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Total newb hoping for guidance on my first project

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Hi all, I’m new here and have never done any blacksmithing. I never even considered it until I stumbled across this strongbox during a search for a treasure box. Now I’m obsessed with the idea of building a mini version of it for myself (albeit much simpler). This forum was my first stop. Please forgive all of my ignorance. I know it’s probably painful how little I know. In fact I know absolutely nothing. I’m a machinist by trade so metal doesn’t scare me but I think that is probably about the only benefit that will translate over. 

Please give me any and all insight you have to guide me through this project. I’m sure mine won’t look anything like this work of art but I want to try my best. For simplicity, I plan to use a padlock rather than their internal lock. I also realize my straps along the edge (is that what they are called? -sorry...newb) will have seams at the corners where theirs seems like one solid piece. I plan for mine to be roughly a 15” square box and probably somewhere around 8” tall. I haven’t mocked it up yet. I won’t be using decorative emblems. I want mine to be a 100% metal exterior, I prefer iron.  Here are some initial question is have.

1) what are the components I will need for this? Do I use rivets or what I saw labeled as nails on a Wright iron supply site or are those the same thing? Is the edging called strap like I assume or something entirely different?

2) What thickness iron would you recommend for the panels? I want this to be a decorative and yet fully functional strongbox. It will be housing precious metals and even though it will also be stored in a safe, I want it to be much more than just decoration. I assumed I would use 3/16” or 1/4” thick material so it’s solid. I don’t want to go with flimsy sheet metal.

3) What would be a suitable interior material to protect the contents and how should I fasten it to the iron?

4) what tools will I need for this project? I don’t want to just start buying random blacksmithing tools that I won’t use for this project. I’ll pick up necessary tools for future projects.

Again, I’m sorry if my questions are stupid or if I’m in the wrong place. Like I said, this was my first stop in my journey to start this project and hopefully this leads to yet another addiction...my wife will be thrilled haha. 







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Make one out of cardboard, (not corrugated; but the flat stuff)  and use those pieces as a pattern

I would rivet it. You can buy or make your own rivets---if you make them I would use more decorative heads.

It could be done with a hacksaw, a drill and a brake. You could skip the brake if you used angle iron for the edge pieces and a welder.

It could be done using a CNC mill and a large block of steel.

It could be done with a forge, anvil and a postvise (and a drill and a hacksaw)

Oh yes a file for deburring edges.

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That's an ambitious first project. Some sleepy thoughts after a night of insomnia...

1) Rivets. Buying 6mm shank rivets will save you a lot of time making them & they can be set cold. Edgeing section = 25 x 3mm flat stock.

2) 2mm sheet or max 3mm would be my guess.

3) Felt glued on?

4) Rivet head bolster(s), at least one for maintaining the rivet head shape on the outside. A cranked bolster for getting to the internal heads - no need to shape if then hidden by internal fabric lining.

Cranked bolster example, WITH shaped head.FB_IMG_1518068909612.jpg.73a04384ab1e37400ae717d4c868b1d2.jpgFB_IMG_1518068914219.thumb.jpg.1acba7f41e95e312c683200ea26dfd7e.jpgFB_IMG_1518068919498.thumb.jpg.ab5bfa16f020c30b28e6fd280c0c1165.jpg

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Let me suggest that you read the sections of interest to you on IForgeIron. This will open doors for you that contain information on this and other projects.

Get a block of modeling clay from the hobby store usually under $5. Make a prototype box from solid cardboard, foam-core, or other materials to get a feel for the size and shape of the box elements. Make the clay into the shape you want the metal parts with shapes.  Your first attempt is NOT going to be perfect, so plan on a prototype, a working sample, and then a production copy at least. The more practice the better you will get.

Look at the box as small parts put together to make a larger and more complicated piece. Flat steel plate, rivets, and the 90 degree angles that the rivets go into can be angle iron cut into short sections with the corner knocked off. Get a rivet set and set a BUNCH of rivets so you become familiar with the tool and the riveting the material. If in production you mess up a rivet, just remove it and put in another one.

Please keep us informed as to your progress and take lots of photos to document the build.

