PORTLAND, Maine — Did you have any idea what you wanted to do for a living when you were fourteen years old? For Sam Smith, inspiration struck the day his mother took him to a blacksmith shop.

“I spent the entire day there,” he recalls. “And that day I volunteered to be an apprentice, and I’ve been a blacksmith ever since.” Talk about a snap decision. One day he’s in a blacksmith shop, the next day he’s an apprentice, and since the apprenticeship ended he’s been a professional, now working out of a forge in Waterboro and producing handmade ironwork, everything from keychains and coat hooks to balconies and spiral staircases.

Maine has, according to Smith, fewer than a half dozen professional blacksmiths, but that number is a bit deceiving. Interest in the craft is surprisingly strong. Nearly 100 students learn from Smith over the course of a year, not with the idea of becoming full-time smiths, but so they can pick up some skills and practice the craft as a hobby. It gives Smith real pleasure to share the knowledge he’s accumulated since he first swung a hammer onto an anvil twenty-one years ago. This is part of the blacksmith’s code--keeping alive traditions that have been around for centuries. “You turn the lights off, you take all the modern tools away from me, I can still do my job,” he says with evident pride. “It’s just going to take a little more time. That’s the key we want to maintain.”