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Appalachian Blacksmiths Association



Blacksmith History, Part 1
Blacksmith History--Part 2
Blacksmith History--Part 3
Blacksmith in the Oil Patch
Blacksmiths in  Africa
Antebellum Iron Works
Lewis & Clark's Blacksmiths
James Rumsey--Inventor
Advice for Beginners
Blacksmith Schools
Farrier Schools
Boy Scout Program
Village Blacksmith
Techniques / Projects
Iron and Steel
Forging Non-Ferrous Metals
Copper Repousse
All About Nails
Genealogy Tips
1982 ABANA Conference

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


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







Never strike an anvil directly with a hammer

It's damaging to the anvil's face and the recoil might cause the hammer to hit you in the face

anvil nomenclature

Anvil nomenclature; click on thumbnail

An anvil can be any size, shape, or weight.  Early anvils were cube-shaped and weighed 50 lbs. or so.  The most common anvil has a flat work surface (the face) and a pointed end (the horn).  Often, the face will have two holes near the heel; the square one is the Hardie and the round one is the Pritchell.  A variety of anvil tools can be made to fit in the Hardie and thus, act as a 3rd hand for the smith.  Most generally, the Pritchell hole is used to allow the blacksmith to punch a hole through metal and not damage the face of the anvil or the point of the punch.  To protect the anvil face when doing hot and cold cuts, the blacksmith uses an anvil "saddle" made from 1/4" steel plate and lays it on the face.  

A good anvil will not have any chips or cuts in the face or the edges of the face.  Anvils are either 'forged' or 'cast' and are made from iron or steel.  Anvils can have two horns, one, or none. Some anvils "ring" and others don't.  Just because an anvil doesn't ring doesn't mean it's cracked.  The Fisher anvil earned the nickname "Deaf Anvil".  In short, there are too many anvil styles to be general.  Books have been written about the history of the anvil.  An anvil, however, is a very personal belonging to a smith--probably more than anything else he'll ever own.


Tongs are the things that allow a blacksmith to handle hot metal without burning HIS tongs!  For cold metal work, pliers are used.  A set, or pair, of Tongs consist of two mirror-image pieces, riveted at the fulcrum, or pivot.  The handles are referred to as reins and the business ends as bits (also jaws).  (As in bridle terms.)

While a blacksmith will generally only use 2 or 3 sets of tongs on a day-to-day basis, he may also have 50 others that he made just for specialty tasks.  Starting out, you'll use a ready-made set of tongs.  But over time, you will either make your own tongs or customize others to fit your needs and your hands. 


A vise is a jawed device that holds the work piece.  Every trade has developed specialized vises over the years.  Blacksmiths prefer a post vise (also leg vise), so named because it can be strapped to a post or slender stump.  The post vise has a single leg that transfers impact force to the bottom of the post and thus, to the ground. 

forge -- noun

The forge may refer to the entire blacksmith shop (also called a smithy) and it may also refer to the actual hearth.  

The forge table (hearth) generally needs to be 3' square (or diameter) for most hobby blacksmiths.  For example, the mower deck from a riding lawnmower can be turned over and used as forge table.  At or near the center of the table is a firepot.  Near the bottom of the firepot is a tuyere and a clinker breaker.  A hinged ash dump door is at the bottom.  Use the biggest and deepest firepot you can find because this is where the coal becomes coke.  It is difficult to achieve welding heat in a 4" deep firepot because of volume.  A firepot that is 8- 9" deep is good for the average forge.  The clinker breaker needs to work properly and the ash dump door must close neatly.

To draft smoke, a side-draft hood is ideal.  The side-draft hood utilizes the venturi principle to pull smoke from the fire.  As the name implies, the hood sits off to the side of the fire.  The flue should be 8"x13" (masonry) or 10" (metal) at a minimum and extend a minimum of 3' above the shop roof.  To eliminate rain water, use a California flue cap.  This cap is actually just a section of larger diameter pipe spaced equally about the flue and extending 3-4' above the flue.  As rain usually falls at an angle, the pipe extension's shadow effectively covers the flue opening but doesn't block the smoke flow.  Coal smoke is denser and cooler than wood smoke--size the flue accordingly.

forge -- verb

Forging is the act of shaping metal and can be done hot or cold.  Most blacksmith forging is done with a hand held hammer, treadle hammer, or power hammer.  Drop forging is a factory process given the size of machine required.


