Advice for Beginners

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Appalachian Blacksmiths Association

 

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add'l art 8/2003

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Organized in 1978, the Appalachian Blacksmiths Association is an affiliate of ABANA. We represent blacksmiths, bladesmiths, and farriers in West Virginia and its surrounding states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, and Kentucky. 

We publish a quarterly newsletter which keeps our membership up to date on events. The newsletter also features many metalworking tips.  

To join the ABA, click on 
Membership Form

Appalachian Blacksmiths Association

2003

Nothing herein may be reproduced unless permission of the submitter and/or the Appalachian Blacksmiths Association is given.

 

Download files are in PDF format
 

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So--

You want to be a blacksmith.

blacksmiths matt thomas (l) and jeff fetty

Using 1" stock, blacksmiths begin with squaring, tapering, and drawing--the basic process for most blacksmithing jobs.

First off, look at the above yellow-to-red bar.  The yellow color at the left approximates the color of iron at welding heat.  From dull-yellow to orange is the heat that you will work most of projects.  (Just like they are doing in the above photo.)  The dull-to-cherry red is too cold for you to hammer the iron, unless you just like wearing your arm out!  

Blacksmithing is a hobby that will cost you about the same money to get started in as photography does. For the cost of a good camera, you can buy all the equipment you'll need to do hobby projects. And for the cost of film and developing, you can buy steel and coal for your projects. But, like photography, you'll soon trade up after you've decided you want more from your newfound hobby. Then your major cost will be to outfit a small shop where you can work in peace.

Here's some good advice: Take a beginner's class--they're offered just about everywhere. Or ask a blacksmith to give you a lesson. Most blacksmiths are quite willing to help a beginner.

You should be able to locate a local blacksmith by checking with craft stores or by going to a craft fair.  ABANA has over 4,000 members in the United States (5,000 worldwide) and there are probably that many blacksmiths who aren't active members.  The Appalachian Blacksmiths Assn. has about 150 members.

Remember to wear the proper eye protection.

On the first day of class,

1. You'll learn the equipment, it's layout in the shop, and how to position everything so you don't beat yourself to death. That's important. An anvil that sits too low will wear your back out in short order. A hard floor will wear your feet out. A spread-out shop equals a lot of useless walking back and forth.

2. You'll learn how to build and maintain the fire in the forge. Coal has to be reduced to coke before you can generate the heat necessary to work the iron. You'll learn how to maintain the firepot (where the coke ends up) and how to get rid of clinkers (slag from impurities in the coal). This is an important lesson, fire building and maintenance, because nobody likes working in a smoke-filled shop. The better the fire, the easier your work.

3. You'll learn some history. The Colonial blacksmith had to cut wood and convert it to charcoal for his forge because coal was scarce or nonexistent. You'll learn how 'wrought iron' was smelted and hammered into billets. You'll learn just how important the blacksmith was to a frontier community. You'll learn that Damascus steel was invented in (you guessed it!)

4. You'll learn about the types and qualities of coal, iron, and steel. Your instructor will briefly talk about tempering and hardening steel.  Your instructor will also advise you on how and where to buy coal.

5. By mid-morning, you'll go to work.  Then you'll learn the basic lessons of all blacksmithing work. You'll round a square rod. You'll square a round rod. And you'll learn how to draw out the stock to the desired shape you want. You'll learn how to make a decorative twist and how to punch a hole through the work. You'll learn the proper temperature to work the piece.

Your instructor may have you practice hammer technique. This is usually done in one of two ways: (1) Repeatedly hammer a ball of clay so you will see how the metal moves under the hammer or, (2) Drive nails into a block of wood at different angles.  These practice lessons can be repeated at home.

6. By day's end, you will have made a few simple hooks that you can hang your hat on.  See the step-by-step process for making hooks

On the second day of class,

1. You'll realize that you know a lot.

2. You'll also realize there's a lot you don't know but want to learn.

3. You'll console yourself that the hook you made is a good one. But you'll want to make a better one.

4. On the second day, you'll apply everything you learned on the first. You'll also learn how to cut, split, and fuller the work.  Your instructor will assign you a project.  You might make a fork with a decorative handle--perhaps a leaf with a curling vine.  You might make your own forge tools (rake, poker and water can.)   If you are a fast learner, you might even make your first set of tongs.  

If your class lasts 4-5 days,

You will have learned joining methods like riveting, collaring, mortise and tenon, and forge welding.  You'll probably make a set of hinges, a handle, and the latch for a shed door.  These lessons and techniques will expand your ability to create just about anything.  You will have learned a lot about selecting the right hammer for your hand.  The same with tongs.  And you will have become pretty good at managing the fire.  But most importantly, you will have learned that you need a lot more practice to give your work that natural looking flow.

In olden times, you would have started out pumping the bellows for the forge.  After a year of tending the fire, the shop's master might let you begin an apprenticeship.  Before you could work as a journeyman smith, you would have to have made all of your own tools and toolbox.  In a way, you'll repeat this same process--you'll just do it differently.

Blacksmithing is a lifelong learning and sharing process. Nearly every blacksmith who ever lived has, at some point, taken the time to teach a pupil. This will be true until the end of time. Someday, you'll be the teacher. For now, don't be afraid to seek out a blacksmith and ask for his/her advice. You can repay the favor to the next generation.

 

What project do you think the blacksmiths in the top photo are working on?  Think carefully!  

See what the blacksmiths were making by clicking here.

 

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