10.000 revisited

OT: Sandbox YAK

10.000 hours. I heard about this again this summer. What was put forward is not simply doing something for 10.000 hours, but deliberate practice with a mentor or coach working with you.

Here's a quote from an article in the Wall Street Journal:

"The most successful performers in any area, he writes, engage in "deliberate practice." This is activity specifically designed, ideally by an expert teacher, to improve performance beyond a person's current comfort and ability level. These activities are repeatable, provide clear feedback and are highly demanding mentally, even when largely physical......In explaining the development of extraordinary talent, both Mr. Gladwell and Mr. Colvin zero in on seminal research by Florida State Professor Anders Ericsson and colleagues that suggests the threshold for world-class expertise in any discipline -- music, sports, chess, science, business management -- is about 10 years, or 10,000 hours, of persistent, focused training and experience."

I thought about this and looked at my driving as an example. I have driven thousands of hours in my live. Knowing my mileage of the last ten years and using 40 mph as the average, it works out to 7500 hours. Yet, in spite of all this driving, I have driving skills that are best described as adequate. Why, because I simply drive. I don't work at making myself better. If just hours logged in, was a prime factor in skill development, I would be a excellent driver.

I've started to think about this more and more. This year, as last year, I've done quite a bit of training and taking of blacksmith classes. Yet I don't feel my skills are developing as much as I thought they would. Yes, I've gained a wealth of knowledge, but that knowledge has not translated into skill. I think in my desire to become skilled. I moved forward too quickly. I developed adequate skill of basic movements and then rushed on to more diffecult tasks.

My idea is to step back a little and concentrate on making simple items. By simple I mean the most basic of forged ironwork: wall hooks, fire pokers, etc. I plan on making the same hook over and over again, until I can make that hook look like the last one and do it without having to try. No free shaping allow, each hook must look exactly like all the rest.

Think about the farriers of past. Many times the blacksmith we have thought most skilled, started out as farriers. They made horse shoes over and over again. Repeating the same process over and over again. Each and every one, had to be right.

Anyway, this is a conversation I've been having with myself.

bigfootnampa's picture

I agree with your premise to

I agree with your premise to some extent. An example in my own work is that I am yet finding significant improvement in my techniques for the most basic of smithing tasks, drawing a taper. I do NOT feel that having jumped ahead by doing more complex tasks has damaged my development however. Otherwise boredom might have stalled the whole enterprise and much of the refinement is driven by needs or interlocked morsels of knowledge/skill that only grew as a result of such leaping ahead. It seems natural to me to "forge ahead" and return only to "forge ahead" once again. My whole artistic/craftsmanship development has resulted from and benefited greatly from such an ongoing process. I apply jewelry lessons to blacksmithing and vice versa... likewise I cross-pollenate my woodworking skills with my metalworking expertise and my painting/finishing experiences and all of these disciplines (and MORE) gain from my breadth of knowledge as well as it's depth.

So I would infer that your revisiting of basic skills is not a process of rectifying regrettable developmental mistakes, rather a natural way of learning/refining that is TYPICAL (and proper) of the learning paths of people who persistently pursue higher levels of skill/artistry.

Stephen Fitz-Gerald's picture

Improving on one's skill

Stephen Fitz-Gerald
That's the most concise description of my orientation as well.
I would add only;
"There are no rules when it comes to creativity".
In fact, innovation and paradigm shifting occur only when the established norm ,or in vernacular: "the rules are broken".
There is value to refining one's chops to being able to make the same hook perfectly over and over again,but it's the ability to see "possible futures" of using that technique for something totally unrelated to hooks that launches one into the realm of Art...

eligius1427's picture

Great Topic Gerald, I agree

Great Topic Gerald,

I agree with all of the statements so far, and my only comment relates to Stephens last sentence. You don't have to concentrate as hard on tasks when you've perfected them and can do them in your sleep, which allows your brain some time to think of the next step or possibility during the process. Most of my creative breakthroughs come from working in the shop, so this little bit of free brain activity could be great for creativity, but you still have to be looking and pushing for the creative break through. If not, one just becomes really good at making hooks or horseshoes. There are far more fantastically skilled farriers that DIDN'T become artist blacksmiths than did, not because they didn't have the skill but because they didn't think/want to use the skill in an artistic way.

