A Blazing BlacksmitHER – Susan Szczepanski

Blazing BlacksmitHERs are ladies that are forging their own path in blacksmithing and sharing their story.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader” John Quincy Adams

Name

Susan Szczepanski

Where in the world are you?

Alabama, US

How did you start blacksmithing? Did you take classes?

A local college offered a one-day Intro class taught by two Master Smiths.  I’ve been swinging a hammer for years doing DIY stuff and have always loved metal so I thought it’d be a great way to spend a Saturday – turned out it was a great way to spend thousands of dollars!  I was hopelessly hooked from the first pigtail we were taught to curl that day. Then came tracking down an anvil (rare as hens teeth around here!), finding a forge, finding steel suppliers, etc, etc, etc.  I tell people I really don’t want to know how much this “hobby” has cost me, but in the end it really doesn’t matter.  I’d spend every penny of it again, it has brought that much joy into my life. Are you a beginner, hobby or professional blacksmith?

Are you a beginner, hobby or professional blacksmith?

I’d say I’m both a beginner and a hobbyist.

What is your favorite blacksmithing technique? Even if you are beginner, what do you enjoy doing the most?

One of the things I make that is the most popular with people are split crosses, which I make in both necklace size and “desk” size (those from railroad spikes).  I’m branching out into larger crosses made from a variety of materials and techniques, many mounted on wood.

Do you have a favorite tool? What is it?

My Peddinghaus hammer!  Before I bought it I was using an old hammer that I felt was a bit too heavy for me, at 3.5 pounds.  I switched to a 2.5 from Peddinghaus and was so surprised to find it fit like the proverbial glove.  It was a lesson to me in finding tools that fit me instead of me trying to fit to the tools.

What is the worst thing about blacksmithing?

Well, the burns of course!  🙂   And the fact that, at least in this area, it’s really not likely that you’ll ever be able to quit your day job and pursue blacksmithing full time.  There just aren’t opportunities for that here.  It physically and mentally HURTS me to turn off the forge on the weekend and get ready to go back to my “real” job.     Big sigh……

Are you a member of a blacksmithing association? If so, which one? What does it do for you?

I belong to the Athens Forge Council (Athens, AL) and to ABANA.

Do you have anything else you would like to add?

I have been astonished and touched by the generosity of time and attention other smiths give to complete novices like me.  All the smiths I’ve met are so willing to stop whatever they’re doing and help you solve a forging problem, answer a thousand pesky newbie questions or demo a technique.  The smiths I’ve encountered have been so generous to me, and I’m also touched by their seemingly oblivious lack of attention to the fact that I’m a woman!  It matters not, not one tiny bit, which is remarkably refreshing!

This is a cake set Susan made for a Christmas present
This is a cake set Susan made for a Christmas present

A Blazing BlacksmitHER – Kelly Potter

Blazing BlacksmitHERs are ladies that are forging their own path in blacksmithing and sharing their story.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader” John Quincy Adams

Name

Kelly Potter

Where in the world are you?

Dallas, Texas

How did you start blacksmithing? Did you take classes?

I was a jeweler and thought that was what I was going to be! I had moved back to Texas from Colorado and took a jewelry class at the local community college just for some studio time and directed projects when there was an announcement that there would be a blacksmithing class starting the next semester. I had just gotten over major illness and was about 40 pounds underweight, so I really didn’t think that anyone like me should be taking the blacksmithing class. I thought, “WHO does that…” But also thought it could help me be a better jeweler.

I really didn’t have a lot going on so I signed up for the semester class. I was absolutely terrible and didn’t know why people would make their own nails when Home Depot was down the street (especially at the rate I was hammering them out). BUT I noticed it made me happy and I loved using my own hands and getting dirty and wearing myself out making things.

I was introduced to another blacksmith through my teacher and I stopped by his shop after the class ended and worked out a trade; I’d teach him mokume gane if he let me kind of hang out and learn some more blacksmithing. Since then I’ve worked in various shops over the last few years and now actually work alongside my original teacher doing architectural blacksmithing.

Are you a beginner, hobby or professional blacksmith?

Professional blacksmith

What is your favorite blacksmithing technique? Even if you are beginner, what do you enjoy doing the most?

