September 11, 2007 > Cool Jobs in the Tri-City Area
Cool Jobs in the Tri-City Area
A Blacksmith in Fremont
By Anne Chan, MS, MFT
This is the first in an occasional series profiling cool jobs and careers in the Tri-City area. Scott Thomas's job is definitely a cool job, but it would be more accurate to describe it as a hot job. In fact, Scott's job is a very hot job - 3,000 degrees of heat as a matter of fact - the temperature of his forge which he uses to heat metal.
Scott is the resident blacksmith at Ardenwood Historical Park in Fremont, a position he has held since 1999. His work as a blacksmith includes making historical reproductions of tools and equipment from the Iron Age to the American Civil War, bladesmithing (making knives, hatchets, chisels, and swords), creating decorative ironwork (balcony railing, garden trellises), and tool-making for customers who need one-of-a-kind implements. Scott also helps with repairs on the farm. He is the "go-to" person for things that other people simply cannot make or do without. For instance, he once helped a friend remove a spindle nut from his car that no one else could budge. Says Scott: "Give me an anvil and a forge and I can make just about anything."
His most unique and challenging creation was a three-tier metal wedding cake stand twirled with metal vines and leaves. Scott describes the cake stand as one of the most complex things he has done, requiring over 40 hours of labor.
It is clear that Scott enjoys the diverse challenges of being a blacksmith. He especially loves the freedom and creativity involved in making things and enjoys educating people who visit his blacksmith shop. Ardenwood is a special location which requires Scott to preserve the 19th century spirit of the farm. This means that on certain days he must operate his shop in a manner consistent with the time period and cannot use modern power tools. However, Scott likes this challenge of making things without resorting to modern methods. Because of the historic nature of the shop, 95% of his work is hammered, punched, cut, riveted, forge welded, chiseled, and ground by hand.
Techniques used by Scott hark back to ancient Roman times. He notes that the blacksmithing trade has not changed all that much - the process of heating and shaping metal remain basically the same. In fact, the use of the forge, anvil, and hammer is the same as in ancient Roman times, even though these tools may look slightly different than their Roman counterparts.
When you visit the Ardenwood Blacksmith Shop, you are likely to see Scott doing his job while simultaneously training apprentices. According to this skilled craftsman, someone who wants to be a good blacksmith needs good hand-eye coordination, patience, persistence, physical strength and stamina, an artistic, creative mind, the ability to problem solve, good object-spatial abilities, and a sense of rhythm. Elaborating on the last, he notes that having good timing is important for work organization and efficiency of motion. In fact, he is so rhythmic in his work that he has had a visitor or two stop by and play their musical instruments to the steady rhythm of his hammering.
Blacksmiths these days can make a good living making blades, creating ornamental ironwork, horse shoeing and creating metal art. Scott advises those who want to enter this field to apprentice with an established blacksmith and learn the business of the trade. He adds that going to school can be useful, but not absolutely necessary in this field.
A self-taught blacksmith, Scott learned the trade by reading books, going to blacksmith seminars, and watching other blacksmiths. Initially he shoed horses but later focused on metal work because it is easier and less dangerous than crawling under thousand-pound animals that can be unpredictable. In the past, he suffered several serious injuries while shoeing horses. However, in his current work, he rarely gets injured or burned - he says, "My anvil is not going to jump up and stomp on me."
Scott notes that people are often surprised when he tells them he's a full-time blacksmith. Many from the Silicon Valley do not realize that blacksmiths still exist. However, he would like people to know that blacksmiths do exist today and that blacksmithing is still a viable trade with deep historical roots. Says Scott: "I would like people to know that blacksmithing is more than just putting shoes on horses. It's a job with a very ancient and rich tradition throughout all cultures. It's a job that has made a lot of other jobs possible. This is a really, really old trade that is responsible for most of the world as we are today. It's still viable today even with mass production and outsourcing because people don't know how to make stuff these days." In summing up his profession, Scott notes, "You can do a lot of amazing things with this trade."
For more on Scott, check out his website at www.ardenwoodforge.com. You can also learn more about blacksmithing at: http://www.abana.org/ and http://www.calsmith.org/
Anne Chan is a career counselor and licensed psychotherapist in Union City. She specializes in helping people find maximum satisfaction in their careers and relationships. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 510-744-1781. If you or someone you know has a cool, unique, and interesting job in Fremont, Hayward, Newark, Milpitas, Sunol or Union City, please contact her.
(c) Anne Chan, 2007.