Working Iron: A Primer on Blacksmithing

by Darren Bush on July 14, 2011 · 83 comments

in Manly Skills, Projects

This post is part of a series brought to you by RAM. For more information about RAM Series trucks visit us at: http://www.ramtrucks.com/en/guts_and_glory/. What’s this?

Visit a living history site and there will be a crowd around the blacksmith.  It pulls people in…How does he do that?

150 years ago most census records showed that a fifth of the respondents listed their occupation as blacksmith, including my 3rd great-grandfather, Roger Farrer.  I don’t know what Grampa Farrer fabricated every day, but if he was like most smiths, he was making everything.  Horseshoes were a small part of the job.  He was more likely fabricating or repairing a farm implement, making hardware like hinges or pulleys, or even something as mundane as nails.  The box of nails we buy at the hardware store for a few dollars were once made one at a time–by hand.

The methods Grampa Farrer used are essentially unchanged.  I call them the Three Hs: Heating, Holding and Hitting.

Since most people don’t know a blacksmith, I get a lot of questions about the trade.  Even strangers walking past my shop (the half of my garage) stop at the sound of hammers on steel and sheepishly wait for me to see them since I’m wearing hearing protection. I usually stop and answer questions, especially if there are children in the group.

“Where’s the coal?”

Many blacksmiths still use coal, and there are good reasons for it. You can get fast heats, and a skilled smith can manipulate the heat along a long piece of steel.  The downside is that coal’s dirty, which is fine if you have a detached shop.  I use propane because it’s clean, relatively inexpensive, and the neighbors downwind don’t need respirators.

“Where do you get steel?”

From a steelyard. We have lumberyards for lumber, and steelyards for steel.  While lumberyards are fairly common in most places, steelyards are harder to find as they rarely cater to the public at large, mostly because no one in the public at large wants a 20’ piece of hot-rolled 5/8” diameter A36 steel rod.  They’re usually found in industrial parks and such.  Mine is a family-owned fourth-generation business, and they’re wonderfully kind to a guy who spends little money there compared to the trucker loading a flatbed with tons of steel tubing.

“How hot does it get?”

Very hot.  1400 degrees, big F.  I can make it hotter or colder, but I usually keep it right around there.  Welding heat and tool steel can require more heat.

Then there’s the statement:  “I bet it feels really good to pound out all your frustrations…”

No, indeed. Hitting hard is part of the equation, but hitting accurately is more important.  If a blacksmith is frustrated, he oughta go punch a bag until he gets over it, then go work at the anvil.  More on that later.

Below I discuss the very basics of getting started in blacksmithing. You probably won’t be able to start blacksmithing right after reading this, but hopefully it will pique your interest enough to look more into this manly skill and trade. First, we’ll take a look at the basic tools you need to get started with blacksmithing. We’ll end by showing you the three fundamental ways of hitting hot metal in order to shape it.

The Tools

You need four basic things:  A thing to heat your work, a thing to hold your work, a thing to put under your work, and a thing to apply forces to your work.

A Thing to Heat Your Work

Here's my small forge.

You heat your work with a forge.  Forges need fuel and air, and lots of it.  Whether it’s a coke forge  (coke is a material made from coal) with bellows or a propane forge with a fan, the basic idea is to apply heat to a piece of metal.  Propane allows a little more control, although a master blacksmith can make a coke forge heat the work to a perfect temperature.  Many (like me) use propane for its convenience and cleanliness.

You can do a lot with a smaller forge.  It wastes less energy and heats more quickly.  A coke forge has an advantage here as it can be scaled easily, making the fire larger or smaller depending upon your work.

A blacksmith from the 18th century would have killed for an acetylene torch.  The techniques for applying heat in small areas with a forge required amazing skills and several assistants helping to position and cool the work where heat wasn’t wanted.  A good torch, both for cutting and for heating, is critical.  The rosebud tip on my acetylene torch puts out 40,000 BTUs.  For reference, our furnace puts out 60,000 to heat our entire house.  So yeah…a lot of heat in a small space.  That makes isolating decorative twists in metal much easier.

An acetylene torch in action. I'm heating the metal with the torch to make a twist.

A Thing to Hold Your Work

You hold things with tongs, vises, or clamps.  As my dear mentor Larry says, “If you can’t hold it, you can’t hit it.” Tongs are primary, and a good smithy (the place a blacksmith works) has many tongs for holding various shapes.  A tong that’s good for a ½” square rod will fail if you try to hold a ¼” round rod.  Holding a flat piece of stock requires a different tong.

Different kinds of tongs for holding different shapes of metal.

