Old Dominion Black Smith Association
Established November 2005
All club demo or hands-on meetings are held on the second Saturday of the month.
85 Questions and Answers
The "Goal" of the Old Dominion Blacksmith Association is to share knowledge. I know in blacksmithing there are a few things that are "gospel" but most smiths are independent thinkers with varying beliefs. It is my intention to provide you with some of their opinions. Even though these questions and answers are for beginners, I think we can all learn from the responses. This is just the start of beginner blacksmithing questions and answers. If you have more questions please let me know. Only Master/Journeyman/Accomplished Blacksmiths responses will be posted with their names attached. Please, if possible, keep your answers short.
ODBSA sincerely thank the following Journeymen/Masters/Accomplished Blacksmiths for having enough nerve to put themselves out there with their opinions for all to see so that they can help beginner smiths by responding to some simple but important questions, many of which I had when I first started and since then, others have asked me.
A. (LT) L.T. Skinnell (Bedford, Virginia)
B. (CB) Charlie Boothe (Nathalie, Virginia)
C. (CH) Charlie Hanks (Lynch Station, Virginia)
D. (GB) Glen Bryant (Clifton Forge, Virginia)
E. (DN) Dick Nietfeld (Grand Island, Nebraska)
F. (DT) David Tucciarone (Rustburg, Virginia) Taken from a taped interview with David in Feb., 2007
1. What size anvil should I have?
(LT) I prefer one weighing 100+ lbs. but you can get by with lighter ones.
(CB) Depends on how large of material that you are planning on working with. I recommend a 150 lb. anvil. This does well for general use.
(CH) Around a 100 lbs. will do, it really does not matter.
(GB) It really doesn't matter. I started with a piece of railroad iron. I guess about 110 lbs. would be ok.
(DT) Probably the best anvil that they can fine. If you are really intent to choose and anvil size I would say a least a 160 to 200 lbs but if you a beginner and looking to just to get started just about anything will work. 50 lb is actually to light you would need at least a 100 lb.
2. How much should I pay for a used anvil? (2018, Blacksmith tool are high now due to the TV show)
(LT) Be careful here! Prices are all over the place. Two dollars a pound depending on condition and brand.
(CB) Depending on condition. $2.00 to $3.00 a lb. is not a bad price to pay.
(CH) I paid a dollar a pound eight years ago for one.
(GB) An average price of $3.00 dollars a lb. is OK if it is in good shape.
(DT) On today’s market a good used one could be $4 lb
3.What kind of anvil?
(LT) Not sure. About any style will work. Make sure it is steel and not cast iron and the condition is good.
(CB) If I had my preference, I would try to get a Hay Budden, but all anvils are OK.
(CH) Any kind, so long as the top is not broken or cracked, as this could be dangerous.
(GB) No preference
(DT) I don’t know if I would worry about a brand but there are two types of anvil, a horseshoer anvil and there is a blacksmith’s anvil. I would look for a blacksmith’s anvil because the horseshoer anvil horn is different. I would not worry about name but rather is there still steel left on the top some anvils are just worn away and you are just beating on iron. Is there good steel on top, is it broken or chipped all up.
4. Am I better off buying a new anvil?
(LT) No, not necessarily.
(CB) All old ones are antiques (history). I'm thinking about buying a new one and keeping my antiques the way I found them.
(CH) If you think you are going to spend over $200.00, maybe you should consider a new one. If you think that you are going to be doing this for more than two years, get yourself a new one.
(GB) Probably not. If you can find a good used one buy it.
(DT) If you can afford it. But if you really don’t know what you are doing when getting involved with blacksmithing you should get whatever is within your budget.
5. How high should the top of the anvil be?
(LT) Start with the standard knuckle height and adjust to suit.
(CB) I like for mine to be a couple inches higher that knuckle high so that I don't stoop.
(CH) I like my anvil to be a little bit higher than fist high. You want your elbow to be bent a little when you hit the metal with a hammer.
(GB) About knuckle high. So long as it is not too high. I want to be able to hold a piece of metal level between my legs and the other end of the metal that is resting on the top of the anvil.
(DT) My thought is when you put your hammer on the top of the anvil your elbow should not be straight. This way you are not over extending your arm
6. What is best thing to rest the anvil on?
(LT) I like wood.
(CB) A good wood block. I like oak.
