Ridgewayforge

Common Beginner Mistakes

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I consider myself a beginner blacksmith- I have made and continue to make small items as I work on my technique and form. Meanwhile, I would like to take a class or two, but cannot due to current time restraints. (I hope next summer opens up for me!)
So, while I continue my work, I would like to ask for my benefit and all other newbie blacksmiths:

What are some of the most common Beginner Mistakes, and how are they avoided?

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Well you can see this one coming: trying to learn on your own,,yes you can,,you can also learn to do things wrong,,and eventually you may be able to forge with poor form or moves and to get past that you will take a real long time with a good instructor,. A lot of injuries are due to poor body mechanics . I have seen many folks on here that eventually give up and find something else to spend time on. A shame as most of them if they were persistant could have gotten help and move right along. Forums books, phone calls videos etc do not look at you while you are working and suggest ways to improve. The do not watch you in actioon so to speak.and so as I said youi can learn to make things in a pour manner.
Join a group and forge with others that at least a re willing to show qand sughgest,,,that is if they know wot they aree doing. You can prove this for your self if youi start reviewing videos on u tube or elswhere,,,look at those by Brian and compare with the home done ones by those that learned on their own,,,,It just may be thta you will not see the things I am speaking of,,,That of course means you need to get a great start to begin with....

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Keep your thumb off the hammer handle :)

Oh, and hitting too hard rather than trying to get control. I'm still only a couple years into smithing, but early I found that I'd try to hit too hard and miss the work...

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I have never seen anyone smith nor have I had anyone show me and I have been smithing for a few years now. Though I agree that without some teaching you can learn poor form and bad habits, but you have a brain so think carefully about what you do and make changes accordingly - it's not rocket science.
I shoot bows for example, when you grip a bow like you are trying to strangle someone and strain with a bow that is too heavy your shooting suffers, same with hammering - light loose grip and controlled hits make for better hammer technique. In the circus we used to hammer in stakes all day with a 14pd - using your strength to bring the hammer down will kill you eventually, but using a flowing swing and allowing the weight of the hammer to do the work does not tire you out and you can swing all day - same with forging - the hammer has weight for a reason - you don't have to force it. Learn from other experiences is what I mean.

The most serious mistake you can make is anvil height - this can put serious strain on your body.
The next is proper ventilation - you only have one set of lungs
Another is PPE - look after eyes, ears, lungs and remember - black steel burns badly!

I am not fortunate enough to live in a country where there are classes available - if you have this resource then I would emphatically state that you must take a few classes and learn from a few smiths as they all have their own tips and tricks. And the side of a hammer moves steel far faster than the flat :D

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George Ernest had a business of hand forging and selling farriers' tools in the early 20th century. His labors later developed into GE Forge and Tool Works, which is still in business. Following is a quotation from George Ernest.

"Some people hit it and watch where it goes; I know where it's going to go before I hit it."

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Two hits will not correct a wrong hit! If you missed the piece on the first hit..STOP!

Reposition
Repair what is wrong
Continue in the right direction

Few people ever tell you what to look for when things go wrong, they just show the good end results.
And have a good time doing it. When you do not enjoy..stop righ then.

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When working at the anvil keep your back straight, over time bending your back to work at the anvil will take it's toll. Raise the anvil if needed............

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*stop* *before* you make the unrecoverable mistake! As you get tired you are more likely to really screw things up; but we all want to finish just a little bit more and so are prone to wasting *all* our time by creating a total disaster.

Drink water when it's hot!

Don't make knives before you can even hammer a flat surface! Don't make knives before you know how to work steel. Don't work knife grade steels as if they were mild steel or A36.

Make a bunch of each item and pick the best for sale or gifting---never bet that the first time you do something will be worthy to give away.

For solid fuel forges: don't let the fire get too thin, you don't save fuel by ruining your work and having to do it all over!

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Great tips, taking notes - thanks!

I've been dying to fire up my new smithy for over a month now, heck, I don't even really know if the forge I built is even going to be worth anything, but I'm adamant on working with an experienced smith prior to doing anything on my own, which is scheduled to hopefully happen this coming weekend in my smithy. I'm also going to start formal classes next week at our local forge.