A good vise is a godsend.  If you buy a vise at Home Depot, I guarantee it would disintegrate within five minutes of the abuse I pile upon my Welton.  Tools are not cheap, nor should they be.  In this case, I’m holding an ice chisel made for a friend.

Clamps are also critical, especially if welding something that needs to be squared and flat.  Holding something square or flat is tough without a large, stable surface and a method to stabilize it.

A Thing to Put Under Your Work

The something under the work is usually the anvil.  A good anvil is critical to successful work.  There are $200 anvils out there, and they’re good for boat anchors or something to be dropped on roadrunners.

My anvil cost the most of any tool I have except my Miller 251 welder, and it was a close one on that.  American-forged, the Rat Hole is a fantastically designed tool.  It has two holes on it, the pritchel and the hardy (sometimes hardie) hole.

A pritchel is used for punching through a piece of metal, as you need a place for the slug to go when you get through the piece of work.  It stabilizes the main piece of work so it doesn’t distort too much when you start punching.

The hardy holds a number of cool tools like a V-block, useful for putting a bend in a piece of stock, like making the curvature of a leaf, etc.  It can hold a swage for putting an edge on a piece of stock or making a notch in a piece of flat stock.

There is an upsetting block on the back side (a very nice feature) and of course, the horn, which is the pointy part used for curving metal.

A Thing to Hit Your Work

We’re talking hammers here. You can skimp on tools in different places, and you’ll always be sorry, but that’s doubly true with hammers and anvils.  The variety of shapes, weights and head styles will become obvious shortly.

There are many more tools that make life easier and more productive, but this is an introduction. More technical stuff will come down the road, like power hammers.  I love/lust power hammers.

Shaping Metal

When working with hot steel, the best analogy I’ve used is that metal becomes a lot like clay when heated.  Your job is to shape it like you would clay.  To make things long and skinny, you can grab a piece of clay and stretch it, and it just breaks.  Unfortunately, it takes a bit more work than that to stretch a piece of metal. Steel is not Silly Putty.

You use basic forces to move your metal.  To make a long, skinny piece out of a short fat piece, you squeeze the sides of the metal, and turn the work.  If you take a square of clay and squeeze it on the four sides repeatedly, it eventually becomes a long, thin polygon.

There are three fundamental ways to apply force (again, there are more, but we’re keeping it simple).

Drawing Out This is the basic idea behind the cube of clay.  Hit the metal on four sides again and again and it draws out into a longer piece.  One of the quintessential applications of this is to make a nail point, where you create a four-sided pyramid by repeatedly hitting and turning your work, but using the hammer to angle the tip rather than hitting it flat. This is how old blacksmiths made their nails.

Upsetting This is applying force to the end of a piece of work to “mushroom” the metal out to add volume to a piece.  If you’re making a piece that needs some heft on an end, like a wide chisel, you use upsetting.

Peining.  This is applying force to move the metal in a certain direction. You can move the metal in one direction or you can spread it in all directions. If you karate chop a piece of clay, it spreads out away from your hand parallel to the axis of your hand.  If you take a fist and hit it, it spreads out in all directions.

The little ball on the back of your hammer is called a ball-pein.  It’s designed to move metal out in all directions.  See?  Useful.  I use a small ball-pein hammer for riveting through two pieces of metal to tie them together.  The little mushroom you see on a metal rivet is the result of a ball-pein.

There are other types of peins, like a cross-pein, to spread metal out on one axis–like karate chopping that piece of clay.  If I am making a leaf on a piece of stock, I will often cross-pein it to give the leaf more width.  Willow leaf: not cross-peined.  Aspen leaf: cross-peined.

Let’s apply some of these simple forces.   Here are a few examples.

Drawing Out:

We start with a piece of 3/8″ square stock.  Get it hot.

First, we upset using a flat hammer, a pretty heavy one, 1000g, or 2.2 pounds.  The larger the hammer, the greater the force applied per hit.  Sledges will make short work of a small piece. Drop a ten pound weight on a piece of clay: squish.  I scale the hammer to the work size.

We’ll create a nail point by drawing out.

I had already put a twist in the work: ignore it for now.  I work at the edge of the anvil here, to allow me to put a fine point on the work.  I then turned the work 45 degrees and put another edge to make an octagon.  Take the edges off the octagon and you have 16 edges.  Continue, and you have a cone, but here I left edges to accentuate the twisting.

It takes multiple heats sometimes, meaning you’ll have to re-heat the metal in the forge so you can keep shaping it. Don’t hit the work when it’s cold…it can create a cold shunt that weakens the work.  A cold shunt is where the hot and cold parts shear and create a weak spot. That’s no bueno.

