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Well here is my first post...

I'm about to start the journey of iron working and I feel like my head might be to high up in the sky too think about the negative impacts of this new hobby.  I would like some advice that will keep me rooted in the real world.  But let me tell you where I am now:

I helped a friend work some steel a few years ago and I could never shake off the longing to do it again.  I've moved twice since then and will likely be off to the other side of the world before to long.  I've read tons of books and watched hours of videos.  I picked up a railroad track anvil for $20 and plan on making a trashcan forge (gas) this weekend.  I plan on making small things first (arrow heads, small knives, etc.) to start and use that experience to learn the trade.  

I would like to keep my smithy as mobile as possible as moving is still in the cards for at least the next 6 years.  

Do any of y'all have advice for a novice metal worker?  

First projects? Ways to develop basic skills? Is this railroad track going to be enough?  Should I even bother?


Thanks for the help.


Big Jim

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Hey, Big Jim. Welcome aboard!

First of all, please put your current location in your profile settings. It will help us answer any questions that may have (unbeknownst to you) location-specific answers, and you may find other IFI members near you.

Now, you are definitely starting this out the right way: keeping it small, and thinking ahead. Railroad track is just fine; see some of the other threads about improvised anvils and beginning projects. Start out with tapers and S-hooks, and work at improving your hammer control.

One bit of advice that is often neglected: get yourself a good pair of tongs as soon as you can. Wolf-jaw tongs or the like will help you a lot. It's hard to learn good hammer control if your workpiece keeps getting away from you.

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Hi Big Jim,

Should you even bother... definitely yes

I have seen forging kits that would fit in a good sized suitcase so yes you can start out small & mobile. When you say a trashcan gas forge, I envision a very large one something like 33 gal.

Gas forges can be built using a paint can, empty Freon tank and many other sizes depending what the intended use is. There is a thread about a guy in Europe that has his complete setup on something like a hand truck that he uses as a mobile forge setup using a solid fuel forge. I'll see if I can find it for ya.

My advice is to continue reading as much of this forum as you can and try to find a smith or Blacksmith organization close to you for mentoring.

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Welcome aboard Jim, glad to have you. You can work out of a really small kit, a lot of what you'll need will be available where ever you go. A copy of Alex Weygers, "The Complete Modern Blacksmith" should be on your must have library list. He was an artist that traveled the world in a time when it wasn't easy traveling so he made what he needed as he went. Did lots of carving so he needed wood stone and who knows what other tools. His book is the boot strapper's bible for blacksmith kit.

If you were to decide on charcoal as fuel your forge could literally fold flat and fit in a ring binder. The air supply could be any number of different things but moving air is easy, a pillow case will work a treat. An anvil is anything heavy and hard you beat hot steel on, lots of those around. . . unless you're going to the Serengeti , then everything's a logistics problem. 

An experienced person could probably make do anywhere in the world with a few hack saw blades and make the rest. could do without hacksaw blades but why make things harder than necessary, they're small and light.

I wouldn't recommend you learn by forging blades, it's a specialty branch of the craft and has a couple learning curves all it's own on top of blacksmithing. Once you're reasonably proficient blacksmithing then learning bladesmithing is only a matter of learning the feel of a new type steel and it's heat treatment needs. Don't despair though there is more to bladesmithing, start making stock removal blades, you must learn to grind or scrape and file, finish. fit and dress knives however you make them. Stock removal is a completely different set of skills so learning both at the same time doesn't interfere with each other. 

Imagine trying to learn to paint: water color, oil and acrylic portraits at the same time. Think you'd get stuff mixed up? I would, even before the accident. Anyway, you'll have enough fun learning hammer control and basic techniques. You'll actually learn much faster one thing at a time. Honest, been both sides of that one.

Frosty The Lucky.

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The best first project advise that I could give is "don't try a project first". Like JHCC said, go do a taper. Practice basic techniques until you are familiar with the way steel moves. The first thing I ever threw in a forge was a truck coil spring, and I quickly learned that I didn't even know how steel heats! You will find the most satisfaction if you start with mostly "I cans" instead of the "I can'ts" that most of us get started with.

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1:  Remember that you suck.  It's okay.  You're new to the game and you're supposed to suck at it.  Don't get discouraged when your hour's worth of work looks like crap.

2:  Repetition is the only thing you should be doing for the first six months.  

3:  If you can't make a pretty s-hook, you can't make a knife or whatever so there's no sense biting off more than you can chew.  


To illustrate the point, this old door is covered in scrolls.  They might be fairly fancy scrolls, but they're still a very basic bit of forging.  You can do a ton of wonderful stuff just with a combination of scrolls.  And scrolls are really nothing more than s-hooks that have gone a bit off the tracks.


In his book "Bent Ironwork", Paul Hasluck does a fantastic job illustrating a bazillion projects you can make with almost no tools and no skills.  I highly recommend the book simply because it's such a great illustration of how much you can do by combining steel that's been curved one way or another.

None of the projects are overwhelming because they all rely on the most basic of movements.  All you're doing is making the curves bigger or smaller and then combining them in interesting ways to arrive at a wonderful destination.  That his projects also require very little in the way of tools.... well that's just icing on the cake.



If you can't get metalwork out of your mind, that's a good thing.  It means there's something about it calling to you, and that something will keep you going when things aren't quite working out as you'd expect.  Keep plugging away at it and you'll have a lot of great stories to tell!

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Thanks for the words guys!  I'm still on the process of putting the basic stuff together.  I posted a question over in the gas forge section about the build I'm thinking of doing (forgive the drawing of you head over that way). It's nice to know that this community is so welcoming.  I'm sure I will be posting a boatlode of questions on the coming weeks. 


Big Jim

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...putting the basic stuff together. 

Get a copy of Hasluck's book and don't worry so much about the forge and all that.  Most of his projects can be done cold, or with a simple torch, and you get to learn some really important skills while you're building up the smithy.

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