I know from past experiences over the years that I'm notorious for teaching myself bad habits, especially when it comes to physical activities. I grip the paddle too hard in my kayak, which has taken a while to try to correct through classes, I used to grip the racquet too hard and muscle shots when playing racquetball, I used to grip the softball bat too hard, I used to grip the weight lifting bars too hard, resulting in some carpel tunnel......in other words, I try to use brute strength over technique if not taught the proper ways to do things. So that's why I'm refusing to even attempt to start out on my own......I'm the guy that has to use a torque wrench because I'm notorious for twisting the heads off Grade 8 bolts otherwise.... :rolleyes: .

Even though it may not be rocket science, I feel that in my particualr case I could cause myself a lot of harm (both physically and mentally) by starting off on the wrong foot. Heck I've waited 43 yrs to get into something that I've been interested in as far back as I can remember, so I figured I can exercise a little patience to ensure that I can continue doing it and enjoying it for many years to come. Plus, I really want to learn how to maintain the fire correctly, I see that as a vital thing to know.

I've read a lot of the books that have been recommended on this forum and also watched some videos, but I'm more of a "hands on" kind of learner, so I think working with experienced blacksmiths will be a good thing for me to do starting out.

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Reshape your hammer handles so you can hold them without a death grip! I like a thinner grip with a bulbous end swell so that I can actually let the handle shift up and down in my hand during a swing but it can't "escape" as the end swell prevents that.

So the Meta Advice is "don't be afraid to modify your tools to suit *YOUR* body and working style!"
a corollary is that buying used tools cheap at fleamarkets makes one easier about modifying them than buying top dollar ones out of catalogs...

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Don't blow the beejeesus out of your kindling when lighting a coal forge. Just opening the ash gate gives plenty of draft more often than not.

Welding temperature in a coal forge is often when the metal matches the coal color and "disappears". Sparks don't tell you much and colors are subjective.

Relax, don't rush, and stop when your tired.

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Go to the library. Get a library card if you don't have one. Learn how to find things in your local library. If your library has a website learn how to use it. Libraries these days don't just have books. Mine has Books, Videos, Paintings, Magazines and so forth. I went on-line last Friday. I found a DVD on Blacksmithing. This DVD was not at my local library but was at another location that My library is connected to. I put a hold on this DVD, on-line, at home. They transported this DVD to my local library and I got an Email saying that it had arrived and I had x number of days to pick it up. My wife was running errands near by and she picked it up while I was at work. It was a 6 hour, 3 cd set of blacksmithing. It will help you learn. It was free. You can watch it in your spare time. it is free. If you miss something you can back it up.... etc etc.

Now there are probably many videos out there but this is the one I have. "A Blacksmithing Primer" by Randy McDaniel. I knew most of this but not all of it. It is a good, straight forward concise video.

They also have really good books there too! They are also free! IF you keep them too long they charge you a fee. BUt the fee is usually a lot less than the cost of a book. You can renew on-line and avoid these charges.

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Ready?

Not realizing which books are the good ones; not realizing which Youtubes are the good ones.
Not realizing that you must see the work being done and/or have lessons.
Using dinky blows for just about everything; afraid to lift the hammer overhead for fear of loss in accuracy. Get over it!
Using dark red to cherry red heat for just about everything. Get over it!
Afraid to get a lemon yellow heat for fear of burning the steel; gun shy. Get over it!
Putting notches in hammer haft when giving shearing blow on hardy; should take handle out to the side when shearing.
Placing hardy in hole with narrow side of blade facing operator; could be a knuckle buster with holding hand and fingers over the horn.
Building low-down, flat coal fire...trying to save fuel. Get over it!
Not placing the hammer in a known place on the anvil when taking a heat. Sometimes the hammer is in the hand already, which is OK.
Extreme bobbing of the head and torso up and down when hammering.
Straightening stock lengthwise on the anvil length; can be done parallel to the anvil step.
Striking for someone with a hand hammer; should be a sledge.
Death grip on the haft; should be comfortably loose and relaxed.
Stiff, unrelaxed hammering. I liken good hammering somewhat to throwing a ball.
Pushing, sliding the hammer away when "hitting" thinking you are drawing out the metal rapidly. No! You may as well go ice skating. Hit the metal fair and square.
Not gathering the right tools needed for the forging job at hand.
Not thinking ahead. Plan what you're going to do while taking the heat.
Picking up hot iron.
Tong closure on the work without total inner jaw contact. Very dangerous, if there is daylight between the workpiece and the tong jaw.
Using the wrong kind of tongs which aren't designed for the cross-section you're working.
Not having learned yet: half face blows; edge to edge blows; offsetting blows; fullering blows; angle blows.
Bending by holding and hitting the work against the horn instead of beyond the horn; they're leverage blows.
Running the hammer over the work instead of moving the work under the hammer.
Not realizing the holding hand does as much as the hitting hand.
Not knowing when and how to use the leg vise.
Not thinking ahead. Plan what to do at the anvil while taking the heat.

