John grew up on the family land outside Murfreesboro. The process by which he became a blacksmith apprentice, and where he did so, is a mystery. Becoming a smith required many years of careful study and dedication. In the 1800s, master blacksmiths who had worked in the trade most of their lives took young apprentices into their homes and workshops. Apprentices would be educated, fed, and clothed in exchange for assisting master blacksmiths in their shops and learning alongside them.
Most apprentices during this time worked under a contract or learned from relatives skilled in the trade. But there are no clear candidates for blacksmith-relatives for John. Neither John’s nor Emma’s families seem to have included any blacksmiths. (There were two brothers named Baker (John and Charles) who had a shop in Clarksville from at least 1875 until it closed (after a bad fire) in 1882. But that was long before John was ready to apprentice and, besides, there is no evidence of a relationship to John or his father. Interestingly, when John started his first shop in 1894, it was in the same place as the Baker Brothers had worked a decade before.)
So presumably John apprenticed outside the family. In Murfreesboro, there were two or three possible places in town to do so. But at the time John would have apprenticed there was a very busy carriage-making industry in Clarksville, and so it is likely he apprenticed there. Based on his early work life, John seemed to have specialized in building and repairing horse-drawn carriages.