So, you are interested in taking up a hobby in blacksmithing but you are unsure where to get started?
That’s okay, perfectly normal; don’t be shy!
Blacksmithing is a fun hobby to take up and be careful now, because you can start loving it too much and decide to make it your career. Now, straight to business. Below, I make a list of important tips and basics to help you get started soon. I was going to say, “get started right away” and I realized that would be a lie as you most likely won’t be able to get started right away, because it might even scare you off; but rest assured that if you have the patience required to be a blacksmith, then you already have about 50% covered. Let’s get started.
1. Blacksmithing Websites, Forums and Communities: This is probably one of the easiest and cheapest ways to get started. Learn from people who have already been there. Ask questions on online forums and there will be many experienced blacksmiths willing to answer your questions. There are a ton of blacksmithing websites with DIY ideas and how-to articles that will be very beneficial to you.
Get your own tools
If you have already been practicing with someone else’s tools, you will soon find out that if the person still uses the tools, then you will only have a very limited time to practice. Blacksmithing requires a lot of practice and so, you will need your own tools so you can practice at your pace whenever you want. Even if you begin by practicing or apprenticing at somebody else’s shop, you still need to be able to practice when are not there and try to recreate the projects you might have learned earlier. Don’t worry, you don’t need to buy every single tool all at once. I have made a very good compilation (on this blog) of basic tools to get you started without breaking the bank.
Bear in mind that there are numerous blacksmithing tools, and if you can afford to, you might be tempted to buy every single one you find, but eventually never use all of them. In this blog post, you will find an extensive list of must-have tools needed to get you on the right track, without breaking the bank:
This is a basic blacksmithing tool. It is a very hard block with a flat surface. This is what you will use mold and shape almost all your metal work. Investing in a good quality anvil will pay off in the long run. It will enable you work more efficiently and minimize risk of injury to the joints in your shoulders, elbows and hands. A good anvil has a flat tool steel surface and a good rebound. Basically, what this does is that it forces the energy from the blow of the hammer back to the bottom of the iron being worked. This means that you will be getting double the work for your efforts. Cool, right?
2. Forge: A forge is the fire where you heat up your work. This is very important as most of your work will require heating. You can buy one or you can easily make yours if you are on a budget.
Hammers come in various types, sizes, weights and shapes but the most commonly used by blacksmiths is the Cross-Peen hammer. It is used to move the metal in a direction vertical to the hammer. There is also the rounding hammer, which is used to pound steel or iron into shape. This type of hammer is also very common and used by every blacksmith.
The tongs, clamps or vises come in different shapes and sizes and are used to hold the hot metal while the blacksmith is shaping it. It is important for the tong you buy to be big or medium sized. This will serve you better than a smaller one, in the long run.
A chisel is primarily used when slitting metal. The chisel blade is placed in the part of the metal the blacksmith intends to slit, then he hits the end of it with a hammer to create the slit.
The punch looks like the hammer and a beginner might mistake it for a hammer, but one thing to note is that it has a very pointy face. It is used to create a hole in metal. This is done by placing the pointed face of the punch on a hot piece of metal, then the smith strikes the back end with a hammer until a hole is made. The smith must make sure that the punch does not become overheated, by dipping it in cool water after every other strike. Overheating can dull the pointed face.
There are a whole lot more tools that you might be tempted to buy; or other smiths might encourage you to buy but you most likely will not need them. Again, it depends on what types of jobs you will most likely be doing. So, now that we’ve covered the tools and hopefully you’ve got some basic knowledge of how to use them, you are ready to start forging and hammering!
Safety Comes First
Safety is one of the most important things to consider when it comes to blacksmithing. Blacksmithing almost always involves working with dangerously hot metals that could cause alarming accidents. Apart from the scalding hot metals, blacksmithing involves hammering on metals that usually always send hot sparks flying. In other words, when it comes to blacksmithing, burns are a major concern. Burn accidents can vary from mild to very serious. Apart from skin burns, the hot sparks that fly during hammering can also be extremely damaging to the eyes. There are also other hazardous situations that blacksmiths need to be aware of. For example, fossil fuels can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, which can ultimately led to death. Some injuries come from repeating the same movement over and over again, especially when the technique is wrong. Therefore, observing certain safety measures cannot be overemphasized. Here are some safety measures to keep in mind; they might save your life or a friend’s someday:
A good rule of thumb is to treat every piece of metal in the forge, as piping hot. This is important to bear in mind because certain metals like steel might not be glowing red but might still be hot enough to harm you. So the extra care when handling metals in your forge is imperative.
2. During forging and hammering, having safety glasses on is a no-brainer; to protect your eyes from hot sparks. Protective clothing is invaluable, especially during hammering, when hot sparks are more likely to be flying around. Also, having a mask on during forging, to protect your sinus airways from black soot and fine ash, is very important.
3. Hearing protection is extremely important. All the noise from hammering can easily damage your hearing. So, always remember to use earplugs.
4. Swinging a hammer repetitively can cause serious injuries. As a blacksmith, it is your responsibility to be conscious of good form and technique during hammering. Any unusual pains in your hands, elbows or shoulder should be reported to your doctor immediately. Additionally, it is a good idea to pause every once in a while to stretch out, change positions and do something different.
5. Proper ventilation is also extremely important. Whatever fuel is being used, there is still risk of generation of carbon monoxide, which can be poisonous.
6. Take occasional breaks and change positions frequently. It is also advisable to go to a cool room for brief breaks.
7. After ensuring that all safety measures have been taken, it is smart to remind yourself that a career in blacksmithing comes with minor burns, cuts, scratches etc. So it is advisable to have a first aid kit with proper burn and cut remedies, ice packs for burns as well and salted water for heat stress.
Conclusively, this list could go on and on and while, some of them are extremely important, every individual blacksmith knows what safety measures works best for him or her. Additionally, occasional trips to the doctor go a long way to ensure that you do not wake up one day and realize that you have fallen really sick.
If you are reading this and you have more tips for young blacksmiths, please leave a comment below, we would love to hear from you. And to those of you just starting out, well, good luck!
Many beginners do not only make the mistake of buying too many useless tools, they also buy poor quality ones and then attempt to teach themselves. While this might work in very few cases, it does not always work. It is usually better and more advisable to find someone in you can learn from. It can be a neighbor, an uncle, a distant relative, your local blacksmith or you can even decide to take a class. Just do a google search and you will find several affordable blacksmithing schools.
Finally, I understand that you must be very excited to be starting a new hobby; you might even be trying to become an expert in a few days and think you would be good enough by Christmas and be able to give all your family and friends gifts that you made with your own hands. Not to be a party pooper, but it’s always best to work at a sensible pace. Many blacksmiths started out like that and would spend so many hours a day swinging the hammer until they gave themselves some serious joint injuries. We know you don’t want that.