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This may not help. Think in terms of energy use. When hammering think of using the least amount of personal energy as possible to accomplish the task. This would mean that the hammer is almost slipping out of your hand but isn't. Your control is more of a throw and release as opposed to a death grip swing. Movement is not forced or pushed but rather in rythm with the natural frequency of your arm, hammer combination. As the hammer hits, nice and square, there is no jarring to the hand that holds the metal, your grip on the hammer is loose and that allows the hammer to bounce up, from a square solid hit and contact. As the bounce reachs it's peak you take your near limp, effortless grip, just tight enough to control and lift the hammer for the next, precision, teeth unclenched, non death grip drop. Make the hammer do all the work accept the bare minimum of energy required from you to lift and drop and guide. Find the natural frequency and use minimum strength in all muscles. This includes mouth, forehead, toes etc!

Note: if your metal holding hand is jarring at all this means you are either not hitting square and precise or you are not holding the metal flat or square on the anvil. This wastes energy, causes the hammer to deflect of course, and messes up the whole rythm and natural frequency. This means more energy required, more energy wastes, a tighter grip needed... So we talk a lot about hammering but we rarely talk about holding the metal flat and sqare to the anvil which is at least as important. I think!

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*stop* *before* you make the unrecoverable mistake! As you get tired you are more likely to really screw things up; but we all want to finish just a little bit more and so are prone to wasting *all* our time by creating a total disaster.



Learned that the hard way. Ouch, that one may be worse than being burned.

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Thank you all for your input! Seems I truly do have a long way and a lot to watch out for. I plan on taking a class next summer, between now and then I'm only going to get very little forge time, unfortuately. This is a lot of information to chew on and reflect on, too. Thank you all for taking the time to list these errors, a fair few of which I have succumbed to now and then!

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To add to Franks' list, hammering upwards or sidewards, turn the work to suit the direction of hammering, ie use gravity. Don't turn the hammer to suit the work, and work against gravity, gravity is your friend.

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The biggest mistake I have done, was not learning the basics at the anvil by hand. I jumped right into a power hammer and did not take the time to learn how to develope my skill correctly. This still haunts me to this day. It has hurt me in taking instruction because my skill is advanced in some areas and not in others. It is very hard to go back and fix bad habits. I have always been one to get it done the fast easy way, but I have learned that is not always the best way. ;)

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To repeat Frank,,, get it hot. When its yellow its mellow. When red its dead. Yellow is a forging heat, red is a finishing heat.

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Not allowing yourself to make mistakes. It's human nature to make mistakes. When you make a mistake in my book, (which is inevitable) you learn that you should do it differently another time. Trying to do everything perfectly the first time and from then on, everytime is just not gonna do anyone any good. Surgeons make mistakes on humans - it's not the end of the world if a blacksmith does it on a piece of steel...

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Yup, at the end of the day,, its still just a piece of iron. ;)
It really gets cool when you realize it wasn't a mistake, but a new detail for another application!!

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beginners mistake: hot shuts. man can they get away from you. early on I left them. when I started filing them out and realising how deep they go and fast, i changed my tune about them.

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Wear all natural fibers. A polycotton shirt may just burst into flames and leave you with a prize! :unsure:

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