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Common Mistakes that Beginners Make

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The 2 most common mistakes that beginners make are:

  • Not getting the steel hot enough.

  • Not using the right tongs for the stock they are trying to forge.

Most beginners are so anxious to work that they don't let the steel get hot enough, before they pull it out of the forge. You want your steel a good bright orange. A corollary to this mistake is that they hammer too long, before putting the steel back into the fire. Hammering the steel at the right temperature just works so much easier, in the long run it takes less time. You end up with a better quality end product.

Using the correct tongs is a safety issue. If you are not using the tongs properly sized and shaped for the material you are hammering, there is a good chance the red-hot piece of steel will come flying out and possibly burn you or someone in your vicinity. Whenever possible use a piece of steel that is long enough that you can hand hold it. However, eventually you will need to use a pair of tongs. You will notice a real difference in the ease of forging when you have the right tongs. with the wrong tongs, you find yourself fighting to maintain a hold of the steel. With the right tongs, you can focus on your hammer control and again end up with a better quality end product.

Here are some other techniques to keep in mind as you work. It might be helpful to make a list and review that list each time before you start to forge.
  • "The Death Grip": Many beginners grip the hammer much to tight, as if their lives depend on it. This just tires out your forearm. You want a loose grip, just tight enough so that the hammer does not fly out of your hand; and then tighten at the moment of impact so that the hammer does not twist and change its angle as it strikes the steel.

  • Be careful as you cut off items on the cut-off hardy. You don't want to go all the way through and either dull the hardy, or mar the hammer. Also, when you go all the way through, the piece cut off often flies across the room, which can be a safety or fire hazard.

  • When working with tongs, especially when drawing a taper or rounding up, do not twirl the tongs in your fingers, turn the stock by cocking your wrist back and forth. This will be much less tiring than twirling the tongs with your fingers.

  • Try to get into the habit of cleaning fire scale off of the anvil between heats. If you hammer on top of the scale, you drive the scale into the surface of your work, which can mar the finish. Ideally, you should wire brush the steel when it comes out of the fire.

  • Pay attention to the steel in the fire. I often see beginners get distracted and the next thing you know, the have burnt the end off of their project. I quickly trained myself, that when I start to talk to someone, I would pull my steel out of the center of the fire and set it to the side.

  • If you are using an electric blower on your coal forge, shut off the air between heats.

  • If you are using a gas forge, once the forge is up to temperature, turn the gas off between heats. (This will save you money, a tank of propane will last longer)

  • Don't let the coal in your forge burn down into a hollow. You should be using your forge poker every 2-3 heats to rake fresh coal towards the center and keep a nice mound built up in the center of the forge. Also, you should be adding fresh coal to the outside edges of your fire as you work.

  • When you stick your iron in the fire, don't angle it down towards the bottom of the forge, the oxidizing region. Your steel should be horizontal, with a couple inches of hot coals on top . The corollary to this mistake is just laying your steel on top of the fire. It will not heat up. You need to stick it in the fire.

  • Always straighten your steel before you put it back into the fire.
  • Try to pay close attention to how steel moves as a result of each hammer blow. Notice that if the hammer strikes at a certain angle, the steel moves in a certain way or leaves a particular mark on the steel. Hammer marks in the steel will tell you what you are doing right and doing wrong.

With time, all of these actions will become subconscious. You will do them without being aware of it. But as a beginner, you have many new skills to assimilate. Being aware of these practices will make you a better smith.
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The mistake that I made was picking it up in the first place... Now, 17 years later, I cant stop...Thanks for the sharp looking post. All good advice to follow. Many beginning smiths forget that they have the power to turn the "wrong" tongs into the "right" tongs with the same fire and hammer they will use to heat the metal. I have seen many novice smiths struggle with ill fitting tongs rather than taking 1 heat to "tune" the tongs to match the specific job.

