A Blacksmithing Impression by Michael Skilton

I spent four lovely days 9/10-9/13 in the blacksmith shop at Tillers International in Scotts Michigan (near Kalamazoo). I had been looking for a blacksmithing workshop for awhile and stumbled across Tillers online a few weeks ago. Looking at the class schedule I saw that blacksmithing I and II were being offered back to back only occasionally and one was coming up quick. Perfect! Except at online checkout the second section was showing sold out. I thought, well I’ll call and get on a waiting list. The person I spoke with said the class wasn’t actually full and I signed up on the spot. While on the phone I was asked about lodging. I hadn’t taken the time to carefully look over the website and didn’t know about the guest house options. All that was available was a shared room and I declined.

I arrived about an hour late the first day, having completely forgotten about the time zone change from Chicago. The group had just finished introductions and gotten their handouts and were just heading down to the shop from the main house. I quickly got caught up and we jumped right into instruction. John, our teacher, was excellent. He has a very paced and pleasant demeanor and took the time to make sure everyone had an opportunity to ask questions and see what he was demonstrating. I felt completely comfortable right away.

The Blacksmith Shop at Tillers

The Blacksmith Shop at Tillers

The instruction was project based. Each project built on and added to previous skills. John gave clear demonstrations and then walked around the room helping and advising as needed. If we finished early we were encouraged to work on something of our own and there were plenty of materials available. When the group was ready, we moved on to the next project. I learned a lot from just watching an expert blacksmith at work, especially if I was having trouble with a particular technique.

The shop is very cool in its own right. A timber framed building with 6 coal forges and 12 anvils and lots of other tooling and materials. It didn’t feel crowded with a full class of 12 students. A hot lunch was provided each day. The food was excellent and plentiful. It was served family style in the main house where folks gathered from all over the farm. There is table seating for 30+ and it was easy and comfortable.

So that’s the nuts and bolts. Here’s a bit of my overall impression of the place. To start with the farm is absolutely gorgeous, very peaceful and to a city boy also quite large. It was obvious from the number of people at lunch that there was so much more going on besides the blacksmithing class.

Low impact rural efficiency was visible all around the place. A version of reduce, reuse and recycle quite different than the modern media version. More like: we will use what’s right here because its right here and we can make that work and work well. Rural efficiency, directly in line with their mission. Everyone I met was warm and friendly and an easy going but practical vibe is what I got. Next time I attend a class I will hopefully stay at the guest house and make a point of seeing the rest of the property, especially the museum.

Then there is their international mission. I didn’t get a chance to learn a lot about what they are currently involved in and that portion of the website appears to be out of date. I would have liked it if there had been a presentation on what they are doing right now and what their future plans are.

If you’re thinking about visiting I encourage you to take the time to carefully look over everything on the website. Look at the whole catalog of classes. It’s an impressive list and gives a real sense of what is happening there. Good people doing good work.

Michael Skilton

9/19/2015

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