Upsetting:

This is where we add volume to an end to start something like a chisel.  It’s a little tougher because tool steel requires more heat and is harder at lower temps.  Simply using the weight of the piece works quite well.  You can also upset at the edge of the anvil, driving metal back toward yourself.  Small, not huge hits move metal better and under more control.  See how it’s starting to mushroom out?

Peining:

Here I’m spreading the ends of a piece of stock to make a set of drawer pulls for my wife.  A lot of the curtain rods, drawer pulls, and candlesticks in my house were made in the shop, and she wanted to have some pulls for the bathroom.  I used a ball-pein here to move the metal, then smoothed it out with the flat face of a hammer.

Then I roll over the edge, put a few bends in the work and voila, drawer pull.

A few other notes:

The essence of blacksmithing is not so much strength as control.  Yes, you need to “get it hot and hit it hard” sometimes, especially with larger work, but the trick is to hit the metal where you want, as hard as you want as accurately as you want.  When I first started working with metal more than a decade ago, my mentor drew an X on the anvil.  “Hit there, move your work.”  Chasing your work will result in a ruined piece or at least some cut marks, caused by hitting with the edge of a hammer and not the face.

There is a Zen-like beauty to having that sort of power and at the same time, that sort of control.  Like everything worthwhile, it comes with time and practice.  If your mind is cluttered, turn off the forge, clean your shop, and go back in the house.  Clear mind means good work.  I can tell when I make something if I was distracted.  It goes in the scrap bucket for another day.  Which leads me to…

There are no mistakes Unlike wood, where you can cut it three times and it’s still too short, metal is recyclable. If a piece is botched, wait and give it another chance.

I once made a drive hook, a combination nail and hook that log cabin dwellers used to hang up their stuff.  I realized when I had finished it that the nail was facing the hook.  Worthless, I threw it on the ground and walked out into the cool night air.  I was beating myself up for a lack of mindfulness.  My wise and loving mentor, Larry, walked outside and stood with me for a moment.  “There are no mistakes,” he said in his lovely Alabama drawl.  We went inside, he heated the hook with a torch and gave it a few twists, ending with the nail pointing in the proper direction.  It was actually more beautiful than the original.

There are no mistakes. And there are second chances, in metal and in men.

P.S.  Some of the pictures here show a mess. Ignore it, please.  It’s not always like that.  My shop ends at the anvil.

P.P.S Like I said at the beginning, this was a very basic primer. I plan on following up with specifics in later posts. That is, if you all are interested.

{ 83 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Eric Forrer July 14, 2011 at 3:01 pm

So my last name is Forrer and we had several blacksmiths in our family too. I think, if I remember right Farrer and Forrer are a germanic derivation of ferrier. Anyhow, cool post.

2 Jack Jonasson July 14, 2011 at 3:21 pm

Such an interesting post! I wanted to try blacksmithying for a long time, and as always you did a broad, detailed primer! Great work, would love to see more of it!

3 akissfromthepast blog July 14, 2011 at 3:28 pm

This is brilliant site! i love the design!

4 Seth July 14, 2011 at 3:37 pm

I’ve been hoping for some blacksmithing articles. Hooray!

5 Kerry July 14, 2011 at 3:42 pm

This brings back memories of Mr. Grinndell, my old shop teacher.

He loved metal working and if I remember right, that is where he kept me, teaching me how to repair the tools the other guys were breaking. Boring at the time and obviously I missed the message. The only hard pounding I do all day is on this stupid keyboard.

Thanks for the awsome article, and the PSS!

6 Dom July 14, 2011 at 3:46 pm

I have always enjoyed working with metal, but only had the chance to work with steel sheets and rods. This article made me want to try out blacksmithing even more so.

7 Matt Reeder July 14, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Very good read. I’ve come across several blacksmithing articles over the years, and they always suck me in. Must be that same phenomenon you mention at the start of the article. Must be the lure of a man (or woman, as the case may be) creating something from nothing that draws us like moths to a forge, er, flame.

8 Zach W. July 14, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Awesome article, I look forward to more!

9 Jared July 14, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Beautiful posting! Please, do continue… I know I’ll never become a blacksmith, but I love reading about craftsmen explaining their arts.

10 Walt July 14, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Taking my first class this Sunday!

Great article, I hope the series continues.

11 Andrew#2 July 14, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Cool post.

Farrer/ferrier/ferrer: the guy that shoes horses, ergo the blacksmith. It’s neat how that stuff runs in families even when it skips a few generations.

