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Hey everyone, Josh here.

So, I've been doing a fair bit of research in regards to what I'm going to do for my initial journey into Blacksmithing once I return from Afghanistan. I just wanted to lay everything out as far as I have it, and let you all pick it apart, and give some pointers and tips into anything I may have overlooked.

Forge: More than likely going to be a bottom blast BOD coal forge with a hairdryer for the air source. I'm going to somehow incorporate an air gate into it's build for that little bit of extra control. I may vouch going for sand over dirt or clay seeing as how it solves my clinker problem, and it's more easily accessible for me in North Carolina. I've got a blacksmith tooling supplier here in NC that I plan on buying my 50 lb bags of coal from, found at [commercial link removed]. It's a bit of a drive, though I plan on buying a truck and using that to put all my steel stock, coal, etc in. (The wife probably wouldn't like me filling our 2017 Honda Civic with bags of coal and rusted steel... Just a thought, though.)

Tools: As far as tools go, I'm going to probably purchase a 2.2 pound (1000 gram) hammer from the same place as the coal, found [commercial link removed]. If I'm already there, I figured I'd buy a quality hammer to start off with, instead of the Harbor Freight special... <_< I'm more than likely going to invest in a pair of tongs from them as well (link [commercial link removed], though what specific tongs I should get to start with is another thing I'm looking for help with, as there are many different kinds. Ideally, I'd want something that I can make tools with, as well as hold up to 3/4" stock with to make other tongs.) I'm also going to find some mid-low line angle grinder for cutting my stock if needed, and to finish up edges on pieces that I make. (Hot cuts, etc). A vise, I'm not sure yet. I may invest in a low-line vise for now, though I'm not fully committed on that one yet seeing as how I'm not so sure how important it is.

Anvil: This is where I hit a bit of a block. I was thinking of going to a nearby scrapyard and finding a length of railroad track to use as an avil, but I also thought of spending a bit of extra money on one of the anvils found [commercial link removed]. It's not too much, and having the extra money from my deployment, I'd be able to fit it into my startup budget. My question to you guys is; is it worth it in your opinion? I know they all get the job done, but having the luxury of a hardy hole seems invaluable to me as I don't have torches or anything to fabricate one with currently.

Shop: I'm probably just going to throw up a tarp on some poles that I have laying around the house to make an overhang to keep me out of the shade while I work, and to allow for me to accurately gauge the temperature of the steel. I wanted to make a walled in shop out of some 2x4s and T111, but I decided that money is best invested elsewhere during my beginning adventure.

And that's it! I know it's a bit lengthy of a post, but I just wanted to let you all in on at least a small portion of my wild brain and see what I had planned. Seeing as how I've never done this before, I want to ensure all of my ducks are in a row prior to me getting home so I don't have to think, just execute (guess the Marine Corps did teach me something worthwhile, eh?). What do you guys think is good, bad, and ugly about my plan? You all have FAR more experience than I do, and I want to pick your brains as a whole in a single thread. Thanks for the time!

-Josh

Semper Fi.

Edited by Mod34
Commercial link removed per TOS

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Hi Josh.

I'm fairly new to this myself, but I think if I was starting out again and purchasing my first set of tongs, they would probably be a set of wolf jaw tongs. They seem to be the most versatile (at least to me) for only having one pair to start with. You will soon find out why you will have many pairs, but in my humble opinion those would be a good start.

I used a ball peen to start with, but purchased a 2.2 pound Swedish pattern hammer and have been very happy with it. Not sure what style you are looking at since the link is gone, but that is a pretty decent weight to do many things.

I also started with a track "anvil". Many things can and have been made on them. I will say from my personal experience, if you can find one in your budget, get a larger anvil or striking plate with a hardened face. Having more mass under your work, and a harder surface to work on, makes things much easier. 

I can't comment much on coal because my knowledge in it is very limited. I've only lit my coal forge 3 times so far. (I started with a gas forge.) But many here use coal and can offer much better advice than I can.

Keep doing your research and keep asking questions, there is a lot to learn and a lot of good information to be had.

