Where do we go from here?
Our primary goal with Axe & Anvil is to promote the rediscovery of blacksmithing & craftsmanship in America. Having this goal has given us the two pillars on which we are building the business as we move forward- education and product. While we are just barely starting to scratch the surface on either, the guidance that comes from knowing what we’re trying to accomplish is invaluable.
Education is the first pillar because we believe traditional blacksmithing is worth keeping alive as a FUNCTIONAL art- and in order for the craft to be kept alive, it’s history, culture (existing historical work, processes, etc.,) and technical details need to become a part of popular culture again. The public needs to at least have a basic understanding of what blacksmiths are capable of, and what they have achieved in history- beyond the simple -though admittedly important- historical skill of farriery (shoeing horses). When blacksmithing again gains a place in the public consciousness as a legitimate form of craftsmanship, right next to so many others like fine carpentry/millwork, finely fabricated ironwork, fine stone & brick masonry, and more- the craft will again be on a good footing with a solid future. Popular knowledge will result in more popular demand for forged ironwork, and the demand will result in more people pursuing the craft as a vocation. Trade knowledge will increase and become more available- along with the number and quality of educational and employment opportunities available to aspiring blacksmiths.
To re-popularize the craft of blacksmithing, blacksmiths must take it upon themselves to encourage and help aspiring blacksmiths, and think about a succession plan for their businesses and skills- who are they passing them down to? We also need to be a little more optimistic about the future of blacksmithing- we need to take seriously the current irrelevance of blacksmithing in modern culture, but we cannot accept it. It is NOT a dying art- just one the public is generally ignorant of. Blacksmiths must also work to tell the story of the trade to as wide an audience as possible. Few skilled crafts/trades/arts are safe from obsolescence in the modern age- but some, like traditional blacksmithing, while far from dead and a long way from extinction, are basically irrelevant to popular culture and will remain so as long as long as their story is not being told.
Product is the second pillar for several reasons. Nothing is more inspiring to both aspiring craftsmen and potential customers than seeing WHAT can be made with certain skills and tools. Also, all those old sayings like “it just takes money” have some truth to them. While chasing after riches has been proven to get you nowhere, most noble causes need funding. An art or craft can have no better source than a cultivated and loyal market- something that exists already to some degree, and can be greatly improved through education. There is a growing interest in fine craftsmanship and quality products that are not mass-produced and that have the character that only skilled handwork can produce. There exists a decided gap between owners, builders, architects and designers who might want to incorporate fine hand-forged ironwork into their homes and projects, and the blacksmiths who are capable of the work. It is a simple supply and demand problem- most honest businesses that deal in ironwork, forged OR fabricated, are swamped with business and either have no desire or ability to handle more business or are having a hard time scaling production and customer service to accommodate more business. And many blacksmiths that want more business (like me) are still trying to figure out work space and other logistical issues, or just haven’t been able to connect to the right customers yet. It certainly is not uncommon for us to just simply stink at marketing and telling our story- and just get too busy with what work we have to be able to devote enough time and energy into growing our businesses.
This week marks 6 months since we decided to make the blacksmithing venture here at Axe & Anvil a full-time pursuit. We spent most of the first 4 months building the new shop- which has only really been usable for little over a month and is still very much under construction. But now, as we turn much of our attention and focus to business growth and solving our very serious lack of cash flow, these two pillars are getting put to the test. Most of our attention is being focused toward product for the moment, but we are keeping education in mind. I really believe that being a “content creator” and focusing only on the education side of things –not to mention having to rely on it for all of our income- would not accomplish our goals. The education that we want to provide has to include the knowledge and skills that come from production work. So, we are left with some some tough questions- what new products do we develop first? How do we tap into the market for high-quality hand-forged ironwork? What things can we produce to increase cash flow quickly, while still staying on track with the overall vision? In both the content and physical items we produce, how do we deliver value to both our fellow blacksmithing enthusiasts and to our customers? In all of it, how do we maintain authenticity while building a successful business? The answers to some of these questions will come easier than others- but I am very much looking forward to the ones we get in the next 6 months.