150 years ago most census records showed that a fifth of the respondents listed their occupation as blacksmith. Horseshoes were a small part of the job. They were more likely fabricating or repairing a farm implement, making hardware like hinges or pulleys, or even something as mundane as nails. The box of nails we buy at the hardware store for a few dollars were once made one at a time–by hand. Visit a living history site and there will be a crowd around the blacksmith. It pulls people in…How does he do that?
The methods used are essentially unchanged. I call them the Three Hs:
Since most people don’t know a blacksmith, I get a lot of questions about the trade. The main being...
“Where’s the coal?”
Many blacksmiths still use coal, and there are good reasons for it. You can get fast heats, and a skilled smith can manipulate the heat along a long piece of steel. The downside is that coal’s dirty, which is fine if you have a detached shop. I use wood chunks because it’s clean and relatively inexpensive.
“Where do you get steel?”
From a steelyard. We have lumber yards for lumber and steelyards for steel. While lumber yards are fairly common in most places, steelyards are harder to find as they rarely cater to the public at large, mostly because no one in the public at large wants a 20’ piece of hot-rolled 5/8” diameter A36 steel rod. They’re usually found in industrial parks and such.
“How hot does it get?”
Very hot. 1400 degrees plus. I can make it hotter or colder, but I usually keep it right around there.
Then there’s the statement: “I bet it feels really good to pound out all your frustrations…”
No, indeed. Hitting hard is part of the equation, but hitting accurately is more important. If a blacksmith is irritated, he should pound on a punching bag until he gets over it, then go work at the anvil.
Below I address the very basics of getting started in blacksmithing.. First, we’ll take a look at the tools you need to get a blacksmith operation going.
The Tools Needed:
You need four basic things:
A thing to heat your work
A thing to hold your work
A thing to put under your work
A thing to pound out your work
A Thing to Heat Your Work:
A small homemade forge works just fine for most projects.
This is the “how to video” I watched and used as a basic direction for my forge.
You heat your work with a forge. Forges need fuel and air, and lots of it. Whether it’s a wood or coal forge with bellows or a propane forge with a fan, the basic idea is to heat a piece of metal hot enough to pound out.
You can do a lot with a smaller forge. It wastes less energy and heats more quickly. A coal or wood forge has an advantage here as it can be scaled easily, making the fire larger or smaller depending upon your work.
A Thing to Hold Your Work:
You hold hot objects with tongs, vises, or clamps. The old saying is “If you can’t hold it, you can’t hit it.” Tongs are primary, you may need many tongs for holding various shapes. A tong that’s good for a ½” square rod will fail if you try to hold a ¼” round rod. Holding a flat piece of metal requires a different tong.
A good vise is mandatory. I favor my Welton. Tools are not cheap, nor should they be.
Clamps are also crucial, especially if you are working something that needs to be squared and flat. Holding something square or flat is tough without a large, stable surface and a method to stabilize it.
A Thing to Put Under Your Work:
The main thing under your work is usually the anvil. A good anvil is critical to successful work.
American-forged, the Rat Hole is a fantastically designed tool. It has two holes on it, the pritchel and the hardy hole.
A pritchel is used for punching through a piece of metal, as you need a place for the slug to go when you get through the piece of work. It stabilizes the main piece of work so it doesn’t distort too much when you start punching.
The hardy holds a number of cool tools like a V-block, useful for putting a bend in a piece of stock, like making the curvature of a leaf, etc. It can hold a swage for putting an edge on a piece of stock or making a notch in a piece of flat stock.
There is an upsetting block on the back side (a very nice feature) and of course, the horn, which is the pointy part used for curving metal.
What To Pound with:
Your gonna need some hammers here. You can't skimp on these tools, you’ll always be sorry. The variety of shapes, weights and head styles will become obvious to you over time.
A dream doesn't become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.
- Colin Powell