There's also something to be said with every hook being different. Each piece it's own visually unique creation due to the hammer not being as controlled.

In my opinion, skilled creative growth would require both a rigorously honed skill level and the ability to work freely and uncontrolled with it.


Jake Balcom
Mettle Design
Lincoln, NE

Gerald Boggs's picture

Hum... this went in a

Hum... this went in a direction I hadn't thought about. I wasn't thinking about the creative process, rather the technical skill. But then, I, correct or not, think of them as two different areas of work. The first is the skill to do, the other is the ability to perceive.

Part of what has happened with me, is in my hungry to develop, I haven't given myself time to practice what I've learned. I do something to a point that I'm starting to get a feel for it and then rush forward to learn something new. This isn't unique to me. Many the student I've seen, after being shown something, makes it once (sort of) and then wants to learn something new. And so, I've meet many a smith with a long list of schools and classes taken, that sadly have poor skills. What I think I should have been doing and what I hope to do in the future: is I learn something, go back to my shop, practices it until it's done with confidence, find a way to use it in my work. Then and only then, will I be ready to learn something new.

My animal head class I took January*, I've been too busy to make even one bear head since the class, yet I've had the time to teach two classes, take one more, assist in three others and attend half a dozen hammer-in's All I've done, is learn more knowledge, without doing the practice necessary to make it part of my skills.


Fair Winds
Gerald Boggs

Feral Metal's picture

Gerald, if you keep walking

Gerald, if you keep walking the same path in life,pretty soon you will be able to walk it blindfolded,then you might not want to stray from the path. It seems to me you have tried walking quite a few paths since January and I would think your horizons have been broadened by it. Do you not think too much analysis leads to paralysis. (I can't remember who said that) :)

eligius1427's picture

Hi Gerald, I am guilty of

Hi Gerald, I am guilty of moving on to something new fairly quickly after I learn something as well, but I don't necessarily view it as a bad thing. Although I may not be perfect at what I had just learned, I don't move on until I have a good grasp of the concept and technique. It is this knowledge that is the true benefit for me. In my shop I strive to not do the same project design twice, so I'm constantly trying to learn new techniques and such. This is when I often think over all of the skills I've learned and then reach back and pick one or two for my next project. At that time I try to refresh what I learned and then begin to hone that technique or what not, hopefully getting better each time. What I hope happens is that after years of doing this, I will have mastered some of these techniques in a genre that I keep coming back to. For me this will probably be lighting, but the jury is still out and I still have much to learn.

I personally put more stock into enjoying what I do than being perfect at it. If you enjoy perfecting each skill before you learn the next then I say go for it, but if you enjoy taking and teaching classes one after the other then I'll say the same thing, go for it. There is no wrong way or right way unless there is a specific goal you are shooting for. I just got back from a workshop focused on artists creating a long term profitable career with their work and one of the things they said really hampered artists was too broad of goals. "I want to be the best blacksmith" is an example(not saying this is your statement). The best blacksmith at what? Horseshoes, fences, animals heads, textures, etc, etc, etc. The goal is impossible to reach because there is no definitive finish line. In fact wanting to be the best at forging animal heads may still be to broad. I think sitting down and looking ahead to visualize what you see your self wanting to do in the future will help you decide what you need to do/learn now. I may start another thread on this workshop, it was invaluable for me.


Jake Balcom
Mettle Design
Lincoln, NE

Will Jones's picture

I always find it

I always find it inspirational to come across people who, despite being most accomplished in any discipline, actively strive to keep bettering themselves. I'm guilty of being a bit of a coaster myself...
It has occured to me a number of times though that the old apprenticeship system probably stood people in good stead if they could get through the Karate Kid style (wax on, wax off Daniel San!)monotony of doing the repetitive low grade tasks.
At college they would make us spend up to an hour drawing a perfect taper on a piece of 1/2" square as an exercise.
But I've noticed that when I have a hundred bars to taper (and make or lose my own money on), that's when I learn to draw a taper. And 9 times out of ten, while the first few I make while putting myself under time pressure are rough, the last ones are done fastest, and look better than if I'd had just two to make and taken my time over it!
As it happens, I rarely get that much repetition, which is nice for the variety, but probably not so good for my technique.
It's also nice that I've got plenty of work...but it takes real discipline to take time for active learning/"personal development" when there's paying jobs to do.
Will Jones

FrankV's picture

wax on!

