Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Apprentice to be an armour maker

A letter to me from a fine young man who wants to become a blacksmith.  Although I think this is a laudable goal, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it.  Often they want to "apprentice" to me.  I have talked to a lot of the old guys, and even at the turn of the last century, apprenticeship meant a lot of different things than it seems to mean to young folks today!  Nowadays, of course, you can take an apprenticeship course at a college to become an electrician, or a sheet metal worker.  Very often the unions get involved.  When you take an "apprenticeship" course in Ontario, you need to take courses to ensure that when you actually show up at a job site, you are worth the electrician's trouble to train you further.  That pretty much means all the "book learning" is behind you before you even darken the door.  Clearly there are no Trade Certifications in armour making!  But, the idea of learning as much as you can before you darken my door is pretty universal!

This is the answer I made to the very understandable request to take on an apprentice...
cut and paste follows.

>How can I say this without sounding like a total dick.  Hmm.  Please bear in mind that I am not as grumpy as I sound in an email.  That I am not mean and nasty at all, and understand totally where you are coming from. I sympathize with your position and understand your needs.  Probably more than you do since I went through this already both when I was learning the trade and several times since with enthusiastic students.  I get a half dozen requests just like yours every year, and to put it mildly, these schemes rarely work out.  So consequently, I have an alternative.  Three of them actually.   I'll get back to that in a bit.  The fact that I am taking an hour of my precious time to answer this email alone shows that I have a great deal of sympathy for your position.

   If you are injured on my premises, I am responsible, so I cannot just point to a pile of steel and say "I want to see a dozen helms built when I get back".  I would come back to a pile of unsaleable junk and a load of broken tools, and likely blood on the floor.   No reflection on you of is what would be expected of an unsupervised individual.
    Working in my shop requires supervision. You can't work unsupervised. You don't give me one hour or labour, I give YOU an hour of supervision. I cannot afford to take three weeks off to further your educational goals, nor can I afford the "changing horses in mid stream" way of working which would be required of me for that three weeks.  When I am supervising the new guy, my production goes from 100% down to about 20%. There are ways to limit this, of course. I could put you to digging over my garden, or trimming cedar hedges, grinding stuff "over there out of my way".  Doesn't sound very much like an educational opportunity to me, and you would rebel rather quickly.  Nor would I blame you. Obviously if there were to be "armouring work" I would utilize a human resource for that first, but then we are getting back to the supervision thing. My helpers are better if they are trained.

  You stated in your letter that you have not communicated your goals correctly.  Thats true.  You have not stated any goals at all except that you want to work in a blacksmith shop and be educated (so far pretty undefined) through osmosis instead of by lecture.  You have not stated any educational goals at all. Did you have a curriculae in mind? I know I do. My curriculae don't involve digging over gardens.

   As I state in my "requirements" on my web site, the "payment in kind" method is the most difficult. How you going to eat?  Pay for a place to stay?  Were you going to pitch a tent or kip down on a cot in the back of the shop? Sleep in your car or your mini van?  These are the devilish details which have collapsed "payment in kind" schemes in the past. These details are supposed to by YOUR problem, but they become mine far too easily.

Oh right, I said I had an alternative.  A couple of them actually.

Alternative 1, assumes you already know all this stuff and are just looking for a place to work, say to create your own armour for fighting, in which case, working "in-kind" is a piece of cake.  You look after your own meals and accomodation, and work for me in the morning as a trained helper and on your own in the afternoon.  No lectures, little or no instruction involved, and you can go for as many or as few days as you like.  We do this on Saturdays on a first come, first serve basis already, and I have a shift worker who drops in during the week building an armour worthy of a museum.  This is a method which is favored by people who have had my lecture series or are already fully trained in metalwork. Self guided and beautiful armours result.  This method has a history of success.

Alternative two...  Assumes you don't know squat about how to work sheet metal and don't know the difference between a tippet and a tasset.  But you want to learn all there is to learn about making armour from sheet metal.  Find a grand somewhere, take my lectures.  Work in your field, build armours. Refine your skills as an armours' helper, and then as a full fledged armourer. Make yourself into a person who is useful.
     The question of whether I would have a grand worth of work around the estate would be a serious question.  It would depend upon my plans for the spring, and whether there is sufficient work on the estate to justify taking on a hand for a couple of weeks.  That would be two weeks of doing stuff possibly not related to armour making.  This was your idea....and as you can see, it is fraught with difficulties.  I see problems...not solutions. But, it IS an option.

Alternative three.  You don't know squat about how to work sheet metal, and you don't give a hoot about armour or history, but you figure the skills you learn here will be applicable elsewhere.  Find a grand, take my lecture series, and then work here or anywhere else you fancy.  Build your own workshop.  Make stuff. Take the skills you learn here and build cars or motorcycles or airplanes.  You would need your own shop for that because mine is solely dedicated to making armour.  This is an excellent choice.  By not depending on me to find you work, it goes much more smoothly.

    There is pretty much no way to work in-kind as payment for a lecture series.  They take six days to complete and take at least that much more for me to prepare.  You don't get one-on-one are in there with two or three other people. On MY schedule.  During that time, the only thing I will be creating is an armour maker.   This lecture series is a prerequisite for working in my shop.

Well, I could go on and on, but this should give you something to think about.

Bill Fedun
Armour Maker

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