Blacksmithing 101

  • Introduction:

    If you're keen to do some basic blacksmithing, here are the basic techniques for you to try on your own. There are tips for working the steel, types of tools and some clear warnings on working with steel.

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    Build a small forge. A simple one can be built by adding an airblast of any kind that is strong enough to withstand any kind of fire, but coal or charcoal (not briquets) works best.
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    Get some steel rods or rebar. Make sure you do not use galvanized steel. Galvanized steel has a layer of zinc on it to protect it from rust and further corrosion. Zinc has a much lower melting temperature than steel, and once heated, it will turn a greenish yellow color and produce thick white smoke. This smoke is the zinc burning off, and If you inhale too much of this smoke you can potentially contract "metal fume fever". If you do decide to use galvanized steel, make sure to wear a respirator, and do it in a well ventilated area. A way to check if it is galvanized or not is to check:

    1. Is it shiny? If it has a glossy sheen to it it is likely covered in the toxic coating.
    2. Does it say so on packaging or labels?
      If you are unsure, make sure you consult your supplier before possibly hurting yourself. Make sure they are about 3 feet (0.9 m) long, so you can hold onto a cool part of the steel while forging on the ends or other parts of the bar.
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      Assemble your tools. A hammer can be easily found at yard sales, antique stores, or just a plain hammer from the hardware store. But make sure it is not a carpenters hammer (one with the two prongs) as the head is too small to be of much use and the prongs will not help with anything. As long as the face is smooth and doesn't have any grooves, it should be a decent hammer for beginners. If your hammer has grooves, you'll need to sand them out. One hammer is all that is needed for now, and a nice pair of vice-grips or will work as tongs. If you are lucky enough to have an anvil already, good for you, but if you don't, a section of railroad rail or any big, heavy lump of steel with a flat face will work well (they are known as ASOs, Anvil Shaped Objects).
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      Build your fire. Remember to be safe; it is a fire! Do it outside in a clearing, free of brush and other things that can easily catch fire. Have a garden hose, buckets of water, or a fire extinguisher at the ready. Build a nice pile in the center of the forge, lining around it with rocks. If using coal, you may want to "coke" it before heating your steel. This entails slowly heating the coal for a while until it looks like giant pieces of popcorn. This holds heat much better and burns for longer. Or use a 1 foot (0.3 m) section of a 55 gallon (208.2 L) drum.
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      Insert your steel into the heart of your fire and add the air blast. Wait patiently, checking the color of the steel by quickly sliding it out and putting it back in. If you wait too long, you will loose heat. The steel should be placed near the air blast, but not so close so that the air is blowing directly onto the piece.
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      After you have assembled your tools, and lit a nice hot fire, get hammering! When rebar and scrap metal has reached the optimal working temperature, it will be colored between dark orange and bright yellow (not white).
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      Practice definitely makes perfect. Some beginner techniques to try include turning a square bar into round, round bar into square, tapering (which means making the end pointy - the nicer and more slender the taper the better), flattening (the more even thickness the better), and just general scrolls (curls) and bends.
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      Practice some more, be careful, think safety, and overall have fun!

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