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Hi all. 

I'm a long time reader, first time poster. I've found the site a valuable source of information about pretty much all aspects of blacksmithing and welding, but I can't find much about the design process of projects. I'm interested to see what you all do in terms of designing an item/project, from a concept to a design. Pretty much everything involved before lighting the forge. Do you start with a sketch concept and keep sketching until you reach a suitable design? Do you make a full sized drawing? Or do you just have an idea in you head and get on with it? Do you design to make the most of certain stock sizes? I'm interested to see the process, not any certain object. It could be a simple bottle opener or an ornate double gate. 

On a similar note, where do you find design inspiration? I've read a few books relating to blacksmithing that touch on design, or historical work. Obviously there is a lot of information and photographs online, sometime it can be a bit overwhelming! Do you take inspiration from art, nature, engineering? 

Forgive me if I've completely missed a section of the forum and this information is out there! 

Cheers

Sam

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For smaller items I like to make a to scale drawing on graph paper of the finished project, then I work out order of operations in clay and when I feel like I've got a good grip on it I head to the forge and put theory into practice.

Pnut

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Sam,

Welcome to the forum.

I am a retired custom furniture builder.  Designing is a prerequisite for such projects because every single joint has to be carefully calculated.  Proportions are critical for furniture to look "right" to the eye.  Even in a free flowing piece of furniture a design is important.  You might send Alexandr (Alex) here on the forum a PM and ask him about this.  I think you'll find he has a very specific design (and more than likely, many drawings............most of them full-sized) of the pieces he makes even before he fires up his forge.  I teach wood carving and often before carvers start a carving in the round, they will sketch it, make a clay model of it and actually make practice pieces out more easily carved woods before starting on the actual project.  Design is important in any creative endeavor.  There are many books available on design and all are useful to read.  The more you understand about design, the better your pieces will end up looking.  Artists of all genre derive inspiration from nature for form and flow.  In my opinion, it isn't something that comes natural too most people.  It has to be learned.  For a starter, look up information on the Golden Mean or Golden Ratio.  That's a good starting point for most any design.

 

Chris

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1 hour ago, Chris The Curious said:

For a starter, look up information on the Golden Mean or Golden Ratio.  That's a good starting point for most any design.

The Fibonacci sequence is also something worth looking into in regards to natural forms incorporated into design elements.

Pnut

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Same thing.  It's all about proportions.  I always feel kind of sick when I see a piece of furniture where proper proportions have been ignored.  

Chris

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Cant say much about design, best i can do is a rough sketch on the wall of my shop. Then try and get it to look like i have in my mind. Which is very seldom, but i do get close. 

As far as inspiration, that comes from everywhere. Mostly other smiths though. Being a newbie, less than 1000 hrs at the anvil, when i see something someone else made i will try it if i think i can. 

If i do make something inspired by some one else i will always give the credit deserved. Like "I made "X" inspired by "so-n-so"." 

1 hour ago, Chris The Curious said:

I am a retired custom furniture builder.

Chris, from your posts i would have never guessed you are that old. 

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Welcome to the active branches Sam, glad you de-lurked. Good question and there are so many aspects it's a strong invite for those long winded folk out there. :ph34r:

The short answer is: It depends. On what is a long list. I have the experience to just wing some things, say a wall hook or bottle opener, I've made probably thousands of wall hooks so I only decide on size based on the customer's taste and need. It's more a pick and go than design process. I haven't made many bottle openers so there is a LITTLE design involved. Type and cosmetics mostly, say: hook type then front or back pull. Ring and tab, front or back. Hand or counter mount. Cosmetics or mount or handle. Leaf?, visualize wall hooks and pick a leaf. twist and it's time to look at pictures and maybe do a couple practice pieces. 

Those are simple products. If I'm designing something large or complex I go to the drawing board, I used to use CADD but I can't find a decent 2D program, I don't need to to 3D renderings with light angle, POV, landscaping nor sift through dozens of layers for any line I want to draw. Soooo I went back to: drafting, table/board, T square, triangles and scales. I do as much work on paper up front before touching a piece of steel or tool as possible. Once I've debugged a design as much as possible on the table I make dimensioned working drawings to scale on Graph paper to use in the shop.  

If I need full sized drawings it's easy to transfer scale drawings fro graph paper to the: bench, table or shop floor, just lay out the graph to scale. 