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14 hours ago, Fpf said:

Hi all, I’m new here and have never done any blacksmithing.

Welcome to the forum Fpf... A lot of reading in the different sections will give you a feel for the art of the Blacksmith. There are a lot of experienced smith's that belong to IFI to learn from.



Those "blind rivets" look to me to be holding the fire proof inner liner. We don't have a scale to show how large that strong box is.


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Welcome aboard Fpf, glad to have you. If you'll put your general location in the header you might have a member of the forum within visiting distance who has expertise in this type fabrication project.

For a serious strong box I'd suggest welded steel, 10 ga.( approx. 1/8" ) minimum and 1/4" max. Rather than use heavier for security's sake, I'd suggest buying armor rather than mild steel. T-1 steel is more expensive but nobody's going to open it with a hack saw. Buy it sheared to size and weld up the box.

The corner strapping would then be decorative but making it from serious steel wouldn't be a bad thing. When you have the box components sheared have them shear the straps. Weld and grind the reinforcing corners. Ask at the steel supply what welding rod or wire is a good color match and won't degrade the strength too much.

Be aware though welding T-1 will effect it's strength and hardness as it's heat treated from the manufacturer.

The "rivets" are decorative on the box show, inside are the nuts and they appear to be pretty small. These are available as either spline or carriage bolt heads. Real rivets only require a header on the outside and some hammering on the inside. Easy peasy. The decorative bolts won't degrade the strength if it's a welded box.

Use a higher carbon steel for the hinge pins, "stress proof" is a good medium carbon steel designed for this sort of thing but it doesn't like being welded.

You can buy a proper lock set rather than a hasp and padlock. If you're going to build it strong why make it easy to open? Even an American padlock can be opened, it just isn't easy.

Like any safe the weak point is the door, I'd make it fit in the frame so it can't be knocked off with a sledge hammer.

Are you going to line it for fire protection?

Oh I believe the mystery spots are probably plug welds, they can leave edges that look like blind or flush ground rivets when they're that small. That's just my opinion for WIW.

This is a fun project to brainstorm, thanks for bringing it to us. :)

Frosty The Lucky.

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Thanks for the advice everyone! You guys have been very kind! I updated my location to show that I'm from the denver colorado area.  Do any of you have an online supply shop that you recommend for ordering the materials and tooling for this? What do you think about these? http://www.oldwestiron.com/Clavos-Decorative-Nail-Heads-s/118.htm ? These seem to be fairly decorative but they call them nails and not rivets. Do you think they will work or are these something that would be used for a different application?

The more I read all of your comments the more I'm thinking I should probably buy a welder. I've never welded...always wanted to...but I was hoping this project would be something I could try and do by hand like they did in the 1800s when this box was made. Part of that is because of the upfront cost but part of it is that I'm fascinated that this work of art could be accomplished by someone who didnt have electricity or power tools and I want to try and step into their shoes. Maybe that's being a little unrealistic given that this is my first project? Anyways, I digress....

On 2/8/2018 at 3:12 PM, Frosty said:

You can buy a proper lock set rather than a hasp and padlock. If you're going to build it strong why make it easy to open? Even an American padlock can be opened, it just isn't easy.  Like any safe the weak point is the door, I'd make it fit in the frame so it can't be knocked off with a sledge hammer.

Frosty, you make some good points. I may have to look into a proper lock set. I didnt think about fire protection but now I am haha. While I do want this to be functional on its own this will be going inside of my fireproof gun safe. The functionality is just so that it makes me feel good that I built something that works and not something that is decorative. 

Good tips from everyone. So far my takeaways are:

make a cardboard prototype first, consider steel instead of iron, weld it to make it stronger, look into fire protection and a better locking mechanism than a padlock, and get the pieces cut from the material supplier. 

If anyone is from colorado and wouldnt mind letting me shadow you on a weekend or something please let me know. Thanks!

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You might look up (Google) Scott Kretschmer. He teaches just what you are looking to do in Loveland CO. he's also the president of the Rocky Mountain Smiths.

He will be teaching a class at ESSA (Eureka Springs School of Art).


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