Blacksmithing Basics: How to Make a Hook

by Darren Bush on January 4, 2012 · 26 comments

in Manly Skills, Projects

Awhile back, we covered the fundamentals of blacksmithing.

Those fundamental are interesting in concept, but now let’s try out some real-life applications to make something simple and useful for around the house.

So we’re going to make three hooks.  That’s because a hook is often the first thing you make when you start to become a blacksmith.  It’s a cool project because no matter how ugly the hooks turn out, they’re still functional.  My early work graces the walls of the darkest closets in my friends’ homes.

Because this is a pretty fluid medium and static pictures aren’t able to convey the process very well, I’ve composed a short video showing the elements of the skills and forces needed to create a hook (not necessarily in order). There are captions to keep you oriented.

The reason things may not be in order is because I often had three irons in the fire.  Yep, that’s where the saying comes from.  Get too many (three is my limit, maybe four) and you can’t do a decent job at any of them.  The smaller the stock, the harder it is to work because things heat up so fast.  Larger stock (say, 5/8 or 3/4″ or larger) is easier to manage.  You’ll notice on the video how quickly the 1/4″ stock cools, especially when it thins out.  That anvil is a big heat sink.

Hook A (a scroll tip – the middle one) is what you’d make if you want a little more surface area so if you hung a coat on it, the hook wouldn’t dig into the fabric or liner.  Hook B (a nail-point with a small curl – on the right) is what you’d want if you’re hanging something from it like a cast iron pan.  You don’t want a fat tip, but that little curl makes it safer (you don’t want a fish hook), as it will hold the piece in place.  No sharp points unless you’re a butcher in southern Europe.

Hook C (on the left) is a different sort of hook with a big, bulbous top that is just plain cool, but it also is a safe hook as it has the largest surface area.  This one would be well-placed on a post inside a barn, holding a bridle or an extension cord.

The steps are all the same for each hook.

Step Zero:  Get it hot.  Propane, coal, coke, charcoal.  Doesn’t matter.  Get it hot.

Step One: Create and shape the tip of the hook.  Scrolled, pointed or worked over the edge of the anvil like Hook C, it’s the first thing you do.  The video covers this step extensively.

Step Two: Create the radius of the hook.  Narrower for smaller items, larger to accommodate bridles or extension cords.  Big extension cords.  The problem is that we’ve created this lovely point, and now we have to mash it to get the curve in the hook.  But wait!  What if we cool the tip first?  Easy to do.  A quick quench of just the tip will allow you to work it without distorting the work.  The video demonstrates this several times.  Below you can see the curvature of the hook is hot, the tip is cool.

This is where you use the horn of the anvil.  The horn has an infinite number of radii to choose from.  Close to the face, a large radius; close to the tip, a very small one.  You want to hammer in the same place all the time, moving the work.  In this case, I’m hammering on top and dropping my left hand to create the curve.  Otherwise you’re doing what my mentor called “chasing your work.”  I can hear his Alabama drawl: “You can chase it, but you’ll never catch up.”  This is very obvious in the video.

Step Three: Decide on a top.  These three are finished in a classic fashion, just a simple drilled tab.  You can create coils, leaves and finials, or any other shape you want.  Just so long as the hook is 90 degrees to the wall, and the back sits flat, go crazy.

Step Four: Finish it.  I use paste wax.  It will let the metal texture show through.  Some use a clear polyurethane paint or Rustoleum.  For wet areas (towel bars, for example), clear poly’s a good idea, but it does make things a little too shiny for my taste.

Twisting work is not necessary but boy, it sure is fun.  Some of the hooks beg to be twisted; some of them you leave plain.  It depends on your aesthetic.  I like to twist some stock and then pound it flat.  That’s also demonstrated on the video.

This little tutorial isn’t meant to be comprehensive, of course.  It’s just for having some fun and giving you a good idea of what blacksmithing actually looks like (and sounds like).  To me, it sounds like fun.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 adam January 4, 2012 at 6:49 pm

Pretty cool, but something tells me this is a lot harder to do than it looks.

2 mike January 4, 2012 at 8:54 pm

My dad is an avid blacksmith hobbyist, and I love working with him. If you have a mentor the basics come easy. The hard part comes in when you are looking for refined, artistic pieces. It’s all about practice.

3 RainyDayNinja January 4, 2012 at 9:22 pm

This is great, but do you have any tips for how to do it with only one hand? That’s the whole reason I want to make a hook in the first place!

4 darren January 4, 2012 at 9:26 pm

Adam, everything’s easy if you know how. :-)

RDN — I made a hook for a guy once. Seriously.

Mike, you’re right on. Time with a hammer in your hand is the most important.