A large part of the process is getting the customer to communicate their desire in as understandable manner as possible. When I was doing a lot of fabrication say widow grates, railings and the like I worked best knowing the space to fit and a general sketch of the desired look. 

This is made MUCH easier by using a graph paper pad to sketch concepts. I mark out the space they have to work in with a bold black ink so the customer doesn't have to worry about wanting something that just won't fit their space. THAT happens all the time if you allow it.:huh: 

If I'm making a reproduction of an existing item estimating how much steel/iron you need is pretty critical and depends on a few variables. How good are you is #1. You WILL lost material to scale every time you put the project back in the fire, you MUST allow enough extra to make up the loss. If you're slow and have to do this very often you have to allow more, maybe crazy lots more. There is a point of diminished returns, you have to add so much more it requires too much time to work and you lose so much material it makes for failed product or costs too much to be worth the effort.

Depending on the reproduction or restoration I estimate material by weighing it and multiplying for loss to scale, trimming, etc.

There are formulae for calculating material requirement for shapes: tapers, scrolls, rings, etc. I don't have them to hand and I'm not good at math so I cheat I weigh and fudge for expected loss.

A big question is: Do you charge for design time? That depends on variables too, If someone wants a bottle opener or wall hooks, etc. with a dog footprint finial decoration I don't charge. The customer and I are going to sit down with my graph paper tablet, and s/he's going to do some concept sketches within the ink lines I'll make it happen on the anvil. No design charge.

Architectural design might be a different matter. If they want a porch rail probably not. If they want a 2 leaf driveway gate and stone pillars, oh YES they get charged design time. Not at shop rate but there are so many fiddly bits to something like that it WILL take careful thought and lots of paper time to prevent having to do a major redesign in the shop or worse during installation.

I've found that above a certain level you must design carefully and not charging will put you in the red. It'll cost you more to do a project than you can sell it for.

I've got to stop or I'll ramble on forever. Every project is like a living being, they're all different.

Frosty The Lucky.

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3 hours ago, BillyBones said:

Chris, from your posts i would have never guessed you are that old

Ha-ha.  I've had more professional carriers than most guys have had girlfriends. ;):lol:

Chris

 

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I'm at the early end of my smithing hobby. For simple things like hooks, I'll usually keep a design in mind, but most of those are one-offs for me as I'm not making items for sale, so if it doesn't turn out quite as I envisioned it isn't the end of the world. It's much more challenging to make multiples of an item as identical as possible. I've recently started branching into more complicated projects (by my standards), and I've found it helpful to do a workup of the process. For something with multiple pieces, such as the fireplace tools and stand I'm working on, I'll sketch it out or even do full-size drawings. I'm neither a draftsman nor a sketch artist, but I find that rendering my ideas is both mentally stimulating and good for working out how a thing should come together.

I really should take a page from Chris and Pnut (and many others on here) and try some things in clay before heading to the forge. I don't get much time at the forge, and when I do it's shared with another smith. I should work harder at being more efficient.

456449100_pennyscroll1.thumb.jpg.5f3834201652adfb5b52784ce4597a40.jpg 918818663_pennyscroll2.thumb.jpg.a9eaf8759fd0b923bf5e159906b1dc22.jpg

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That's a very good way to keep track of what you've done............and what you want to do in the future. 

Back when my brother and I owned a plastic manufacturing facility, we used to take Poloroid (yes, I know that's WAY old technology) pictures of each manufacturing step and all the set-ups for each step for each part we manufactured.  Notated pictures (very similar to what you've shown here) were far easier for people to set up each time we had a new run.  And it was more easily deciphered by new people who had never done it before.  So what you've done will be extremely helpful to you in the future.  Keep a notebook of how you did each step and make notes (as you've done) so you refresh your memory each time you go back to make this hook again.  You can refer to your drawings/notes until making that particular hook comes naturally.

Chris

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Thanks for all of the replies, some great info here.

Although I'm familiar with the golden ratio/Fibonacci sequence, I had no idea it was so prevalent in nature. That's definitely something I'll try to get my head around, fascinating stuff! I actually had some questions about proportion in the original question but cut it out. I guess there are other principles that can be of use like the rule of thirds, or using symmetry or asymmetry. Then there's looking at positive vs negative space. 