Thank you for your service Josh.

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Hi, Josh. A few quick thoughts.

Regarding the forge, a side-blast is easier both to construct and to control than a bottom blast. Clinker management is easier too, as it's less likely to clog your tuyere. If you insist on going with a bottom blast, consider a bullet grate.

Regarding tools, a good hammer will certainly help, but I'd personally recommend spending less on the hammer (nothing wrong with a flea market special) and more on tongs. If you can't hold the workpiece securely, all your forging will be an exercise in frustration and increased risk of injury. Invest in a couple of V-bit tongs and/or wolf-jaw tongs to hold a variety of sizes and shapes up to 1/2"-3/4" or so. You will NOT regret it. An angle grinder is a VERY good investment, and you should get the best one you can afford. Don't be afraid to buy used: I just got a fantastic deal on a used DeWalt 7" from a guy who was closing down his contracting business, and I'm wondering how I managed to get along for so long with my 4-1/2" Harbor Freight special. (Side note: if you do go with HF, buy the extended warranty. I've had two or three grinders burn out after the initial warranty period, but before the extended period expired. If you have the money to buy a good one up front, do it, but if your budget would be better served by spreading the expense out over time, this is a good way to make sure you have a functioning grinder all the time.)

Regarding anvils, if you have the money to invest in a commercial anvil rather than an improvised one, there's certainly no shame in that. You might find it worthwhile to invest in a chunk of scrap and spend the extra money on a proper post vise. That way, you can use the vise to hold what would otherwise go in your hardy hole and also have all the capacity for twisting, bending, etc that comes with a vise you can pound on.

Overall, you're pretty much on the right track. Do keep in mind that it's fairly easy to create a plan in advance that relies heavily on what's available commercially, but that plan may end up being more expensive than what you could do through TPAAAT, flea markets, junkyards, etc. If that's the way you want to go and you have the money for it, go for it. If you want to be more economical and have some resources to spend on quality tool steel, blacksmithing classes, consumables (coal, grinding discs, respirator filters, etc), and so on, then make your plan more conceptual and be prepared to improvise in its execution.

Definitely spend some money on good tongs, though. That's one thing I wish I'd done when I started out; I would have saved myself a LOT of frustration and not a few burns.

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Hey there, JT. Nothing sticks out to me in your post as a big oversight. Can't go wrong starting with JABOD, and the hair drier will last long enough to get your foot in the door. As far as tools go, good choice on the hammer. For tongs, 1/2" V bit bolt tongs are a must, and it sure helps to have several different sizes of those. I have also heard good things about wolf jaw tongs but don't have personal experience with them.

1 hour ago, Joshua Taylor said:

Anvil: This is where I hit a bit of a block.

Yep, that's what anvils are for! :)

Couldn't see the link you posted, but a nice anvil is in fact better than a RR rail if you can afford it...

A tarp will work for now, as long as it is a safe distance from your fire. They are NOT fire proof (Don't ask me how I know...).

Good luck, and happy smithin' when you get back.

Looks like Sfeile and JHCC beat me to it. Both of them have good suggestions.

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You do not have to have the fire UNDER the tarp, to the side will work or even a bit outside the shadow of the tarp will work. The tarp does not have to be at ground level but can be used at the 7-8 foot level. One thing is to secure the tarp to the ground so it does not blow over if a wind gust hits it. 

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6 minutes ago, Glenn said:

One thing is to secure the tarp to the ground so it does not blow over if a wind gust hits it. 

One good option (depending on the strength of the prevailing winds) is to have one corner of the tarp secured to a weight but not actually spiked down. If you do it right, an exceptionally strong gust will lift the weight and allow the tarp to flap a bit, relieving the stress. If everything is pegged down too tightly, such a gust could pull out a stake, rip the tarp, or blow the whole setup over.

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One tong maker has an interesting concept tong he now sells.  It is an adjustable,pair of tongs that he admits is not perfect for anything but is useful for filling gaps in your collection.  No matter what you get, using long stock and hand holding it (with gloves) is WAY better than using pliers, channel locks or the wrong tongs.  If you plan on doing s-hooks and bottle openers to start then some 1/2” volt or wolf jaw tongs will be perfect.  Wolf jaw are more versatile because you can hold flat stock as well.  If you plan to make knives then bolt tongs or knife makers’ tongs are needed.

