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Beginner projects aimed at honing skills?

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I wanted to know if you guys could recommend like a set of first forging projects that are aimed at honing your skills and that build upon each other as you progress?


Where you learn one basic skill then use that skill and apply it to another project where you learn another skill and so on...


Just as an example


Simple project aimed at learning skill (A)>>Use skill (A) on project aimed at learning skill ( B ) >>Use skills (A, B ) on a more complicated project aimed at learning skill ( C ), etc......


I'm just trying to find some real skill building exercises instead of just jumping around from one project to another.


Thanks in Advance for any Advice



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Good question, I can't wait to see any answers. Right now my plan involves downloading interesting, simple project ideas (variations on hooks, key chains, bottle openers, etc) and then I plan to puzzle through to figure out how each is made and try to replicate it. Nothing complicated, just enough that I have to think through the process and steps.

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This is the way we tackle the problem, whether its applicable to your situation or not is debatable, but we find it works, and we guide people through the different stages get a mentor if possible, here are some notes from the one day course.


 Safety ,Personal protection equipment and the dangers of hot metal, Safety glasses, leather apron, stout shoes (steel toecaps), Non flammable clothing, leather hand protectors.

The danger of Red hot metal is obvious, Black heat not so obvious, and more dangerous, check if metal is hot before picking up anything lying about forge area.

Tongs, cool off jaws before returning them to racks. Same with other handled tools.


The forge is the building, the hearth is the where the metal is heated. Side blast and how it works,. Bottom blast and how it works, Clinker removal, at start and in use, Tue iron or Tuyere, and how it works, use of slide valve/air control, lighting the fire


Fire control, use enough air blast for the job in hand, too much air gives poor finish on your workpiece, uses more fuel than necessary (bad economy), increases the danger of burning your work, makes more clinkers, make sure bosh (water tank for cooling tuyere) is adequately filled, keep fire stacked high.


The Anvil the various parts, and their function, the importance of stance and height.

Horn / bick / beak, cutting plate, anvil face (hardened steel), hardie hole, pritchel hole, heel and throat, not too far away from the hearth, stable and firmly located if possible.


Height of face is where the anvil face and hammer face meet fully when you swing the hammer at a right angle to your body, too low leaves crescent marks facing towards you, too high, and crescents face away from you.


Stance, at an angle, legs apart, balanced, swing to one side so if hammer rebounds it will pass over your shoulder, rather than hit you in the forehead.


Hammer types, comfort, grip, swing etc 


Then a word of advice


Do not to believe everything you hear or read including me. You can understand all you need through your own eyes and observations. No one can teach anyone anything. Each person to know something must teach themselves.




Basically the techniques are the same on small section materials as on larger ones so because we are up against a time scale we use relatively small cross section materials.


First on 3/8" or 10mm diameter we draw down explaining S,O,R a circle is a square with all its corners removed,


Then explain difference between Forging and Forming


           Forging is altering the section of material between your hammer’s face (or other tooling ie. Fullers, swages, flatters) these displace the displace material to give the desired shape you want.


            Forming is the process of shaping the metal to the desired shape using the anvil’s parts as a fulcrum to do the bending, or jigs and fixtures or tongs and bending forks to aid this manipulating to the desired position/shape


We are then ready to start the other end, and introduce tooling, scrolling tongs, bending forks, simple jigs


Forging and controlling a flat ribbon end scroll /curl

Start at the end and reduce the width, forming a short taper (note the end spread) at the end, turn 90 degrees and reduce this spread end, controlling the sides spreading (keep turning at 90 degrees at each stage) keeping the width parallel whilst forging the taper longer, the longer the taper, the more elegant the scroll/curl end


Form the curl by placing a very small amount off the far side of the anvil and lightly strike it down with a brushing stroke, advance the metal slightly and repeat the blow, carry on, advancing  a little at a time until there is a danger of this curved piece's end contacting the anvil, then flip it up so the curl is now uppermost, knock this toward you and raise the workpiece as you go, this will form the scroll end, adjust using scrolling tongs if necessary


Bending and forming using basic tools and jigs 

Introduction and explanation of use (and abuse) of scrolling tongs and bending forks and simple ring jigs,(a suitable short length of pipe/tube, not essential as you can turn this on the anvil's bick), importance of heated lengths when bending, and resulting kinks at transition from hot to cold, importance of  heat length and temperature when forging and manipulating workpiece


This then completes the first project, The wine or beer glass holder, we then move on to make a fork.


