The village blacksmith wasn't covered by worker's comp!


Protecting your eyes should be your number 1 concern. And you must be vigilant in protection for visitors to your shop or your demonstration. One small piece of flying debris can cause a lot of damage. Safety glasses are a must.

Remember as well that youngsters are about eye level with the anvil. Rope off a safe area around your demo site.

One innovative blacksmith used fireplace screens to 'rope off' his demo area. Not only did it keep visitors at a safe distance but he also got to display the screens that he makes and sells.


Never heat galvanized metal or metal with a brite finish in your forge. The fumes from these coatings are very toxic and the effect is cumulative. Once you breathe these fumes, they never leave your body. Each successive exposure makes you sicker.

Read up on "Metal Fume Fever" and "Cadmium Pneumonitis".

Reports have indicated that heating brite-metal bolts in a gas forge (to burn off the coating) leaves the firebrick contaminated with these toxic oxidants. It takes many hours afterwards to burn off the residue from the firebrick.

No amount of "proper ventilation" is enough to reduce the risk of heating any of these metals in your shop.


Rule #1--It's best not to wear gloves when blacksmithing. If you pick up hot metal with a gloved hand, the chances are that you will be burned worse than if you grabbed the hot metal bare-handed. Try this on your own if you are a non-believer.

After you burn your fingers on hot metal, stick your hand in the slack tub and keep it there for a few minutes. This procedure won't cure a thing. It just gives you time to think about what you just did!

Rule #2--Cotton gloves tend to catch fire easily.

Rule #3--There are a hundred chores around the blacksmith shop that are best done wearing gloves. Don't be a cheapie--buy yourself good quality leather work gloves.

Rule #4--Do not wear gloves while operating rotating machinery! Whether it's a drill press or lathe or some other spinning tool, gloves will snag and pull your hands and fingers into the work. Remove your gloves before you start the machine.


Dear fellow blacksmiths and artists,

For the sake of sparing someone else from an accident, I would like to tell you about a serious mishap that I recently had.

(Jeff Fetty has one good hand to take his "self-portrait")

I was cold-forging a piece of plate steel on a 50-ton hydraulic press; my right hand was caught between the work and the press and was smashed. I initially thought that my entire hand was severely damaged. Thankfully, though, it was limited to three fingers -- the worst being my pinky on which I will have to have more surgery. (There is a chance of losing part of it.) I have a long recovery process in front of me, but am so very thankful that I will eventually be able to continue my work.

I pride myself in running a shop that practices safety first. What went wrong in this case was simply that the operator's brain WAS NOT engaged. I was foolishly trying to accomplish three things at once while running a dangerous piece of machinery.

Hopefully this message will be of some value in reminding everyone how easily and quickly accidents can happen.

Please continue to practice safety first.

-Jeff Fetty


An LP Gas tank is a bomb in search of a detonator. You need to secure your tank in a protective frame. That piece of angle iron leaning against your shop wall could well trigger an awful event.

Stop by your LP Gas distributor's plant and get a copy of regulations and recommendations for using and transporting LP Gas. Both DOT and OSHA have rules regarding these issues.


Never lay tanks on their sides. Acetylene tanks contain acetone, a solvent that can destroy the pressure regulator. Never use any kind of oil near the valve or gauge tower, especially on the oxygen tank. Never transport tanks without first securing them, removing the gauge towers, and capping the valves.

While an LP tank is a bomb, these tanks are torpedoes. Oxygen tanks that have fallen and broken their valve have been known to go right through a concrete block wall and travel several hundred yards.

And finally, while the BIC lighter story proved to be a hoax, it would be much smarter of you to light your torch with a flint striker instead of a cigarette lighter.

Your torch and tank regulators should have flashback arrestors.

As in #4, there are rules from OSHA and DOT regarding use and transport. Your dealer will have a summary of them.


Dear ABA Editor,
I just read the safety section of your website. GOOD.
I notice you said: And finally, while the BIC lighter story proved to be a hoax, it would be much smarter of you to light your torch with a flint striker instead of a cigarette lighter.
I don't know what BIC lighter story you were referring to, there are some that are true. I am a retired fire and explosion investigator, and have two horror story cases I personally investigated.
In one case, a lighter that had been around the welder's pickup quite a while was placed in his pocket because the one he had been using (he was a smoker) was out of gas. The old lighter case cracked in his pocket and the gas ignited from the welding arc. Moral: Don't let butane lighters lay around for a long time, and don't have one in your pocket when welding or working near an ignition source.
In the second case a glob of slag fell on the welders pants at the pocket location and burned and melted through the jeans and lighter case, similar results to above. Moral: The lighter does not have to be old and sun-embrittled.
I use one of the long-reach BBQ style lighters for my forge. I use a striker for my torches and NEVER carry a butane lighter in my pocket.

John L. Odom, Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator


Dave Mudge of the Louisiana Metalsmiths relates this story:

I had a work piece clamped in the vise which is about 'belly height'. I had put this wheel on my grinder; it was an old one that had been laying around for a long time. I wanted to use this wheel because it was much more coarse than a normal wheel and I wanted to remove the material quickly.

