 'built like a football player' type of early developed young men. (In some cases notably larger and stronger than I am!)
I should also point out that teen aged GIRLS physically and mentally mature at a younger age, although raw strength may be more of a consideration.
For younger students, an effective method is to accept a parent and student working as a team. I will not charge extra for this - only one work station will be provided, which will be shared between the two. Ideally this allows the younger student to do as much work as they are able, with the parent assisting on heavier physical tasks. Work will be limited to the use of a gas forge only (due to space constraints around the coal forge).

So I am willing to accept a younger student - with the clear understanding that the PARENT is knowingly accepting the greater possibility of a less successful completion of the course outline. An important consideration must be the legal liability concerns in involving any individual under the 'legal adult' age of 19 in what is a potentially risky undertaking. Most importantly the parent must clearly understand the risks related to the activities and take * full responsibility * for any possible injuries that may occur.

Students with Disabilities?

Blacksmithing does require full physical abilities.
Although it might prove possible to design speciallized equipment to allow those with certain physical disabilities to participate, I personally am not willing to undertake this kind of extensive (and expensive) modifications to the Wareham Forge or its facilities. Note that the workshop is most definately *not* 'wheelchair friendly' (dirt floors, uneven floor surfaces).

Blacksmithing does require full mental abilities.
Increasingly, I have experienced parents booking programs for their late teen / young adult children with recognized 'learning disabilities'.
This creates a difficult suituation for me, and even more so for the individual involved :
A group course is a chaotic environment, with many people attempting to work in close quarters Strict control of dangerously hot objects needs to be controlled - for the safety of the entire group Each student can only be allotted 25% of my direct attention (others have paid for teaching as well) Any individual must absorb often complex and specific instructions if they are to correctly complete even basic forging tasks

There is an incorrect assumption often made that blacksmithing is a 'mere' physical operation, and those who have trouble achieving or paying attention with 'book learning' will easily undertake forging tasks.
This is absolutely false.

I am willing to discuss the possibility of designing a 'Private Session' program for individual students who have specialized teaching needs. I must warn parents however that I am not trained in, or have any special experience with, teaching students with recongized learning disabilities.


Text copyright Darrell Markewitz - the Wareham Forge