SHTF Blacksmithing : What you need to know to get started…

This guest post is by J.E. and entry in our non-fiction writing contest.

848048 hamered SHTF Blacksmithing : What you need to know to get started...

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Blacksmithing is a hot, dirty, and hard job, but it is one of the most rewarding things that I have accomplished. The smell of the fire, the sound of the hammer falling on the metal, and the pure enjoyment of forging useful tools, gives one a satisfying feeling. Now that I have you interested in it, you will need a hammer, a forge, an anvil, and, preferably, a vice.

A forge can be constructed out of many things including a stainless steel sink, a brake drum, or out of sheet metal. You can also buy pre-made propane-powered forges.

Whether you by one or make one they will all need two main things; a nest where the coal or charcoal will reside and a blower that will pump oxygen to the fire.

I have seen blowers made of hair dryers, simple metal piping that you blow on ( though I can see some major problems with this method if you happen to inhale instead of exhaling), and even using cpu fans from a computer. You can buy antique blowers at flea markets, though most of them are overpriced.

An anvil is the main piece of tooling that a blacksmith needs. You can buy an anvil at a flea market or on craigslist, but most of them will run you a couple hundred dollars. My advice would be to go to a scrap yard and look for a large, heavy, thick piece of steel that weighs at least fifty pounds. Most of the time they will sell it to you at a little over scrap prices.

Something to look for when purchasing an anvil, or other similar object, is the ring of the anvil. Some people do not want the anvil to ring and will take action to stop it from ringing. It is your choice.

You are not going to kneel down to the ground to beat on a piece of metal. You will need an anvil stand, You can make a simple one out of angle iron, with a 2×10 top. Another suggestion is a wood stump, just a level stump, with a quarter of it buried in the ground. You can then use railroad spikes to secure the anvil to the stump.

A hammer is one thing that I recommend looking for at a flea market. You can easily pick one up for under ten dollars. I have met a couple of blacksmiths that want to swing the heaviest hammer they can lift. My opinion is that you will end up getting burned out using a hammer that is too heavy.

A medium-size ball peen hammer is just about the right size for small blacksmithing work. I have seen a few blacksmiths use a cross-peen hammer for slightly larger work. If in a dire situation, I’m sure you could use a piece of pipe, but it is a matter of what works best and the most efficient.

For a vice there are many options available. They include again, antique vices, which I prefer and recommend. There are, of course, more price- friendly choices out there. Depending on your location, you might be able to find a Harbor Freight Tools, which would carry a line of lower priced options. It is true with blacksmithing, as is anything else, “You get what you pay for.”

Fuel for your forge is the main concern for many blacksmiths. Coal is a combustible, black, sedimentary rock, which is mined for use in commercial power plants, home heating, and hobby uses such as blacksmithing.

The three main types of coal are: sub-bituminous coal, bituminous coal, and anthracite. Bituminous coal, out of the Pocahontas and the Sewell coal vein, is the best low ash blacksmithing coal.

However, due to government regulations, the coal mines are being shut down; thus limiting the amount of coal available to blacksmiths and hobby users. The benefits of using coal are many, provided it is high quality coal from the Pocahontas vein or the Sewell vein.

High quality coal produces less smoke than a lower quality coal such as sub-bituminous. High quality coal produces fewer clinkers ( the waste or by-product of burnt coal), which will clog the nest of the forge.

Charcoal is another option for fuel. Charcoal was used for metal working long before coal was discovered in quantity enough to use. If you select charcoal to use, try to use a hardwood charcoal as it will burn the hottest. One of the things you must make sure of is, if you are using charcoal, is oxygen.

You must supply oxygen from the bottom of the nest up. If you supply oxygen from the top of the fire down, you will not get the core of the fire hot enough to reach forging temperatures. Be sure to get oxygen in enough volume to the fire or you will still not reach the desired temperatures.

For my steel, I use mainly scrap iron. I have used spring leaf metal for many knife blades and they hold a good edge too! For general purpose tinkering, I use quarter-inch cold-rolled steel.

There are many techniques in blacksmithing, so many that I can not even begin to describe in an article this size. Though I do recommend getting online and watching some videos on how-to blacksmithing. Another approach is to seek out local blacksmiths that can teach you a hands-on class. I will try to explain some basic techniques in this article.

Hammering a point is as easy as it sounds. Heat your metal to a red-hot temperature, then proceed to hammer on two sides of the metal, using a push-pull method with the hammer.