(CH) I like oak. I have 6"x6" bolted together for the anvil to sit on. If you have a dirt floor, I suggest you put a stump or frame at least 18" into the ground. I have a cement floor and I have mine bolted down.
(GB) I use an oak block.
(DT) Some kind of wooden stump, or you could laminate something like 2”x12”
7. How should the anvil be secured?
(LT) Chain or straps. Staples also work.
(CB) I use straps (CH) Chains work good, also angle iron works.
(GB) One I have tied down with a chain but my larger one (230 lbs.) is not tied down but does have an edge so it want slide off.
(DT) Some people use nails, some make large staples and I use a chain in my shop plus I have taken two wooden blocks that match that match the curve on the inside and driven screw so that are forced into that so the anvil is being held by that too. The tighter you can hold the anvil down the less ring it will have.
(DN) Tight to the base. Use chain, metal straps, bolts, lag bolts, etc. The tighter the anvil is fastened to the base, the more efficient the anvil will be and the less it will ring.
8. What is the water for?
(LT) Heat treating, cooling tips to prevent burning in fire, or while bending to prevent a curled finial from deforming while making a hook, or to control a twist. Water is used to cool punches, cutting tools, tongs and sometimes even a burned finger.
(CB) Water is isolating heat and cooling tongs.
(CH) When I'm working with short pieces without tongs, I can cool off the metal: keep my tongs cool; wet coal; helps when hands get hot (with or without gloves)
(GB) Put on the coal to isolate the fire, cool metal that I'm working with and to cool tongs some.
(DT) Cool metal, helps burns, control the size of your fire, there are some people that wet their coal down; some people say by wetting it down takes some impurities out of it and makes it coke better but I know if that is right or not I have not really seen where that makes all that much difference
9. What size hammer should I have?
(LT) 2-3 lbs
(CB) Depending on size of material I'm working with, I like a 2 lb. hammer for general use.
(CH) 95% of the time I use a two-pound round faced hammer.
(GB) I have three different hammers that I use: 3 lb cross peen, 2 lb. ball peen and 1 1/2 lb rounding hammer.
(DT) 2 lb or 1000 grams
(DN) 2 lb. unless you blacksmith or use a hammer frequently, then a 3 lb. hammer might be OK. Some professional smiths have worked up to 4 lb. to 4 ½ lb. hammers, but their arms & body are accustomed to it. When considering hammer weight, a good rule of thumb is not to use a hammer heavier than 1/30 the weight of anvil. Example: 75 lb. anvil divided by 30 would mean a maximum hammer weight of 2.5 lb. Otherwise the anvil might break. For example if a 150 lb. anvil is hit hard with a 10 lb. sledgehammer, the anvil could break. Cold anvils break more easily.
10. Should I shape the handle?
(LT) I scrape off any varnish and finish with linseed oil for better grip and do very little shaping.
(CB) Yes, definitely shape the handle, slim at the head, normal to long length and it needs to fell good in your hand.
(CH) I shape mine a little but I made the end to be a little bit larger so the hammer will not slip out of my hand.
(GB) I really do not shape the handle but I do sand it a little.
(DT) The handle should be shaped to fit your hand; the fingers should not come around and touch when you grip the handle. They aught to be a space between the fingers and palm.
(DN) Those that subscribe to the Uri Hofi method flatten both sides of the handle to give the smith a good feel for the position of the hammer. I do this to my handles.
11. Should the handle be long or short?
(CB) Fair length, medium to long
(CH) I prefer a short handle, I cut part of the original handle off.
(GB) I have both: Two short and one long
(DT) That is a matter of preference. Some people like long and some short. I tried long it got caught in every XXX thing I had (up the sleeve, in the pockets etc). I use a medium size handle hammer.
(DN) Uri Hofi likes short handles. 12 inches from the top of the head to the bottom of the handle. Many smiths including beginners only use 12 inches of the hammer, anyway. Sometimes when forging big pieces of hot iron, the hand gets too hot with such a short handle. Uri often uses a striker or a power hammer on big hot metal so he doesn’t get a hot hand. If the smith doesn’t have a striker or a power hammer for big hot metal then it is much more comfortable having some long handle hammers.
12. Where should I hold the hammer?
(LT) From 2/3 length to the end.
(CB) Wherever comfortable, I hold mine about 2/3 toward the end of 2 lb hammer.
(CH) I grip mine a little over 3" back from the head of the hammer and this is where it stays whether I'm hitting hard or soft.