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Thank you for providing us with some refreshing guidelines that bring our attention to some of the basic skill disciplines that will help improve or reinforce our existing forging practices.
The members of “I Forge Iron” never fail to amaze me by their willingness to share knowledge of every aspect of the Blacksmithing Craft.
I take my hat off to you and all the members who share so un-selfishly

Edited by Ted T
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Kudos on the tong rings Hollis. One of the common mistakes I see is not having enough fire to make work fast. Now, this said, fast is not what you need at first but having a really small ( not well maintained ) fire will make you wait. This is perhaps not a beginner issue. Good hot fire will make life good.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Maybe I'm cheating, but I have modified the jaws of several sets of vise-grips to work as tongs by welding various diameters of cut pipe to the jaws to hold round stock. Also, by welding a short piece of pipe over one of the jaws, I can get uniform diameters on hooks. I have found these handy for production work. I went to a truck stop and sorted through a bunch of the $3.99/set (imports) and found some decent ones. Some of them did rquie a litle "tweaking" but it works for me on some jobs.

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  • 1 year later...

good advice ! i would add the thing i notice from beginners is body angle when hammering i see people leaning over and reaching out to hit the steel . makes it hard to hit hard or accurate . step up to the anvil and stand close you can get more power behind your blow without hurting your back . its actually easyier but you have to get used to hot steel near your belly (not too close but near). also anvil height the old rule of thumb is anvil face is same height as bottom of your fist standing straight i go a inch higher than that ... it will be easyier to hit things without bending over (better on back ) and not much difference in hammer blow .make sure your swinging a hammer you can control . i used a 1500g(3.3 lb) sweedish hammer for years last year i made a hammer that weighs 2 lbs 11 oz and have better control and am hitting harder! good luck!

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  • 3 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...

As Mike says fatigue is NOT your friend at the anvil. What I've discovered with my few students is the newcomer may not realize they're getting tired. Once I realized it and started saying, "that'll do for today, you're tired enough." Their work improved a LOT.

One of the big red flags I used to watch for is, reduced hammer control. After they'd warm up their control would improve and I'd start giving more pointed tips. After a while though their control would begin to slide no matter what I said or what they tried.

Once their conditioning improved I could just call a rest break and they'd be good for a couple more hours but not until they'd developed the strength and stamina for it. And NO I'm NOT saying blacksmithing is about strength, enough strength sure but it's not about being REALLY STRONG.

So, if you're working alone watch what the hammer's doing as opposed to what you wanted it to, when there's too much difference take a break or knock off for the day, you're getting tired.


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  • 4 weeks later...

One of the most dangerous mistakes that beginners make is to have a pair of vice grips anywhere near a forge; apart from being too short they have to be opened completely to make any slight change to the position of the work, they can easily fly open if not adjusted properly (and then they bite so hard that they mark the surface), the jaws don't close parallel and even if you weld bits onto them the rivets will soon come loose. Making and adjusting tongs is one of the fundamental tasks that every smith should master. Keep mole-grips for chewing up odd-sized nuts.
Oh and to get a good finish the work should be peened as it cools to blood-red and wire brushed as it's dumped in the bosch, this helps to blow off the hammer scale and give a clean appearance.

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This is a great post. All wonderful advice. Thank you for it.
I have been learning about this awsome blacksmithing stuff for several years.
I still consider myself very much a beginner. I use a gas forge but will be getting
using coal/coke soon. Many times I only have short amounts of time to forge anything.
An hour here, 1-1/2 hours there. I can get anxious to get to forging. I find myself
getting in a hurry (too much so)once I'm finally at it.
My point being, PATIENCE. Something I need to learn while forging. I try to accomplish
too much too soon and have messed up more than I care to think about. Patience & planning.
Two very important tasks to learn, at least for me.

Just my two cents worth.


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Oh and to get a good finish the work should be peened as it cools to blood-red and wire brushed as it's dumped in the bosch, this helps to blow off the hammer scale and give a clean appearance.

"Dumped in the BOSCH"? I don't know the term Sam, would you mind clarifying for this old fart? :blink:

Frosty the Lucky
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On 2/21/2010 at 8:23 PM, Frosty said:

"Dumped in the BOSCH"? I don't know the term Sam, would you mind clarifying that? :blink:

Hi Frosty on the information above, if you sat in the bosh then you would convert it into a jacuzzi!

Bosh is the term for the water tank or quench tank usually attached to the front of the old English side blast forges.



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  • 7 years later...

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