A tuyere is a nozzle or vent in the firepot of a forge.  The air from the bellows or blower is forced through the tuyere.


A clinker is coagulated slag or metal impurities that "melt" from the coal as it becomes coke.  Most clinkers consist of pyrites that are naturally included in coal seams.  Using "metallurgical" grade coal (met coal) greatly reduces clinkers.  Clinkers will block air flow from the tuyere and that is why the firepot has a clinker breaker.  Large clinkers will have to be removed with a poker.

forge tools

Three tools are required for maintaining the fire--a pointed poker, a water can, and a rake.  The poker is used to clear the air passages through the firepot.  The rake is used to pull "green" coal toward the fire.  The water can (a sprinkler) is used to dampen the perimeter fire.  Making these three tools is often a beginner's project.


Coke and charcoal are nearly pure carbon and burn the hottest in a forge.  When burned in the absence of air, coal becomes coke and wood becomes charcoal (distillation).  Wood must be converted to charcoal before using in the forge whereas a good quality coal will make it's own coke in the firepot.  Coke and charcoal are extremely light as compared to their parents because all moisture and impurities have been burned off.  
Charcoal briquettes made for barbeque grills will not fire a forge.

hand-held hammers

Blacksmiths use a variety of hammers weighing from 1 lb. to 16 lbs.  Most often, a 2-2.5 lb. hammer is the preferred choice.  The heavier hammers (sledges) require 2 hands for good control and are used mainly by strikers (helpers.)  The small hammers are used for detail and finish work which is generally done on cold metal.

The flat/rounding hammer is popular because its rounded face allows for ease of drawing metal and its flat face allows for finishing surfaces neatly.  Some smiths prefer a cross peen hammer which has a slightly rounded hammer face and a horizontal peen, perpendicular to the handle axis.  Most blacksmiths do 90% of their work with their favorite hammer.

When selecting a hammer, weight and balance are the keys.  Control of the hammer stroke is all important--much more so than impact force.  A blacksmith will grind and polish a hammer face to his liking rather than accept the way it came from the factory.  A blacksmith will also shape the handle to fit his hand perfectly rather than make his hand fit the handle.

Blacksmiths of old made all of their hammers and customized them accordingly.  Today, some smiths prefer making their own hammers.

**  Hammer head marks are not acceptable in either carpentry or blacksmithing because they indicate a poor craftsman.  However, it has become "trendy" since 1980 to leave hammer marks on certain pieces so that the buyer will know that he/she is buying "real wrought iron".

power/treadle hammers

These hammers free up one hand and save a lot of work.  The treadle hammer uses a foot treadle to operate a ram or hammer.  The power hammer is operated by electric or air pressure.  A foot pedal controls the hammer's impact and frequency.  In most blacksmith shops, these hammers (heads) usually weigh 25-50 lbs. Factories use larger power hammers.


The annealing process requires heating the metal and then cooling it at a slow, consistent rate.  Annealing reduces internal stress in the workpiece and, in most cases, makes the workpiece softer and easier to machine.


The tempering process requires heating the metal and then quenching it in water, oil, etc.  See the article "Iron and Steel" for more detail and color chart.

work hardening

As you swing your hammer, you are "work hardening" the hammer's face.  This is a simplified term for compressing the surface molecules.


Capable of being hammered or rolled into a shape without breaking.  


Before science developed equipment to precisely measure the hardness of iron and steel, the blacksmith simply held the piece to the grindstone and observed the spark pattern.  Iron/steel of differing hardness will make distinct spark patterns.  Thus, a silhouette spark chart is something you should have on your shop wall.  By comparing the metal's spark pattern to those on the chart, you will be able to quickly identify those pieces in your junk pile before determining if they suit the job. 

Check with your steel supply center or your welding supplier for a spark chart.


The science of metals and extraction from their ores.  Egyptians are known to have smelted iron in 4,000 BC.  Lead was probably the first metal that was smelted due to the low heat required.  Prior to then, ancient people found gold, silver, etc. in their pure (native) state and made objects from the nuggets.


Of, or pertaining to, iron. 

non ferrous

Pertaining to other metals, such as aluminum, tin or copper.