Using clay is a good idea, I've not tried that. Correct me if I'm wrong but you only need to heat it once you've finished all the forming? 

Pretty much everything I've ever made (not just metal work) has been utilitarian and aesthetics haven't really factored into the design. Often a "design" is often just a vague picture in my head, and it usually turns out about right. But if I need to make something a bit more complicated/to certain dimensions I tend to make a rough sketch or even a scale drawing on graph paper.

This is about the furthest extent my designs ever go. It was a bit complicated because I wanted to create a workbench that easily assembled/disassembled without relying on bolts/screws: 

And here's the (almost) finished bench: 

I really admire the pleasing simplicity of a lot of shaker furniture, absolutely functional, simple and very pleasing to the eye. But I think this balance is difficult to achieve, it's also a stark contrast to the prevalent design trends among blacksmiths i.e. there tends to be a lot of decoration (if you know of any smiths producing simplistic but elegant work let me know). 

It's interesting approaching blacksmithing because for the first time I'm being drawn towards decorative work. To make a functional metal grille is a pretty straightforward job and doesn't even require the skills of a smith. However to make an ornate grille that fulfils its function and is visually appealing is where, in my opinion, a lot of skill (practical and design) comes into play. 

Chris - I can imagine that having a good understanding of wood carving and 3d forms has gone hand in hand with smithing. I have to agree with you, design doesn't come naturally to me! 

Frosty - it's great to see it from the perspective of someone who's making money out of making. You've raised some really interesting points and even if time isn't being charged for, it's still worth considering because it's not something everyone has in abundance. Again, even as an amateur,  it's important to be able to calculate materials required for a project and estimate costs. Also I never thought of scale as losing material with each heat, that's good to think about. 

Great to see your steps Snuffy. Writing/drawing the processes seems like a really good idea to me, I'll give it a go. 

Really appreciate everyone's time here. If anyone has any photos of work they'd like to add of projects as they are being developed I'd love to see them. 

Sam

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I don't fire the clay when I'm finished. I just put it back in the refrigerator. Clay moves just like hot steel it just doesn't take as much force to deform it. I make it about the same size as the stock I'll be starting with and use a cross pien hammer I have that's about a pound or so and do exactly what I want to do to the metal to the clay. I just don't use as much force. I like putting the clay in the freezer or refrigerator to make it a little more stiff but I do the exact same processes to the clay as I would at the forge. It's also a good way to practice when you can't get out to the forge. I use a piece of 6x6 wood for an anvil and a little hammer. I learned a lot more than if I'd have only been able to practice at the forge.

Pnut

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Sam,

Good job on that knockdown bench.  Your drawing doesn't show well enough for me to answer my question, but are those full-length sliding dovetails on the stretchers under the top or rabbits topped with dovetails?  That bench will serve you well.  Good solid work surfaces are always a blessing.  Based on how you put it together, I'm sure you know how to attach the top so it will "move" with the humidity and still stay flat. (?)

Regular modeling clay, as Pnut mentioned, stays "fluid" and will move.  My wife is an artist and also makes sculpted jewelry.  She uses a product called Sculpy Clay.   (readily available at places like Hobby Lobby or Michael's)  After you form your object, you "fire" it in a toaster oven to set it.  No hassle to accomplish.  It would be perfect, for example, to make a pattern of a hook, leaf key-chain, snake, feather, or anything that would fit into the toaster oven.............or a larger oven for that matter.  Then you would have a 3-D object to use as a pattern when forging items.

Chris

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22 hours ago, pnut said:
On 9/29/2019 at 9:42 AM, Chris The Curious said:

For a starter, look up information on the Golden Mean or Golden Ratio.  That's a good starting point for most any design.

The Fibonacci sequence is also something worth looking into in regards to natural forms incorporated into design elements.

Pnut

22 hours ago, Chris The Curious said:

Same thing.  It's all about proportions.  I always feel kind of sick when I see a piece of furniture where proper proportions have been ignored.  

Chris

A REALLY good book about proportion is By Hand and Eye by George Walker and Jim Tolpin. They are coming at design from an architecture and furnituremaking point of view, but their essential thesis is that all good design (especially from before the time that industrialization mandated building to numerically determined measurements and tolerances, what they call the "artisan era") can be determined by whole-number ratios and fairly straightforward geometry. Their exercises in creating pleasing proportions with nothing more than a pair of dividers and a straightedge are fascinating and mind-expanding.