(GB) 8" to 10" in back of the head most of the time but also it depends if I'm hitting hard or soft as to where I put my hands.
(DT) Probably about two thirds of the way down.
13. Should I do something to the face of the hammer? If so, what?
(LT) Yes, any sharp edges need to be worked into a radius.
(CB) Have it a good radius of at least 3/16", you can have it too much.
(CH) Yes, I start with about 1/16' curve and with use, it becomes flat or concave an you should reshape it. Also the peen should have about the same curve. The wide part of my peen is about 3/8" wide.
(GB) I take off the sharp edges and probably have about a 1/16".
(DT) A lot of times new hammers they ground the surface and have left these great big sharp lines in the hammer face and you need to grind those out very gradually. You do not want a hammer face that is highly crowned. So you are going to have to work those grinding marks very gradually so that you have a slight crown in your hammer face. Then you want to polish your hammer face.
(DN) Shape the face and the pein of the hammer to suit you. Some smiths such as Peter Ross like a hammer with a face that is almost a flat with square corners (not sharp, though) and others like Uri Hofi like a pretty good radius on the face and corners. Having both and using them as seems appropriate is good. It normally takes more hammer skill to use a hammer like Peter Ross’s. A smith without the necessary skill will leave undesirable marks in the forged item. Never the less, it doesn’t take that much practice to acquire the skill.
14. Where can I get a used forge?
(LT) Check with blacksmithing clubs and publications and events like SOFA's quad state.
(CB) Auction, flea markets, antique stores, talking to people, farms
(GB) Flea Markets and trade papers
(DN) Today, the best forges are home built. See http://www.blksmth.com/CHow%20to%20Index.htm
15. Will a gas forge weld metal?
(GB) I use a gas forge most of the time but when I need something welded I use the coal forge.
16. If I build a coal forge, how tall from the ground does it need to be?
(LT) Varies with person's height and comfort. 32 to 36 inches for me
(CB) Waist high
(CH) Near the same height as anvil
(GB) the same as the anvil or maybe a little higher
(DT) About table height. Somewhere about 28 to 30 inches.
17. What is minimum flue size?
(LT) 8 inches. 12 inches is ideal
(CB) Metal 12" to get a good draft, remember that square equals more volume than round.
(CH) 10" minimum (GB) 8" minimun. I have a 6" and it needs to be larger.
(DT) 12 inches. There is a general rule of thump that Frances W used: if you have a 10 x 10 inch flue and you square it and it is a 100 square inches and you take 75% of it so you got 75 square inches. If you take 12 x12 inches you have a 144 and you take 75% of that and comes out to 109 square inches which is 34 square inches more or almost 50% larger by going up one size.
(DN) Bigger is better most all of the time. Typically, 12 inches in diameter/square is the minimum. 18 inches or 20 inches is not too big. Never the less, smaller chimneys of 10 inches or even 8 inches can often be satisfactory if a roof ventilating wind turbine is used. The higher the chimney, the better. 16 ft. high is about the minimum height. Chimneys should be at least 2 ft. higher than anything within 10 ft. in a horizontal distance from the top of the chimney. The fewer the elbows, the better chimneys draw. If a chimney cap is used, there should be as much space between the cap and the chimney as the chimney is wide i.e. 12” for a 12” chimney. Chimneys inside buildings where they can stay warmer will draw better than a colder outside chimney.
18. What is mild steel?
(LT) The most common steel used these days for forging and fabicating. It is pretty low in carbon.
(CB) Iron with some carbon
(DT) Mild steel is available in two types. Hot roll and cold roll. The hot roll is generally referred to as 836. It doesn’t mean very much because in 1936 a bunch of people get together and designed steel with a formula for making it. Mild steel is basically iron which is alloyed with certain things like manganese; I think phosphorus; nickel and carbon.
(DN) Steel with a low carbon content – generally less than 3/10th of 1% or .3% carbon. There are few other insignificant alloying elements. The most common mild steel today is A36 with carbon of approx. 25%. It is designed for structural purposes and not for blacksmith purposes. However, it is what blacksmiths use today, because it is the most readily available and somewhat economical. A36 is hot rolled and slightly oversize. Cold rolled steel has approx. 18% carbon and sizes are more precise, but it is approximately 1.4 times more expensive than hot rolled. Cold rolled has a harder skin due to the cold rolling. Common mild steel plate can be A36 or can have less carbon such as .10% (or even lower). Both are common in industry and junk yards.
