You want to be a blacksmith.
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
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
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.
project do you think the blacksmiths in the top photo are working on?
See what the blacksmiths were making by