 If I keep going I’ll be channeling Thomas......”It depends...what type of work do YOU intend to do?”

A lot of good gear posted in your neck of the woods.  It might be worth a look.

Im with JHCC on the side blast forge.  It is much easier to get started with one and simpler to run.  You should check out Torbjörn Åhman’s recent video on the concept.  It would be perfect for your temporary setup.

Concerning hammers, I think it is wasted money to buy an expensive one right out the gate.  A flea market hammer is waiting for you.  Heck, Harbor Freight blacksmithing or engineers hammers aren’t bad at all and are a cheap way to experiment with hammer dressing.  (I just pictured a weirdo with his hammer and some Barbie clothes and can’t get the image out of my head..<sigh>). 

I don’t know your budget or your personal values so I can only give my opinion....but I would go cheap on the hammers and forge, buy at least two decent pairs of tongs, and then save the rest of my budget for the bigger tools.  Post vise was an excellent suggestion because there is little substitute for one.  Anvils are everywhere...they just don’t look like the ones the coyote buys from ACME.

It’s clear you’ve been spending your time overseas quite well because you have been reading.  I’m positive your obvious research has warmed the heart of a curmudgeon....at least one full degree.  We need a name for that measurement!  How much energy it takes to warm a curmudgeons heart up one degree Celsius.

Thanks for your service,

Lou

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3 minutes ago, Lou L said:

I would go cheap on the hammers and forge, buy at least two decent pairs of tongs, and then save the rest of my budget for the bigger tools

Bingo.

3 minutes ago, Lou L said:

How much energy it takes to warm a curmudgeons heart up one degree Celsius.

One milligrump.

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41 minutes ago, ThomasPowers said:

Lou; that should be in Kelvin....

DOH.  <palmface>

I’m not certain if that was +1 or -1 milligrump.

I guess we are boiling water here.

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It may go a bit against the grain of some advocates here, but I find hairdryers to be frustrating for coal forge work.  Same story for vacuums.  They generate a lot of air speed but little pressure.  The coal I've used tends to generate a lot more clinker when the air speed is high.  

Large volumes of slower moving air will generate more heat with less clinker.  Something like a bathroom exhaust fan will deliver a large volume of air at slower speeds.  Plus they're much, much, quieter.  You can find them for $35 brand new which is comparable to a sturdy hairdryer. 

Rather than muck around with waste gates or speed controls, you can put a pivoting plate over the inlet side of the fan to regulate the intake.  That leaves you with zero moving parts between the fan and the tuyere.  

Now I realize that blacksmithing is generally a noisy/dirty/hot/semi-dangerous occupation, but it bears mentioning that an ordinary hairdryer is loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage.  

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Tongs? Start off with long stock so you do no need any tongs. I have also used Vise Grips to good effect - and I have buckets of tongs. One issue with tongs is that if they do not fit the work properly, or you are struggling with them they can be dangerous to use as the piece can move / come out of the jaws.  Start with long stock that you can hold by hand, and not have the extra frustration when starting out.

Anvil Brand has a lot of options that are good. I have a 125# JHM Journeyman and it is a nice anvil. I would say that 125# is about the absolute minimum for a general use anvil and would suggest that 150# would be even better for a minimum weight. NOTHING at all wrong with improvised anvils. Just like improvised munitions, if it gets the job done that is all that matters.

Tools; a HF hammer would be fine, a flea market one for le$$ even better. I find sledge hammers at garage sales for $5, ball peens for $1-$3, 2# rock drilling hammers for $2-$3.  For starting I would say a post vise should be a priority. Being able to hold items securely is a must, plus they can double as a bottom tool holder. If you only have a bench vise, make sure you hammer over the fixed jaw, not the movable one.

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21 hours ago, sfeile said:

Thank you for your service Josh.

