“If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, there must be put to more strength.”  – Solomon

Only ten years ago, the blacksmiths, wagonmakers, and horseshoers who read a trade journal, or a book devoted to their trade, were few and far between.  It is not what it ought to be now, but it is moving in the right direction.

What would a person think of the physician who boasted of the fact that he had never read or subscribed for a medical journal? We would not trust him to experiment with our health, much less place our lives in his hands, when we knew that the time spent by a medical student at the college is hardly enough to acquaint him with the names of the different diseases and herbs used for medicine. The healing of diseases is something he must learn through practice or experiment. Then, if he is too selfish to profit by the experience of others, he must begin the experiments himself; and that means that many must die to make this man wise. We have this class of self-sufficient people in all walks of life; and mark it down, they never will amount to much. There are mechanics who know all the latest rules and tricks of sport life, from prize fighting and foot ball down to solitaire, but they have never learned the A, B, C of their trade. These are, as a rule, the “knockers,” the men of “great cry and little wool,” men who have mastered an “ism,” – braggardism. But it is consoling to know that this species is dying out fast, for here, as everywhere else, “only the fittest will survive.”

Solomon dubbed the blacksmith “father of all mechanics”; and so he is, and he can point back to Tubal Cain as the first artificer in his trade. We would expect that followers of such a trade should stand at the head and in the lead, when it comes to intelligence and general knowledge, in comparison with other mechanics; but I am not sure that he does. Only 20 percent of the blacksmiths of the United States have read a book or a magazine devoted to their trade, and when we look at other countries it is worse yet; but an awakening has begun, and I hope the smiths will remember to “strike while the iron is hot.”

Of course, trade journals should be read with discrimination, for these papers are edited by men without practical experience; hence we find many misleading articles appear from time to time.

There is, so far, a lack of system in our trade. We have no authority. Every beginner imagines he is the best mechanic in the land, and what he does not know is not worth knowing. I often hear this remark from people in other walks of life: “He is a good mechanic; he is the best blacksmith in the state;” while the fact in many a case is that he is the biggest lubber and bungler in the state. I never saw a man, no matter how poor a blacksmith, but what some on would think him a master in his trade. I hold that there is no trade where there is so great a percent of poor workmen as in the blacksmith’s trade, because the blacksmith’s trade is a hard trade to master, and, no matter how clever a young man might be, he will never be an all-around blacksmith in less than ten years, and many will never learn the trade.

The blacksmith must not only be a mechanic, but he should also be an artist. The work must be right in construction and beautiful in design. Then, when it comes to the working of highly carbonized steel, how few, how few, who know how to handle it without ruining it! Then again, the simple-looking process of welding. There are smiths whose good welds are accidental. Now, why is it so? Because we no system of learning the trade.

After three months’ apprenticeship with a bungler, many a young man hangs out his “shingle” and advertises for work he never learned to do. The man who has not learned the elementary rules for a trade or a profession will never be efficient. On the other hand, the man who has learned these rules has learned the A, B, C, he is on the right path, and time and perseverance will bring him out right.

We visited the manual training school (slojd) in our city, not long ago, and when I left I felt sorry for both the scholars and taxpayers. These scholars imagine, now, that they are mechanics, since they are able to make a few articles; but I hold that this training will harm them through life. They were pegging away like a woodpecker, without system or order. The positions of their bodies and the of the handling of the tools were awkward and unnatural. If an old carpenter had been called in as a teacher, he would soon have given them some instruction in this respect that would have been a help to them in after life.

It will be our aim, therefore, to present a book that will be a beginning to a better system, or rather, a beginning to a system. We shall begin with a series of lessons, giving the elementary rules and steps necessary to successfully master the trade.