19. What is wrought iron?
(LT) It is no longer available. It was once widely used but now has been relaced with mild steel. It has many characteristics that made it great for forging and welding with that, with the hammer that we can lonly wish for today.
(CB) Iron with silicates,etc
(DT) Wrought is essentially pure iron with silica slag in it.
20. Should I quench mild steel?
(CB) I only do it to isolate my heat
(CH) Sometimes in an emergency, like when I need a certain size punch that I don't have and need, I will use mild steel and quench the end that is not going to hammered to get some hardness.
(GB) I do quench even though I've been told its not good
(DT) That depends. If you are going to drill it, I’d say no because some of it gets really hard. Even putting it in the vice I have had it get hard.
DN) There are many reasons to cool mild steel when forging. Examples: so it will not be too hot to handle, to isolate an area that you do not want to bend, etc. When quenched from approx. 1600 degrees F (red heat) or higher it does become more brittle. If you want to use the item as a tool, quenching makes it a little harder and normally more serviceable. If you are going to be bending it in the process of working on it, you do not want it quenched as it might break when being bent. If iron is quenched and you do not want the extra hardness, just heat to red again and let it cool slowly and it will again be soft.
21. Do I need glasses and earplugs? (SAFETY)
(LT) Glasses for sure and earplugs sometimes
(CB) Definitely, I wear both all the time.
(CH) You need glasses all the time when working
(GB) I know you should but 1/2 the time I don't
22. Should I soak my coal in water?
(LT) I don't
(CB) Depending on the quality of the coal, the sorry coal yes, the better coal is not as necessary but you can still do it for all you coal.
(CH) I never soak my coal
(GB) I don't
(DT) You get two polarized positions on this. Some people swear that you do it and others swear at you for doing it. It’s really a matter of personal preference. Francis W. used water to control the fire only. He used a Tennessee water bell. A Tin can with four holes poked on the side. This is all I do is to control the size of the fire. Some fire pot will crack if putting wet coal in them when they are hot.
(DN) If the coal has a lot of dry fines (powder), the forge blower will blow the fines around the room. That can be real nuisance. Much of the eastern coal such as Pocahontas #3 is washed before it is sold to the blacksmith and therefore has minimal fines. Coal from Colorado generally is not washed, has lots of fines, and therefore is always soaked in water (the coal used by Francis Whitaker).
23. Is it necessary to wet coal?
24. Should I wet my coal around the fire pot or soak the coal before?
(LT) I don't
(CB) It does control the fire so you might want to wet it a little
(CH) It's not necessary, but I wet my coal around the firepot with one can of water. I found that this makes the coal dust stick to the coal and burns better. You need to really be careful with water around a hot firepot because it could crack the firepot. For a small fire in the middle of the firepot you can either put some wet coal around the sides of "cold" firepot or just green coal and when the fire gets going you will have a very small fire.
(GB) I bank and wet it to keep it from burning up fast.
25. What is best way to start a coal fire?
(LT) Newspaper wadded up
(CB) I use wood chips
(CH) I now use balled up newspaper (4 sheets balled up tightly together and lit on the bottom)
(GB) Newspaper (I use the "donut method" and it works really well)
(DT) Take newspaper and ball it up like a mushroom. One piece at a time and make a ball about 5 to 6 inches in diameter, pack it rather tight and light it on the bottom put the bottom part down and start putting coke around the fire. The more coke you use the less smoke you get.
26. Where is best place to get coal? How much does it cost? What kind of coal is it?
(LT) Not sure
(CB) I use coal from Keystone, WV. It is the best that I have found yet. The cost was a little over $70 a ton when I pick it up there.
(CH) Unknown. The best coal that I have had I got from Winston Salem but it is now closed up. The coal that I use now is ok but it really burns up fast.
(GB) I get mine at White Sulfur Springs. It's good, but it has more tar than I'd like to have.
(DT) I don't know. I’ve been told that some of the best coalmines are begin bought by the Japanese and the coal is going oversee. Just about all that we are getting today is being mixed and it is getting harder to find good blacksmithing coal.
27. Should I clean out my fire pot every night when finished for the day?
(CB) Yes, you don't waste as much coal/coke
(CH) You don't have to, but I do take the coke off at least down a little past the top fo the firepot. The fire goes out pretty quickly after that and your not wasting anything.
(GB) I pull all the coke back and clean the firepot so it will be ready for the next days session. Once most of the coke is off the top a couple of inches the fire goes out quickly. By doing this you don't waste the coal/coke, which can burn for hours if left in the firepot.
