Jon Kerr

Complete Beginner

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Hi all! I'm new to the forum and a complete beginner to blacksmithing in general! Please give me the benefit of doubt where possible and feel free to talk to me like I'm an idiot.

I decided to create an account and a thread here in the hopes I can learn from the wisdom of all the experienced blacksmiths here.

My story so far:

  • I recently attended a half-day blacksmithing course at the Oldfield Forge in Hereford. We had a fantastic time and "forged" our own wedding rings from stainless steel, which really meant punching a hole through a nugget of metal and grinding/polishing till it resembled a ring. We had a great time, and the instructor was fantastic given the limited scope of the course and time available. Since I finished my ring early, he did show me a few basic "proper" blacksmithing techniques including drawing out, tapering, twisting, etc. Unfortunately I didn't get to have a go at any of these so I left with a real appetite for becoming a hobbyist blacksmith!
  • The aforementioned instructor gave me a few tips for starting blacksmithing on a shoestring (including a hairdryer based forge, and a rail track anvil.) I've been watching videos by Torbjorn Ahmen on YouTube which have been pretty educational so far.
  • A friend of mine works on the railway and found me a nice small bit of rail, and can get me an almost unlimited supply of scrap (liberated?) metal including pandrol clips (which I believe are actually made of damn good steel!

 

This weekend I managed to have my first go at blacksmithing. I built a pedestal for the anvil using a sleeper, which seems to be heavy enough to take serious bashing very well indeed. I'm tall (6'4") so needed a tall stand (the instructor recommended the anvil face be "knuckle height" when hands are by sides?).

The forge is built similar to Torbjorn Ahmen's YouTube design. I had some issues initially getting the metal hot enough- I've only been using scrap rebar for now (rebar.... I can hear you groaning already!). I'm lucky enough to have firebricks lying around which I guess are the ideal forge building materials. After some rejigging of the arrangement I had better success, although my pipe gets quite hot and as such so does my hairdryer. I have a plan next time to suspend a layer of wire mesh above the first row of bricks to allow ash to fall, and I can flatten the end of my pipe to allow the air to flow under and up into the fire from under the mesh. Any thoughts? The charcoal seemed to burn out very very fast, but I still found it hard to get more than the tip of the rebar flowing (and only red, never yellow).

Finally I managed to flatten said rebar into a messy uneven... thing. Obviously, I casually decided my first project was going to be a knife. (I can hear you groaning again....!). I'll grind it up into something that resembles a knife soon, for my own amusement.

Next steps: I'm going to follow some advice I found here on the forum:

and concentrate on learning how to draw out, taper, etc by making LOTS of hooks. They'll be handy around the house and should hopefully develop my skills- not only with a hammer, but also when it comes to fire etc. I'd also like to make a pair of rebar tongs ASAP as I have nothing to hold the material with currently.

 

Any thoughts and advice are greatly appreciated!! (especially comments about my absolutely wonderful squished-rebar-jelly-knife. I can provide detailed engineering drawings to anyone who wants to copy the design.)

 

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One typical mistake: your stock generally should be placed in the fire horizontally; placing it vertically promotes it burning.

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So the list, flip your anvil out of plane, that is use the 1 1/2”x3” cross section of the rail head as your anvil. The 7/8” web  flexes to much robing you of effecency. 

Second, plastic pipe that close to the fire will fail, and the chlorine and other off gassing from burning PVC isn’t good for you. 

Third, hairdryers make way to much air for charcoal, so unless your using coal you need to vent some air or you will cool the fire and go threw fuel like a mad man.

4 if using coal, the silica slag sticks to fire brick like glue. 

We all have made the same “mistakes” as Thommas and Jerry are fond of saying, “ learn from our mistakes and go forth and make new and inventive ones” or some such biblical statement. 

Check out the pinned posts in anvils and solid fuel forges, you will find some good information on cheap, simple and effective forges and anvils. From there we can help you avoid our mistakes. 

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Welcome to IFI! If you haven't yet, please READ THIS FIRST!!!

Also, what Charles said: turn your anvil so that you're hammering on the end of the rail rather than its top. See 

 

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Thanks so much to everyone who has replied so far! Any advice is much appreciated. Also thanks to the Mods for moving the post to the more relevant section....

35 minutes ago, ThomasPowers said:

One typical mistake: your stock generally should be placed in the fire horizontally; placing it vertically promotes it burning.