Explain Marking out techniques and how they have now some experience of how metal moves, and how we use this to calculate material lengths required for certain functions

Use of chalk/soapstone, “Tippex” print correction fluid, dividers, oddleg calipers, scriber, centre punches, cold chisel (curved edge and its use in cutting out shapes and marking lines and curves), only used on cold metal, difference between hot cuts and cold chisels


Then we start the fork


Different hammer blows and their effective use on and off the anvil, 


Position of hammer face in relation to anvil face, Half and half blows,forge the ring/handle, use of edges and peins as fullers to spread the metal, light forming strokes and heavier forging blows.

The use of different parts of the anvil for fullering /drawing and how it affects the metal


Twisting techniques and how to straighten and correct any inconsistency

Twisting wrench types, straightening using mallet and wood block, or in vise, adjusting and correcting twists by selective quenching


Use of hot cuts (chisels, butchers) and hardies to split and cut off

Hardies, remove after use, don't go all way through, twist to shear off, or knock off on anvil edge

Hot cuts /chisels / butchers, edges cooled when in use (2 or 3 hits then quench)


Use of sacrificial plates when cutting through on anvil face


Drawing tines down to similar section and lengths 


Fullering in and tapering the fork end to the stem to give a bit of elegance,


Set the tines over the bick.


Clean up and finish using a non toxic cooking oil


Up to now we have not had to use tongs,


Now we make the hook to hang the fork on, this reinforces what has been done before, and again improves confidence, this time we introduce another new skill, 


Punching round and square holes and use of bolster plate

Importance of positioning when starting punch, remove after a few blows and quench punch to prevent it mushrooming and locking into the workpiece, Turn over and identify shiny spot /black area, punch from this side, place over bolster to allow slug/pellet/pill to drop away.


Use of suitable tongs/rein clips when doing this


And this is what is made,




Then we go on to a two day session covering the other basic skills, mainly joining methods, upsetting, tenons, collars, rivetting, hot cutting, and calculating and making scrolls. 


and make something like this




Now you may see the wisdom of trying to seek advice or a mentor,


Three days with guidance gives a good start, and a lifetime to master.


Hope this has been of some use,  apologies if this is too long, but it just illustrates some of the complexities in learning this craft.


good luck and enjoy, 








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When I first took lessons it was from Jerry Culberson at Old Cedar Forge in Wa. state.  He had us make a punch and then a chisel and using those tools make our first set of tongs.  Still a great beginner project and overall way to learn.  First make the tools you need for your project, then complete the project!

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John, with just slight variations that's pretty much what we covered in my first class, I'm glad to see the consistency on terms of skill building. I have my second class tomorrow, supposed to make some kind of tool but don't know what. We didn't cover holes or dividing, so I'm thinking well cover that tomorrow.

Mperrine, I picked up a nice beginners book, The Backyard Blacksmith. A good resource and I'm sure there are more. But I really think there's just going to be no substitute for hours spent at the anvil and in the company of other smiths, sitting at their feet and paying attention.

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Well laid out course John, a plan to instruct by. I've instructed some folk but it's always been one on one with only a couple exceptions or demonstrations.


What I'm finding lately is kids with zero manual skills, kids who may be 15-16 but have never driven a nail, used a saw, hand or power, wrench or in one case pliers. I find myself having to asses a student to determine what I can teach. The last kid needed to learn to swing a hammer with any control, four sessions and he couldn't hit the same place twice, let alone in a row. His lessons were basic hand eye manual skills.


Normally I start folk out on a taper, twist, spreading taper, finial scroll, texturing with a veiner , counter sink, punch and forming. They get a taste of basic skills and go home with a leaf finial coat hook. I'm finding that if a student isn't an adult with manual skills a coat hook is too complicated.


Seems nails are the new beginning project.


Frosty The Lucky.