12 wesley July 14, 2011 at 4:34 pm

i work at a computer like a lot people. sometimes i wonder how anything got done without computers. now i know. they used fire and hammers. dammit thats awesome.

13 O'Keefe July 14, 2011 at 4:56 pm

Fascinating article.
The art of the smith is a most legendary manly skill, and I am delighted to see it given its proper due.
Keep it up!

14 Matthew B July 14, 2011 at 5:01 pm

I would love to here more about how to get in to metalworking.
thanks for the post

15 Mohkev July 14, 2011 at 5:21 pm

Great article. Please continue the series.

16 Matthew July 14, 2011 at 5:27 pm

My dad was a farrier (one who shoes horses). As such I grew up watching him work steel. He had a small forge similar to the one shown in the pictures and a farrier’s anvil (which only had the horn and was flat on the back-end). Though he needed it for shaping/making shoes, I also remember him making knives, handles, drive hooks, dinner bells, and many other things.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane! I only wish I still had his equipment.

17 thomas July 14, 2011 at 7:24 pm

loved it! I wish I could try something like that!

18 Luke A. July 14, 2011 at 7:44 pm

There’s a good chance that you CAN try it.
Some cities and towns send out a little booklet with adult classes listed in them.
Check with your local SCA ( http://www.sca.org ).
Google the word “forge” or “blacksmith” along with your zip code.
You just might find a local smithy. If you’re lucky, they’ll offer classes.
Those classes can be expensive, but the starter classes may be just affordable enough to get you hooked.
I live in Waltham, MA. There’s a forge right down the street from me. My first class was only $30. We got several hours of instruction, the loan of safety wear, and made a really cool iron S-Hook. I’ve been back several times since.

19 Lee E July 14, 2011 at 9:34 pm

Heat it and beat it…

20 Darren July 14, 2011 at 10:47 pm

Nice comments, thanks. I’m sure I’ll be doing more on specific aspects of blacksmithing as time allows. If you have ideas I’m always interested. I know EVERYONE wants to know about knives. If you’re in the Midwest and want to see the shop, drop me a note. I always have room at the anvil. I’m in Madison, Wisconsin.

The John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina has wonderful week-long courses. If you get it bad, it’s awesome. Beware — blacksmithing is highly addicting.

21 Douglas July 14, 2011 at 10:56 pm

I’ve been cutting and cold-bending motorcycle parts for myself and for friends for a few years now… mostly license plate mounts and various brackets. Metalwork is intensely rewarding… Recently I’ve been looking into casting. Funny how it does run in families… Gow is a family name, Gaelic for smith. GREAT article. Keep ‘em coming!

22 Mike July 14, 2011 at 11:40 pm

Check out http://www.iforgeiron.com
a forum group dedicated to blacksmithing
and http://www.anvilfire.com
for lots of information on blacksmithing.
It’s a fair amount of scrounging metal parts (brake drums, bar stock) but you can bolt things together as well as weld them.
took a couple months to gather these parts, drill and bolt them together to make a forge
http://www.flickr.com/photos/10735775@N04/966853445/in/photostream
a big piece of I beam made a decent anvil till I found a real one.

Mike

23 Doug H July 15, 2011 at 12:09 am

I love the post! I’ve always wanted to learn because my mother’s maiden name is Smith. There was always a picture of a blacksmith shop over the couch at Grandma and Grandpa Smith’s house. When my grandmother passed away my younger brother got the picture that I always admired. I later found one very similar at a yard sale for $4 and turns out it is worth over $500. I have looked into blacksmith schools and will hopefully take the week long class at the John C. Campbell Folks school soon.

24 Ivan K. July 15, 2011 at 12:34 am

AOM has been right up my alley in the last few posts: zombies, etiquette, AND blacksmithing all in one week. Call me a happy camper. More blacksmithing stuff, please! I’d love to get into this as a devoted hobby once I’m no longer in apartment-living-land. Many thanks to the writer of this article.

25 Michael H July 15, 2011 at 12:57 am

Darren, you’re obviously well aware of your skills with metal working, but i’d like to offer kudos on your subtly-comic writing style. I was laughing out loud by the time i read “There are $200 anvils out there, and they’re good for boat anchors or something to be dropped on roadrunners”
Keep up the good work. I know i’m not the only one out there who appreciates a clever, dry wit.

MVH

26 Mike July 15, 2011 at 3:09 am

One cannot be any manlier than a blacksmith. I am not sure if I missed it in your article, but do you do this as a profession or a hobby?

27 james July 15, 2011 at 5:42 am

I tried a one day blacksmithing course and loved it. Its somthing i’d like to try out for a hobby but its trying to get the workspace and the tools together. but im planning on doing a weekend course next year.

