Blacksmithing and leatherwork and bushcraft, oh my.

Like most people, I have a variety of interests. Sometimes, the popular pastimes that appeal to my colleagues and friends don’t hold that same draw — I don’t play golf, or follow sports.

Some of my passions do fall closer to the mainstream — craft beer, pool, good food.

The interests that titled this post, however, are a bit rarer. Perhaps not for readers of this blog and other similar sites, but, given that I live in an urban population, and have a relatively city-centric life, I’m often the odd one out.

I live and work downtown. My career is in online media, and I manage a web department, with a bit of coding here and there. In a past life, I dealt with corporate design.

So where is the connection? Why the appeal for these wild, homestead-styled interests? As far as my involvement, they can all be classed as crafts and hobbies, and that’s fine, not a bad thing at all — but there’s something deeper at play.

I suspect many who share my interests can identify a common draw. Improvisation and flexible approaches to solving problems are at the heart of each craft. Indeed, isn’t that what defines a craft in the first place?

Blacksmithing, I’m quickly learning, is all about isolation in context. Try to work on everything at once, and you’ll get nothing done. Start without knowing how your actions will affect other parts of the piece, and again, you may as well have just not bothered. The heating and forging cycles, all isolated down to individual hammer blows, never ignore the overall goal.

Leatherwork is much the same — casing (wetting) the leather to get just the right moisture content and consistency, tooling and carving, sewing and finishing, burnishing the edges, all very much working on individual skills towards a final goal.

Bushcraft is so much broader, and if you read this blog, chances are you’re already aware of the myriad skills that could come into play during a stay in the woods, so it almost seems silly to call bushcraft a singular skill or craft, as opposed to an attitude, or at the very least, a collection of abilities that contribute to a greater philosophy or outlook.

But just as important as knowing how to do things properly is knowing how to salvage or adapt when things go wrong. And here is where the true common thread appears: none of these interests are about control, or even really about creating. They’re about adapting. You convince iron to do what it’s going to do, guiding an coaxing it in place (a hammer can be very convincing). A blacksmith shapes and forges iron in favour of stock removal, aligning crystalline structures into patterns and shapes. He or she uses heat and materials to bring out, not defeat the nature of the material.

Wood, leather, iron — all have a nature and characteristics that need understanding and respect. The point of working with any of these mediums is negated whenever you forget why you started to use them in the first place. Don’t be afraid to veer from your idea of how your material should behave. Pay attention to how it actually behaves.

Embracing the materials and environment makes working with these methods so much more enjoyable, and can easily be extended to other facets of your life. Graphic Design, IT, construction, web development, customer service — they all benefit from a respect for your raw resources (people, computers, communication medium, etc.), and a willingness to accept their strengths and unique attributes. Work within constraints can be the most rewarding of all.

So the next time something appears to go off the rails, or take an unexpected turn, try to follow the grain, or listen to the iron. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of the unique character of your materials, and they’ll serve you so much better.

  • http://bloggen.nordicbushcraft.com/ Johan Forsberg

    Carftpoetry, love it =)

  • http://twitter.com/SurvivaLogic SurvivaLogic

    That is your leatherwork in the photos, as well? Very nice.

  • http://awordinthewoods.com Mike Zimmermann

    It is, thanks. I just wish I had more time to actually finish some of the many projects I’ve started.

  • weekendwoodsman

    Fantastic leather work! I really like the oak leaves and acorns. Great message, as well. :)

  • http://awordinthewoods.com Mike Zimmermann

    Thanks. It’s trickier than it looks (I’m not an illustrator), and I struggled a while until I ended up with something that ‘felt’ like a proper oak leaf. If I remember correctly, you can get acorns as a stamp, although I think I carved those by hand as well.