This wheel is really a worn out wheel from a 7" grinder and I was going to use it on a 4-1/2" grinder. It was slightly too big in diameter to fit on the smaller tool with the guard in place, so I removed the guard thinking that I would be extra careful to keep my fingers well out of the path of the oversize and overweight worn-out wheel. I even checked the clearance to be extra sure that the wheel would not come in contact with my fingers-there was enough room. Yes, I had safety glasses on.

I engaged the trigger, the wheel went around about 8 or 10 times, just enough to come up to speed; then it flew apart with a violent, out of balance, wobbling and it sent several pieces of grinding wheel shrapnel into my slightly oversized belly.

Suddenly a tremendous numbing pain was coming from my right hand and my stomach. I immediately dropped the grinder to the table and backed away. I quickly inspected my hand to see if I was bleeding. Not bleeding. Agggh, my belly! I raised my shirt, I had a big red abrasion but no flowing blood. Man, that hurt! Thank God it's not bleeding.

What I learned here is that the guard is not only to keep your fingers away from the wheel but to keep exploding bits of grinding wheel away from you. Don't operate your grinder without the guard in place. Don't use wheels that don't fit properly. Always wear your safety glasses.


John Purdy, writing in the Vancouver Island Model Engineers Newsletter (March/April 2001), relates a story about a shop accident that left him seriously burned.

John was using a 1" belt grinder to finish the edges of sawed angle iron when a flash fire erupted. The flash fire burned his hands and face and might have blinded him had he not been wearing safety glasses. The fire lasted less than a half-second.

He thoroughly investigated the accident and determined this as the cause: The day before, his son had been sanding the heads off of a dozen aluminum pop rivets. When the powdered aluminum from sanding the rivets mixed with ferrous oxide (the black residue from grinding or sanding iron), the resulting compound is an especially explosive mixture. The flash fire was caused by the heat of the sander igniting the mixture.


A full leather apron can be great or it can be a great nuisance. And if you are in the habit of folding the top down, then it's probably going to snag something. Try a glass cutter's apron--it's a waist-to-knee apron with double layers of leather.

Wear cotton or wool clothing when working around sparks or fire. Poly blends and synthetics not only catch fire quicker but they are harder to douse. Cotton and wool will burn and scorch but they won't smolder like the poly/syn fibers do. Besides that, cotton is cooler and wool is warmer than the stuff made from an oil drum.

Shirt tails, sleeves, torn or loose clothing--these can be "grabbed" by rotary tools like the drill press and grinder.


The best thing you can do is stretch yourself before doing physical work. A good stretch prevents most day-to-day muscle injuries.

Your back is not a lifting crane, so don't use it for one.

Keep your anvil, work bench, and power/treadle hammer at the right height for you. Stooping or reaching to use tools greatly multiplies the stress on your joints and muscles. You should make your blacksmith shop fit you and not the other way around.

I once watched a knifemaker do his work while sitting in a swivel chair positioned between the forge and power hammer. Keep your basic shop layout simple to minimize distance between forge, anvil, and post vise. You can easily walk a mile in a 10' x 10' blacksmith shop if there's two steps between the forge and anvil.

An earthen floor is best for a blacksmith forge. Concrete or brick looks nicer and is easy to sweep, but in the course of a day, you will feel more fatigued after standing on an unforgiving surface. If you set up on concrete, try using a cushioned floor mat at the anvil.


An earthen floor does something that you may not think about. It greatly reduces noise in a blacksmith shop.

Noise, or sound, is a vibration. Vibration causes fatigue. Fatigue eventually leads to accidents & injuries.

While most people think that ear protection is all they need against noise, they fail to realize that sound vibrations also cause this fatigue factor.


Rod Pickett, President of the Rocky Mountain Smiths wrote this about Carbon Monoxide poisoning in their newsletter (March 2002)

This past winter we found out that I was slowly being poisoned by carbon monoxide {CO). Chronic exposure to CO can be just as harmful as an acute exposure, but is much more difficult to detect, diagnose and treat. I first noticed symptoms last November and by February I was unable to work. I had a chronic headache, extreme forgetfulness, an inability to concentrate or plan, lack of motivation, shortness of breath and loss of muscle strength. It was very gradual. Fortunately, I happened to go to a doctor that had done a fellowship at the Rocky Mountain Poison Center. She was immediately suspicious of either metal poisoning or CO poisoning.

After my blood work tested positive for CO, we called in the fire department to help us find the source. Of course, we thought it was the forges or my coal heating stove. It turns out that three different factors were involved. First, my business neighbor, who is under the same roof as I am, is a mechanic and his exhaust fumes from trucks and his forklift were drifting into our office. The second source was the gas heater in our office. And third, my truck cab was filling with exhaust when I would drive. A leak on top of the tail pipe would vacuum forward and enter the cab through the shifter tunnel. (By the way, the forges and coal stove burned so efficiently that nothing picked up on their meters.) If there is any doubt about your shops or equipment, get it checked out; don't risk your health.


There's a lot of dirt and dust in a closed shop. You can see it in the air. Try using a square floor fan with a standard furnace filter panel taped to the inlet side. Or get the furnace repair shop to give you a used furnace fan that's being junked and tape a filter panel to it.

Even without ductwork, the fan will pull shop air through it and the filter will remove a great deal of that fine dust cloud that you are breathing. Change filters as needed.

safety glasses
broken grinder disc
jeff fetty