Sunday, July 28, 2013

Blacksmithing 101: Beginner Tools

In this first instructional post of many, I seek to enlighten my dear readers, armchair blacksmiths and curious parties on the first step to starting your own forge. Once you begin, there is no turning back. The first forge fire you start creates a spark within you that is nearly impossible to kill. The love of mashing hot metal sticks with you forever.

Are you ready to begin? In that case, welcome, friend, to Blacksmithing 101: Beginner Tools.

Opening Remarks:
So, you've decided to build a forge and start hammering away! That is a good thing. You will not likely regret entering into an honored and age tested craft. Before you get any ideas of sword making, or making a million dollars off your metalwork, let me quench both ideas now. You will not make swords for a long time, if ever.
Second, they say the only way to make $1 million at blacksmithing is to start with $2 million.

Now, this primer is about the tools you need to set up. It is the bare bones. I will list them in the order that I see fit.

#1 Forge

A forge is a fire. There is nothing complicated about it.

You can have a fancy set up with a $500 firepot, or you can have a hole in the ground. Both work. I began in a campfire, fanned with a 5-gallon bucket lid.

A good start would be to acquire a brake-drum from an automobile, and set it up with some black pipe underneath. AVOID GALVANIZED METAL AROUND FIRE. It will kill you. (perhaps safety should have been first! Ah, water under the bridge, right?)

Let me show you a couple of different ways you can do things, if you feel inclined.

1) Purchase a pre-made forge
Here is one I bought for $75 or so. It is a small rivet forges. These will typically run you about $100-300, depending on where you are. The pan is cast iron, and is freestanding. More on the blower later.

Not my image. Please no one sue me. I'm not getting any money out of this.
2) Build a forge
(photo from
You can build a forge from a brake drum, piece of sheet steel, pile of cinder blocks, etc. etc.
This one below is build out of a wood frame with sheet metal as a top.

Not my image. Please no one sue me. I'm not getting any money out of this.
This was my first forge (below). It was a firepot set on top of a tower of firebricks. You could do the same with a brake drum or a steel baking sheet with a conical clay sculpture on top. You could even just use the firebricks to contain the fuel, if you wanted.

This is my current forge (under construction. Its going to star in its own post one day!) It is a wooden frame with fencing pickets to hold the firepot, and it will be covered with mortar on top of the fencing. It stands waist high, maybe a little lower. It is ideal for me. You will end up building and rebuilding until you find what works for you.
So, simple. Right? Yes. It is.
KISS - Keep it simple, stupid. (but, don't throw a chair at me for calling you stupid.)

#2 Blower

While some may lump this with forges, I say they are two different things.

I will keep this section short; there is not too much to say.

You can use anything that pushed air. A vacuum, a hairdryer, a car heating fan, a centrifuge blower, a blowpipe with younger siblings, a 5-gallon bucket lid, etc. etc.

I use a Champion 400 Blower that I bought with the firepot for $175. Expect to pay at least $200 for a blower, depending on your area. I liked the hand-cranked, because it did not use Electricity.

Aw, its me in my younger years! Oh wait, there is a Champion 400 blower in there too!

So, whatever route you choose, a blower is just air getting to the fire, which is held in the forge. (so, it could be a pipe stuck in a hole in the ground or a fancy all in one bit.)

Fancy all-in-one bit on my forge that I bought: 
Not my image. Please no one sue me. I'm not getting any money out of this.

#3 Anvil

Nothing quite says "Blacksmith" than the shape of a London pattern anvil! Yet, what is an anvil, exactly? says: "A heavy iron block with a smooth face".

So, does it have to look like this?
Not my image. Please no one sue me. I'm not getting any money out of this.
Nope. It does not. It can be a block. It can be a chunk. It can be a boulder. The earliest anvils were granite boulders. The London Pattern (seen above) is a useful tool, but you can get by with others, as well.
The following are anvils.

Don't fret over the 'right' one. Even a heavy rock will do it.


So. We have fire, air, something to put the metal on. How are you going to hold it, genius? (Okay, that one is snarky. My apologies.)

#4 Tongs
First and foremost, let me tell you, you CAN leave the metal long enough to hold and forge, but eventually you'll need a pair of tongs.

