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What tools are needed for blacksmithing

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As there are several new faces wanting to get into blacksmithing, how can we help get them started?

What do you suggest on how to start blacksmithing with little or no money to invest?

What do you suggest for a heat source?
What do you suggest for an anvil ?
What do you suggest for holding the hot metal?
What do you suggest for working stock? New, old, junk yard steels, rebar etc.
What can and can not be accomplished with the minimum make-do tools you have listed above.

Now that they have a working forge:

What is the fastest way to learn?
What do you suggest as the best way to learn?
At what point do you suggest they turn in the make-do forge, anvil, tools, etc. and get the good stuff?

All this is aimed at the fellow getting started and with little money to invest. May I suggest you add a bit of information on how you got started and the equiptment you started with. The point is to let the new folks know that it can be done.

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If you are interested, I would suggest this way:
Buy a set of good safety glasses - they are your best friend. They say you don't hear of any old one-eyed smiths - there is a reason: lose an eye, no more smithing.
Buy a good set of boots. I prefer the low-heel steel-toe cowboy boot - sparks can't burn your laces. However, they must fit perfectly.
Find someone who is already been doing some smithing for at least three years - they do not have to be full-time, just some good background. Hang out with them for at least 50 hours (about 5 weekends). Learn a bit about the in's and out's; offer to pay for some of their time, or coal/propane and materials. If you still are interested, take small steps.
Buy an inexpensive anvil; no less than 50# and no need to go higher than 150#. The popular old Peter Wright, Haybudden, MouseHole anvils are what I prefer. If you find an old cast Vulcan, Fisher or whatever, do not dismiss them - they lasted this long. Brand names for the new ones such as, Refflinghaus, Peddinghaus and so on are nowadays only slightly more expensive. The anvils from out of Austria, Sweden, Czech and Slovak areas are high quality and relatively inexpensive. The Asian-made anvils USED to be no more than a pretty paperweight or a handgrenade, though I can not honestly comment on the ones made as of late.
Buy a cheap 2.5 - 4# cross-pien hammer - the offshore ones are good. They have the mass to do the work, and the face is soft enough that when you are learning and miss the steel and hit the face of the anvil, there is less likelyhood of leaving a mark. Buy a quality handle and make the handle fit your hand!
If you can not locate a pair of tongs at a swap meet or at a pawn shop (do not spend more than $20 US or $800Cdn :wink: ), then buy a set of Vise-Grip brand locking pliers and one set of cheapo pliers.
If you must buy a pair of gloves, place them on the wall and drive a 6" ardox through the middle of them - there they will do the most good.
Learning (again):
Go to your friend's place and practice for a weekend with his fire. Don't forget to pay him - it will cost you the same to run a forge later on.
At this point, your investment in tools is easily recovered, should you not like smithing.
Take a weekend blacksmithing course, if available 8) .
Buy a suitable/affordable forge. Gas or coal, whichever would serve you best advantage. This is where your friend can help.
If you have a small shop, invest in a carbon monoxide detector and many batteries. Ensure it always works! These detectors also have specific life cycle - read the manufacturer's literature or ask! This should not be a reason to end up on the prayers list.
Things to make:
Learn to make nails and rivets - the maufacture of these contains your basic, everyday skills.
Learn to make a chain link.
Make fire pokers, fire rakes.
Make chisels.
Make tongs.
Make a cut-off hardie.
Make a cutting table for the anvil.
Make a bench. The table height to be determined by the height of your hands when your arms are relaxed with a slight bend in the elbow.
Get a vise. Leg vise if available, otherwise a parallel vise.
If at this point you have spent no more than $1000 on your supplies. The training course and the money for your friend not to be included.
I would not go out of my way to spend any more money for at least 200 more forging hours (that's every Saturday for a whole year).
During this time, learn how to make tools - no one can buy this manner of experience.
Don't make a garden gate - it's harder than you think. Make a candle holder first (give this to the wife :shock: )
Curtain rod tie-backs (for the wife :o )
Latch for a wooden garden gate (to the mother in-law's flower bed :wink: )
The second best part of making tools: if you find that you don't like smithing, you can sell the tools too.

