Self Teaching and Hands on Training


By now I've talked, whether personally, through phone or skype calls and interviews, or plainly online, to a large number of bladesmiths, with a huge variation of backgrounds, and this is my conclusion from their learning curves. 

I'll start by saying this. There is a huge advantage to having hands on training from another bladesmith. A teacher will show you the things you need to know first, first. He'll be able to bring attention to your mistakes and show you how to correct them practically as you do them, he'll have the equipment you would need in order to more advanced work, such as pattern welding, and he'll know the market. I think it's a safe bet to say that everything I know at the time of writing (a sum of 4+ years or so), I could've learned in under a year with regular training, possibly less. 

Full disclosure here: I've never had a lick of hands on training. Everything I know, be it book knowledge or technique, I've read, heard, or figured out for myself. This is a culmination of Youtube, forums, Instagram, books, conversations, and of course my personal findings. 

I will say that if you can get it, hands-on training is better by far. You'll learn more in a much shorter amount of time, and develop contacts that are invaluable. The only problem is accessibility and cost, which are pretty obvious. You don't get free training. 

Many people will then assume that if you can't get hands-on teaching, you can't do it at all, or at the very least the result will be terrible. And they're right; at first, it will be terrible. But, given time and the passion to be better, the end result has equal potential, possibly greater even for the self-taught. My favorite example is Van Barnett; completely self taught and a full time smith since he graduated highschool. His work is beyond proof of my point.

And, just as a theory here, but it is possible that it's easier to develop your own style, technique, and capabilities more if you're self taught. What I mean is this: there is no original idea, or design. Almost any knife is a mix or a modification of an already existing design. Everyone "steals" from everyone else. Now I don't mean plagiarism; taking someone else's ideas or work and passing them off as your own, but rather taking inspiration, feel, and elements from other's work, combining and modifying them into your own. Having a wider variety of influences makes it easier to pick and choose, and you're less biased in what you finally stick with. Learning from a particular teacher will cause you do have most of your influence from him, and so you naturally have work that is very similar to his. This isn't bad, but it could keep you from refining and finding out what style is unique to you.

In conclusion, there is no "better" way to learn. Hands-on training teaches you faster and more efficiently, and gives you access to the tools you need sooner. Being self taught however can shape you to be more open minded in design, style and learning, and although it's a lot slower, a self taught bladesmith with ten years of experience will be no worse than a trained bladesmith with the same experience.

Self teaching is like taking the long way round; it's a heck of a lot slower, but there's more experiences and scenery along the way.