Thanks. Do you tend to bury the entire workpiece under coals? What if it were a longer piece- attempt the most shallow angle while burying? or should my coals be forming a mound above the bricks so I can get the piece horizontal AND buried?

30 minutes ago, Charles R. Stevens said:

So the list, flip your anvil out of plane, that is use the 1 1/2”x3” cross section of the rail head as your anvil. The 7/8” web  flexes to much robing you of effecency. 

Firstly thanks so much for all your comments and advice!

I wonder if this rail (UK) is smaller than what you have in the states? The cross section of the rail head is smaller (smaller than 3" x 1 1.2") hence my decision to mount it straight. I really wouldnt have much area at all for hitting. Any idea just how bad an issue this is?

33 minutes ago, Charles R. Stevens said:

Second, plastic pipe that close to the fire will fail, and the chlorine and other off gassing from burning PVC isn’t good for you. 

Its a metal pipe with white paint. Its actually a piece of boiler flue. The heat didnt seem to affect the paint at all but as a precaution I will now grind it off now I know the forge works (sort of...).

34 minutes ago, Charles R. Stevens said:

Third, hairdryers make way to much air for charcoal, so unless your using coal you need to vent some air or you will cool the fire and go threw fuel like a mad man.

I guess this was my major problem and the reason I couldnt get my steel hot enough? I'll try to vent some air or reduce the flow. Otherwise, is charcoal an acceptable fuel? Would you say its the best option since I'm using firebricks? If I can reduce the air flow will that help my heat? Any tips on how you know whats "enough" air flow?

37 minutes ago, JHCC said:

Welcome to IFI! If you haven't yet, please READ THIS FIRST!!!

Also, what Charles said: turn your anvil so that you're hammering on the end of the rail rather than its top.

Thanks! Have now read this, and please see the above re/ rail.

 

1 hour ago, Jon Kerr said:

I have a plan next time to suspend a layer of wire mesh above the first row of bricks to allow ash to fall, and I can flatten the end of my pipe to allow the air to flow under and up into the fire from under the mesh. Any thoughts? The charcoal seemed to burn out very very fast, but I still found it hard to get more than the tip of the rebar flowing (and only red, never yellow).

Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

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Welcome to the hobby! :D

I'm just a few weeks in and I think I'm making pretty good progress with techniques and tools. Be prepared to be sucked into wanting more and more tools... I have overspent so much this month buying vises/forge/hammers/PPE etc

From my incredibly limited perspective here is some of advice that I will echo from what others have told me or you will see elsewhere:

1) Classes - can't stress enough how much I was initially against taking one but I took a day one and will be booking more soon. Taking the lessons from the horses mouth not only means you progress so much quicker but you build confidence and have an array of items that you can practice on without just hammering out a hot, useless mess for the scrap pile. 

2) PPE - safety gear is your friend. I've already had a few close calls that I have audibly thanked my equipment from protecting me from (I always talk to inanimate objects, that's normal right? ;) ) I've picked up steel I shouldn't have, had metal chips and scale ping off of my glasses and hit burning steel that showers me in hot mess that would at the very least/best case burn a hole through the shirts I'm wearing. I'm accident prone and sometimes just daft.. I actually wanted to see why you don't hit hard metal for myself. It really can chip/spark quite nastily.

3) Watch what your left (tong) hand is doing. Move the material, not the hammer when you can. Moving the hammer affects your aim, tires you quicker and means you (read: me) are more likely to land your hammer off angle and leave dinks in your work. 

4) Don't swing hammers that are too big, work up. On the first few days I really hurt my girly arms ("You have a woman's hand!) swinging a hammer I wasn't used to, my finger still hasn't recovered. I only recently realised that you can also just let the hammer landing do a lot of the work, you don't have to force it down (derp), the effort is in the lift, not so much on the drop. Obviously this isn't true when you're trying to move a lot of metal/quickly/small hammer. 

5) Be prepared for failure. Ponder what went wrong. Hot cut it off and just start again. I've been redoing forks over and over until I'm happy (still not) with them. New hardy hot cut will help immensely with that (Thanks Iron Dwarf!)

6) Find local people to talk to/work with. Still trying to find a few more locals myself but if you ever happen to be 2 hours north-west of where you currently are, my door is open for a hammer swing and a beer! 

