Elementary Blacksmithing

From Brass Goggles

This section will be a guide to the very basics of Blacksmithing.

[edit] Materials

There are six basic tools that every blacksmith should have available, although two might be considered optional by the more burn resistant among us. They are: a forge, hammer, anvil, glove (singular, we'll get to that later), goggles, and tongs.


The word forge refers to both the brazier in which you heat your iron and the smith's work area in general. It is safe to assume for the remainder of this article that only the former definition will be used.

A forge can be either coal or propane/oxygen burning, depending on the space available and zoning requirements where you live (suburban fire depots tend to bristle at the clouds of yellow-ish black smoke a coal fire forge discharges.) A propane forge will likely be smaller, cheaper to operate, and not require the storage of solid fuel (coal usually being sold by the half-ton.) A coal forge will allow for work on large or oddly shaped pieces and will burn hotter.


Blacksmiths use a wide variety of specialty hammers, but the most indispensable is the rounding hammer.

A good entry-level hammer can be bought here: http://www.centaurforge.com/prodinfo.asp?number=285


A good quality anvil will have a flat, smooth top without any bumps or dings which may leave an impression in your work. Note, always make sure you anvil is securely anchored to it's stand, and the stand securely anchored to the ground. Anvil's are heavy and can easily cause a narrow stand to fall over if bumped into or tripped over.


A sturdy heat-resistant glove is good for your non-dominant hand. A glove on your hammer hand will just cause the hammer to slip, making it harder to aim your blows and tiring out your wrist.


Sparks and fire scale fly with each hammer blow, safety goggles are a necessity. (Note, aviator goggles, welding goggles, etc. can restrict your peripheral vision. Since smithing is a task that requires you to be aware of your surroundings (which will often include explosive, hot, or sharp objects in close quarters,) you will need your full field of vision.)


An alternative to a glove, a pair of proper tongs can be used to hold the metal. Since they will never spend much time in the forge, they will not get hot nearly as quickly, even so, you should remember to quench them often.

[edit] Safety

A few safety precautions for the forge.

Always work in pairs. The potential for injury while blacksmithing is very high, but working without another person nearby increases it exponentially. Without someone else around to extinguish fires, shut down machinery, or help you lift heavy things off of yourself a minor accident could become a very serious injury.

Wear no loose clothing. Keep your shirt tucked in and cuffs buttoned, avoid baggy pants, if you have long hair, tie it back and stick it under a cap, no neckties, no jewelry. A loose item of clothing can easily brush against the side of a forge or a hot piece of metal and catch on fire (or worse, and I speak from experience here, melt onto your skin.)

Keep you glove dry. No, seriously, keep your glove DRY. You'll be handling metal hot enough to boil any water soaked into your glove in an instant. A good kevlar glove will protect you from the heat from the metal, but the steam will go right through.

Don't lean over your anvil. It's tempting to treat an anvil like a work bench and lean over the thing you're working on to get a better look, but consider this: An anvil is a very dense, cool piece of metal, your hammer is, likewise, a very dense, cool piece of metal. If you miss your mark, and hammer strikes anvil with nothing in between, your hammer will bounce. You will miss rather frequently when starting out, and it's not unheard of for a hammer to bounce back into the face of the person swinging it. Minimize the risk of injuring yourself by keeping your back straight and just tilting your head to see what's going on with your piece. When you need to take a closer look, lift the piece up to you.

Just because it's not glowing doesn't mean it's cool! I can't stress that one enough. A good general rule is this: After you're done, turn off the forge, leave, come back in half an hour. At that point you can probably tough anything except the forge itself. Also, the back of your hand is much more sensitive to heat than the front, check to see if things are hot by holding the back of your hand an inch or so away from the object in question.

Use common sense. There are hundreds of things you should never do while blacksmithing, just as there are hundreds of things you shouldn't do while cooking, driving, or knitting. I've tried to list the ones people might not think of for themselves. But, in general, if you think before you act, you should be ok.

[edit] Basic Techinques

This section will contain a rundown of simple techniques which can be used with only the tools listed above.


Beveling is probably the easiest technique out there, but, like many easy things, it's difficult to do well. To practice on, you'll want a steel bar about 3/4" wide and 1/4" thick, although any reasonably thin bar will do. Bear in mind that you'll want the bar long enough to comfortably hold on to while you work. I'd suggest nothing less than two feet, but longer is better.

Begin by heating up about three inches on one end of your bar. This will take a moment, so use the time to make sure your hammer is in easy reach, and there's nothing you need to clear off of your anvil. Once the bar comes out of the forge you will have just minutes to work on it, so try to keep everything in reach to save time.

When the bar is glowing a healthy orange color (if it starts throwing sparks when o pull it out, it's too hot. If it's still red, too cold.) lay it down flat on the surface of your anvil. Use the rounded side of your rounding hammer to work around the edge of the hot area. Try to strike without bending your elbow or wrist, swinging only with the shoulders. Strike at even intervals around the edge of the bar until the corner is sloped around 30 degrees away from the flat middle section.

Reheat your bar in the forge and swap to the flat side of your hammer. ( in truth, if you're just starting out, you will probably need to reheat the bar several times before you get to this step.) The flat side of the rounding hammer is mostly used for cleaning up hammer marks and hitting chisels, punches, or other devices. To clean up the marks along the length of your bevel, you will want to swing the hammer in such a way as to strike the surface of the bevel at the same angle as the bevel itself.

That should just about do it. Beveling is a good decorative technique for items that you don't want to have a sharply defined edge, such as steel mounting plates or wall hardware.

Forming an edge

Ahh, pointy bits. Let's get started.

Depending on the strength you are looking for in your final piece you will want to select varying hardnesses of steel. For this exercise, I suggest you use a 5/8" square rod of A2 tool steel (google it, it's pretty cheap) I'll get to why at the end of these instructions.

Start by heating the tip of the steel in your forge. You'll really only need an inch or so to be hot. You can think of this exercise as extreme beveling. hold the steel flat against the surface of your anvil and start working from the end of the rod.

As you work, the steel will start to widen, flaring out into a fan shape. To deal with this simply turn the steel on it's side and hit it squarely with the flat surface of your rounding hammer.

Continue working the steel until you have a gentle slope down to the surface of the anvil (this will take anywhere from 1-10 reheats, depending on skill level.)

Now you'll want to center your edge. On the next heat, flip the steel over, so that your bevel is down and the flat surface of the steel is facing you. Use the flat surface of your hammer to hit the edge down until it is in the center of the rod.

Now, here's where the tool steel comes in. Put out your forge, leave the steel inside. Come back in a few hours when the whole setup has had time to cool down. Now, reheat the steel to about 1300 degrees farenheit. It should have a dull red tint to it at this point, but not be visibly glowing.

Now quench the steel in a bucket of cool water. You have now tempered your edge. Cut he steel to about two inched in length and you'll have your very own handy chisel for stamping patterns in your projects.

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