An alloy is a compound of one or more metals or other elements.  Brass is the alloy of copper and zinc.  Bronze is the alloy of copper and tin.  Alloys generally have properties that are radically different from any of the base metals in them.  For example, a small amount of chrome when alloyed with steel makes a metal that is radically different from its parents.


Flux is any compound used to prevent oxidation of the welding surface and aid in removing impurities.  Borax powder is commonly used as the flux for a forge weld.  Products such as Boraxo laundry powder are sufficient to act as a flux but adulterants may leave a lingering white stain on the metal.  There are many specialty chemical compounds sold as welding/brazing/soldering flux.  Inert gases such as Argon or CO2 are used as flux in some electric welding methods.


A blacksmith's forge weld is the most ideal weld because the workpieces are brought to welding heat and joined by hammering them together.  When properly done, the pieces are as one homogenous piece with all of the molecules aligned.  Thus, a chain link made by a blacksmith has no joint or seam--it's a continuous, endless piece.

Electric arc welding is the most widely used method.  A "stick welder" refers to a welding rod covered with flux that is inserted into the welder's positive electrode.  MIG or TIG (shielded arc) welding refers to wire feed welders that use inert gases instead of flux.  The welding rod or wire acts as both electrode and filler. The ground cable (negative) hooks to the workpiece.  Thus, an "arc" is caused by the contact of the welding rod/wire to the workpiece..

Oxygen/acetylene welding was developed in the late 1800's.  The actual weld is made by passing the ox/ac torch across the joint and 'puddling' the metal.  A filler rod (of similar metal) is used to fill in gaps and irregularities.


opt for lead-free solders

Solders are alloys containing a mixture of lead, copper, zinc, silver, or other metals.  Soft solders can be hammered after they set whereas hard solders cannot.  Soldering is used to attach two closely-fitting objects.  It is most often used to plumb copper pipe to plumbing fixtures and connect electrical wires and components.  Soldering is also used to join sheet metal (such as roofing metals) and tinsmith workpieces.  Some solders contain flux in the core of the solder bar or wire.  It should be noted that soldering copper pipe relies more expansion coefficients than on the solder actually bonding the metal; thus, the solder acts as a compression fitting between the pipe and the pipe fitting.


Brazing is soldering.  For whatever reason, it's called soldering if done under 800 deg. and brazing if done over 800 deg.  The technique basically revolves around how much heat the metal can tolerate without losing integrity.  Neither soldering nor brazing join the metal whereas welding does.


A rivet is a metal pin with battered ends.  The rivet has one head pre-manufactured either by a smith or a factory.  The pin is then inserted into the aligned holes of two or more pieces of metal to be joined.  Then the other head is battered.

Copper rivets can be battered neatly using a ball peen hammer and the work can be done cold.

Iron rivets must be heated and then battered with the ball peen or other tool such as a hollow-point rivet punch.  When used as a rigid fastener, hot iron rivets outperform any other kind of fastener (e.g.: bolts) because as they cool, the heads exert tremendous compressive force on the plates being joined.  For this reason, when placing a rivet in a set of tongs or pliers, the smith will most likely have to re-heat the reins and the rivet one or more times to get them working freely.

drift / drill


Two methods of making holes in metal.  Drifting is done with punches and preserves all original metal.  (Start with a pointed punch and keep widening the hole.)  Drilling is done with twist steel bits and removes all metal.  Drifting has the additional benefit of allowing for square or polygon-shaped holes whereas drilling allows only for a round hole. 

 A drifted hole is preferable for all blacksmith work although the smith must compensate for the metal "running." Since all original metal is preserved with a drift, the metal moved to make the hole must "run" elsewhere.

Drifting techniques also allow for other applications such as putting an irregular shaped slot or socket in a bolt head.  Thus, the bolt cannot be removed (easily) without the special shaped tool that formed the slot or socket.  This is the principle behind the invention of the Philips screw in the 20th century.

gas forge

A gas forge is basically a gas oven fired by natural or LP gas.  Gas forges require a blower that forces air through a tuyere.  Gas forges are lined with fire brick or ceramic.  Gas forges have the advantage of operating at a constant temperature.  The disadvantage with these forges is their small size which limits the size of the workpiece.

side-draft forge hood

(click thumbnail to enlarge)

side draft forge hood drawing














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