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Matthew H

Starting blacksmithing/bladesmithing

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I’m 15, I’m getting into the trade, i have a few questions about what to do and where to start. I have 390 dollars to buy an anvil, i am also getting a 3 burner devils forge, wanted to know if that’s any good. Also was looking for anvils for a few weeks found the NC tool anvil 70lbs, but read on one of the forums that the horn is to soft for a bladesmith and blacksmith is it? And could you heat treat it to get it harder, I’m just looking for some starting advise. I live in Kansas, so would like to know if there’s any blacksmiths on this forum that could help me start and maybe sell me an anvil for cheaper than an online one. 

 

Thanks

-Matthew H

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Welcome aboard Matthew, glad to have you. 

I'm sure the regulars around here are tired of me saying this but a new guy can easily paint themselves into corners that're better to avoid. My first and I think most useful piece of advice is. Learn to blacksmith to a level of proficiency first. There are plenty of things you'll have to master, hammer control is a LOT more than just hitting what you aim at. Then there's heat management: When to pull the steel out of the fire, how long and what you can do to it with the hammer, when to put it back and how much you can plan while it's heating. 

There are a number of basic processes and each has it's learning curve, almost everybody starts with a long taper followed by a finial scroll and turning a hook. Most average folk can learn all three in one project piece making S hooks a popular first session project. 

Forged blades are lateral draws though and learning to control the profile while you draw it down is NOT a beginner's project. It's not even a journeyman level skill but it's pretty intermediate. 

Anyway, once you have the basics down blades are MUCH easier, you'll already know how steel moves under your hammer and how to get it to do what you want. . . mostly.<_< All you'll need to do then is learn how high carbon steel moves and the heat management it requires. You need to work pretty fast on blades or the steel loses too  much carbon to take and hold an edge well.

Trying to do it all at the same time has you climbing several learning curves at the same time. You're more likely to give it up out of frustration and expense, blade steel isn't cheap, not terribly expensive but not cheap.

There IS a learning curve you'll need to climb regardless but it doesn't interfere with the forging aspects and that's stock removal, forged or not you have to grind it and dress it. You can buy knife blanks and practice your grinder skills and learn how to fit and finish: guards, pommels and handles.

Dang I'm long winded aren't I? 

Where ever you heard an anvil's horn has to be hard to forge knives on. Stop listening to them, they don't know what they're talking about. I have to admit I'm curious though, what are they using the horn for making blades? 

A NC Anvil will serve you just fine though if you can swing it something closer to 100 lbs. will be more stable but 70lbs. is fine.

No, 3 burner forges are more for show than practical. You can only forge maybe 5" at a time and heating steel above critical without refining the grain under the hammer is B A D for blades not to mention the decarurization that occurs at high temperature. Then there's all the propane you have to burn to keep a forge that large HOT and you're not really using much of it. The rest is just burning money and damaging your blades.

When it's time to heat treat you can pass the blade back and forth through the forge to achieve even temperature. And no, a 3 burner forge doesn't heat the interior evenly, more evenly but you still need to pass the blade back and forth. 

Oh, one last thing about buying a 1 burner forge, you get to apply the money you save to a larger anvil. hmmmmm? Remember the price of the forge isn't the only thing you'll be saving on, think 1/3 the propane, steel wasted to decarb and crystal growth (grain growth) and you'll be breathing less carbon monoxide so you'll have fewer headaches and sleep better. :)

Hmmmm?

Frosty The Lucky.

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Frosty's post is the truth. You must learn to walk before learning to run.:) Besides you will have fun doing it. Finding an anvil online is not the best way to do it. For starters read the improvised anvils thread. For knife making does not require a London pattern anvil. To find a used one read the Thomas Powers Applied Anvil Acquisition Technique thread. (TPAAAT)

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Thank you both for your input on the questions and giving me advice, i do not think there are many blacksmiths around me, also not even 1 blacksmithing school for me to go to, I’ll take your advise and ask around for anvils but could either one of you fine folk sell me an anvil? Ive spent several hours researching into anvils and what i should get and it seems a newer one would last longer. Thanks frosty for the information I can use later on, where do you buy your tools that you don’t make yourself? I’m also thinking about a 44lb steel Kanca anvil is that a good one? 

Thanks

-Matthew H 

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If I may suggest a simple block of steel and a simple forge.  A simple solid fuel forge costs less than a gasser to start with. 

Now a 3 burner is way more forge than a knife maker (or 90% of hobby smiths) need. If you can heat 6” of steel you are good, as you will generally run out heat before you run out of steel.  The only time you need a long forge is to heat treat and as it’s an important 1% of the time involved in a project their are other ways to get their with out running 3 burners when you don’t need to.  

If I was you I would let us old farts show you how to get started for less than $100 ($20 if your a good scrounge) save your coin until you know more. 