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A hooks, j hooks, fire tools, rake, poker, watering can, hold fast for your pritchel or hardy hole, staples, bottle opener, corkscrew, you can even make a horse shoe. Bolster plate, chisel, punch, tongs from scratch or re fitting, candle holder, bottle holder, plant stand. Nails, rivets, napkin holder, paper towel holder, toilet paper holder, corn cob back scratcher, sight holder, dinner bell, or just heat up some metal and see what happens when you do different things to it.

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When I was getting started, I took a weekend long basic/introductory course (well, after playing around on my own and not accomplishing much). The course I took was, in my opinion, really well planned for a progression of skills from a very simple project up to more complicated. And I have replicated the same progression whenever teaching or coaching others who are starting off.

That first course started with a simple hook (Friday evening). The following morning (first full day), we did the same hook again, them a leaf hook. We then moved on to a coal rake, tongs, and forging a cold chisel that went into vermiculite overnight to anneal. The next day, it was a roasting fork, heat treating the cold chisel, a strap hinge and finally a flint striker.

It was a very rewarding weekend, felt like a very natural progression as far as building on skills and level of difficulty, and helped develop a lot of confidence for moving forward on my own at home.


It feels odd posting photos of my work from so long ago (looks crude to me now); but there it is. My very first efforts. Should give you some ideas for beginner projects. The cold chisel is a piece of coil spring. The flint striker is W1. Everything else was mild steel.

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Thanks so much for all of the comments. 


The responses were exactly what I was looking for.


I guess I could have just asked it a little simpler by just stating "What is the class schedule like in an introductory/beginner blacksmithing course."


I really am a beginner in the truest sense of the word. I have only fired up my forge a couple of times and heated up a couple of RR Spikes and just kind of flattened them out.


That's when I realized I needed actual direction and a starting point with some sort of progression of skills if I really wanted to take this hobby seriously.


Atleast for me this is the best way to learn.  Start at the beginning with baby steps and move on only when you have achieved a level of confidence on current skill.


Otherwise, I've found I get frustrated if I don't start with the basics, because in reality i'm just in over my head and don't have the knowledge/skill base necessary to complete the task at hand.


Something like the course Neil took seems to be about right for me at my current skill level.


Looks like ill be making some hooks this weekend.


Thanks again for all the advice and please keep them coming,



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Matt, if you take a look at the ABANA website, their education section has a self-study cirriculum called "controlled hand forging". It's freely available, you don't have to be an association member to access that part of the website. Just work your way through the 'lessons'. It's things like drawing a taper, upsetting, punching, drifting. All of the basic forging processes. They're 'techniques' based rather than 'project' based lessons. Meaning, you're starting with a bit if square bar and drawing a taper on it; at the end all you have is a tapered bar, not a hook. But once you learn and practice all of the individual processes, you can easily apply them to making whatever you like. It's well worth the effort of going through the exercises.

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If you combine Neil's advice with the beginner projects presented you'll be of to a good start. Forging a taper is forging a hot (no need to heat treat) or cold cut chisel, forging a round or square taper is forging a punch, etc. you start with the basic skills, and move on to the practical toos. Chisel, punch, tongs...
I would recommend (like Neil) controlled hand forging, as well as JB Stokes basic, intermidiat and advanced blacksmithing manuals, just google them there online. That and a mentor will get you started with the skills and tools you need.

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Thanks again Neil


I just checked out ABANAs website and browsed through those lessons. 


Those lessons appear to be great for the beginner, with easily understandable instructions and excellent visual examples.



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Aside from the other basics concerning fire control, etc I would concentrate on hammer control exercises. A lot of people just wail away at the piece they are hitting. When I am hammering I am actually watching the surface of the part. You need to see the indent the hammer makes with each blow. By watching the surface you know where to land the next one, how hard to hit, and if you are holding the hammer correctly. Take your time at first, and just work some steel. Take a piece of round and make it square, paying attention to surface finish,denting,squareness, and consistent size for the length worked.

Next take that square, and make it an octagon. Again paying attention to consistency. Then try a taper, again consistency. You will learn that sometimes many light blows are better than a couple of heavy ones.