Thank you! I love what I do. Your information was really helpful!

 

21 hours ago, JHCC said:

a side-blast is easier both to construct and to control than a bottom blast

Nice to see you again JHCC. Thanks for the reply, and yeah it seems like from all the videos, pictures, and diagrams I've seen it's relatively easier to slap a tube over a hole in some sand surrounded by some firebrick than it is to weld cross beams inside a tuyere.

 

21 hours ago, JHCC said:

Definitely spend some money on good tongs

I didn't think about how useful a reliable set of tongs would be, and didn't know much about the different types. I'll definitely check out some v-bit tongs, or maybe some wolf jaw tongs.

21 hours ago, C-1ToolSteel said:

Yep, that's what anvils are for! :)

I walked into that one. :P

21 hours ago, Glenn said:

The tarp does not have to be at ground level but can be used at the 7-8 foot level.

Well, imagine that, I just so happen to have some Cammie-netting poles that raise cammie-netting about 8 feet off the ground that I... Ahem... 'Tactically aquired' as we say in the Marine Corps. ;)

21 hours ago, HammerMonkey said:

Thank you for your service. Stay in touch with us, and stay safe in the ‘stan!

Thank you! You all seem like pretty good people, so I'm sure I'll stick around for a while. And I do my best, we just got a couple of angry fans that like to throw mortars at our base and shoot at us... Nothing a little return fire won't help though! :)

20 hours ago, Glenn said:

I haven't! I've been looking around for some association in my area but no dice. I appreciate the effort, it seems like a pretty good source for classes, demos, and a group to just hang out with and learn new skills!

18 hours ago, Lou L said:

Link removed A lot of good gear posted in your neck of the woods.  It might be worth a look.

Link removed! Dangit! If you could point me where you found whatever that link was, It'd be appreciated! As for spending my times overseas well? You bet, at least I like to believe. When I'm not working, I'm in the gym, and you can only spend so much time in the gym before you go crazy... So why not put my brain to the books and the internet and learn a thing or two about my perspective hobby. Thanks Lou, it's my pleasure to serve this great country. It's the least I can do with the upbringing it gifted me.

13 hours ago, rockstar.esq said:

it bears mentioning that an ordinary hairdryer is loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage.  

I appreciate the concern, but spending several years around loud guns, artillery, and jet after-burners, my hearing has been put to the test fairly well. If those didn't ruin it without hearing protection, I doubt a hairdryer would. ;)

12 hours ago, BIGGUNDOCTOR said:

Just like improvised munitions, if it gets the job done that is all that matters.

Amen on that one brother. If it's stupid, and it works, then it's not stupid.

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Blacksmithing is like a funnel, only in reverse. You start at the small end, work your way through the narrow passage and then things start to open up. The more you learn, the more you research, and the more resources you find, the more there is to learn, the more there is to research, and the more resources you find available.

Ask a question and 5 blacksmiths will give you 10 answers, and all of them are correct answers. Try them all and then decide which works for you. The rest are still correct, and are backup plans.

Do not make adjustments to the directions the first time out. Make it as stated because it was a working plan. After you make several of a project you can then see where modifications and improvements can be made, based on your original working plan. Make one modification at a time and review the results of ONE change. Does it work better, then keep it. If it does not improve the product then go beck to the original.

In solid fuel forges for instance, there are many suggestions. Choose one. Build it and try it out. Then build a totally separate plan #2 forge and put a fire in both to see which you like the best. Keep that one, and modify the first one to see if it works better. Better can be better than the #1 original forge OR better then the #2 forge. You can now actually compare the two designs, side by side, and make your own decision. 

You are in charge of your own research and development, for your project, using your materials, at your location, to see what works best for YOU. As you get more information and more experience,  you will want to make adjustments. After all it is YOUR project.

When in doubt, do not over complicate simple.  

 

You can not remember everything so you do have a notebook and are taking notes, right ?  (grin)

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If your hearing has been compromised; then it is ESSENTIAL to protect it from any more loss.  (On the other hand; my wife has hearing loss from being a telephone operator many years ago.  Learning to enunciate and project my voice just to talk with her over the breakfast table has made me a requested reader in our Church...)

