Developing The Heart Of A Craftsman

Oct 31, 2020

I visited Western Forge for the last time this week. The property will be turned over to its new owner in a couple of weeks and the buildings are slated for demolition. 


You may not know the name Western Forge, but you have used their products. Since 1966, Western Forge has made Craftsman hand tools, and later, tools for Husky, SK, and more. I grew up with their tools. They employed approximately 300 of the best machinists and smiths in the world, but after 54 years in Colorado Springs, they closed their doors for good. 


While I could go on a rant about how outsourcing manufacturing jobs to the lowest-cost countries is a short-sighted money grab, I think that I would be preaching to the choir (notice that I still managed to get in a short rant!). Instead, I want to propose how we, as individual makers, can help bring manufacturing back. Our contribution doesn’t require a significant investment, opening factories, or making more mass-produced items. We can play a huge role in the wider trade school and hometown manufacturing movement by simply sharing our trade through community outreach and education. That happens one person at a time. 


Why Individual Makers? 

Inspiring one student at a time.

We had more than 4,000 students attend at least one class in 2020 at Kilroy’s Workshop despite Covid shutting us down for a couple of months. While some come in with experience in some type of blue-collar trade, most do not. About half of our youth have never even held a hammer before entering the forge. For many, bladesmithing is their first exposure to handwork, and it opens doors to a whole new world of creativity and they begin looking at other areas of growth, like welding and machining. They develop the heart of a craftsman while in the forge. 


Many of you teach others already. That is amazing, and know that you have people cheering you on. As many of you have discovered, you do not need a large shop to have a big impact. It is not about the equipment. I personally started teaching with one anvil and a two-burner home-built forge. It is not about having the perfect curriculum, a big name, or designing a fancy logo. It’s ultimately about meeting students’ needs. It takes heart, which thankfully is something the community of makers has a lot of. Inspire one person and you might launch the next great craftsman or business leader who starts a manufacturing and trades revolution. You have unique gifts and can use those gifts for others. 


Getting Started

Don’t try to start a movement. Aim small - miss small. 

One of my favorite scenes in the Christmas classic National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is where cousin Eddie’s attempt to land a job is noted as taking more than seven years. The reason: “He’s holding out for a management position.” Don’t make the mistake of waiting for perfect equipment, the perfect time, the perfect building, etc. to get started. It will never happen. As the saying goes, perfection is the enemy of done. Start small and focus on the people in front of you. This is about them. Make an impact where you are already connected, and reach out to let folks know what you can help them do, and learn from each interaction. 


Some ways to connect to the community:

  • Demonstrate at local hammer-ins, maker fairs, or even volunteer for behind-the-scenes jobs if you don’t like being the person in front. The person in front of the crowd gets the attention, but the person running mics or camera or setting up tents plays a major role too.

  • Contact homeschool associations and schools in your area. Don’t wait for them to come to you.

  • Contact veteran groups in your area and volunteer your services. We do a lot of work with Wounded Warrior Project. Accommodations can be made for almost any disability.

  • Ask local church groups if they would like to learn about what you do. Youth events, men's and women's groups, or even staff team building events are great opportunities to get involved.


Keep it professional. Set proper expectations. Make sure the focus is on them and their needs, and you will have the greatest impact. 


The Goal

It’s about the person, not the project.

These experiences will impact your students for life. Most of your students will just enjoy their time and find an awesome creative outlet, something that we all need. Some will enter the trades, or change careers if they are older, as they fall in love with the act of creation. Some will go to college and become much better engineers, designers, and architects because they think like a craftsman. And some will start great businesses to employ these other talented people and together they will make extraordinary products -- all because he or she has developed the heart of a craftsman at the forge. 


And that is how you, and the broader maker community, can bring manufacturing home and elevate the trades. One person at a time.


If you would like to inspire others and share your skills but are not sure where to begin, give us a shout. We believe in community, and will do what we can to help you along as well!