The Real Poop
Blacksmiths? Do those even still exist? Believe it or not, a "blacksmith" is more than just the most coveted role at a Renaissance festival. (It's true. Despite the fun hats, there aren't actually that many Renaissance performers clamoring to be jesters—which would clearly be the next most coveted position.)
In fact, interest in blacksmithing has risen over the last couple of years, as some people are starting to shy away from mass-produced objects in favor of finely crafted decorative art for their homes. Maybe they're just feeling Pottery Barn-ed half to death. Or maybe there's just something to be said for handiwork that's actually made by, you know, hands.
Now, don't let our chat about the resurgence of blacksmithing fool you. It's still a niche market, and as with many niche markets, there's not exactly a fortune to be made from working inside of it—unless you're physically forging gold coins, that is. Nationally, blacksmiths average just $35,900 a year (source).
Of course, that's just an average, and where you fall on the pay spectrum is going to depend highly on what you actually do all day. Some blacksmiths go into architectural design. These "smiths" use iron to make things like fences, window bars, and furniture, and are usually hired by people looking for unique furnishings or replica historical decorations.
Historical blacksmiths are similar, but fabricate iron and steel works using traditional methods. If you've ever been to a historic area or outdoor museum like Colonial Williamsburg, you've probably seen a historical blacksmith forging iron on top of an anvil. (Yes, the thing Wile E. Coyote is always trying to use to crush the Roadrunner does have an actual purpose.)
Loving history is an obvious must for this line of work and, because historical blacksmiths often do their work in front of an audience, being a people person with a penchant for showmanship doesn't hurt much either.
A weaponsmith, which may seem slightly obvious, is a blacksmith who makes weapons. These weapons can be fashioned to match historical, modern, or fantasy weapons, but aren't really used in battle these days. Modern soldiers might look cool rushing enemy combatants with a broadsword, but we wouldn't like their chances. Instead, weaponsmiths make most of their money from places like film production companies, museums, and historical parks.
Turning ingots into gothic fence caps or Viking battleaxes may sound like fun, but it's not a trade you can learn overnight. Plus, it's not like there are open forges with complimentary pools of molten metal just lying around for you to practice with.
Luckily, there are numerous schools, programs, and educational institutions that teach the blacksmith trade, and generally they come equipped with all the tools and knowhow you'll need to melt, hammer, and cool with the pros.
That said, not all the work is done in front of a roaring fire. Modern blacksmiths might create designs with computer software, employ contemporary welding systems, or even use power hammers to get the job done. (A power hammer is exactly what it sounds like, and exactly as much fun to use as you'd expect.)
Do you want a job where, depending on the mood you're in, you can make decorative items, tools, architectural elements, or weapons? A career as a blacksmith might be for you. Don't worry—not every blacksmith has to wear that blousy shirt and vest. After all, you can't believe everything you see at the Faire.