Forging competitors will say that the education gained through contest preparation exceeds whatever prize they could earn by winning a competition. Much of what they learn is through the preparation for a forging contest. Although the practice of shoe- or toolmaking gets much of the competitor’s attention, packing for that contest shouldn’t be overlooked.

Oxford, Pa., farrier Andrew Neilson has a disciplined approach during contest preparation. How he packs for the contest is equally meticulous. I stopped by his home shop as he practiced and packed prior to the World Championship Blacksmiths (WCB) competition at the Goshen Stampede in Connecticut.

Andrew Neilson (right) practices with fellow contestant Marc Condrey of Bumpass, Va.

Neilson says that he packs all of the tools he needs — and perhaps extra tools in case of an emergency like a busted pritchel. That peace of mind from tool selection ensures his overall time and financial commitment.

“I’m always overweight with my tools in checked luggage,” he says. “But I’ll pay that extra money to make sure I have what I need at the contest.”

After his final practice session, Neilson will select a shoe or tool he made from each class. For example, this latest WCB event featured a draft hind, a fuller (with a pre-made handle) and a pair of navicular shoes. The fuller had to be made and then use to make the draft hind shoe.

Neilson will then place that challenge specimen on the shop floor and start placing the tools he used with making the appropriate shoe or tool. There is little crossover between the same tool used for multiple classes. Prior to this, he has already marked the class on the tool using a silver Sharpie so his selection time is later minimized.

Neilson uses a silver Sharpie to write the class on each tool he will use it in.
Neilson starts to sort his tools for the individual classes with the specimens.

Once all of the class challenges and tools are matched, he’ll examine each tool and give each a retooling if necessary.

Everything sorted, ready for retooling and packing for competition at the Goshen Stampede.

Looking at the shop whiteboards, Neilson reviews the tips on each class. Neilson’s notes show the same meticulous nature of his practices and how he packs. When the competition gets underway on Friday, Neilson will be ready to go. He’ll be ready because Neilson made the time to make sure his tools will be present and ready for the competition too.

Neilson's whiteboard shows measurements he's made through the practice sessions.