7) If you do end up buying a solid fuel forge instead of building up, I highly recommend Iron Dwarf's forges. I have one and it is super simple to light, maintain and can be super efficient at spot heating small parts or build up into a roaring forge weld. Excellent price too. Contact him pm. 

Most of all, have a target and work towards it whilst having fun! :D

Oh and in response to your recent replies. Charcoal is fine but get lump wood charcoal. Charcoal briquettes are pants. 

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Charcoal has been used to forge iron and steel for around 3000 years now---Viking swords and Japanese swords were forged in charcoal forges.  If you have troubles using it it is generally because your forge is not designed for charcoal and/or your skills are not matched to the fuel.

You want the area you want to forge to be in the hot zone, generally the neutral or reducing part of the fire. The fire has "layers" putting the stock in at an angle tends to have part of it in the hot and oxidizing zone which promotes burning the steel.  You want hot coals above and below your workpiece and enough coals below to remove any free O2.

A blowdryer puts out way to much air; find a way to waste most of it and build your fire deeper but not very wide---you can forge weld in charcoal!  As for fuel usage: find a foot switch for your blow dryer so it automatically turns off as soon as you remove the workpiece---leaving the air on burns fuel FAST.  Charcoal has about the same BTU content as smithing coal *per* *pound*; but is much less dense so you go through a lot more volume wise.

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I can see the bag of lumpwood charcoal in the foreground so that wasn't your problem. I use coke. More difficult to get hold or but it doesn't spit/smoke anywhere near as much as when I use charcoal. 

 

OOo what Thomas said above is a really good point. Watching videos on the different layers of the solid fuel forge was an eyeopener. Changed a lot for me and worth hunting down/asking more about! 

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14 minutes ago, Nick Owen said:

 

From my incredibly limited perspective here is some of advice that I will echo from what others have told me or you will see elsewhere:

Nick- HUGE thanks for taking the time for such a comprehensive reply. I'll definitely take all of that on board, thanks.

I'm trying to get started without spending any money, really. I'm literally using a claw hammer and scrap steel at the moment. The dream is that I can gradually make the tools I need (starting with tongs!  I REALLY need some tongs...!). Hoping I can get an old lump hammer at a local car-boot sale and turn it into something resembling a reasonable  blacksmithing hammer.... 

15 minutes ago, ThomasPowers said:

A blowdryer puts out way to much air; find a way to waste most of it and build your fire deeper but not very wide---you can forge weld in charcoal!  As for fuel usage: find a foot switch for your blow dryer so it automatically turns off as soon as you remove the workpiece---leaving the air on burns fuel FAST.  Charcoal has about the same BTU content as smithing coal *per* *pound*; but is much less dense so you go through a lot more volume wise.

Thanks again, Thomas.

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11 minutes ago, Jon Kerr said:

Nick- HUGE thanks for taking the time for such a comprehensive reply. I'll definitely take all of that on board, thanks.

I'm trying to get started without spending any money, really. I'm literally using a claw hammer and scrap steel at the moment. The dream is that I can gradually make the tools I need (starting with tongs!  I REALLY need some tongs...!). Hoping I can get an old lump hammer at a local car-boot sale and turn it into something resembling a reasonable  blacksmithing hammer.... 

Thanks again, Thomas.

You're most welcome. Just keep asking questions ;) 

I will be doing the same tool wise but time is precious to me so figured I would start with a decent hammer (or three) and a pair of functional wolf jaw tongs. If you really want to go the route of building up slowly there are a few good videos on no tong tongs (making tongs without owning tongs), Black Bear Forge on Youtube has a good video on them if I recall. I managed to snag a really long set of pliers that I actually use more often than my tongs (most of my work so far allows me to just hold the end of the bar/rod most of the time). 

If you're looking at the car boot you will also see files/rasps quite often, don't be put off by a little surface rust, once you get them on hot steel they soon shine up. Hot rasping and filing will be your friend if you're looking to go in on a budget as you might not have access to power tools. 

Forging up some punches/drifts are good beginner projects, they might not last long on your first go/need dressing up frequently but again they save the need for power tools. 

If you find a friendly smith nearby you might even be able to talk into forging your tongs using their equipment to make the process easier/faster. 

What kinds of stuff are you looking to make? Your photo suggests knives? 