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I got started for the price of a TSC cross pien and some L brackets to reinforce the corners where the boards meet on the nightstand I have been using as the container for a jabod forge. I brought some coffee and doughnuts to a RR maintenance crew that was staying at the hotel where I work and they gave me a piece of rail cut to thirty inches. The hotel is also where the nightstand came from. Grand total... under $17.00 . I agree with Charles, Save your money until you know what you need and if you even want to stick with blacksmithing. It's a lot more work than most folks realize. I hope you do stick with it. Good luck and remember it's supposed to be fun. Don't forget the personal protective equipment either. Sight hearing and breathing makes life much easier.

Pnut

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I agree with everyone above, for what its worth. I've only very recently started out myself.

Don't get drawn into spending lots of money early on until you're SURE its the hobby for you.

Dont bother buying an expensive anvil or forge early on. Listen to Charles' advice re/ building a simple solid fuel forge (burning charcoal, coal or coke). Look up "JABOD" here, the "Just a Box of Dirt" forge. You'll want to be forging outdoors initially anyway. A gas forge is not any safer indoors than a coal forge- in fact its worse in terms of Carbon Monoxide.

Focus on safety- buy PPE (glasses at a bare minimum) and research the dangers of Carbon monoxide and burning scrap steel (watch out for platings on scrap metal which can kill you when burned!)

 

If you wanted to spend a little money when getting started- my advice would be to buy one or two decent pairs of TONGS! Making tongs is actually a fairly advanced and labour intensive process which would be difficult for a beginner. In the UK a set of tongs can cost around £35 a pair easily. You want to buy tongs specific to the stock you are working with.

 

A really good starting point would be:

- A visit to a scrap yard or similar to buy a nice cheap solid lump of steel to act as an anvil. Alternatively, look at railway track anvils but use it ON END not sideways. Don't look to pay more than £20 or so.

- Car Boot sales or markets will be good for finding a hammer. A simple ball-peen engineers hammer is easy to find- don't start with one too heavy. 1lb to 1.5lb will be ideal especially if you're young. A small hand sledge might also be handy for abusing (stirking tools such as punches or chisels).

-Build a JABOD outdoors. Buy a suitable blower. See the forum posts here. This will be a significant challenge early on! Especially if you're not familiar with forging and what a good fire should look like. If you know a blacksmith, get them to help and advise.

- Buy a pair of tongs online- ideally ones set up for small square stock (5-8mm?). This will be a perfect size for forging some hooks to begin with which are fantastic practice.

-Buy some steel of an appropriate size. Avoid rebar, and avoid scrap where you're not sure what it is. If its rusty scrap its probably safe, otherwise leave well alone until you know how to identify dangerous coatings.

- Take a course! If you really want to spend your $300- find a beginners course or experience day nearby. Perhaps ask them to learn some basics and make some tools (chisels, punches, tongs, etc). Thats the absolute best way to spend your cash.

..... I just googled "Blacksmith Course Topeka Kansas".

link removed per TOS

Looks like theres one this weekend! Probably nearby? ( I know nothing of US geography).

(Hope I havent broken any rules with the link!)

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Thank y'all for your very helpful information. I regret that I didn’t inform y’all about me already having the 3 burner forge, i do a lot of welding so i already have all of the PPE and i wanted to ask if you could mig weld your metal together for Damascus or does it have to be arc? I want to get a “good” or okay anvil to start out with because I’m going to use it for other fields like welding, I’m used to working with hot metal and anvils, i have all my tools needed to start at home except (maybe) tongs, thanks y’all for this it really helps me explore my options, thanks for the link because I didn’t know about that. 

Thanks 

Matthew H

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I searched with my browser on: blacksmith topeka kansas and found this:

"With a leather apron draped around his neck and tied at the waist, Norm Davis slides an iron rod into the burning coals in the forge in his blacksmithing shop at his northwest Topeka home."...."Davis said he typically demonstrates blacksmithing techniques at the Meriden Antique Engine and Threshers Association Festival and the Apple Festival at Old Prairie Town at Ward Meade Historic Site."

You might also check with the ABANA Affiliate for Kansas, Central States Metal Artisans to see if there is anyone near you.  I know there's a bunch of smiths in KC.

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Thanks Thomas, for the info. Y’all have been helpful. Now that you say this i have a blacksmith at my church that i go to ill maybe talk with him. That is if i can find him, because I don’t know what he looks like or his name lol. I really didn’t know about all this, what should be my first project a knife? A leaf? Or something else...

p.s. never thought I’d see such good blacksmiths like ThomasPowers and Frosty the lucky 

thanks

-Matthew H

 

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Try an S hook. It was the first thing I forged. It has a few essential processes used in much of blacksmithing.  Leafs, drive hooks, and fire tools are what I started doing and am still trying to get better at. 

Pnut

 

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Lots better smiths than me here; I'm just omnipresent!   BTW I have found several *good* anvils just by circulating round the fellowship hall after church telling folks I was looking for an anvil.  Shoot I was given one and a lot of nice antlers to go with it.  Another belonged to a 92 year old lady at I church and I let the Pastor get that one as he was wanting to smith too. You might be able to ask your Pastor to introduce you to the smith. My Pastor sure introduced a lot of people to me that way!