5 Bharat January 4, 2012 at 10:15 pm

RainyDayNinja,

Totally went over my head for a sec then it hit me and I cracked up.

6 Eric January 4, 2012 at 10:51 pm

Darren – How often will you be doing new articles? Also, how much do you think a whole beginners setup would cost and how much space would you need? Thanks man.

7 IvanR January 4, 2012 at 10:53 pm

My grandpa used to smith and he was very good at it. I wish I would have learned more from him before he passed away. I remember helping him start the fire and keeping the coal going as a kid.

8 Chris C. January 5, 2012 at 9:25 am

For as long as I can remember I wanted to do blacksmithing. Finally about three years ago I got off my butt and looked up a local group. Hooks were one of the first things we made, and I was surprised how easy and complicated the process was at the same time. The phrase “too many irons in the fire” – when you’re a rookie, one can be too many if you don’t pay attention.

The nice thing about hooks, they are serviceable (even the ugly ones work to hang things on) and if you get clever, they can be pretty cool. In fact, I even managed to sell a couple of my first attempts!

A good place to start looking for blacksmith classes is the Artist’s Blacksmith Association of North America (abana.org). They can point you to a local group, many of which have classes for beginners.

9 John Hosie January 5, 2012 at 9:47 am

Very nice. I like it.

There are a few related things I’d like to see – and they may be somewhere in your archive (in which case, it would be real nice to know where).

How to make a simple forge would be nice. It doesn’t have to handle a broadsword, but perhaps handling a billet of about a foot long or so would be nice. Naturally, safety tips are also important when dealing with anything this hot. There are a number of proverbs, biblical and otherwise, that use a forge as a focal point. Weaving some into the article might be beneficial.

Second, how about creating a knife. There are a number of parallels between making a knife and living a life that go very well together. There’s making sure that the right heat is used for the right purpose. Tempering is important. Hardness vs strenght is, too. You need an edge that is hard so it doesn’t need frequent sharpening, but a knife that is too hard can’t withstand a strong blow. It also needs a handle that can be gripped.

And, of course, there is also being able to melt and pour metals like brass, copper, etc – something that might be tied in with a “refiner’s fire”.

Just some thoughts. Once you start getting into blacksmithing there are many lessons in life that are related.

10 Shane January 5, 2012 at 10:09 am

I recently attended the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina to learn some blacksmithing, over a week. Great experience! If you’d like to read about my experiences (including making some hooks, and many other tools), please see here:
http://www.avocationnation.org/2011/10/22/folk-school-things-made/

11 Alteredstory January 5, 2012 at 12:11 pm

I miss my smithy :(

12 Tom O January 5, 2012 at 12:20 pm

I have enjoyed blacksmithing for several years now. As Treasurer of the California Blacksmith Association I would recommend that anyone interested in Blacksmithing to contact your local area association and partake in the instruction available. In California go to http://www.calsmith.org. For other areas of the nation you can also go to the previous link and find other links to groups across the nation. Keep your fires burning.

13 David January 5, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Hello, I am a young smith just starting out, I love working with steel. Thank you for this post, It clarified some things I had been wondering about. I do have one question, where did you get your vise?

14 Ron Black January 5, 2012 at 4:29 pm

As a trained blacksmith I would like to say that the basics of the trade are fairly simple. However when you get in to specifics it gets much harder. Blacksmiths come in all shapes and sizes. You basic farmer-blacksmith was no bladesmith. Repairing iron items and tools is fairly simple with a little instruction. Making tools, doorhandles, blades is a different story. If you plan on being a blacksmith learn to make your own tools. With the right tools you can do anything!

15 Volund January 5, 2012 at 5:19 pm

I’m training to be a blacksmith at the moment, and this is a pretty good guide on how to make simple hooks, very useful skill to learn, good for strength, breating, creative side. All in all very good to do if you get the chance. It can also be self taught more easily than other practical skills, the man who teaches me is in fact a self taught blacksmith of 25 years, and his technique is flawless.

16 Darren January 5, 2012 at 6:22 pm

Okay — my vise was ordered from a tool supply house in central Illinois — can’t remember where, but Google does.

Eric, I will probably do an article a month, but it depends on what Brett and Kate want from me. I have a full-time and then some job running my business and freelancing, so creating time to do these is challenging. But that’s my problem. :-)

As far as cost to set up: I sorta went all-out when I started equiping my own shop. BUT you can get started easily with a small propane forge, a few pair of tongs and a small anvil. You just need to be patient to find an anvil at a good price, As far as space goes, my shop is 8 x 11. Bigger is not necessarily better. In the summer, roll your stuff out into the yard. Plenty of room there.

