Episode #45 – Rand Condell – “Blacksmithing in the Adirondacks of NY”

Rand Condell is the president of the Adirondack Folk School in Lake Luzerne, New York. This non-profit school is dedicated to teaching the arts, crafts and cultural heritage of the Adirondack region. Mr. Condell is the former president of the New York State Public Employees Union as well as a former teacher in blacksmithing and other courses.

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What We Talked About

  • Rand started blacksmithing in the 1970s after getting a degree in philosophy and doing some graduate work in archeology and outdoor education. He realized, however, that he wanted a job that was more “basic to the community.” He applied for a job in the blacksmith shop in Old Bethpage Village on Long Island, but was drafted into the Navy before he could start.
  • Upon exiting the military, Rand went through a 6-week training at Turley Forge in New Mexico. He also set up a blacksmithing shop in Glens Falls, NY and went into business. He was also teaching a variety of subjects at a maximum security prison and at City University of New York at that time.
  • Rand later built a new shop as a potential school for blacksmithing, but ended up moving into the upstairs of the shop with his wife and kids when he was elected president of a large union. His focus shifted to that work and he didn’t blacksmith for quite a while and never started the school.
  • After retiring, Rand was called by the Adirondack Folk School to come fix a sink and some holes in the ceiling. Within 6 months, Rand was president of school and started a blacksmithing program there.
  • The blacksmithing program at the Folk School has blossomed with great instructors and is now the largest program at the school. They offer about 25 classes a year in blacksmithing alone. Basketry is also a large program as well as Adirondack furniture building, weaving, wood turning, etc. “We’re just trying to preserve the crafts that were local…and we’re expanding to other crafts also,” Rand says.
  • The most important things he looks for in instructors for the school are experience and a great teaching style.
  • The Adirondack Folk School was founded in 2010. In its sixth year, it offers more than 200 classes a year.
  • Blacksmithing classes are mostly 4- and 5-day courses. They also have a few 1-day intro classes making dinner bells or marshmallow forks. They hold an open forge once a month and have had great turnouts.
  • The shop has 9 complete work stations, including 9 coal forges and also some gas forges. Rand describes it as a fairly spacious, multi-use shop.
  • The school has held 3 annual forge and hammer events. These are opportunities for instructors to spend a weekend together. This year they made tools for the shop, click here for a video of this year’s instructor rendezvous.  Next year they hope to invite students to observe and their plan is to make adjustable anvil stands for the shop.
  • When students come to the school from out of town, they can easily stay at hotel, motels and campgrounds that are within walking distance to the school. Rand says they get a lot of students from the eastern part of the US, but they’ve also had students from other states and overseas.
  • The Folk School is considering a partnership with Paul Smith’s College a couple hours away to help with their summer program called the Adirondack Woodsmen’s School. Rand says to do that they will have to build a portable forging station to make axes. Rand says it would be nice to have the ability to be mobile and be able to travel throughout the Adirondacks.
  • The Folk School offered a class recently at Camp Sagamore, the Vanderbilt retreat built in 1890. There is a small forge there.
  • Due to the cold climate of upstate New York, the blacksmith classes at the Folk School are offered from late March through the end of October.
  • Classes offered include tool smithing, hammer making, camp axe making (which is very popular), knife classes, and a Damascus class. They’ve also done a Hudson Valley Trappers Toolkit, which was a 5-day class. They used wrought iron to make a tomahawk, a knife and a fire starter.
  • For most classes, it’s one person per forge, but they can accommodate more students depending on the work being done.
  • The mission statement of the school is to teach the heritage of the Adirondacks. “One of the things about the Adirondacks is that it’s a pretty tough place to live and there weren’t a lot of places to go buy something,” Rand says. “So anybody who settled here had to be pretty self-sufficient.”
  • Next year the school might offer a timber frame tool-making class that complements the timber framing class. Students actually build their own woodshed or small cabin during the course.
  • Most students return for more classes, Rand says. Once they show up and see that they can gain the skills to do these crafts and trades, they want to keep coming back. Some students have taken 20 different classes and challenge each other to see who can do the most.

Guest Links

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