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Some general inquiries on getting started with smithing


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Hi all, 

I’ve made a post here a few months ago, asking for some advice regarding a JABOD forge I’ve been working on. After a while, I’ve finally gotten around to finishing it and a bit over a week ago, got it to light up on some anthracite and a bit of charcoal.

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It seems to work quite well (I did manage to get a piece of metal to glow red hot), but any constructive feedback would be appreciated.

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My main reason for making this post now is that I have a few questions about actually pounding the iron. One, is there a certain type of hammer that is most often used for blacksmithing? I am definitely going to get an anvil (because a brick does not seem to work very well), but I don’t know if the simple claw hammer I have is fit for proper forging. Also, what would be a good beginner project for a complete newbie, something feasible for a person with very little experience?

 

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Start small and focus on developing skill. 

A good beginners project would be to practice making short tapers, lots of them. Maybe not very impressive but a lot more satisfying than a lumpy, twisted piece of burned iron that was intended to be a Bowie knife. 

For example, a two inch long taper on half inch stock. Try mixing it up by using round stock and also square stock and also cone shaped as well as square sided tapers. 

A claw hammer isn't to useful. Suggest you get a cross peen hammer about 2 or 2 1/2 pounds . Ace Hardware/Home depot. etc. etc. sells them for about thirteen dollars.  

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More fuel for sure.  Do not connect the hair dryer directly to the forge, but leave a air gap between the dryer and the pipe.  Aim the dryer more directly at the pipe for more, less directly for less air.  This will spill any excess air that is not needed.

Fuel does not make the fire hot, air makes the fire hot.  Use only as much air (gentle air) as is needed to get the amount of heat you need from the fire. 

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I too am a noob. But what I've found thus far is this:  Charcoal doesn't need much air, as compared to coal.  The consensus here is Anthricite is not the best fuel to use. But there are some folks that use it. What Glenn said about the hairdryer is true.  Or you can put a Tee in the pipe to act as a wastegate  to dump excess air.  I drilled several holes in my air pipe to dump air, and use aluminum duct tape to regulate the amount of air dumped overboard. As to the hammer, you can dig up a cross peen, of about 2 pounds, or a ball peen. Or both. You might also want a lighter hammer, mabe 16oz.  A decent anvil to start with could be a 10 pound sledge hammer head, set on end in a stump at a comfortable height.  Anvil does not have to be a new fancy english pattern, It can be just about anything having substantial mass, and a somewhat flat surface.    

Scrap yards are a good source for all kinds of goodies.   

  Yes more fuel in the fire. I believe that about 4" of fuel below the work is good.  

+1 on starting small.  A good project for getting the steel to move the way you want it to, would be to start with mabe 1/2" square stock. And heat it and shape it from square to octagon, to round.  In the process, you'll learn just how hot it needs to be to move easily, and when to stop hammering, and re-heat.  After round, mabe draw a taper to a point.   I don't know, Like I said, I'm a noob as well. But that's what I have done.

   Also read, there are many books on the subject, and videos on Y-tube. (some need to be taken with a grain of salt)

  One last thing, If you can find a smith in your area, mabe hook up, and let him/her teach you some basics. 

  There are others on here with way more experience than I have, and mabe they will chime in with better advice. I've learned a lot from the folks here on this forum.

Have fun, be safe, and remember; "If you bang on cold steel, th' devil will get you".

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Harbor Freight has decent hammers to get started, sand the finish off or you may get blisters.   The forum has a section on improvised anvils that is a very fun read.   I kinda have jumped in with both feet but I have also spoken with an experienced Smith who recommended making S hooks because it forces you to use the four basic hammer techniques on an anvil.  

I've been following Black Bear Forge's videos for tips and techniques.  John has a video about basic hammer techniques and also tong making and basic and advanced projects.  

Oh, and jumping back to the hammer, there are ways to prepare the hammer head to prevent or reduce hammer marks in the piece.   Look for info on dressing your hammer.  Good luck,  welcome aboard and I look forward to seeing project pictures. 

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I’ll second the recommendation of S hooks. Making them from both round and square stock maybe 3/8”. They are very useful and marketable. Not to mention that to make good one you end up working on drawing (always in a square cross section), scrolling, and symmetry. Start with square stock, make a few the move to round. On the round stock, you draw the tapers square, then go to octagon, and then round. It can be a real challenge to get it back to a nice smooth round, until you’ve developed some hammer control. After that, you can get fancy and start adding twists to the center of square cross section hooks, or chiseling lines on round stock and then twisting. Lots of details that can be added as skill progress...

David

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There's a video posted on IFI in the video section called The big eight or mastering the big eight blacksmithing techniques. It helped me considerably in the very early stages. 

Pnut

I had to download Gboard to find the clipboard. 

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Lots of good and vetted information here:

https://www.iforgeiron.com/topic/44225-a-collection-of-blacksmithing-links-on-youtube/

Black Bear Forge was doing a hook of the week series, which demonstrates both techniques and creativity. Also, some of John Bennitt’s early videos, demonstrates basic techniques building to incrementally larger projects.

David

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Thanks a lot everyone, some really nice ideas and advice here! I will make sure to take a look at all the videos as well. As for the fuel, I wasn't really sure how much I needed and kept to a lower amount, as it was just a brief test of the forge. I assume the answer varies, but how much coal would you generally use for an afternoon of smithing?

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4 hours ago, narfiddle said:

how much coal would you generally use for an afternoon of smithing?

It depends on the type and quality of fuel that you have available, the size and shape of the stock or project you are working, and how you manage your fire.  We suggest you get the analysis of the fuel you are using. This will tell you the BTUs that are available in a pound of coal. In Bituminous coal 12,000/pound barely burns, and 14,000 can be used in the forge.  The high end is BTUs is 15,000+/pound of coal. 

The analysis will also tell you the amount of sulfur, ash moisture, etc present.

You should use a small fire for small stock, and a large fire for large stock.  If you are using 1/4 inch square and most to 1/2 inch square stock, you now have 4 times the amount of metal to heat.  If you move to 1 inch square stock, you have 16 times the amount of metal to heat.  That takes roughly 16 times the amount of heat.

How you run the forge determines how much fuel you use.  If you run the forge full blast while you are at the anvil, you will use more fuel than if you let the forge remain idle while you are working at the anvil.

To answer your question, it depends on your location, what fuel is available, and how your work your forge.

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Note: when I was in the Netherlands I did not see a single Harbor Freight store.  I did see hardware stores with good hammers.  I tend to buy my hammers at flea markets and boot sales/garage sales/yard sales to get them cheap.

In general the workpiece goes into the middle of the fire and not on top; you also want it fairly horizontal and not at a steep angle: ___ not | or / .  As you learn your forge you will begin to know how long that hidden section of steel needs to heat to working temperature.  Expect to burn up some pieces learning.

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Yes, small fire for small stock, and large fire for large stock.  But, with coal it's possible to have a small fire, with a large pile of coal.  But how much of that coal is actually used depends on how you tend the fire.

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