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My $.02...others will add theirs:

1. I think coal or charcoal is the best fuel for a beginner but if they can spend some money, they could buy a propane forge. In some areas, propane is much easier to obtain and some neighbors don't like coal smoke. A torch is OK for small stuff but the student will probably get frustrated quickly on general work.
2. Anything that is block shaped with mass. We are so anvil-silhouette conditioned, we can't see the value of a big steel block.
3. Vise grips work fine for the short term.
4. Depends on what they want to make. Junkyard is a good learning experience but new stock guarantees consistency.
5. A lot can be accomplished with basic tools and some determination. Punching holes will require a bolster of some sort but the other normal blacksmithing operations are achievable.

Basic stuff - heat source capable of welding temps or at least a good yellow, 2.5 lb cross-peen hammer, anvil block, anvil stand, vise grips, some sort of vise (even small imported bench type), a variety of stock and a hack saw (or bolt cutters).

A & B. Go to a school or have an experienced smith show you some things. OJT is slow and laborious.
C. When they personally feel the need that the tools they are using are more of a hindrance than a help.

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I think the best thing to do is:

1) Go buy or borrow 3 good How-To Blacksmithing books.


The better books lay out the essential equipment, why you need it, and what it looks like, complete with pictures. Then they show you how to use it all, much better than we can by committee here. Or I should say, it will probably be less bewildering.

2) Daryl's got it -- go find a blacksmith.

3) Practice, practice, practice. As a rule, blacksmiths don't seem to really accept this for some reason. Forging requires fundamental skills that need refreshed and refined. I heard once that if a musician misses one day of practice... he can tell. If he misses two days in a row of practice, his family can tell. If he skips three days in a row... anybody can tell. There is probably a similar version of this story for snipers, blackbelts, and trash collectors.

If you have your own shop, you can almost always slip in there for 20 or 30 minutes of SOMETHING every day. Practice is even more mental than it is physical.

This isn't directly answering your question Glen, but it is the best advice I know of for the obsessed beginner who wants to become good in a hurry.

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  • 3 years later...

All the above ... & ASK QUESTIONS , even if you think it's STUPID , no 1 will think your stupid , it's those who DON'T ask we KNOW are STUPID .


& remember " Rome wasn't built in a day "

Dale Russell

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Look at what you have, some guys do all their smithing with a ball peen hammer, do you have an old vacuum cleaner, save the blower, do you have old chisels sitting in a tool box? You should see as much of your local group as possible, once seen, it can be done. Safety equipment, first aid kits, aloe vera, old files work for sooo many things, clamps, trouble lights, just sit and look, it is amazing what is right in front of you.

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if you are into any type of reinacting or are into outdoors make tent pegs! they are a great way to learn drawing to a point . try to make the point as short as possable (good excersize) and they sell! after the first 1000 or so you will get good at them! ive heard a lot of excuses of why i cant work (i dont have ----- so ime not forgeing )remember a forge is just a heat source and an anvil is something hard to pound on. somewhere somebody started with 2 rocks.. one as a anvil and one as a hammer!and keep in mind that it takes a lot of forgeing to get good... have fun

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OK, some may have glossed over some things that they think everybody already knows. I have read this forum at least everyday for the past 3 months and most days more than once.

I got an anvil in the beginning of september, but have been too busy to get even a small schance to use it. I have my great granfathers champion forge, a small post vise, a bag of coal and a couple hammers. I have been rearrangeing buildings here to set up a shop.

My biggest fear is developing bad habits that I will have to break. I know they take longer to break than to develop. This is why I'm reading this forum and every book I can get a hold of. After this I will then know how little I know once I pick up a hammer.

I'm going to number the items in the original post and I hope that my instructors (yes you) can touch on as many points as possible.

I thank all here for the many things that have caused me to start thinking.

As there are several new faces wanting to get into blacksmithing, how can we help get them started?

What do you suggest on how to start blacksmithing with little or no money to invest?

1.) What do you suggest for a heat source?
2.) What do you suggest for an anvil ?
3.) What do you suggest for holding the hot metal?
4.) What do you suggest for working stock? New, old, junk yard steels, rebar etc.
5.) What can and can not be accomplished with the minimum make-do tools you have listed above.

