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I Forge Iron

Learning from mistakes

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Hi my name is Greg D Price, but I go by Raggy (Google "Greg Price, Blacksmith" and you'll see why). I'm a rather self paced learner, always have been a kinda touch the iron to see if its hot kinda guy. But I've gotten tired of the blisters. When reading a few words of wisdom here on Iforgeiron a few days ago I read something along the lines of "Learn from mistakes, but you don't have to make them to learn from them"; as told in words of fatherly advice.

Today in the shop those words came to mind as I thought; "Wished I could have watched someone else do that so I wouldn't be tired and empty handed." So I was inspired to share some of the mistakes I've made, my opinions on what I think went wrong and or what I think I should have done.

Hopefully others will feel encouraged to do so and, more importantly to me.. Perhaps some of the more gracious and experienced members could weigh in to stomp out untruths or turn assumptions into truths, not in the name of making anyone into an ass but to encourage a richer community.

Each of these pictures are an embarrassment of sorts but admitting mistakes and looking for answers is the best path towards improvement I think.

The first thing I'd like to get out of the way is my anvil. It's not very big, or hardy.. it doesn't even have a hardy hole (this term makes my fiance blush :P ) but it has served me well. Better than I've served it, it's face is marred and nicked:

Something I've focused on to improve my accuracy has been to move what's to be hammered. Knowing that I'll be hitting the same spot allows for better rhythm. One thing that is a challenge for me is angling my hammer face correctly for each blow and it's become more intuitive since I started to practice this. Sometimes it is inconvenient or impossible to move my target as needed but I've developed more control over all with this method. The other cause of damage is more related to the quality of the anvil and placing cold or black hot steel against the anvil and hammering to create or remove bends.

This next picture wasn't actually my mistake but it's one easily made by an overzealous beginner and it's what I refer to as a cold laps although there may be a more appropriate term. My cousin who I invited to make a knife with me is 6' 9" and a hoss who took a 10lb cut off sledge to a railroad spike. This was in just a few heats and if my anvil hadn't been warmed I'm sure he'd have obliterated it. The problem was it was worked to long and to cold. While with enough force was applied to reshape the metal it isn't the solid billet it appears at first. The cooler metal pushed into the hotter metal and this can happen in a number of ways including when using a fuller.

Another example of working too long too cold. I tried to do the twist and bend in one heat and you can see what happened. You may also notice I didn't manage to center the eye. When I struck the punch a second time without making sure it was where needed. Haste makes waste but I took the time to do some soldering and electroplating experimentation.
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This was a split I did and it wasn't done as well as it could have been. A straighten spring clip that I split before letting the grain structure destress normalize/anneal. Had I done so perhaps it wouldn't have cracked. Another option would have been to drill a control stop where I planned to end my split.
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This was the result of a hot spot forming and inattentiveness to my work environment. I use a charcoal/wood trench type forge that doesn't have an ash catch to keep ash from building up in the corners and bottom after a long day. Ash can insulate and block airways. For me this resulted in more air being targeted to the center of the forge and when pulled out I had a molten bubbling overheated hot spot. I have learned to spot this and prevent it by making sure I don't work too long without cleaning my out my forge and starting anew.
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This next one is most telling. If you do something over and over again you know what to expect and how to hand it. My first spring clip knife was coming along nicely and I just quenched it and noticed it curved. Either because I didn't quench it evenly or because it wasn't shaped quite symmetrically enough I can only suppose and what would have been easily fixed by reheating. But I panicked and wasn't thinking clearly because after a quick dip I darted to the anvil to straighten it. Break. I knew better at the time too but inexperience in practice and excitement caused me to do something foolish.
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This last one is a bit more subtle but probably the most difficult to correct. Planning. My second railroad tomahawk attempt went well except I hit a stumbling block the thickness of the collar wasn't satisfactory. It was a poor judgment and understanding of how the material would move. I could attach it to a handle, but the handle would either have to be too thin or I'd have had to split and drift the collar beyond what I was capable of doing at the time. I set out to do something with little to no idea what I was going to do.
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My point is most anyone can beat and bang something hot to a shape. Knowing exactly what you want to accomplish and how you'll do it in the most efficient possible way is probably the most important thing that can be learned. It's something I'll never perfect but always strive to. I've gained insight every single time I've fired my forge but some wheels are best not reinvented so I want more formal training. I'm going to my first abana meeting this Sunday after a year of actively pounding steel and want to approach it as a blank slate. So please excuse the smell as I air my dirty laundry. I'm worried I've picked up bad habits working solitary with no personal guidance but it's made me comfortable enough with my knowledge base and basic technique that I'm no longer intimidated by the idea of being the new guy around the fire. I've been lucky to have a wealth of knowledge online to develop my passion in a beautiful art.

This is my attempt to contribute and give back what I can. Thanks for reading and take care ~~ Raggy

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Your post and you are what this site is about. It is a place where blacksmiths from all walks of life and all experience levels can gather and share information and experiences, good and bad. We learn from each other, and each person, including a newby has something to teach even the most seasoned blacksmith professional. Thankyou for taking the time to share your "discoveries" while working.


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I've only been playing with iron since January, and I've made 5 out of 7 of these mistakes. The only reason I haven't made the others is that I haven't yet tried those processes. :P Not to imply that I haven't made other mistakes... I lost count sometime around the first week.

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Thanks for the nice words, I enjoy talking about my work and while many people listen intently few understand technically. It's nice to reflect in detail, the process of writing and asking myself how to explain, how things went wrong was a helpful exercise in itself for me personally.
“When men are most sure and arrogant they are commonly most mistaken, giving views to passion without that proper deliberation which alone can secure them from the grossest absurdities”- David Hume

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