(DT) No. You just take the coke off the top of the fire and basically leave what is the bottom of fire alone and then only go though it went it cool because a lot of that is junk. If you rake it out you will leave a tremendous amount of ash in your coal and then after several days your coal on the forge want give you much of a heat at all.
28. What is coke?
(LT) Coal that has had the oil and surface impurities burned out
(CB) It is what remains when all the surphur and gases have been burned off of green coal.
(CH) Green coal where the impurities have been burned off.
(DT) Coke is coal where the impurities have been burned off. Impurities are oils, gases and liquids.
(DN) Coke is made in the fire by all blacksmiths out of green (out of the bag) coal. It is the result of burning off the impurities in the green coal. Coke, only, is used to heat the iron. Typically, a blacksmiths has green coal piled on both sides of the firepot with only coke in the firepot. For general forging, as the coke is used up, green coal is slowly pushed toward the firepot in order to make more coke (but only at the outside edge of the firepot). Starting the blacksmith fire with the coke he/she has made the day before makes starting the daily fire easy and smoke free. There is another kind of coke and it is commercially made coke, but it is not as popular as coal when good coal is available. It can be made from coal or petroleum. The best is made from coal. Commercial coke already has the impurities burned out of it, so the smith never has to worry about smoke. It is much harder to start the fire with commercial coke. A commercial coke fir must be blown constantly, or the fire go out. As commercial coke always produces a very hot fire, a thicker firepot is probably necessary or the pot will burn through. Sometimes commercial coke comes in large chunks which must be made smaller for use. Breaking up commercial coke into smaller pieces requires the use of a hammer or rock breaker of some type.
29. What is a clinker and how do you identify it?
(LT) A clinker is formed by impurities melting out of the coal and setting in the bottom of the firepot. It will set up and block airflow and cool the fire. Identified by smooth glass like finish in places and metallic sound struck with poker.
(CB) Clinkers are from foreign organic matter, metallic type material (Crap) looks different and you will have to see it to believe it.
(CH) Clinkers can usually be found at the bottom of the firepot. Usually recognized by looking rougher than coke and they have a metallic sound. I use a 1/4" round rod with a point to locate them and bring them to the top an remove with a shovel.
(GB) Metal that I accidentally dropped into the fire but it's mostly impurities
(DT) A clinker is essentially silica and other elements that are in the coal that melt out and collect at the bottom where it cooler. It is essentially glass.
(DN) The best coals produce the least clinker. Different coals and commercial cokes produce different quantities and types of clinker. Some clinkers stick together and some fall apart easily. Clinker forms in the bottom of the firepot, often in the shape of a doughnut.
30. Which is easier to start the fire with coal or coke?
(LT) Coal is easier to start fire with than coke
(CB) My preference is coke
(CH) Green coal actually starts easier but produces a lot of smoke.
(GB) I mix a little green coal with coke. The reason for this is that coke has most of the flammables already burned out of it therefore I mix a little green coal.
(DT) Coke, well Industrial coke is very hard to start but the coke that I uses form the blacksmithing coal probably start better that just the coal.
31. Should I buy tongs or try to make them myself?
(CB) Buy them but if you need a pair immediately that you don't have, make them.
(CH) When you are just starting, it is best to buy you some because you can spend all day making some and they might not be very good. I sometimes make my own when I need a certain shape or size. You never have enough tongs. I have over 50 now.
(GB) In my opinion it is cheaper to buy them than to make them.
(DT) You probably need to buy a few at the beginning and then learn to make them and if the price is right buy them.
(DN) Beginning smiths will need to buy a few to get started, but as soon as he/she is able, they should start making their own. Making your own tongs (and other tools) might be the very best way to improve blacksmith skills. Making his/her own tools should become second nature for the any blacksmith.
32. What size and kind of tongs should I start with?
(LT) Probably my most used tong is a 3/8" bolt type with "V" shaped jaws. Small wolfjaw tongs are handy also.
(CB) I started with a 1/2" bolt tong, 1/2" flat tong. You will need whatever material you start with to hold it securely.
(CH) I would recommend when first starting, get yourself a round and square 1/4", 3/8" and 1/2"
(GB) Buy yourself some cheap 18" farrier tongs and you can shape the head the way you want them.