To form a finished end on any rod, simply draw out a point. Then reheat the metal to an again red- hot temperature, and curl the point over the horn or the edge of the anvil, to form what is called a mouse tail.

With the above knowledge, hopefully you will be well on your way to blacksmithing, knife making, and overall metal working. Happy Forging.

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Comments

  1. To JE, Coal does not come from sedimentary rock , but from compressed ( by layers = to tons ) plant material, likely trees. I have been blacksmithing for 12 years ( hobby ) and really enjoy it!! I would recomend that readers purchase a blacksmith’s leg vice, vibrations travel down the leg when hammering as opossed to “regular” vices where the vibrations ( forces of working ) go to the screw ang shorten the life of the vice. Also use the biggest hammer requiered for the job, small hammer for light metal working up to large hammers when working heavier pieces. There are many good books on the subject through Amazon( and others ). Don’t expect to make knives and swords as your first projects as this will lead to frustation, start with simple utilitarian items to gain experiance and confidence ! Happy smithing to all !!!

    • Swabbie Robbie says:

      Right. Some of the basic things is drawing a taper in a piece of steel. This can lead to making chisel shapes, drawing a square taper then rounding it, Follow those by scrolling the tapers. A great project is learning to make the tongs you will use to hold hot steel. A blacksmith often makes the tongs to fit the work he needs to hold. I’ve made many over the years. Another good initial project using the taper skills you have already practiced is making fireplace tools.

  2. HomeINsteader says:

    I’ve long been interested in learning something about blacksmithing; thank you!

  3. I am fortunate to know a couple of “amateur” blacksmiths. “if I only had the room.” – my usual lament.

  4. “Another approach is to seek out local blacksmiths that can teach you a hands-on class. ”
    You can contact your local community colleges for blacksmithing courses, and internet searches for local/area blacksmithing organizations.
    There is also ABANA.org – Artist-Blacksmith’s Association of North America that has affiliate location map. Local organizations are usually good resources of ‘apprenticeship’ (training on someone else’s equipment before expensing out your own), group buy-ins and locating material supply sources as well – just like buying a firearm and the eventuality that ammo purchases will eventually exceed the initial cost of the firearm, so too it is in blacksmithing.
    There are more blacksmithing resources out there – I had a really good conversation at an antique mall ‘yard-sale’ with one last month – and I’ve yet to encounter a blacksmith who wasn’t amiable in talking about his trade.

  5. Tactical G-Ma says:

    J.E.
    Thanks for the article. In a tough environment, the more talents the better. My Grandfather was born in 1880. Had 11 children, 9 survived childhood and all finished hi school and had at least a trade. My grandfather was a farmer, raised cattle, hogs, and chickens. Had a saw and grist mill. Was a ferrier and made leather shoes. He built furniture and whittled toys and figurines. He fished and hunted. Made sorghum and molasses. My point is, at TEOTWAWKI, blacksmithing, horseshoeing, manufacturing and repairing blades, hoes, plows, etc. will be a necessity. Give me a jack of all trades WTSHTF.

    • A jack of all trades will be a valuable person to have with you WTSHTF for certain. I remember going to Westville (and other similar places) growing up. Places like that did everything from Blacksmithing to making thread.

  6. Great article, that is what I refer to as a serious SHTF skill and one that I am envious of. True metal working as you described is becoming a lost art.

    Great job.

    PJ

  7. Swabbie Robbie says:

    I did ornamental ironwork and “damascus steel” knives through the 1980s. I started with finding a 100lb anvil at a farm auction along with a round horseshoer’s forge and a hand crank blower. I believe they once were sold by Sears. Later I tooled up with better equipment.

    The main reason I would dampen the anvils ring is that most of the people I started blacksmithing with in 1980 became profoundly deaf over the years of listening to the anvils ring. Many also developed cataracts from looking at the fire and a couple developed black lung. So be careful! Get fairly dark green glasses to wear both for the infrared light and to protect from sparks. I there is too much smokey air wear a mask and, better yet, get some good ventilation going. My care has meant I hear fine do not have eye or lung problems.

    Some resources for help finding tools, coal, gas forges, etc: http://www.centaurforge.com/

    Artist Blacksmithing Assoc. or North America
    http://www.abana.org/

  8. recoveringidiot says:

    I have a small propane forge that I first built for small gun parts and springs. Later I started making odd things like big needles for ladies and large forks and tongs for the outside grill. Made a few knives from old files and leaf springs but that was way more work than I was willing to do on a regular basis and I found out that there are few people that appreciate the work that goes into even a plain working knife much less a fancy one. I can attest to the fact that arthritis and gout are not helpful when it comes to beating on things with hammers for any length of time.
    Good article.

