Waltham, Massachusetts, U.S.A. – I realized a longtime dream this fall when I began to learn blacksmithing, a hobby that allows for focus and relaxation throughout a busy school year.
Working with my hands has always been rewarding for me. Now, blacksmithing at Prospect Hill Forge – about an hour from where I study – adds a new dimension.
Early on in my life, my parents enrolled me in art classes taught by my neighbors Bob and Diane. Bob was a retired electrical engineer with a woodshop who taught me to work with circuits and showed me around wood, while Diane was a painter who taught me to draw, paint and bake.
Simultaneously, I read many, many fantasy books. I enjoyed stories about dragons and knights and I wanted to play swords with my friends.
Understanding this wish and being the kind man that he was, Bob had me design wooden swords on paper that he’d then cut, dulled, on his bandsaw.
In cutting these swords he gave my friends and I the opportunity to play swords with one another and inspired my creativity. Not only did I draw and paint more, as both Bob and Diane encouraged, I went on to learn woodworking, wheel throwing, leatherworking and now, blacksmithing.
Starting out in blacksmithing was difficult. Forges are few and far between. Costs are high and grants are few. I knew this, so I began applying for grants in the beginning of the summer. I ended the summer with the longest few email chains of my life and a grant from the Northwest Blacksmith Association to fund my study.
I typically go blacksmithing on the weekends and tend to set aside a whole day for it. I learned to make a steel bottle opener in the first class.
I sweated in the hot studio where the fire blazed. I hammered at the long rod of steel and I hammered for hours. My forearms quickly became tired and progress was slow.
Despite all this – despite the heat, the exhaustion and the hours of meticulous, effortful work – blacksmithing felt meditative.
Being a college student is difficult. My mind is constantly on – there’s endless homework and endless thinking to be done. It feels unreasonable to take out time to do “nothing” when so much must be done. It also seems unreasonable to not do so.
Throughout my life, I’ve tried to solve this problem by working with my hands. The practice is relaxing, allowing my mind to rest while still allowing me to feel productive.
It’s nice to stain wood and to burnish leathercraft. These practices help me focus on doing a single task well. Blacksmithing has been both another outlet that provides similar relaxation and one that is degrees far above the other hobbies I’ve learned.
It is the requirement of focused and physically coordinated movement, so inversely related to the dynamic of my schoolwork, that allows the hobby to be especially relaxing for me.
As I continue blacksmithing, I hope to continue using it as a meditative outlet and to, one day, return the favor to Bob and make him a sword.
Danish Bajwa is a Senior Reporter with Youth Journalism International