(DT) I’d say a small wolf jaw tong. It could hold ¼” round, ¼” square, 3/8” round and square. Another would be if you could get a box jaw tongs that would hold ¼” by one, 1/8” by one and another box jaw that would hold 1/8 by ¾”.
33. Should I wear gloves?
(LT) When needed
(CH) Yes to having gloves around because there are times that I use them like when welding or the metal is getting too hot to hold with bare hands (GB) Very seldom
(DT) That is a personal preference but if you are going to be doing something that will produce sparks wear gloves. Sometimes when I hammer on the anvil and the scale will pop off and man it will stick to you.
34. Why are blacksmiths continually wiping the anvil top?
(LT) To keep scale away from the work as much as possible and a clean anvil is better to work with.
(CB) To remove scale and you will have a nicer looking material when you are finished.
(CH) Scale will stick into metal especially when you are working the metal at white heat, so it is necessary to keep the anvil top clean.
(GB) To take scale off or it will get into hot metal.
(DT) If you don't, scale gets pounded into the metal after a while you will get this icky looking surface.
35. At what metal color do you forge weld? What do you look for?
(LT) I look for white color and the metal to look wet and oily. Reminds me of butter melting on toast in oven.
(CB) Yellow, preferably very few sparks
(CH) I really don't look that much at the color but look at the metal to see if it is liquid looking, Making sure that the heat is even on all sides and I turn it a lot. The starting of some sparks is another signal that it is about ready to be welded. Make sure both pieces of metal are equally ready, not just one piece.
(GB) Just a few white sparks
(DT) It is a light yellow going to almost to an incandescent
36. Should I cover my metal in the fire with other coke?
(CB) Yes, I think you should if you are forge welding. Covering it up helps to keep oxygen away.
(CH) I found that when I had really good coke that produced a lot of heat I could get enough heat on top, but with the coke from the coal that I am now using it does not produce enough heat without covering the metal up with some more coke.
(GB) On top most of the time and having a good bank.
(DN) Yes as it helps keep oxygen that is in the air off the metal. A 2” covering is normal. Having coke over the heating iron is most important when forge welding. Never the less, the smith must be able to see the iron in the fire. If necessary, he/she makes a little hole in the coke so he/she can see the color of the iron.
37. What causes the sparks when forge welding?
(LT) It is the flux and scale being forced out as the joint is being closed by the hammer.
(CB) Flux and scale
(CH) Scale and Flux
(GB) Flux and scale
(DT) The iron is beginning to burn a little. Sometimes if you are using Easy Weld flux it has iron in it and it starts to burn. A little bit of sparks really doesn’t hurt anything. Some people use it as an indicator to forge weld. I don’t like to see sparks if I can help it.
38. When welding, do you hit the metal with the hammer hard or soft?
(LT) Start out soft then you can hit harder after it is stuck good.
(CB) Semi soft
(CH) Normally the first few strokes are light just to stick the metal together and if you have thick metal the following stokes are hard. Be careful with thin metal or you will squash it.
(GB) Somewhat easy the first, second or third time to make it stick and get rid of the flux/scale.
(DT) Soft at first and then hard.
39. Why do blacksmiths hit the metal on the anvil or flick it before forge welding?
(LT) To shake off flux, scale and coke contamination.
(CB) To remove excess flux, slag, scale
(CH) To knock off flux and scale
(GB) To get rid of flux and scale
(DT) That gets rid of scale and mess. The flux and scale at that point are liquid plus the coke ash and what knot and by tapping it or slinging it, it knocks all that stuff off.
40. What does flux do? Must I use it?
(LT) Flux melts and seals the metal preventing oxygen from contaminating it and also causes scale to melt at a lower temperature. You can weld without flux but it is more difficult as conditions of the fire etc. must be correct.
(CB) Keeps oxygen from getting to your metall, not totally necessary if you use an oxidizing fire.
(CH) Keeps oxygen from scaling up metal. They say that when wrought iron was used you did not have to flux. With mild steel I always flux.
(GB) Keeps oxygen off metal: You don't have to use it but you have a better chance of making the weld if you do.
(DT) It protects the metal so that oxygen does not get to it. It absorbs oxygen and also helps the scale to develop at a lower temperature than at welding heat so the scale and impurities of surface crud will be a liquid before the welding heat is reached so that that when you put it together it will squirt away. If you have a good reducing fire you can get by without it.
41. What kind of flux can I use?
(LT) With a coal forge borax and e-z weld are favorites but not the only ones. I think other fluxes may be better for gas forges.
