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Greetings from a beginner

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Greetings all.
I'm Chris from Northern Ireland, and i've recently decided to pick up a hammer and hit hot metal for fun.
Writing software pays the bills, and riding motorcycles brings the thrills.


I've always wanted to give blacksmithing a go, but never really knew where to begin. 
Fortunately, a few weeks ago I discovered a local blacksmithing workshop/club who run a 'come and give it a try' class every Saturday.

On my first week, I was handed a bit of mild steel flat bar, and under great instruction produced the following oddly formed, burnt, letter opener:


Following what I considered a successful first try, I thought it would be a great idea to make a pair of tongs next.
As reward for this ambitious endeavour, I was handed a lump of 20mm square bar and endured a sweat inducing, exhausting second day of trying out this fantastic craft.

Funnily enough, after bashing away for 4 hours, I had only managed to rough form the two bits/boss shapes, and made a start on drawing out the reigns...

Fast forward to last weekend, continuing the same project, I was introduced to the fly press. What a difference!!!
(Although it did feel a bit like cheating after two weeks of exhausting work... and still not finished. Hopefully tomorrow will be the day!)


Despite only having three sessions under my belt, I've decided to quit my day job and become a full time.... Kidding! (...although I'm sure I now have all the experience necessary to knock out a perfect sword next week* ;)).


After three short days of brilliant fun, I've decided this is going to be the start of a fantastic new hobby, and after many hours of reading topics on here about which type of forge is the best for a beginner, what sort of tools are needed, hammer weights, improvised anvils, and all sorts, I have a bit of a notion about getting set up with my first forge (and by 'a bit' I mean I read a lot of posts and made some uninformed decisions and decided to just run with it rather than pestering with the same questions you've all answered a thousand times over).


First up, I grabbed a reasonably priced 2.5lb club hammer, took to the faces with a grinder, and changed the handle to a longer one (also squaring it off for better grip).
One face semi rounded, the other a bit flatter.

Next I settled on building a gas forge at home due to it being a residential area, cleaner, etc (we use coal down at the local group) .

Despite the great advice, blueprints etc here for building a burner, I decided to go ahead and purchase one to reduce the chances of me messing up, inducing dangerous leaks though dodgy drilling, modifying jets, etc.


Since I don't really have a clue what i'm going to make yet, I grabbed a few firebricks and some kiln wash, thinking I can rearrange them as required to suit whatever I end up attempting to make
(coating the inside with the kiln wash to try and prolong their life a little until I sort something better with a kiln shelf, castable refractory, and so on).
Despite wanting a 'modular' forge, I ended up contradicting myself, and welding a few bits of scrap together to make a kind of 'cage' for the bricks in a certain arrangement so I can move it about.
I can at least change the side walls a bit to make it smaller, and take out the back so I can pass longer pieces through... hopefully...


I'm in the process of getting a new shed/workshop with concrete floor built, so until that's sorted, I need to lift everything in and out of storage, so for the sake of a bit of scrap, hopefully the size will be ok for occasional usage!

Fabricobbling only finished today, so i've only got as far as doing a soap bubble test on the burner/lines for leaks, and lighting it once.
Given the delightful climate here, I got it lit, tweaked the pressure and choke, and shut it off again.
(yay for rainy irish weather!)

It might be a bit of a big burner for the size of the forge (please feel free to throw relevant abuse in my direction for incorrect assumptions), but I was hoping it would be a case of just having a lower pressure for the smaller forge, and being able to 'upgrade' the brick arrangement to something bigger in the future without also having to make a bigger burner should the need arise.

Anvil wise, i'm on the hunt for a suitably large hunk of steel to get started (and have a little cash set aside should a proper one appear on the market and i'm quick enough!).
While the search continues, i've got a small lump of rail with the top ground flat, and supposedly heat treated.  
Not great, but it'll have to do in the short term until I get something with more mass behind it.


Ultimately I want to learn to try and do a little bit of everything; from small decorative pieces, to tools, possibly try a knife or two, and quite likely try and combine this new hobby with my love of motorcycles and incorporate some forged pieces into my next custom bike build!

Anyway, i've rambled on long enough. Thanks for having me, and cheers for all the great info and advice here!