Master blacksmith Kim Thomas (one of my informal mentors) introduced me to this book saying that anyone who wanted to understand design and proportion MUST read it.

Here is the first piece I designed after reading the book: an urn for my father’s ashes. The base is square, the proportion of the width to the height of each side is 3:5 (adjacent numbers in the Fibonacci sequence), and each side is arched with a four-center ellipse drawn with a compass. 

A28B0176-9F81-47E5-997A-C5D98642CAAC.jpeg

(Note that this does not show the wood panels that will ultimately fill the sides and bottom.)

3 hours ago, pnut said:

Clay moves just like hot steel it just doesn't take as much force to deform it. I make it about the same size as the stock I'll be starting with

Another advantage of clay is that you can make a model of your finished piece and then mush it up into a rectangular bar to find out how big your starting stock needs to be.

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By Hand and Eye is indeed, almost required reading for furniture makers, JHCC.  My copy is on loan to a prodege as I type.  I believe your mentor was exactly right.  Good read, for sure.  A thorough understanding of pleasing proportions is imperative in the creative process.  Without it, all one has is pretty much a "thing" of functionality without any balance and beauty.  Thanks for mentioning it.

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4 hours ago, SamBurgess said:

To make a functional metal grille is a pretty straightforward job and doesn't even require the skills of a smith

I'll  start here. And use a grill or railing as my example

If it is going to fit a space, you need a full size drawing and anything you make as a traditional Smith, from the simple to the sublime, requires the skills of a traditional smith.

The hardest design to pull off is the concept of "simple". You just don't have room for even the smallest mistake. You can hide quite a lot in the clutter of complex.

Most of my work is commission work. Thus I work out design with my clients. Often times they will have an idea as to what they want. That is where I start. If they have no real idea I will ask if they have something they really like that I can incorporate into the design such as a specific type of flower.

Next I check out the architectural style of the space the project will go. Is it a Tudor style house, is the theme of the room southwestern, is the door and entryway colonial?

Context: I look at 3 design principals to determine context  of my piece. I call these positive, neutral, or negative. Positive means my piece is the "centerfold", so to speak. It's the primary detail, designed to grab your attention.Neutral means it is in balance with another, or all other details.  This means if your eye picks out detail "A", you also see detail "B". Think of a dark colored door or armoire and dark colored hinges. Negative is, in my opinion, the toughest to do. Think of this as its purpose is to subtlety accent the primary detail, but you don't really notice it. However, if someone removes it, when you return you just "feel" something is missing.

Next I take my measurements

Now I have my basic parameters.

Next comes a scale drawing, usually just of my idea. I don't generally incorporate the setting. Then I show this to my client. I make appropriate changes as necessary.

Then I select a particular part of my design, do a full sized drawing, transfer this to my layout table in chalk, and make a sample piece. This usually includes the primary detail. If it's a railing, this is a full size section(8',10',12') of the railing. I then make a full sized detail of the primary detail. If I'm doing a railing, this is wide enough to do the detail plus a pocket on,each side to set the frame. For my own growth and learning  I usually attempt to design the included theme detail to be my own personal challenge. This sample is full size and has two primary functions. First is to make sure my client sees absolutely just what they will get. The second is to figure out just how to make the danged thang!

Finally this sample gets the approval of the client.

All throughout this process I take copious notes both in a notebook and also on a copy of my drawings.

And now the real work begins.

here's a pic of "simple. 

 

ElPomar3.jpg

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I spent most of this past weekend at Quad-State watching two smiths from Colonial Williamsburg (Aislinn Lewis and Mark Sperry) making a traditional sign bracket. While they did have a couple of rulers, they used dividers almost exclusively to take measurements from their working drawing (on a large piece of painted plywood) and compare them to their work in progress. Both of them pointed out that the scrolls on the drawings had small holes left from being stepped out in 1" intervals when they were calculating the stock lengths, so all they had to do was count the holes to know how many inches long a piece needed to be. 

Here’s Aislinn using dividers to find the center of what would ultimately become a fancy C-scroll; she needed to punch the center for a decorative element to be added later. 

CE08EB5C-2D17-43A1-8204-B514F1550371.jpeg

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Great explanation, Anvil.