28 Darren July 15, 2011 at 7:34 am

Michael H, you’re a sick man. :-)

Mike, it’s my hobby. By profession I’m an epidemiologist/statistician turned business owner — I sell canoes and kayaks to unsuspecting victims).

Other Mike: good links. You might also Google ABANA (Artisan Blacksmith Association of North America). They have a biannual conference, and it is SO fun… Also — an i-beam, piece of railroad tie, etc,, are all excellent substitutes for an anvil until you drive past a barn sale and pick up a nice. refurbishable anvil for a hundred bucks. And routinely liberate leaf springs from dumpsters for tool steel. :-)

You all have inspired me. Time to hook up the forge (despite the heat and humidity). I need to make some more drawer pulls.

29 Darren July 15, 2011 at 7:35 am

Excuse the typos in the previous comment. it iz erly in the mornign fro me.

30 yates July 15, 2011 at 7:48 am

Great post!

As a blacksmith for nearly 10 years I would have appreciated much of this knowledge as i began! I would also add that drinking milk can greatly help to remove impurities from smoke that get in your body.

Keep them coming!

31 westicles July 15, 2011 at 8:36 am

Awesome! Keep this series…

How ’bout for the next blacksmithing article you show how you would make the ultimate zombie killing weapon?

32 Rob M July 15, 2011 at 8:46 am

Awesome article. I’ve been researching Blacksmithing and home foundries for while. I’m hoping to build a small shop in the backyard to start this as a hobby. I would definitely be interested in further articles. Also, the links provided in the comments will definitely help with further research. Now to find a scrapyard and steelyard relatively near by.

PS: Also good tip regarding coal vs propane. I had been thinking of a coal forge, but with my neighbors so close, I may look at a propane one instead.

33 TomH July 15, 2011 at 9:05 am

This was a very good coverage of the basics. It makes me want to give it a serious try. I do have to disagree with your take on the “getting one’s frustrations out”. Many years ago, my brother-in-lay, a farrier, helped me make a few simple items with he forge. I agree it is true that you won’t achieve anything if you are merely beating metal out of anger,angst, or frustration. I found in my experience that the act of focusing on a task, excluded all other nagging thoughts related to dealing with life in general, coupled with the physical act of hitting hot metal with purpose and precision left me in the most stress free state and with a joyful tiredness that comes from good clean honest work, than I had ever felt before, or since.

34 Nick Woods July 15, 2011 at 9:28 am

By all means, please write more about your work! My very brief foray into smithing ended when I moved away from the shop I was allowed to use, but I’m still very interested in the topic. Thank you for sharing your craft!

35 Erik July 15, 2011 at 10:22 am

Good article! I’d like to see more projects in the next post!

36 Jason July 15, 2011 at 10:43 am

Thanks for the primer on smithing, even though it is very basic & I already knew the material, it NEVER gets old. Especially when it’s well written.
If you’re considering it as a hobby, it’s hard to find one more rewarding & energizing & exhausting. :)
For those trying to decide between coal/gas, one more thing to keep in mind, w/ gas the whole forge heats up & any part of your metal inside it does as well, whereas w/ coal you have more control, since you can cover just the section you want hot w/ coal & control the heat on your metal. FWIW

37 Brandon July 15, 2011 at 10:43 am

So what are costs then? You say a $200 anvil is good for a boat anchor…does that mean go cheaper? Or go more expensive? Confusing.

38 Grant B. July 15, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Blacksmithing is awesome. My friend in highschool got me into it when I was about 16. His grandpa had been a blacksmith a long time ago. Living in the appalachians, I use local coal and have actually dug my own coal for forging. Rail Road spikes hammerout to make great knives/tomahawks.

I would advice rookies to get a second hand,used anvil because their going to beat big dents into any new anvil they get because they havnt learned how to hammer right yet. New anvils can cost a ton of money…so you dont want to ruin a brand new one.You can usually get a good used anvil for about $1/pound.

Coal definitely will drive you neighbours looney because it will belch huge plumes of green and orange smoke plus the added stench of sulfur…but I always use coal because how of the added manly aspect of smoke,hot fire,and the smells. Wood charcoal is great also. The japanese have been forging their swords from wood charcoal for thousands of years because they have no coal reserves.
I also advice all guys to grow facial hair BUT for forging, keep it to a minimum. A piece of slag jumping off hot steel could set your face on fire.

39 Ed Dorrington July 15, 2011 at 12:59 pm

Great article! It’s inspiring me to get back into metal working. If you’re in the Bay Area, a fantastic, though somewhat pricy, place to learn is The Crucible (http://thecrucible.org/).

