After taking a few weeks off for the holidays, I’m starting to put together 2021 plans for Brown County Forge.
I’m using 2020’s successes and struggles as something to build on. So to start off, let’s talk about what worked and what didn’t in 2020.
Looking Back at Blacksmithing in 2020
A Good Start
January and February of 2020 were off to a great start. I was getting steady orders at least every other day.
As news of the coronavirus starting coming in, I have to admit I panicked a bit.
Working for yourself in a non-essential industry can be tense at the best of times.
Add in an unexpected pandemic and you could be in real trouble.
Watching, Waiting, and Adjusting
As March started to unfold, I had blacksmithing classes to teach.
I started suggesting that we not shake hands and try to maintain a little distance.
By March 15th it was becoming clear that I should start rescheduling to be on the safe side.
This is a big deal in a business that relies on having people in the shop to teach.
If I have to cancel/postpone a class, it’s not that I’ve forfeited that revenue. However, it does mean that the number of days I can book has been reduced.
This does affect revenue. And that can affect keeping the lights on and continuing to offer classes.
Etsy Sales Pick Up
While we were all staying at home in April and May, I saw an increase in hook sales on Etsy.
My best guess at the time (and now) is that folks were stuck looking at their walls and started thinking about what they could put on them.
Home improvement and decorating were two industries that fared very well.
I didn’t know that would be the case at the time, but I tripled down on offering discounts to home hardware customers.
Most of the time this was a discount of 20% off on top of already Free shipping.
Seeing Some Light in May and June
May and June brought people back to the shop for classes while observing updated safety measures.
Masks were required and I painted white lines on the floor marking off 6-foot sections.
Being able to have people safely in the shop was a relief as well as a stressor.
I’m committed to teaching people how to forge, but I don’t want to be a reason anyone gets sick.
I had to balance these two things for the remainder of the year.
Summer into Fall
Etsy sales continued to surprise me as we all learned how to deal with social restrictions.
Classes also continued every weekend and often during the week.
However, in August I started thinking about the cold weather and normal flu season and what effect these could have on in-person classes and sales.
I made a plan to have all classes wrapped up by the first week of November, expecting there to be an increase in Covid-19 cases.
Better to remove a reason to be out and about than risk more people getting sick.
I still had hook orders coming in, but I was beginning to see some shipping issues. Overseas shipments either weren’t arriving on time or at all.
It would be early December before these delays really started hitting home in the U.S.
What I’m Changing in 2021
There are a few takeaways from 2020 that helped in planning 2021:
- More hook orders is great, but a body can only hammer so much.
- Scheduling classes could use a better system to avoid burnout.
- Whether it’s essential or not, people still love blacksmithing.
Coping With Making More Hooks
I make a lot of hooks in any given year. It’s what my business is built on.
2020 blew my past production out of the water. And my shoulders and elbows can tell the tale.
I’ve had more muscle and joint pain in the past year than ever before. Part of this is normal aging (at age 35 and 10 years into blacksmithing, this is still true).
But the majority of it is the repetitive hammerwork.
I know this to be true after taking three weeks off in December for the holidays. My shoulders returned to normal. I could lift again without pain.
And as soon as I went back to the shop to hammer out orders for this year, my old pains flared back up.
So, what’s the action to take?
I think the goal for this year will be to moderate how long I swing a hammer in a sitting. Shorter bursts, but more of them.
So instead of working in the shop for 6 hours at a time, I’ll be breaking that up into three 2-hour sessions.
I’ll also be switching up my tasks more often. To give you some background into what it takes to make a set of hooks, this is the handful of tasks:
- Cutting steel
- Grinding and smoothing sharp corners
- Wire brushing
- Drilling holes
- Finishing with beeswax
Each task doesn’t seem like much, but add them all together and you can get sore.
The main one for me is holding my arms in tight positions while I’m grinding. This creates tension in the shoulder blades and fascia that leads to inflammation.
The remedy is to do all of my cutting on one day, break up my grinding, and break up the forging.
The remaining tasks are pretty light-duty and can be added to some of the others.
Scheduling Classes to Avoid Burnout
I’ll say at the top that I enjoy meeting and working with people.
The opportunity to take someone new to blacksmithing and show them how is rewarding.
That said, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool introvert. I lose energy in social settings very quickly.
What students don’t see is the extensive downtime it takes outside of class for me to put my maximum energy into teaching.
I’m not complaining. I set it up this way on purpose knowing my strengths.
So, what happens when you prep classes and teach 2-4 times per week for 45+ weeks of the year?
You can get burnt out.
What’s the action to take?
To keep my energy up throughout the teaching year in 2021, I started booking in a different way.
Instead of teaching every Saturday and Sunday (excluding holidays, Father’s Day, and Mother’s Day), I changed the dates to Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
This still provides three days a week for blacksmith classes, but it allows me to have a partial weekend (like a normal person =]). Sundays should be for resting, anyway.
It also ensures that each student gets the best of me when they’re in class.
The other scheduling change is doing classes in seasonal sprints. Rather than booking classes almost every week of the year, I’ll be teaching March-May and September-November.
Similar number of classes available, just condensed into three month periods.
The other added benefit is that we (students and instructor) avoid the most brutal temperatures of peak summer and the dead of winter.
Give the People What They Want
In 2021 I’ll be working on some new blacksmithing focused projects. These could include:
- More in-depth how-to articles: knife making, how to set up a home shop, etc.
- A podcast all about do-it-yourself blacksmithing. I started this a few years ago, but set it aside as business took over.
- Some kind of kits for blacksmithing and knife making. I’ve seen a huge increase in interest in my Blacksmith Starter Kit article in the past year. While I don’t have the infrastructure to offer complete kits to ship, I’m thinking about ways to make it easier for people to get started.
What Sparks Your Interest?
After reading through this 2021 blacksmithing update (thanks!), what are you interested in for the new year?
More how-to’s? A podcast? Knife making kits?
Leave a comment below.