  9. Thomas T. Tinker says:

    Of all places to find a course on blacksmithing, I found one at the Toledo Mus. of Art …… Good Post. Good motivations. Thank You

  10. Both of my sons have had blacksmithing lessons from local smiths and I picked up a lot from watching. The following is common sense but needs to be brought up anyway.

    Safety glasses (that block UV) are an absolute must. Besides the flying bits of metal (and slag) from hammering the coal fire gives off UV rays that can damage eyes.

    Long sleeve shirts with the tail out will help to keep you from getting anything inside your pants. You can work with leather gloves to help protect your hands as well. Wear good leather shoes or boots – no tennis shoes or sandals.

    Have water nearby and take a break occasionally. This is especially important if you are working during the summer.

    Finally, just because the metal is not glowing does not mean it it is cool. Use caution if you are not 100% certain.

  11. if I may,

    Thank you all so much for the comments, and a big thanks to Mr. MD Creekmore for posting my article. I feel compelled to respond to Duncan,

    My knowledge of blacksmithing has been passed down to me from my father, but my knowledge of coal has come from the great internet, as I am not a geologist. I used Wikipedia in part of my research for the article.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sedimentary_rock

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bituminous_coal

    Both links define coal as a sedimentary rock, particularly formed by diagenetic and sub metamorphic compression of peat bog material.

  12. If I may,

    I would like to thank you all for your comments, and a big thanks to MD Creekmore for posting my article. I would like to respond to some of your comments.

    Duncan: My knowledge of blacksmithing has been passed down to me from my father, but knowledge of coal has come from the great internet. I used Wikipedia as a tool in the research of coal.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bituminous_coal

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sedimentary_rock

    Both of the links define coal as a sedimentary rock, particularly a organic sedimentary rock formed by diagenetic and sub metamorphic compression of peat bog material.

    Swabbie Robbie: you sir are correct on wearing safety protection, I have almost taken it for granted counting my years over the workshop. I can personally attest to wearing hearing protection, as my father never wore hearing protection, and to say the least he is hard of hearing.

    Papabear: I cannot recall the number of times I have picked up a piece of metal, only to have sear the skin off my hand, a split second later.

    Also http://www.iforgeiron.com/ is a excellent forum for blacksmiths.

    J.E.

  13. I’ve been to this place for cheese making and bread making….they also have black smithing classes…..it’s a nice place:

    http://www.sustainlife.org/class.php?classid=46

  14. Tactical G-Ma says:

    Smithy is going to be a valuable skill. I can no longer swing a sledge or hammer or stand the heat and DH is too ill. So, that will be something we will barter for. I also recall a traveling repairman who repaired pots and sharpened knives and blades. He had a stone wheel with a foot treadle. His wagon was pulled by goats. He had to be in his 50’s. What makes him so memorable was he bought himself a 14yo bride off of Sand Mountain in the area where GA, TN, and AL meet.

    The more I think about it, the more I imagine middle ages keeps and castles and the farmers living close by. Housecalls will be necessary

  15. Tactical G-Ma says:

    That’s another thing…smithies will need to forge wheels, struts,brakes for wagons. So, the Smith is gonna rank right up there with Doctor in importance to the community.

    • Swabbie Robbie says:

      Think of the ways you can join metal: You can forge weld it, something that would be very valuable where there is no electricity to run arc welders, and no Acetylene for gas welding. You can rivet it, you can slot punch on piece and expand it to a round hole without losing the metal a drilled hole would remove, then take a second piece of metal and neck down an end to make a mortice and tenon joint. You can wrap one piece around another to join them as well. Pretty handy technology to have.

  16. Thanks JE, excellent article. I see more tools and classes in my future. I better get the cot ready in the garage. DW will not be happy with another hobby.

    • This may not be a hobby but a lifesaving skill…..Just sayin’

      • Hi laurie,
        I see it the same way and although she is on board about 60% she thinks I take it too far sometimes. Part of me prays that she is right. That one day will never come and our children will not know hunger and strife. The way things are going though, I’m not holding my breath.

        • Remind her that at least you aren’t out there “robbing banks” as my old mother used to say….lol