A tong is a hinged piece of metal which holds hot metal so you don't have to.
The following are tongs:



If you use vise-grips or pliers, make sure they are long handled. Also, grind off the teeth. They mar the work.
Curious about the different type of tongs? Contact me for more info! Also, go to for more info on purchasing and using!
So, Tongs. They hold metal. See? Its simple. You can find old tongs on craigslist, ebay, garage sales, estate sales, barn sales, flea markets, etc. However, make your own once you get started. Much cheaper. Just look up Brian Brazeal for a good video on how to make them. (No. I am not going to post the link. What do you want me to do, spoon feed you?)
#5 Hammers
You need a hammer. Maybe even Maxwell's silver one.
(Yes. I give you this, but not the tong-making video. I am an evil tyrant for these brief moments you read this. You are under my control. You are now thinking of monkeys. And pineapples. You are in manual breathing mode. Mwahahahahah! )
Hammers are small rocks. At least, you can get by with them. The cavemen did. However, I recommend a small ball pein, or cross pein from the hardware store. Why not a claw hammer? They are soft.
Look closely: You can see the mushrooming and cracking. Not an ideal hammer.
This is my main 2 lb forging hammer. It is a straight pein. Guess why!

This hammer is a 16 oz ball pein, for finishing and sinking spoons into swages.

My big boy! A 4 lb engineers hammer (double faced hand sledge).

And yes, you can use a claw. Just, not ideal.

So there. Little rock on a stick to hit metal on big rock that is anvil. Simple, right? Right.
Good. Those are the tools you NEED. A following post in the BS 101 series will be the things you can make out of these. However, I am going to add an addendum.
#5 1/2 Chisel
Eventually you'll need a hacksaw, chisel, or hardy. I am going to include these in the post because, they're not necessary, but will be the first thing you'll need beyond these.

Last but not least, invest in a wire brush.
Closing (snide) remarks:
Think you can do it? I do. I know you can. As it says in the Good Book:
"Zillah, on her part, gave birth to Tubalcain, the ancestor of all who forge instruments of bronze and iron..." Genesis 4:22 a-b
So, we are descended from Tubalcain. And, with his and St. Eligius' intercessions, you'll be the master of the four ancient elements as you wright metal under your hammer and tongs. Welcome to the brotherhood! Let the spark never die, let the quenching of your inner fire never occur.
God bless y'all!


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

July 4th, 2013

Harper's Ferry, West Virginia is one of my favorite places in the world.

Why? I don't really know. Maybe its the rustic, civil war town feel that captures my imagination. Perhaps its the bustling train station where passenger and freight trains mosey by. It could be the scenery, with the mountains surrounding the small riverside village. Whatever it is, I love Harper's Ferry.

I went there on July 4th, to spend a quiet day reading and exercising. So, I trekked down there, laden with A Man of the Beatitudes,my journal, prayer book and my trusty Bible (NAB), some water, my flat cap and a pair of cool shades, and spent the day relaxing. I saw on the map that there is a blacksmith shop nearby, so I went to check it out. To my dismay, it was closed. That will wait for another time, another time!

However, I climbed the hill that leads to the churches above the town, and got a tour of the quaint and majestic St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church.

This crucifix was imported from Italy, and is an approximate match to the Shroud of Turin. It was hand painted and serves as a beautiful devotional piece at the rear of the church.

This Sanctuary lamp dates back to before the Civil War, and is beautifully adorned in the style of its day. It survived the war and the remodeling done in 1888 (or thereabouts).

The altar featured a carved relief of the Last Supper, and behind it shows the tabernacle, flanked by three rows of candelabras. The ones in the middle, with the porcelain roses, are from the early 1800s.

Showing the whole sanctuary in its splendor. The marble is imported from Italy, and truly shows the faith of the builders of the church.
After touring the church, I nestled myself down in the ruins of the old Episcopal church and began to read. After a few hours, I got up, hiked on the Appalachian Trail to my car, went to St. James (the sister parish of St. Peter) for a visit. Afterwards, I traversed to Shepherdstown WV to visit Nick and O'Hurley's for another Thursday Jam Session.
Then, back to MD and to bed for me!
What a great Independence Day! 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Upcoming Series

Dearest Readers,

Prepare thy selves.

Upcoming over the next several weeks, I will be posting a series of instructionals. They will be pictorial references about the elementary tools, processes and techniques of Blacksmithing, as well as insights and quirky sayings that I will interlace as I see fit.

Stay tuned for more attractive and appealing posts! Share with your friends and family, co-workers and old schoolmates. Tell your enemies, as well. Maybe even your mother and father! Perhaps tell your clergyman, rabbi, barber, dentist, gynaecologist, mycologist (who, ironically, is the most entertaining type of scientist), and if you're daring, even the President! (at least of the president of your old sorority).

Hammer on!