Now that they have a working forge:

6.) What is the fastest way to learn?
7.) What do you suggest as the best way to learn?
8.) At what point do you suggest they turn in the make-do forge, anvil, tools, etc. and get the good stuff?

All this is aimed at the fellow getting started and with little money to invest. 9.) May I suggest you add a bit of information on how you got started and the equiptment you started with. The point is to let the new folks know that it can be done.
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#6 i suggest the more you forge the better you get .. take classes then go home and try to make what you made in class.. spend at least 4 hrs a week forgeing... 4 hrs a week is better than 20 hrs once a month.#7 I dont think there is a best way... everyone is different where do you want to end up? I am still learning and growing ...#8 as you find or can afford to.. or as you make it! I am getting to where i prefer the tools i make over store bought... some stuff will show up as friends and family learn about what you are blacksmithing...I end up with stuff all the time ... find out what stuff costs so you will know a good deal when it comes along and dont be afraid to buy extras if the price is right. You can use um for tradeing stock with other smiths.

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Fire--the first forge I had was an old BBQ grill cut a hole in the bottom for a 2" floor flange
screwed in a 2" plumbing T(hardware store) ash dump was an exhaust flapper from a tractor.

air supply---- I was given an old blower that I had to take apart and free up,a hair drier will work

anvil--- a piece steel 4"x 8" x3" then found a piece of rail road track(flea market)

tongs --- long pliers and vise grips

material ---- I used what I could find bolts,some rod that i had ,then went and bought new steel less challenges starting out

hammer--- ball pien, and cross pien from the flea market

projects ---- s hooks,fire tools! must have to learn to maintain your fire

fastest way to learn----join the local blacksmiths group!!!The smartest thing I did starting out! They want to teach you if you will listen and practice

best way to learn -----I got lucky another beginner lived close by and we would go to the meetings then come back and help each other and lots of practice and read eveything

When do you up grade?----As you find the tools at the flea market or farm sell at a price you can afford you may have to rework some but good learning experance upgrading the anvil? are you going to stay with it? if so talk to some in the blacksmithing group they may know of one that won"t break the bank.

cost --- my total start up cost was about $50-$75

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I suggest purchasing a decent hammer. Avoid using hammers that have round faces like ball-peen hammers as they will leave dents in everything you do, thus leading to bad habits. If you can afford a Hofi hammer, buy one. Your hammer is your most important purchase. You can always use a flat chunk of steel for an anvil, and a metal pan with black-pipe, a slit cut in a pipe cap, and an old hair blower as your forge. For other hammers, find a smith to help you finish the face and edges of the hammer.

Your number one goal is hammer control, and number two is learning to properly control a coal fire. It saddens me to see people throwing green coal on the center of a fire as a habit, not controlling the coking of the coal, and working on advanced projects rather than developing good habits.

Work near the edge of your anvil so that if you miss what you are aiming for, your hammer bounces off the anvil rather than damaging the anvil's face.

Personally I don't see much merit of a person working on advanced projects if they can't keep their hammers from damaging the anvil and other equipment they are using. Lately, I have been seeing a lot of people damaging anvils, and a lot of green smoke. My recent favorite is watching three gentlemen using sledge hammers on a project at the local guild's building... over the tail of the anvil.... on metal that was too cold.... While at another forge someone else was pouring a bucket of green coal on the center of a fire and filling the building with green smoke.... And the guild has banned using *any* water to control the coal fires in the forges. While at another forge, someone is hunched low over a long piece of metal that he is making into a sword, making little dinky dink hits to iron and anvil. .... but hey, look at all the wonderful advanced projects they are doing!

In my humble opinion it is better to use welded firepots if a teaching group is afraid of beginners breaking the cast iron firepots, rather than banning the learning of properly managing a coal fire with water, etc. But that is just my opinion.