[*this comment was intended as humour in case that wasn't clear... misinterpretations on the internet and all that...]

(p.s. sorry about all the pics, I resized them before attaching to try and get them around 100kb each.... happy to throw some change towards bandwidth and forum running costs if someone can point me in the right direction)

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Welcome to Glenn's international bock party! There is huge amounts of information here. The gas forge section will provide you with information in how to improve the forge you have built, the anvil section has information on improvised anvils that really work, as well as Truly vetted information by experts, craftsmen and talented hobiests. 

As to your letter opener, a very nice looking first project. Duplicate it in stainless about 8 times and have a truly unique set of steak knives!

as to your tong project. One word, fuller! Either using a straight, cross or diagonal pein, edge of the anvil with a sutible radius, horn or an actual round fuller (a quick and dirty one is just a "Z" of round stock layers on the anvil) so as the fuller applies force to a smaller area, each blow is magnified, and as it is directional it moves steel in the direction you want, and as it leaves rounded valleys in the stock, when you come back with the flat face you are again paling force to a smaller area as you forge the stock smooth. This and proper technique will move steel under the hammer much faster. 

Another technique that helps is to block out your blank (using a fuller and ore butcher) now can concentrate on one area at a time with out errant blows screwing up others. It all takes time. 

I would suggest that a sledgehammer head from a boot sale would make a beter anvil than you have now.

With some practice you will also learn how to use your "rounding hammer" to greater effect buy varying the angle off attack.


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As another code condottieri (well grunt), Welcome!  After a day of shoveling ones and zeros, what I call bit herding, hitting something with a hammer is very much fun indeed! 

Those look like soft fire brick---are they?  If so *good* , the hard ones are massive heat sinks.

Can you find a small metal cart to haul/store all your smithing stuff on?  I used to have to carry my 91 pound anvil up a set of rickety basement stairs across the kitchen and out the back door  and down the steps every time I wanted to forge.  (Lived in the inner city and anything that weighed less than a car would get stolen---and we had 3 cars stolen as well)

What are you interested in making? 

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Hi Chris, the things you made/create till now -are looking very good and well crafted. Know from my own experience that you will improve several things after using a while, like the handle of your hammer, space, positioning and output of the burner and forge and so on. Ones you are ‘infected’ with the ‘metal design and tool making virus’ it will become an addiction with all the consequences.

Welcome to IFI and good luck with the future projects. Cheers, Hans

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46 minutes ago, Charles R. Stevens said:

as to your tong project. One word, fuller! Either using a straight, cross or diagonal pein, edge of the anvil with a sutible radius, horn or an actual round fuller

I would suggest that a sledgehammer head from a boot sale would make a beter anvil than you have now

The first week of trying to draw it out was using a rounded hammer head on the bick, and last week I got to use a fuller die on the fly press.... such a difference to the speed!!!
Unfortunately when I got to the second set of reigns, I may have got distracted for a moment too long and burnt the piece in half and had to start again :D

Cheers for the suggestion....i'll keep an eye out, but unfortunately due to the change in season (and lovely irish climate), boot sales are pretty much finished for this year, so it'll be spring before they start up again. I might get lucky before then and get a big lump of something else (have already started spreading the word and have a possible lead on some scrap plate and general stock)

40 minutes ago, ThomasPowers said:

Those look like soft fire brick---are they?  If so *good* , the hard ones are massive heat sinks.

Can you find a small metal cart to haul/store all your smithing stuff on? 
What are you interested in making? 

They are indeed soft ones. I was looking into getting a kiln shelf for the bottom, but nothing at a sensible price available locally to get started, so i'll just stick with the soft brick all round for now.

For now I think the only thing i'll need to lift in and out will be the forge/burner (due to the weather and my two kids... i'm sure soft brick would be great fun to break apart).
All being well i'll have the shed sorted within the next month or so and it'll no longer be an issue.

Interested in making a bit of everything... decorative pieces, brackets, hooks, bottle openers.. the usual beginner projects.
Ultimately i'd like to get the skills to make some of my own tools for other projects from bike building to wood work, and anything else that looks fun.



Many thanks for the words of welcome and advice!

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