40 Mike Herbst July 15, 2011 at 1:41 pm

@Brandon,

NEW good anvils are considerably more than $200. Often a LOT more.
For example, I’d love the 115lb anvil from this company:
http://oldworldanvils.com/anvils/bulgarian.html
And when I win the lottery, I’ll get this one:
http://oldworldanvils.com/anvils/habermann.html

The main problem with anvils is how they’re made. You want a good face hardness so that you get good use of the hammer energy and good rebound. Cheap anvils from places like Harbor Freight (often called ASOs (anvil shaped objects) in the online smithing community) are relatively soft, so you have to work a lot harder when you’re hitting things. They can also crack relatively easily if you’re working them hard.

On the other hand, a used good anvil that just needs some cleanup could be had at the right estate sale of someone who owned a barn for a steal. I picked up a 70lb farriers anvil (good for lightweight work, suffers when I start doing heavy stuff) off of craigslist for $50. I’ve heard stories of others finding good 150 pounders for the same price, but then there’s the odd story of excessive pitting or cracking that is harder to repair.

Then there’s the problem of weight. Heavier anvils are generally better, especially if you’re working with heavy stock. People used to use $1-$2/lb as a good metric, you can see from the above links that for new anvils, we’re WAY past that now.

41 Steve July 15, 2011 at 2:03 pm

This was great! Looking forward to the next installment.

42 Nick M. July 15, 2011 at 5:19 pm

great article. keep em coming

43 Meredith July 15, 2011 at 7:32 pm

The Forge
by Seamus Heaney

All I know is a door into the dark.
Outside, old axles and iron hoops rusting;
Inside, the hammered anvil’s short-pitched ring,
The unpredictable fantail of sparks
Or hiss when a new shoe toughens in water.
The anvil must be somewhere in the centre,
Horned as a unicorn, at one end and square,
Set there immoveable: an altar
Where he expends himself in shape and music.
Sometimes, leather-aproned, hairs in his nose,
He leans out on the jamb, recalls a clatter
Of hoofs where traffic is flashing in rows;
Then grunts and goes in, with a slam and flick
To beat real iron out, to work the bellows.

44 Luis July 15, 2011 at 8:01 pm

This may be weird but…. have you made swords? I think that would be awesome.

45 Steve July 15, 2011 at 11:21 pm

Great article on blacksmithing – please post more!

46 Justin Massey July 16, 2011 at 2:19 am

Fantastic! I have always been interested in the art of the hammer, and I am very glad to finally see an article about it. As soon as I’m out of school, I want to start learning the trade. I’ve had a vague interest in barbering and haberdashing, and I have always been happy to read articles about them, but my interest in blacksmithery has always been much more prevalent.
I definitely would like to see more articles! Specifically, a Getting Started, going about acquiring the tools and skills needed, even though this article does touch on that quite a bit. Thank you for the fantastic primer!

47 Keith VanDyke July 16, 2011 at 7:13 pm

I’ve always loved watching a blacksmith do his (her?) work. I, myself, hahe done Ironwork for most of my life. Close, but not the same, while both shape metals, the work that I did was more cutting and welding. Altho the satisfaction is equal, its kinda nice to make a peice of metal do what you want.

48 Scott W. July 16, 2011 at 9:54 pm

This was fantastic. I can’t wait for more in the series.

As a mechanical engineering, I’ve been on the lookout (not really hard or I probably would have found one by now) a copy of the Machinery’s Handbook Volume 1. Why? Because it is basically a guide to blacksmithing. What a great resource and most interesting ready on the history of machining, tool design & fabrication, and general engineering concepts.

49 Scott W. July 16, 2011 at 9:55 pm

That was supposed to be “most interesting READ, not READY.”

50 Brian Splash July 16, 2011 at 10:19 pm

While out for lunch yesterday , l wandered into an antique store and low and behold theres a 100 + year old anvil for sale for under 1000 bucks , and this was a high end store in town , so they are out there .
BTW l am in Melbourne Australia , so if anyone in my hood that is looking for said item , its in a shop on high st Armadale , half way down the strip shops on the north side , would give you the name of the shop , only l do not know , anyway wheres the fun in that , happy hunting .