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Reread the thread on JABOD just a box of dirt. It will answer many of your questions and guide you to a better forge. A piece of pipe is all that is needed in the fire, a expandable aluminum close dryer vent will get the air from the hair dryer to the pipe. Leave a 3-4 inch gap between the hair dryer and the dryer vent. Aim the hair dryer toward the dryer vent for more air, not do directly for less air. It them becomes a matter of how much air you spill to control the air blast. Think gentle breeze.

You will need a much deeper fire, 2 to 3 bricks deep. The metal goes into the middle or above of the fire into the embers. Fuel does not make the fire hot, air makes the fire hot. Adjust the air for the temperature you need for the stock you are using.

No screen needed as the fire will make ash which will insulate the bottom of the forge. The clinker, the stuff that is not fuel will sink to the bottom of the fire and need to be removed from time to time. It looks like melted rock, glass, and etc and should be able to be removed by hooking it out. Let the fire sit for 30 seconds or a minute so the clinker can cool and solidify. You just need to remove the big pieces, not every little piece. 

You will want to read the following.

Lessons in Blacksmithing Seeing Colors

BP001 Easy to make tongs

JABOD thread

 

Study the following images

fire drawing 2

rr02

That is a rail road rail in end, a 2 pound hammer and a piece of 1/2 inch round bar. As long as the anvil is larger than the hammer face you are good. Metal only moves under the hammer face anyway.

Look at the post Directional forging.. Hammer understanding as I see it... and watch the video more than once. JLP is good with a hammer and explains what it is doing. 

 

If you run out of things to do, or have some spare time, Pack a lunch and a cold drink and read the site. Start with the sections that interest you and then what ever catches your attention.  Then move on to the stickies in all sections. The site is has a lot of information. Blacksmithing is not a sprint, but an endurance marathon. There is always something new to learn. Enjoy the challenge and then pass it on to the next fellow.

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For charcoal the side blast forge seems to work better. This is a beter illustration of how the fire works (this is coal not charcoal) 

 

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As Glenn illustrates, a hammer just some smaller than your anvil face is all that is needed. Infact go to the museum or google images of Viking era and ironage anvils. They are rather small.

 

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17 minutes ago, Nick Owen said:

Hot rasping and filing will be your friend if you're looking to go in on a budget as you might not have access to power tools. 

It had never occured to me that you could rasp hot metal- I'll definitely grab one next time I see one. I'm actually fortunate in that I DO have power tools, angle grinders, drills, etc. I even have access to a full workshop at work (pillar drills, bench grinders, CNC Milling machines...!!!) but thats really only for 5mins in the mornings when nobody is looking. It might help me in the short term though, especially for something like drilling the holes in a set of forged tongs. (I cant punch the hole as I dont have a punch, OR a hole in my anvil?!).

17 minutes ago, Nick Owen said:

If you find a friendly smith nearby you might even be able to talk into forging your tongs using their equipment to make the process easier/faster. 

Meeting someone local would be amazing... not for getting free stuff, but just so I can get hands-on advice and SEE someone else work.

 

16 minutes ago, Glenn said:

Reread the thread on JABOD just a box of dirt......

Hi Glenn- your entire post is EXTREMELY helpful, thanks. Especially the info on depth of fire.

I've actually just been pouring over that thread for an hour or so and its extremely helpful. I happen to have a huge bin full of clay so I might indeed copy this design, with a couple of firebricks at the bottom of the bowl.

I will indeed read those links, thanks.

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Thanks Charles for a better illustration

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12 minutes ago, Charles R. Stevens said:

For charcoal the side blast forge seems to work better. This is a beter illustration of how the fire works (this is coal not charcoal) 

removed Useless photo repeat

As Glenn illustrates, a hammer just some smaller than your anvil face is all that is needed. Infact go to the museum or google images of Viking era and ironage anvils. They are rather small.

Thanks Charles. VERY helpful..... and also, thanks for your entire thread about the "Just a Box of Dirt". Fantastic, and I'll be copying that design.

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Man.. I would love to have access to power tools ;) Going to get an angle grinder and a basic bench sander next month hopefully. Approaching the summer holidays and it's never cheap being a teacher with a kid means long periods of time sitting on my wallet.