Don't mix designs!  Folks feel obligated to help out people having issues with their designs---you mix them and then it's on *your* shoulders!

And Please keep your head and *** down as needed so we can meet up some year at Quad-State!

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+1 on hearing protection. I have occasional tinnitus from my days as a professional woodworker, so I make doubly sure to ALWAYS use hearing protection whenever I'm doing anything loud.

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Tinnitus is an accumulative problem. If you have ringing, even if it fades away , you have done permanent damage. What happens is that over time it builds to a point that it no longer fades away, and from then on it just gets louder and louder. Ear plugs, and ear muffs are inexpensive compared to hearing aids , let alone the constant ringing is just plain annoying.

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I will add another +1 to protecting your hearing. I have a constant tinnitus and it can be maddening in a quiet room. Not to mention the things I can't hear anymore. 

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6 hours ago, Joshua Taylor said:

k removed! Dangit! If you could point me where you found whatever that link was, It'd be appreciated! As for spending my times overseas well? You bet, at least I like to believe. When I'm not working, I'm in the gym, and you can only spend so much time in the gym before you go crazy... So why not put my brain to the books and the internet and learn a thing or two about my perspective hobby. Thanks Lou, it's my pleasure to serve this great country. It's the least I can do with the upbringing it gifted me.

I didn’t supply a link, it was the name of a blacksmithing group on Facebook.  I wasn’t aware that we couldn’t use people’s names or mention the name of other internet resources.  I thought the rule was that we can’t post commercial links.  I’ll PM you.

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Facebook link was removed as you have to sign up to see the material. With the recent exposure risks and leaks this is a judgment call for the viewer.

Do not guess about the loudness of sounds. There is a thread on the site about apps you can add to your cell phone to measure Dbs, or sound. 

Background ambient noise here, rural setting, is 36-40 Db.

Conversation in restaurant, office, background music, Air conditioning unit at 100 ft 60 Half as loud as 70 dB.  Fairly quiet

Passenger car at 65 mph at 25 ft (77 dB); freeway at 50 ft from pavement edge 10 a.m. (76 dB).  Living room music (76 dB); radio or TV-audio, vacuum cleaner (70 dB).70Arbitrary base of comparison.  Upper 70s are annoyingly loud to some people.

Thunderclap, chain saw. Oxygen torch (121 dB). 120 Painful.  32 times as loud as 70 dB.  

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Hearing protection is second only to eye protection. Just because you're already living with diminished hearing doesn't mean it's not taking more. Living with tinnitus is no fun and Deb complains about how loud I have to crank the TV. I'd really like to listen through head phones but then she doesn't get to hear it at all. A TV with Blue Tooth would be sweet.

I bought a pair of Howard Leight Head phones with AM FM and cable and it's like stepping into a sound studio. I can still hear the machinery well enough to know how things are working and listen to radio of an audio book turned almost all the way down. A day in the shop and my ears still ring but not worse.

You only have so many parts, you want them to have to last. Honest, it's not so much fun when they start wearing out, don't rush it.

Frosty The Lucky. 

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Joshua,

In my opinion, even if the fan and hairdryer were equally loud, the fan would be vastly superior for supplying air to a coal forge.

Hotter fire, less wasted time, less clinker, etc.  It's also built to connect to cheap and available round duct.

Some hairdryers don't offer the ability to shut off the heating element.  This leads to a handheld device that's drawing 80%+ of an ordinary residential circuits current capacity.  Maybe that doesn't sound like a big deal.  I don't know what your setup is, but I can tell you that I often run into situations where I need to run a power tool while forging.  Depending on where your panel or fuse box is located, it might be a significant hassle to get the power back on if you accidentally overloaded the circuit.

Even if we set all of the above aside, the design duty cycle for a hairdryer is nowhere close to a bathroom fan.  People routinely use bathroom fans without issue for decades.  A hairdryer isn't built to last as long, that's partly why they generate so much electrical noise that they scramble radio reception.

 

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