I love watching experienced craftsmen, JHCC.  I'd love to watch the Colonial Williamsburg blacksmiths at work.  That must have been quite an experience. (I really need to "get out" more!) :D

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And here's a great video of Gary Houston using a square and compass to lay out what he calls "The Perfect Scroll":

 

1 minute ago, Chris The Curious said:

That must have been quite an experience.

It was fantastic. Not only are they incredibly skilled, but they're used to talking to the public about what they're doing while they're doing it. I think they really appreciated having a knowledgeable audience asking intelligent questions about smithing technique -- I took a couple of pages of notes and a couple hundred photos!

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The Mandelbrott set also bears looking into for repeated patterns.  It's a little hard to incorporate directly into blacksmithing but can help inspire ideas about repeated forms.

Pnut

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JHCC, thanks for the video.  If memory serves me, an old mentor showed me that way back when my mind was till open and youthful.  I had completely forgotten about it until I looked at the cover photo of the video.  It's a pretty nifty way to accomplish laying out spirals with no math knowledge................(in other words, for math challenged people such as myself!) ;)

Chris

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Indeed. One of the points made at the Traditional Colonial workshop at Quad-State this weekend was that the eye follows changes in dimension, and that good design is about making choices on how to lead the eye. Gary's method of determining radii from a triangle is simply a matter of choosing the rate at which the radius of the spiral changes: a longer triangle will make a tighter scroll, and a shorter triangle will make a more open scroll. Neither is right or wrong in itself, but the effect that one creates will depend on the choices one makes about these effects.  

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Pretty neat.  I'll have to play with that in my carving class this semester.  It's a beginning woodcarving class but some of the students are advanced and working in architectural carving.  Scrolls are common subjects.

Chris

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Worth noting that Vitruvius (the "Father of Architecture", ca. 80 BC - after 15 BC) believed not only that good architecture derived its proportions from the human body, but that those proportions could be determined from whole-number ratios:

Quote

1. The design of a temple depends on symmetry, the principles of which must be most carefully observed by the architect. They are due to proportion, in Greek ἁναλογἱα. Proportion is a correspondence among the measures of the members of an entire work, and of the whole to a certain part selected as standard. From this result the principles of symmetry. Without symmetry and proportion there can be no principles in the design of any temple; that is, if there is no precise relation between its members, as in the case of those of a well shaped man.

2. For the human body is so designed by nature that the face, from the chin to the top of the forehead and the lowest roots of the hair, is a tenth part of the whole height; the open hand from the wrist to the tip of the middle finger is just the same; the head from the chin to the crown is an eighth, and with the neck and shoulder from the top of the breast to the lowest roots of the hair is a sixth; from the middle of the breast to the summit of the crown is a fourth. If we take the height of the face itself, the distance from the bottom of the chin to the under side of the nostrils is one third of it; the nose from the under side of the nostrils to a line between the eyebrows is the same; from there to the lowest roots of the hair is also a third, comprising the forehead. The length of the foot is one sixth of the height of the body; of the forearm, one fourth; and the breadth of the breast is also one fourth. The other members, too, have their own symmetrical proportions, and it was by employing them that the famous painters and sculptors of antiquity attained to great and endless renown.

3. Similarly, in the members of a temple there ought to be the greatest harmony in the symmetrical relations of the different parts to the general magnitude of the whole. Then again, in the human body the central point is naturally the navel. For if a man be placed flat on his back, with his hands and feet extended, and a pair of compasses centred at his navel, the fingers and toes of his two hands and feet will touch the circumference of a circle described therefrom. And just as the human body yields a circular outline, so too a square figure may be found from it. For if we measure the distance from the soles of the feet to the top of the head, and then apply that measure to the outstretched arms, the breadth will be found to be the same as the height, as in the case of plane surfaces which are perfectly square.

4. Therefore, since nature has designed the human body so that its members are duly proportioned to the frame as a whole, it appears that the ancients had good reason for their rule, that in perfect buildings the different members must be in exact symmetrical relations to the whole general scheme. Hence, while transmitting to us the proper arrangements for buildings of all kinds, they were particularly careful to do so in the case of temples of the gods, buildings in which merits and faults usually last forever.

Vitruvius. "On Symmetry: In Temples and in the Human Body," Book III, Chapter One, Ten Books on Architecture translated by Morris Hicky Morgan, 1914, The Project Gutenberg, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/20239/20239-h/20239-h.htm

 

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