Hot rasping rips metal down really quickly.. just watch your fingers ;) Punches are really easy, anything with the shape you need on the end will do short term. Knock some of those clips into a tapered point with a flat and you can knock holes through easily enough, they just wont last long. If they are good steel they can be hardened though. Plenty of guides on here for that. If you don't have a pritchel hole for punching through to just bend a bit of square bar back on itself to create a U shape with a space in it wide enough for your punch to fit through and that will do just fine :) 

The easy tongs that Glenn posted is a great guide. I think that anyone could make those and even turn them into something really good by simply drawing out the reins into something more comfortable and tweaking them to fit. If you don't have round stock you could even get away with bolting them closed until you do. 

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Thank the member who originally posted the image,I just snaged it to my files and forgot who’s it is. 

As to the JABOD forge, have a look at the mark III version. 

As to a punch, look up JLP services forging tapers vidioes, walla punches. No take your anvil to work, sleep it over to the drill press and setting it on end as recommended drill a 3/8 hole in the boss we’re the web meets the flange. Go down an inch or so. Flip it flange side up and cross drill a 1/2” hole centers an inch down for the slug to fall out. Walla, pritchel hole. An other option is just drill a 1/2”+ drop with a few graduated holes and weld feet in it to catch the web on one end. Walla bolster block.

As to punches, a very blunt point say 22d over all works beter on the end of a punch, as it moves the hot steel out of the way exept a small bit that cools against the anvil. Flip it over and punch the cold spot to shear the thin slug out. Works the same for round, square, or rectangular holes. Drift for non tapers holes.

 

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Guess what I started to make as soon as I got home.....

My clay is in some pretty large lumpy pieces so difficult to get a smooth finish, and I dont quite have enough to fill the whole box. I’ll have to dig some extra sometime. I think its enough to get started for now.

I’ve stuck with my 100mm flue pipe and squished the end down into a flat nozzle.... this is a bit of an experiment really and I might have been better looking for a simple 2” pipe. My hairdryer fits nicely into this pipe as-is,  hence me trying to make it work.

(for the record, the bottom of the crate is entirely lined with firebricks- so the visble bottom of the bucket is firebrick not wood!)

Any thoughts?

Busy tomorrow but hoping to fire up Wednesday evening.

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Again with charcoal a hair drier tends to be over killbut if you lay it on that stack of wood and pull it away so it is aimed at, instead of stuck in your piece of flue pipe you can regulate it well enough. I generaly go for a good high orange and work there, bringing up the heat to weld. Concerves charcoal and burns up less steel

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I thought the pipe was 3/4 or 1 inch sch 40 pipe. Do not recall hard wear cloth being used. 

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8 hours ago, Charles R. Stevens said:

Again with charcoal a hair drier tends to be over killbut if you lay it on that stack of wood and pull it away so it is aimed at, instead of stuck in your piece of flue pipe you can regulate it well enough. I generaly go for a good high orange and work there, bringing up the heat to weld. Concerves charcoal and burns up less steel

Awesome, will do. Can't wait to see how it goes.

Whats your thoughts on the pipe size being larger? Will this screw up the way it operates? Like I said previously, its part experiment, part laziness. It might actually help me to regulate blast easier using the method you've said (balancing near the pipe, aimed at the pipe)

8 hours ago, Glenn said:

I thought the pipe was 3/4 or 1 inch sch 40 pipe. Do not recall hard wear cloth being used. 

See above- whats your thoughts on the larger (flattened) pipe?

Hard wear cloth= mesh? This was partly for curing assembly to stop clay filling up the pipe. It can be removed. Is it likely to harm the operation of the forge?

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Hard wear cloth= mesh, yes.

Start with the recommendations from the thread, they work. After you get a working forge, you can make any changes you wish. Make any changes one at a time and then play with the new modifications and compare to the original to see if they improved the process. If so, keep the changes, if not then go back to the original. Give any modifications a day or two of forging , not just a single fire, so you get real information

A lot of times it is good to build two forges so you can switch back and forth to evaluate the changes. JABOD is cheap and easy to modify.

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5 hours ago, Jon Kerr said:

This was partly for curing assembly to stop clay filling up the pipe. It can be removed. Is it likely to harm the operation of the forge?

No, it's just going to burn up the first time you fire up the forge. A good way to keep clay out of the tuyere is a twisted rag.

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Thats fine- its only really pushed in there at the moment. I can easily pull it out before firing.

22 minutes ago, Glenn said:

Start with the recommendations from the thread, they work. After you get a working forge, you can make any changes you wish.

Ok- sorry for being awkward!

 

...... I can't wait to get going again. Tomorrow, hopefully.

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