51 Adolph July 17, 2011 at 6:46 am

Awesome site, great article, another really cool resource is:
http://www.anvilfire.com/iForge/ – its got lots of “how-to’s”

52 Ryan July 17, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Great article. Kept me interested the entire time. I have always been interested in smithing since I used to watch my grandfather in his forge as a young lad. Unfortunately he passed before I was old enough to really learn or use the tools. I am fortunate enough that my grandmother left me all of his tools which I recently acquired a home where I can set up my own shop. I’m incredibly curious in you propane forge. Will that be covered in future articles with forge sizes and plans for building your own forge? Love the site and the mailing list. Keep up the great work. P.S.: My girlfriend loves it too.

53 Robert Black July 18, 2011 at 4:51 am

Thank you very much for this sir. I spend hours at my grandfathers forge and anvil and I enjoyed hearing his teaching echoed in your post.

54 Peter July 18, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Great article! I love these articles that cover trades. Being able to create something of value with your own hands is one of the best feeling in the world. Please keep the articles coming!

55 Jonathan July 19, 2011 at 7:57 am

I heartily enjoyed this.
I’ve had the pleasure of doing a small amount of blacksmithing in the past. I can’t say I’m any good, but all things come with practice. No matter how you look at it it’s one of those manly skills lost in the modern world. The best part of blacksmithing is anything you make will last YEARS beyond what we can buy these days.

56 Arnold July 19, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Thank you for a very interesting article! I really like your writing style the enthusiasm you have for your work is very clear. I can’t wait to read more. Some advice on starter gear (brands, hammer weight etc.) would be highly appreciated.

57 Aaron July 19, 2011 at 4:01 pm

I have been blacksmithing for almost half a decade now and i never get tired of reading or listening to another smith’s primer. Amazing anvil by the way.

58 Evan R July 20, 2011 at 1:39 pm

Sweet article! I have been wanting to build a forge and get into blacksmithing for a long time, but didn’t know where to start… Thanks for the great post! I look forward to reading more on the series.

If you could, could you include some homemade/low budget options? I understand you have good quality tools, and those are the ones you like and would recommend, but many of us who are interested in blacksmithing as a hobby might not have that much cash to blow at the moment.

59 jim July 21, 2011 at 1:48 pm

great article, any favorite references or reading materials? I was given a nice anvil many years ago and have never found a lot of material on how to get started.

60 Brian July 22, 2011 at 7:23 pm

I still have my metal working merit badge from the Boy Scouts. Now, I’d just like to find a decent anvil, build a forge and go to it.

61 Darren July 24, 2011 at 6:57 pm

Clearly I need to do another article about budget blacksmithing. :-) I’ll see if I can add it to this series…

Get it hot and hit it hard,

D

62 Russ Baer July 28, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Really fantastic article! I have been standing on the edge of getting in a shop to learn, your primer has given me the nudge to finally start. Thanks again for sharing, looking forward to seeing more.

Best,

Russ

63 bert perry August 1, 2011 at 2:58 pm

What about an apron to protect from the heat? Or is that just Hollyweird?

64 chandler December 14, 2012 at 12:06 pm

this is a very good website for kids wee shoild all use it

65 threefingerjim January 17, 2013 at 5:35 am

Lovely lil site, I’ve just started up again after almost 20 years off from my dabbling. I love using anthracite for my work, smokeless when burning and gets good and hot, just needs plenty of air. I think im the only one in my county that does it, theres many who go at railings with an arc welder and call themselves smiths here, sad :(

66 Blacksmith Vladimir January 23, 2013 at 10:23 am

nice website i am a blacksmith

67 Russ February 10, 2013 at 9:47 pm

About how much money do you need to get started smithing?

68 Samuel April 1, 2013 at 9:17 pm

I have always had an interest in blacksmithing and am wanting to try it out. I don’t have a proper mentor because I know of nobody nearby who might could teach me, so I would have to learn from scratch basically. My questions are – aproximately how much would it cost for a small shop and forge? How many different types of hammers and tongs are best used for different works? Also, which would you recommend for both cost and effeciency between a coal, or gas forge?

69 Willy Cunningham April 28, 2013 at 10:18 pm

Nice post. As a full-time artist blacksmith I applaud you. Welcome any and all to my forge.

70 Zackery Corns May 8, 2013 at 9:23 pm

I am thirteen years old, My dream is to be a blacksmith and my father will help me build a forge,this site will be very helpfull.Now I know what I’ll do for a living

71 Paddytray May 13, 2013 at 6:10 pm

Hi firstly thanks for posting this brilliant read .
I was wondering If when the steel cracks because it wasn’t hot enough to be hit , and also placed on a very cold anvil at the same time (school boy error). Can it be re-heated & up-set then drawn back out .
To fix the cracks or does it go on a wall of shame as a lesson to me ?.

