The Trade Of A Blacksmith in the USA
Tuli shares a shop on an old ranch with a blacksmith who does railing and gates for custom homes. Tuli focuses on tools. Tools for gardening, woodworking, stonecutting, and timber cutting. His traditional garden tools have been his passion for almost ten years. "They have room for creativity, garden tools do not have to be as exact as, for instance, a woodworking chisel with strict tolerances." The result is hand crafted steel tools with a powerful artistic style.
How did you get into your craft?
"I learned horseshoeing from a man in Indiana when younger. I helped him out and then he said I was good enough to do it on my own. Then I worked my way through college in a horse-shoeing business. All summer long I shoed horses, and after getting out of school, I basically had a horseshoeing business already established. Did that for 12 years."
"You have to make a lot of your own tools shoeing horse. Punches for nail holes are square, so you need a series of punches that match the size of your nails. There are companies that make a blank, all-purpose punch, but you have to modify it anyway, so you might as well just make your own punches and drifts. So I made a lot of all these tools (creasers, crease nail pullers, nippers, tongs, hammers, clinch blocks) and had forges and anvils already when I made the first set of garden tools in 2003. Kept with it over the years, learning from visiting garden shows and listening to people at farmer's markets, gaining feedback. Learning from other craftsmen was my biggest education."
"It's a sad state of affairs, but skilled trades in the United States, at least the traditional schooling and university system, has turned its back on craftsmanship. You can't take a class on blacksmithing. That's why I turned to Montana, where there are still a lot people relying on traditional trade for their daily work."
What do you look forward to the most in your work?
"Favorite part is the finish. I make all of my garden tools in small batches, and small batch work seems like it is taking forever. You make all these individual pieces, down to the rivets. When I get them all finished, and the patina is looking great, they really come together. Because they're all hand made, they're all different, unique. Not like a factory, where you're stamping out the same thing every time, I like the variety. Some tools are quirky, some a little bit nicer than others."
Tuli makes the garden tools in the Fall and Winter, then heads off to flower and garden shows in the Spring in Summer. "Like all small business people I do not have the resources to everywhere at once or expand quickly." We're glad to have Tuli on board with AllenBooth.com.
What would you say to a young person who wants to do what you do?
"First of all, you should not be ashamed of working for a living in a skilled trade. You may not be aware of it where you live... for instance where I grew up there were not a lot of blacksmiths. But I found somewhere that was. Even if it seems like there's not a lot of support where you live, take advantage of modern communication, email some people."
"You'll find that people who share your craft become some of your best friends. For instance my wife went to school in California, so we moved there for a year. I found a craftsman who let me work in his space, even use his tools. He could have turned me away, but if I didn't keep working at that time my business would have been in trouble, and as a fellow blacksmith he was willing to help me out."