Challenge yourself to making the surfaces as smooth as you can with only the hammer.

Once you can hammer a piece without creating a dented mess, then progress on to a more advanced project. Making tools like chisles, drifts, and punches will give more hammer practice, as well as entering into heat treating.

Another non physical course of study to look into is design. Making items that are not clunky, out of proportion, and pleasing to the eye as well as the hand is another art form in itself.

Good luck, and keep the posts coming.

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You're going to do well Matt, you have the desire and the right attitude. We all had to learn from step one on, nobody is born knowing this stuff. Some folk are born with a knack but most of us have to learn from our mistakes, if we're really lucky we get to learn from someone else's mistakes.


The ABANA curriculum is excellent, as good as a printed course gets. The Cosira series is good as are a number of books. I like Alexander Wygers, "Complete Modern Blacksmith" it shows how to bootstrap a smithy from whatever is at hand and covers tool making from scrounged scrap.


Welcome to the life long learning curve that is blacksmithing. It's a heck of a ride. Iron and steel is the backbone of human civilization. having our way with iron and steel with mankind's two most basic tools, fire and something to hit with is as soul satisfying as it gets.


Frosty The Lucky.

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Well laid out course John, a plan to instruct by. I've instructed some folk but it's always been one on one with only a couple exceptions or demonstrations.


What I'm finding lately is kids with zero manual skills, kids who may be 15-16 but have never driven a nail, used a saw, hand or power, wrench or in one case pliers. I find myself having to asses a student to determine what I can teach. The last kid needed to learn to swing a hammer with any control, four sessions and he couldn't hit the same place twice, let alone in a row. His lessons were basic hand eye manual skills.


Thanks Frosty, 


I tend not to teach 'kids', just treat everyone as adults with the same expectations (obviously within limits of strength and stamina), and assume all know nothing.

The problem is keeping their imagination and enthusiasm in check, the companion set pictured being a prime example of following what the student wanted to do rather than keeping to the basic plan, having said that it turned out well and many lessons learned (me included)


Normally I have them on a one to one with a guardian present, then if they can' hack it, or me, they can retire gracefully and call it a day.


The big advantage is that all come with the desire to learn, I am not at this point too concerned about their hammer skills, they will come as we proceed.


It also helps if the projects don't need the use of tongs. They have enough to do concentrating on heat and hammer.


Here are some picture of youngsters and what they produced at the time with little assistance from myself, just a little grunt power when needed.


These were a one day session.


post-816-0-53529100-1397942830_thumb.jpg  post-816-0-58224200-1397942848_thumb.jpg  post-816-0-93361400-1397942810_thumb.jpg  post-816-0-21224400-1397942786_thumb.jpg  


This young lady at 16 came along and participated in the make a doorknocker class and produced this.




And this one spent a total of four days making the companion set for his Gran, again only with a little help with the grunt needed.




This system seems to work for me, but each to their own.


My idea is to encourage and make them better than what I am

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Controlled hand forging PDF files from the ABANA.  Its a course of study with step by step instructions for each operation.  26 comprehensive lessons that culminate with the making of a grill.   I have found it very helpful.




and then I read that you already had these.  Big Ole DERP.

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Frosty's last comment rang true for me today, at my second class after a month of not hammering anything.  I was watching some of the men in the class just WAILING on the steel, heavy strikes, moving a lot of metal, which I foolishly tried to emulate for a bit before I realized a) my arm would likely fall off sometime in the next 10 minutes if I continued at that rate and a lot of lighter strikes, more in keeping with my own personal style, actually got the job done AND, unbelieveably, got it done with a lot more uniform, straight outcome than all that testosterone pounding.  All that to say Frosty's advice is good, control and multiple more precise strikes apparently DOES beat just pounding the stuff into submission.  Live and learn...  and honor who you are and where your skills are at any given moment. 

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The best advise I can offer to a beginner is practice, practice, practice.  Make the same simple thing 5 times in a row every day for 10 days,  then pick a new thing to make for the next ten days.  Repeat.


They say it takes 10,000 hours of practice or study to become an expert in something.  

