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Blacksmithing and metalworking questions answered.



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Hobby Blacksmithing

Hobby smiths range in age from 8 to 80 or more and start at any time of life. The only difference between a hobby smith and others is that a hobby smith does not make a living off their work. The hobby smith can afford to work inefficiently and for their own pleasure.

Hobby smiths range from those who work in the back yard or a corner in a garage to those with shops as well equiped as any professional.

10 year old Molly working at the anvil

Parents!

There is nothing more REAL than blacksmithing.
There is no easy way around shaping hot metal.

Young people that are intrested in smithing often need their parents' support or assistance. Parents should know that this is a wonderful way to learn about the real world of engineering and physics and that such endevours should be encouraged.

A hobby smith may want professional tools but does not need them. All that is necessary is the minimal basics, a forge, an anvil, vise, a hammer and some small tools such as punches and tongs. Tools can be made, scrounged or purchased new and used. Hobby smiths often have shops as complete as professionals but more often are just a small collection of tools pulled out in the back yard when needed. But the actual forging of iron is no different in one shop or another.

The hobby smith gets started the same way as any other smith, with some education. Start with books and other smiths or blacksmithing organizations. Then you need to assemble a small collection of tools.

Lessons

In most of the United States you can get forging lessons FREE.

Just find your nearest blacksmithing organization and attend some of their meetings. Most meet once a month and often have what are known as "green coal classes" or an "open forge". They also have demonstrators 10 or 11 months of the year. If you find this useful then join the group. Dues are usually less than $50/year and cover the entire family. That is less than $5/lesson!

Youth too young to drive or without transportation may need parents to help.

Many of the blacksmithing groups also have lending libraries. . .

Formal Classes

There are quite a few blacksmithing and crafts schools that teach forging. Classes are reasonably priced and vary from weekends to week long and longer classes. If you can afford the tuition and the travel this is a great way to "dive in".

THE DIY BASICS

Blacksmithing is the shaping of steel heated to over 2,000°F (1100°C) to make it soft and then bending it or shaping it with a hammer on an anvil. The best way to learn it, is to do it. Only three or four tools are needed to do this.

FORGE: To achieve that temperature a forge is needed.
A forge can vary from a hole in the ground with an air source to a sophisticated refractory enclousure with gas burner. A simple solid fuel forge burns charcoal (real lump charcoal, not briquetts) OR soft coal. A bellows, pump or blower blows air on the fire and greatly increases the burning temperature. See Brake Drum Forge for an example.

ANVIL: An anvil is needed to resist the force of the hammer.
Primitive smiths used stone anvils and hammers but metal is MUCH better and in this time is relatively cheap.
See Selecting an Anvil and Finding an Anvil or Making an Anvil

HAMMER: To do the work.
Blacksmiths forging hammers are available at most hardware stores. Avoid the cheap imports. A heavy engineer's or ball pien hammer can also be used. A 2 pound (32oz or 900 grams) is a good beginner weight.

TONGS: To hold short work.
Beginners often work long pieces of bar (24" - 60cm) or longer without tongs. This is possible because steel is a poor conductor of heat. So, you can hold onto one end while the other is nearly burning. Vise-Grips or long handled pliers can be used. However, most pliers are too short and do not have enough leverage. They can be converted to tongs by welding extensions to the handles OR forging them longer.

SAFETY EQUIPMENT: Safety glasses should always be worn in the shop. Good leather shoes OR work boots are recommended. All clothing SHOULD be cotton or wool as synthetics melt, burn and stick to the skin while burning. Helpers or bystanders should also be equiped the same.

SHOP HAZZARDS

Yes, the forge and the metal heated in it is VERY hot but it is no more dangerous than a hot stove top in the kitchen. The danger from the hot metal is flying sparks and hot scale (the burned surface) that flakes off.

Fire from flying hot scale can be a problem. If working outdoors that green grass rapidly dies and becomes dry where you are standing for long periods. This can (and often does) catch fire. Keep a bucket of water near your work space for these small fires.

Fire indoors can also be a problem especially if working in a shed, garage or barn with flamable debris (dead grass, hay, blown leaves).

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