As for starting projects; I like projects that help you learn and practice skills but are hard to mess up.  I guess the simplest one was making tent stakes for canvas tents, No matter what you do you pretty much end up with a usable tent stake.  S hooks are a bit more fun and interesting, especially as you can practice a lot of different twists on them and they have a wider market to see them to.

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How do you make an s hook sir? And also I’ve been trying to reach the church member but my youth pastor forgets sometimes he’s a REALLY busy man. I found a 105# peter Wright for 105 and 100 dollar shipping is it a good deal?

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18 minutes ago, Matthew H said:

is it a good deal?

Yes, no, or maybe.  It depends on the details.  If the anvil is in good to pristine condition with rebound consistent with a PW, then that is one heck of a deal.  If it has been through a fire or for some other reason the face is softer than it should be then probably not.  If a good portion of the face is damaged or delaminated it may be no more valuable than a door stop or boat anchor.  In that case you would be much better off taking $205 and buying a good chunk of solid steel and have money left over for hammers and tongs.

Do you know the seller?  Can you see it before you buy it?   If you can see it in person and do a ball bearing rebound test that can give you the information you need.   I'm actually a little suspicious about someone selling a 105 pound PW anvil in good shape for a dollar a pound and delivered for slightly less than 2 dollars a pound.  Could be a scam - or it could be an excellent opportunity.

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Has some damage and some red rust so its new rust wouldn’t be hard to take off I’m just not sure about the edges 

Remove commercial link per TOS.

114#*

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If it has sharp clean edges RUN AWAY! Most likely it was milled or ground on the face or welded on the edges all of which can seriously harm or destroy the anvil's usability. Sharp edges are a problem when forging too. Only time clean edges are a good sign is for NOS---new old stock, stuff that was never used and was forgotten about until it turned up again.

NOTE it's not for sale at that price!  It is at auction and the current bid is US$105; the final bid may be hundreds of dollars more.  (See the "reserve not met"? that means they won't sell it at that price even if there are no bids.)  Check around at church and remember there were more anvils in cities than were on farms.

In general online is the most expensive way to buy an anvil and talking to everyone you meet is the cheapest.

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FWIW, Ebay is about the worst place I can think of to try to find a good anvil at a good price, and you are normally at the disadvantage of not being able to personally inspect the item before purchase.  As TP pointed out the reserve has not been met yet so it will definitely not be sold at $105.  You're much more likely to find a good anvil at a decent price by word of mouth and personal connections.  It may take a little time though.  If you want to get smithing in a hurry your best bet is still to get a solid piece of steel at least 3 inches thick (or in diameter) that weighs 75 to 150 lbs and mount it so the maximum amount of steel is directly under where your hammer will strike. 

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Matthew: Don't you circulate with parishioners after services, share fellowship? We don't usually see a lot of young folk at fellowship but they're usually off somewhere doing their own thing. The idea is to get to know each other, drink coffee, tea or whatever, maybe have a bite to eat and talk. We can either ask the Pastor to speak to the congregation as services wind down or stand up and speak for ourselves. Services usually end with announcements and you usually get flooded with offers of help. 

Don't get in a hurry, I know everything seems to take forever but that's a function of your age, things don't it only seems like it. Just put out the word at church, don't expect someone to go get one out of their car trunk though I have seen weirder things happen. 

Be patient, patience will be rewarded.

Just so you  know, I'm a long way from a great smith, I was competent when I practiced very often and not so much since the accident. I get by though, mostly I read a lot and remember and understand what I read.

Frosty The Lucky.

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Yes i do go around talking to people at church, but we tend to leave early. Yes ill be more patient, its nice to Know y'all go to church what church do you go to?

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Epiphany Episcopal Church.  I used to be a member at St Luke's in the Cotton Patch Episcopal Church down in La Union NM when I was working across the border and renting a place down there.

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All good advice and worth taking. However if you decide to go for the gusto and get a new, or old anvil, the horn is not hardened, so what you heard about NC anvils was not good advice. Also, unless you are really hard on your anvil, if you find you don't like this craft, with today's anvil market, you will prolly make money on the resale of your anvil.

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Cool thanks, but i wont sell it because ill need an anvil for welding purposes anyway so this is a win/win situation. I posted that I’m looking for one on next door, i said 40lb+. And reasonably priced 

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Ok, I have to ask.  Why do you need an anvil for welding purposes?  Or more specifically, what function does the anvil serve when you are welding?  I'm assuming you were not referring to forge welding.

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No, I’m aware what forge welding is lol, i would be using it to bend hot metal when i use an oxy acetylene torch, or when i need to grind a piece of metal and hammer it off. Using some cold metal sometimes, i have many reasons for one. Also do you recommend the diamondback forges?

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