For me the "Karate Kid" type stuff works. It gets whatever exercise you are doing into your muscle memory so it is second nature. Then you can take that skill and apply it in different ways.
And speaking of karate kid, at school my professor had me take a 2x4 and just hammer it with my forging hammer on the anvil into splinters to get me to hit harder with control. When I finished, I asked what to do next and he said "well, sweep up that mess!"

Gerald Boggs's picture

Feral Metal, It's possible

Feral Metal, It's possible I'm over analyzing, but I don't think that's what I'm doing. More recognizing my cup is full and I need to drink some of the contents, before I put more into the cup.

Jake wrote "Although I may not be perfect at what I had just learned, I don't move on until I have a good grasp of the concept and technique."

That's part of my problem, I'm haven't even been getting a good grasp on the technique before I'm off to some thing new. As for my aspirations, I want to build the Chirk castle gates. Which, as I recall, includes just about every aspect of forge work :-)

Jake also wrote "I personally put more stock into enjoying what I do than being perfect at it"

Jake, I get my pleasure ( or maybe it's my obsession) from the pursuit of perfection. For years, I've pursued making the perfect cinnamon roll. I'm close, but not quite there. It's not the finished product which moves me, it's the process and doing it well. I don't care if it's a nail or a gate, forging it to perfection is my goal and pleasure. I'm not alone here, the Japanese are very much into the pursuit of perfection. I remember once watching a Japanese futon maker....everything and I mean everything had to be absolutely right. OK was not a option.

Will, I've actually be lucky this year with several jobs. One was a large hardware order which included 700 nails. I have gotten quite good at the movements of nail making. Now to work on speed and efficiency of movement. The same job also included 56 butterfly hinges, Both sides are the same, so not counting mistakes, I repeated the same set of movements 112 times. A summer job was making fire baskets balusters for an inside railing. So after forge welding 65 baskets together, I then scarfed and welded them to half inch stock. By the time I was done, I was pretty consistent in my forge welding. It's work like this, something that requires me to do the same task over and over again, that helps me develop my basic skills. What I want to do, is expand on this concept. Spend part of my time forging simple items, which let me do the same steps over and over again, but without the stress of it being part of a job. I'll still be taking commissions, but not as many. I trying to find a path that will let me take the commissions that pay my mortgage and at the same time, develop my skills.

You know, reading this, I just might be obsessing a wee bit :-)

Fair Winds

Feral Metal's picture

Gerald, I am sure you are

Gerald, I am sure you are going to enjoy every minute of your journey and I applaud your enthusiasm, you have set high standards for yourself, (no mechanical or electrical aid) which will take a toll on your body but reward you in other ways,it is not for me, but I wish you well.

Gerald Boggs's picture

No, I DO use electricity.

No, I DO use electricity. My forge blower is electric and for many small holes, really anything under a 1/4 inch, I drill. I even use a welder from time to time, sometimes a client wants a design that can only be done with more modern tools. But yes, most of the time I work sans modern tooling. Although after I textured sixty feet of 1 1/2 by 1/2 inch cap rail by hand, I really started to think about getting a small power hammer. :-)

Fair Winds

Jeremy K's picture

Gerald - good thread subject

I have found that very repetative movements lead to faster movements that lead to more precise movements, etc,etc. That holds true to a point. I welded in a production setting for a machine shop, my job was driven by the want(managment) to get my parts out as fast as possible. I found this process to be true and workable like I said to a point. That's all fine but as it's been said - we like to have fun also during the forging process - I do too. My goal in any forging is to set upon a decision to make or do a process and succeed. Granted I'm NOT the best and it may take more than one try many times to get it to my satisfaction, but eventually I get to were I want. During the whole time there may be a few grumbles, as I'm sure all of use have done, but I enjoy taking a stubbornly tough piece of steel and going against all it's wants and heating it up and shaping it the way I want it to be. This is a never ending learning process. - I love it - and will continue till I cannot forge ahead anymore. I think I'm rambling a bit - Keep on forging everyone and HAVE FUN!!! - JK