Ron, when people ask me if it’s hard, the best analogy I can come up with is that it’s like playing chess. You can learn the rules in fifteen minutes, but after that, it’s up to you. The more time with a hammer in your hand, the better you get.

I really like making things like drawer pulls, pot hangers, coat racks, candelabras, flowers, fireplace tools and screens, etc. The biggest thing I made is a coffee table base that was 2 x 4 with a 3 x 5 glass top. 5/8 and 3/4 stocked with a lot of wrapping and twisting. No power hammer, My arm still hurts.

Tom, Shane and Chris — spot on. Blacksmiths are always more than willing to share and teach.,,it’s not like a lot of people are really dedicated to it as a hobby, so when someone shows interest they are super helpful. And I agree — all those organizations are wonderful and supportive groups. In fact — I pulled out a tote bag today and it was my 2002 Abana Tote from La Crosse, Wisconsin, Wonderful three days. I was down at JC Campbell last Spring…WELL worth the trip.

John, the spiritual aspect of smithing is not lost on a lot of people. One of my favorite teachers is Don Fogg of Don Fogg Knives. His philosophy matches mine quite well. http://www.dfoggknives.com/wayof.htm

As far as building a forge — there are many articles on the web that are far more intensive and documented than I could do in a reasonable amount of time. Ron Reil has a great page on the Abana site. http://ronreil.abana.org/

You can also purchase a decent forge for less than you can build one if you could your time. :-) http://www.blacksmithsupply.com/ I used a 1 burner Whisper Baby for five years before I moved into a two burner. You may also find a used one (I have my old Whisper Baby still).

As far as how to make a knife article…I could do that, but it’ll probably be a two parter. After forging everything, I hand-file all the knives I make, so it’s a laborious process. That said, it’s been a while since I made a knife. I’ll document it well in case a need arises.

Thanks for the comments.

May your boogers be grey,

Darren

17 Jonathan January 6, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Recycling yards are a great place to get metal to work with, and like the steel yards, they will most likely be found in the industrial district of many cities. I live in Dayton, OH, and there is a metal recycling yard on First St. who treats us little spenders wonderfully.

18 Mick January 9, 2012 at 4:34 am

Great article mate. I have long had an interest in smithing…It’s gotta be easier than using the stock removal method for knife making. I’ve made quite a few knives all by hand…Files, sandpaper etc. But I’ve always lacked the means to get the gear for a smithy of my own. I’m 41 now, but I still live in hope that one day…One day I’ll get there…Maybe my creator might have one for me when I die :) Now that would be heaven!

19 Stephen Vasconi January 9, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Thank you for the great post. I’ve been interested in Blacksmithing for a long time. I’ve just recently been graced with time to actively pursue, if not the finances, but your article has pushed me over the hump to get the basics and see if I enjoy doing it. Thanks again, and keep up the posts please.

20 Tyler B January 9, 2012 at 6:16 pm

John Hosie,

You can also make a pretty simple forge out of an old brake drum and some (I used 3) 1/2″ black iron gas pipe for legs. Perfect for small projects. Look into the old book “Back to Basics” by Readers digest for a better description.

21 Bob Keyes January 10, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Well done! good video and text. In my shop, however that anvil would get a speaker magnet for sure.

22 mike January 13, 2012 at 8:41 pm

Hand crank forge or bust! A lot of rural farms all over have everything you need to start a forge and owner’s surprised anyone wants to pay money for the “junk” collecting dust in their old barns. There also is an awesome blacksmith show in Ohio every fall, and a huge Amish shop close by. One road trip and a trailer could set you up nicely

23 GBH January 31, 2012 at 6:41 am

A great craft school in PA.
Touchstone center for crafts.
I have been doing classes there for 20+years’ nice place in the Mts. A range of all levels are taught.
Touchstone Center for Crafts
1049 Wharton Furnace Rd.
Farmington, PA 15437
724.329.1370 Phone
724.329.1371 Fax
http://www.touchstonecrafts.org

24 Steve August 15, 2013 at 5:31 am

Pretty cool, just bought me my first anvil & forge…been waiting for ages to do some steel work

25 Kevin October 2, 2013 at 3:39 pm

I am a blacksmith for a National Park here in the US. I like the demonstration and just wanted to make a suggestion that you place a magnet on the side of your anvil to deaden the ring. Killing the ring makes it easier on your ears and helps to preserve your hearing; it also allows viewers to hear what you are saying as you work.

26 Josh E December 8, 2013 at 3:18 am

I have read several articles on blacksmithing and am becoming very interested in learning how. Are there any books you’d recommend? In my area finding someone I could apprentice would be difficult.

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