Of course, anything involving a power hammer. But I also enjoy making scrolls and anything that can challenge me to come up with a crazy jig or die. I really appreciate a well thought out jig, or series of jigs.

Do you have a favorite tool? What is it?

I have a few constant favorites: a favorite hammer, a favorite anvil at work. Right now I’m really excited about a starrett straight edge I have. I actually made my fiancé make me a special wooden box with a lock on it and felt lining to keep it safe… and a granite surface plate. Perhaps it’s the jeweler still in me, but any tool I can use to push myself towards more accuracy or consistency is what I’m into right now.

What is the worst thing about blacksmithing?

After a while burns are pretty much no big deal and the physical accidents that happen you get used to but the worst is probably just the way everyone looks at you when you try to go anywhere else after leaving the shop and you are dirty and usually have a hole or two in your work clothes.

Are you a member of a blacksmithing association? If so, which one? What does it do for you?

I was a member of North Texas Blacksmithing Association but haven’t kept up with my membership lately.

Kelly Potter's Quiver Kelly Potter's Railing Lantern by Kelly Potter

 

 

 

 

A Blazing BlacksmitHER – Kim Hart From Australia

Blazing BlacksmitHERs are ladies that are forging their own path in blacksmithing and sharing their story.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader” John Quincy Adams

Name

Kim Hart

Where in the world are you?

Australia

How did you start blacksmithing? Did you take classes?

I’ve always had an interest in smithing but not the farrier side of it. The artist and tool side for self-sufficiency is what interests me. My husband died about 7 years ago leaving me with a couple of kids under 10 to fend for. I had to learn lots of woodwork techniques as I live in a 19thC weatherboard and the maintenance is pretty full on. I can handle plumbing, motors etc but woodwork was not my forte. I taught myself, along with the help of friends, to build a new deck on my house in 2010. Since then I’ve added plastering, joinery, carpentry and cabinetmaking to my skills and thought it was about time to learn some metalwork techniques. In the meantime I’ve created a permaculture garden on my half acre block with a view to becoming self-sufficient within 5 years. Thus, I wanted to be able to make practical tools as well as beautiful things, so I took up blacksmithing in early 2014. I have attended a course with Ray Gard, Master Blacksmith in Gippsland, Victoria, Australia. He says I have the passion so will probably be pretty good at it; I’d like to think so but we’ll see!

My background is professional winemaking for nearly 30years, business management and now secondary school teaching math and science. I’m 53 and busting to try some artist blacksmithing – I really can’t wait to master the techniques to give life in steel to some of my ideas! Maybe I was a blacksmith in a past life – don’t know!!!

Are you a beginner, hobby or professional blacksmith?

Beginner blacksmith

What is your favorite blacksmithing technique? Even if you are beginner, what do you enjoy doing the most?

I love everything about this craft. I really get off on trying a technique and being able to predict EXACTLY what the material will do. It constantly spins me out what you can get a hard and apparently unyielding substance like metal to really do, and I absolutely enjoy exploring this.

Do you have a favorite tool? What is it?

I love my anvil and hammers – they are the core of the craft for me.

What is the worst thing about blacksmithing?

Nothing at all – I just love it – even the dirty firework and cleaning up.

I’m a bit of a grub anyway so this is just normal for me!

Are you a member of a blacksmithing association? If so, which one? What does it do for you?

Yes – I belong to ABANA. This gives me a great global perspective on what’s happening out there as well as some fantastic practical plans to follow. I also belong to Blacksmith Doris in VIC Australia, and appreciate their support and regular contact. And now BlacksmitHER- I got excited when I saw this one!

Do you have anything else you would like to add?

I’m really passionate about this craft – it’s the best thing I’ve ever done getting involved in it. My teenage sons, family and friends think it’s great, and it has been really good for me in terms of keeping focus. I have a chronic illness (as does Bex Simon) that prevents me from working other than occasional part-time stuff and blacksmithing has been great in that it keeps my mind and body active. When I’m not working in my garden I’m working in my shop and that suits me just fine! The only drawback is that I can’t do hot work on fire risk days – something we have a lot of in Australia during our summer. However, I use that down time to plan, sketch, draw and organize so it can be an advantage also. All in all it’s been a bit of a life-changing exercise – haven’t felt so inspired for years!

Kim Hart