OK, ..... My biggest fear is developing bad habits that I will have to break. I know they take longer to break than to develop. This is why I'm reading this forum and every book I can get a hold of. After this I will then know how little I know once I pick up a hammer........I thank all here for the many things that have caused me to start thinking.
Edited by UnicornForge
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after working in the forge all my working life , the work has been my job and a way of feeding the kids i have enjoyed my work, but it has not been my hobby i have done other things as to relax ,only now that i have reached retirment ,i play in the smithy .and youngsters come to play too, the shortage of pick sharpening for the coal mines ,tool dressing for the quarries ,that i started on at 15years old ,makes things harder for the young ones ,the advise i would give is to dont try complex things with complex steels ,keep it simple practice on mild steel ,making round into sq ,and sq into round ,then make your hooks out of your own round , and twisted fire irons out of your own made sq, sorry it sounds boring ,but so was sharpening truck loads of coal cutters picks.

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I am probably fortunate that soon after I started the trade, I was approached by another smith to do a bunch of wholesale work because he had injured both arms and could no longer work at the anvil for long periods. I saw it as a way to make a little money but never imagined that the repetition would help me in later years. The work consisted of quantities ranging from 50 to 300 of whatever he ordered with most of it involving forged tapers, points, leaves, bosses and bends. Over the time I subcontracted for him, I made thousands of repetitive items. As Bruce said, although the simple work soon becomes second nature - it also makes for confident and efficient hammering, which is something that never leaves you.

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Thank you all. The 3 prior posts fit with what I have thought should be my priorities. The books that I seemed to understand best were those that emphasized lessons. One lesson led to the next. I hope to avoid jumping into some creative project way beyond my ability.

I'm thinking that I should make nails, lots of nails. Also, since that is a small project, I may have to work my way down.

I really want to get a handle on one concept before jumping into another.

What about item #4?

I have a ton of decent junk around here and don't plan on buying stock.

I plan on beginning with known mild steel, but I have a boat load of other stuff to work with. Including an old car frame. How old I don't know, but it does have leaf springs in the front! I have a lot of wrought iron to work on after I start getting a bit of hammer time together. This includes some 4 foot long heavy hinges and some iron tires that appear to be wrought.

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Hey Matt,I am fairly new to all this as well but I would not put metal into the fire if you do not know what is is. Could be toxic or just plain hard to work. Others here can help you figure out how to tell what you have got.

I have made so many drive hooks and s-hooks and fire pokers that I have run out of people to give them to. But all that repetition helps. I am more confident each time I forge. I would recommend finding a local smithing group and spend time with experienced smiths. Watch what they do. Try it out see if it works for you. 'Right' is a relative term.

Also plan out your work. Think about the order you are going to do things. Try to visualize if the next thing you do will make it hard to do the step that follows. If it does re-arrange the order. Imagine trying to taper the ends of an S-Hook after you made the bends!!!

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Information is a Tool
I feel that all of you who have contributed to this post have created some good reading.
The following is of course only my opinion as I lived it. I respectfully include input from the old blacksmiths I worked with (and for), who helped me form the following opinion.

If you think about it, information about blacksmithing is a tool. With out it, you could do nothing worth while.

I speak of “information” as being a “tool” because at one time, here in the western US we went through a period of several years where you could not find much information about the blacksmithing craft.
It was like a period of a “blacksmithing information blackout” right after WWII.
If you did not work for a blacksmith, there was very little technical information readily available for an individual to find about the blacksmithing craft. And, the traditional blacksmith shops were quickly becoming scarce.
Now days the tools of information come in abundance from many diverse forms about the craft of blacksmithing.
Some of the “Tool Boxes” would be Books, Videos, Blacksmith Schools, Blacksmith Guilds, Blacksmithing web sites, Individual Blacksmiths, and all other forms of information that contains the “TOOLS OF INFORMATION” for blacksmiths.

I found that “I Forge Iron” has become a “vital” central source of information for so may of us in the blacksmithing community. I believe this is due to our members being so diverse and that they represent the larger population of blacksmiths from all around the world.

But, What Happened?
Due to the technology that was created to help win the Second World War, many other various needs were also filled for the civilian population as a result of the war. New discoveries changed the way things were done.
It had created an improved welding technology and made welding machines more affordable and available.
During the war, everybody was required to turn-over all of their scrap metal to the government.
Also welding technology was rapidly being developed mostly for the government and larger scale users.
The availability and use of welding machines for the average small traditional blacksmith was still out of reach.
So during this period of time the blacksmith shop was still the principal source for a person to have something built or repaired. The Blacksmith was still a valuable asset to any community for repair work.