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I find that just the basic blacksmith leaf is really good for developing the fundamentals.  You get a very clear picture of progress/errors and it's quick to do.  Controlling an upset, deep shouldering without cracking, square to round, short taper, directional spreading, edge bevels.  I'm still very much in the process of refining my forging skills, and while I don't use a lot of these basic leaves in my designs, I do like to knock a few out now and then just to gauge my general progress.

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Just in case I confused my point, I'm just saying an instructor must tailor the instruction to fit the students. I used an extreme example for the purpose of instruction, it's not the norm.


In fact we held out April meeting last Saturday and we had the got to entertain four potential new members, all adult me. These gentlemen represent the opposite end of the spectrum. Two are in their 70's the others mid or late 50's, all are or were involved in crafts that required manual skill. Their first projects were executed quickly and with near perfection. They'd chosen to do a nail and finished in the neighborhood of 5-10 minutes. They'd chosen very simple projects to get their feet wet and already had excellent hammering skills. Their next projects were tools, a nail header in one case and melting marbles into counter sunk and punched holes for decorations.


Then there were some pretty wistful decorations made for. . . what I don't know but they were attractive and that can be reason enough.


All these gentlemen needed to do is learn how to treat a new material, not the hand skills necessary to manipulate it.


Good grief I hope I haven't muddied my point with a long story . . . AGAIN. If you give instruction you're going to run into skills and natural knacks that run from zero to WAY more than I have and you have to adjust to meet the call.

Frosty The Lucky.

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One aspect of getting some help from another blacksmsith is that they should be able to look at *how* you are hammering as well as how you are *hammering*.


Most people can look at the work piece and see what kind of issues they are having with the hammer hitting it and try to correct them.  Most can't see their form and tell themselves to step up to the anvil and work over the workpiece rather than at arms length....to hold their off hand even behind them if that puts them where they need to be to hammer---or to choke up on the workpiece, many grab the far end  when they may have a foot or two of cold stock in front of that.


I tell a lot of folks to stop using their wrist and start using their arm.  Or to use a smaller hammer (and rarely a bigger one!)  To hold their elbow in close and to not put their thumb atop the hammer handle. To raise or lower the anvil to strike so the hammer face is parallel to the work piece; etc. 


Nice to get them working *right* rather than trying to break bad habits later.


And yes it can be amusing to be able to compliment the person using the lighter hammer on a nice even taper while their SO has to have their workpiece cleaned up by the teacher because they hammered like lightening.  (Not always the lady with the lighter hammer---but usually so.)  I push control as many people come to me wanting to do bladesmithing.  I will also warn a student several times and then let them go on to mess up a piece through not paying attention to what I've told them. ("three types of people:  Those who can lean from reading or being told; those who can learn by watching others and those who....on the electric fence")

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Judson I give you a hearty AMEN.  Practice, practice, practice, and there is something to be said for not moving on before you have a solid grasp on a technique. If you want to play in the fire and be entertained bounce around a master nothing... If you would like to develop the skills to last a lifetime in this art then practice, practice, practice, and focus on each skill, and each project.  Do it till it is repeatable, till you can make ten of them and they all look about the same. There are NO shortcuts in life, but a good guide can help you get where you want to go quicker, and without falling into a ditch;-)


And as for heavy hammering...  It is a useful skill, but it has to be developed and controlled.  Learn how to swing a heavier hammer after you have mastered the lighter ones.  Learn to raise the hammer HIGHER and accelerate over a longer distance to deliver more energy, learn how to use the edge of the hammer and the edge of the anvil, learn how to work quickly and efficiently.  Learn to use the hottest part of the heat for the heavy forging and refine things as it drops below the heavy forging range.  Put the hammer where it will do the most good.


As to the original question, s-hooks, and j-hooks are simple nice skill builder.  Smooth 3" taper then break the corners for a nice chamfered look.  Simple handles, hinges and latches are also fairly easy to do and useful.  I like to make tools, so making chisels and punches, then making tongs. Making hammers require help early on, not that you cant do it, but you are better off with the help of someone who has done it before, and a striker is very helpful;-).


Almost everything can be turned into an enjoyable skill building exercise, just pay attention to the process as it is unfolding and keep improving...

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