72 Tammy Whitlock June 5, 2013 at 12:00 pm

The thing to make it hot can be a wood fire. We make a forge that is designed to use raw wood–no commercial fuel needed.

73 Damian June 27, 2013 at 12:44 am

I live in melbourne and id love to have a crack at learning the basics

74 Hugh Robertson September 29, 2013 at 2:37 pm

I sold my anvil a few years ago as I had no place to use it and I’d met a young man who was into shoeing horses who needed it. He was using a really ugly old anvil and I had this nice shoer’s anvil I gave him for $100. I did a lot of horseshoeing as that was where the money was at the time. I also, as you mention, did a lot of repairs on vehicles and other equipment I and others had, but it never paid. It was fun to be able to fix stuff that would otherwise have been discarded. I too used a gas forge as it was portable and cleaner. I did use coal, but it is dirty. An adjunct skill is learning how to really use an acetylene torch as many many light metal objects can be repaired or created using one. A bit expensive and you need a source of gas, but really really handy. I also built several tilt tables used to lift cattle off their feet to trim them. If I had had to pay somebody to repair it everytime it got damaged by the cows I would have gone broke. Final note, the other day I was looking in an antique store for some kind of nice plant hanger and the guy told me they sell very fast as everyone wants them. Maybe I’ll go back to blacksmithing as a hobby, it might pay after all.

75 mikey the hammer October 20, 2013 at 8:45 pm

I am a board drop hammer worker
and wish It was a steam hammer .
I have 35 tongs that are over 50 years old and get my new ones soon from brent baily in orland,Ca.
I make parts for our nations submarines

76 Ivan Sanders October 31, 2013 at 5:00 am

What a brilliant read! I have recently become very interested in metalwork after needing some railings and carrying out quite a lot of internet research. Although the beautiful C19th cast iron work appears to have disappeared nevertheless there still appears to be a handful of skilled blacksmiths producing truly outstanding work. Although the internet is bursting with advertisers the first four U.K. companies I approached by e-mail ignored me; the fifth said contact us in three months as we have too much work (why then advertise for more?); I then visited a local blacksmith who promised me a quotation ‘soon,’ but a week later nothing heard. I contacted my seventh potential supplier yesterday and await a reply. But, I’m not optimistic. Whoever is training blacksmiths in the U.K. needs to teach politeness and communication skills. It takes little effort to eg. say ‘Sorry we can’t do 16mm, but we do stock 12mm bars.’ Or ‘Sorry we don’t do ball capped bars.’ Or simply ‘Your order is too small, go away.’ I guess that I will have to erect plastic fencing, or start some training myself!

77 Jack November 11, 2013 at 12:52 am

I’ve always wanted to set up a shop and start pounding away- but it seems to me to be an expensive hobby.

Especially when looking forward- I don’t see much in terms of it being a career. Generation Yuppie seems much more interested in getting a 3-D printer, than paying for something handcrafted.

78 John December 1, 2013 at 4:30 pm

Darren-
I’m 13 years old and I’ve been blacksmithing for 4-5 years with my grandfather (he has a forge out back). I just wanted to say that you have done a great job in capturing the beauty in metal work. Looking forward to more posts about blacksmithing, and hopefully weaponsmithing. Thanks!

79 anthony January 8, 2014 at 5:05 am

i would like to learn how to blacksmith swords and knives and things of that sort what tequniques should i use

80 Mike K January 14, 2014 at 4:32 pm

Hey Darren. I’m also based in Madison, WI and was hoping to get into blacksmithing. I was wondering if you had any good local sources for anvils?

81 Jesse H January 29, 2014 at 1:54 pm

I’ve been taking classes about metal working but we don’t cover much with the forge.
I hope to see more posts so I can expand my horizons.
Thank you and great website.

82 Kenny Sright April 4, 2014 at 2:39 am

O’Keefe, earlier said it about as well as could be said. I have started the art and feeling as you do. My problem is as of now I have no
Mentor. But that will come. Thanks for the inspiration.

83 Jeanie Peterson April 12, 2014 at 6:53 am

I am writing a book about a bunch of men starting life over in the wilderness, one of the elements I want to include is blacksmithing, Would you be open to allowing me to use some of your explanations in the book? I’m not sure if I’ll publish it, that’s a whole ‘nother process, but could I get an idea about whether I can or not? I won’t have this email address for a lot longer, switching to another, so if I don’t hear from you in a week or two, I’ll post again with the new address. Thank you, this was very informative, and a great idea page for how things work in that world. I’m thinking about having them work from wood instead of coal or propane, I don’t have to get too detail oriented, but find the idea appealing because of their local. Thanks again

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Site Meter