Prior to the end of the war, it would be common to find that most farmers and miners owned their own forges to use for repair work and making tools.
During the 1940’s and 50’s, I remember that the Sears and Roebuck Company had a complete set of blacksmithing tools (including the forge and anvil) on display just for the farmer.

Then it happened, the conversion took place.
Due to the new technology of welding, and the availability of welding machines after the World War II, a general traditional blacksmith could no longer successfully compete financially with a modern welding shop at that time.
Shortly after World War II a large wave of transition (change) swept through blacksmith shops (smithies) that caused them to convert over from being traditional blacksmith shops, to becoming Blacksmithing /Welding shops, Welding shops, Mechanical Repair shops, and Machine shops, or a combination of them all.
At first many shops were still called blacksmith shops, although they had been forced to integrate and include modern welding machines and perform mechanical, and machinist kind of work into their shops.
After the war, there was an abundant supply of welding machines that had been developed and manufactured because of the war effort. The government sold all types of surplus machinery (including welding machines) and equipment to the civilian population that the government had used in the arms plants and other factories.

The traditional process of blacksmithing (such as hand hammer, forge, anvil, and striker) was too time consuming and was no longer financially practical.
Coupled with the availability and lower costs of purchasing welding machines after the war was over, it changed how products were built and repaired.
As a result, the small traditional blacksmith shops had to give into the new technology to survive.
I remember that it was common to see forges, anvils, swage blocks, and tongs in the junk yard in large piles.
As a result of modern welding moving into the front door of blacksmith shops, traditional blacksmithing processes and equipment were pushed out the back door along with the interest and skill information about blacksmithing.
The resurgence of traditional blacksmithing came back many years later when blacksmithing became artistic in nature.
Then to my delight, the information started to flow again, gradually at first. But now information is so available that we would never realize that it just about slipped through our fingers here in the US.
I would suggest that the TOOL of “available knowledge about the craft of blacksmithing” is huge. You would only miss it if it was not available.
I give a big thanks to all the blacksmiths who support this site and their individual affiliations for keeping the tool of knowledge alive and flowing.
In summary, I agree with how Dale summarized it.
Once you obtain your tools and equipment,
“Keep on practicing (practice makes perfect)”
Repetition is the mother of skill!
Ted Throckmorton

Edited by Ted T
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I came to blacksmithing in an odd way, so my adventure is not at all typical. About 7 years ago I started making knives using the stock removal method on a Coote 2"x72" belt grinder. The first piece of equipment I made was a 2 burner propane fired forge for heat treating my blades. (still in use)
Using the abundant information that's available on line, it was not that difficult.
Five years ago, I started forging blades. My first anvil was piece of RR track.(still have it). Soon found a 70lb NC Tool farriers anvil, in mint condition.($150) Now have a Hay Budden and a Mousehole.
Tongs were vise grips and el cheapo long handle needle nose pliers that I modified.
Hammers were 2lb cross pien, 1.5lb Swedish pattern, 3lb hand sledge.
Material was 1095, 1070 and W1 steels. (not the best to learn on)
The knife making books I had showed techniques on forging blades.
Then I discovered I Forge Iron and began to broaden my knowledge greatly. For me, I guess the one thing I learned here that helped the most is that a good hammer design and technique is an absolute necessity. I lusted for a Hofi hammer but didn't have the funds at the time. Found a driver hammer that I modified with a side grinder to a reasonable copy of of a Hofi. It weighs almost 3lbs and is the hammer I use 95% of the time. ( have 3C hofi in this order, ya hooooo!) About 18mos ago I broke my right shoulder and thought my hammering was over. Even my Doc said not to expect to be able to forge. After moping around a few months, I started looking into "The Hofi Technique" of hammering. Long story to short, I was forging again.
Thank you, Mr. Hofi, for the hammer and the technique.
I guess all my rambling is trying to say, if you want to be a blacksmith, it's up to you.

Something to hit.
Something to hold it.
Some way to heat it.
Something to hit it.
Something to hit it on.

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  • 10 years later...

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