(CB) Borax and e-z weld will work. I use a mixture of boric acid and red oxide; it has a higher melting point than borax. An old time blacksmith said dirt dobbers works. I tried it and it does. Good red sand has been said to work also.
(CH) I like to use e-z weld most of the time but occasionally I will use borax.
(GB) I use borax.
(DT) Borax, EZ Weld, iron oxide and borax acid
42. Should I put a lot of flux on or not? Do I flux above and below the weld?
(LT) As far as borax it doesn't seem to matter much as far as getting too much on. Just make sure to get enough on to do the job. It is good to flux the surrounding area some to prevent scale loss especially when welding smaller stock.
(CB) Yes, to a lot. Yes, to below and above also.
(CH) I don't put a lot on and you don't want to go to far past the weld with e-weld because it has some metal fillings in it. These metal fillings will stick to the metal unless you hammer it down . You can see them on the finished items if not hammered down.
(DT) You want to cover the surface, all the surfaces. If you got big pieces you want to flux both sides. Francis W. use to say flux all four sides.
43. Should I put flux on metal in the fire or outside the fire?
(LT) Both ways is fine but I find myself doing it out of the fire more.
(CB) Outside the fire because you will have more clinkers if you put it on in the fire.
(CH) When I use e-z weld, it is put on outside the fire over my can so that I don't waste to much. This stuff is expensive. With Borax I will put it on in the fire, it's cheap.
(GB) I put it on out of the fire because it is easier and not as hot.
(DT) It is best to put it on in the fire when you get a good orange heat but that is not away possible sometimes.
44. At what metal color should flux be put on?
(CB) Depending on the flux used because some adhere better than others
(CH) Close to welding heat
(GB) Red hot
(DT) Good orange heat going into yellow. Most fluxes will pot off if you put them on like a low orange they will just sit there and if you knock the fire they will go “click” especially the iron oxide and the boric acid.
45. At what color do I bend metal?
(LT) Cherry red
(CB) I like it orange heat
(CH) Any bright red and when the red is beginning to darken I will reheat the metal to relax it more.
(GB) Red to white
46. What is best metal for making punches?
(LT) S7 works good
(CB) Cheap way is coil springs, it's hard to beat.
(CH) I use all kind of scrap. Coil springs work.
(GB) I mostly use coil springs
(DT) Depends on the punch you are tying to make. Car springs are not good steel like they use to be. You need to go to a truck spring. They make good punches for hot work. I make a lot of my drifts out of truck springs. Truck springs are made out of 5160 that is that low chromium steel 60 points carbon.
47. What is planish? And at what metal color do you do it?
(LT) Planish is putting the finishing touch on your piece with the hammer. Do this at dark cherry red color because the metal won't scale at this heat.
(CB) smoothing out your metal at dark red
(DT) Planish is basically surface refinement after the piece is done. You planish cold.
48. What do normalizing, tempering, annealing mean?
(LT) Normalizing is heating the metal to critical temperature and then letting it cool in still air. Critical temperature is approximately the temperature at which the metal loses magnetism. this is around 1500 degrees. Annealing is the same as normalizing except instead of letting the metal cool in still air, you put it in ashes, vermiculite etc. to slow the cooling time as much as possible. Both the processes relieve stresses built in the metal while forging etc. Annealing relieves the maximum stress and also makes the metal as soft as it will get. Tempering is the process of reducing hardness and adding toughness after a piece has been quenched after heating to critical temperature. Depending on the amount of carbon in metal, the amount of heat used to temper a piece varies and is indicated by different colors. Also the way a tool will be used will dictate tempering heat used.
(CB) There is a lot to this and you're better off getting from a book.
(DT) Critical temperature is when a magnate wants stick on the metal. It is at temperature where that metal is going into a transformation. Heating the metal to that point and allowing it to air cool is normalizing it. And heating it to that point and burying it in ashes allows it to anneal by cooling it much slower. Tempering is after you harden. You take the hardness out and trade it for toughness.
(DN) It should be noted that when metal is heated to forging temperatures the grains in the metal grow allowing the metal to become weak. There are 2 primary purposes of NORMALIZING. One is that it allows those large grains to become small again making the steel strong. The other is that small grains make for much better sharp edges as is needed for knives etc. Typically normalizing is for plain carbon steels and some alloys such as 5160. It is not for air hardening steels such as A2, S7, etc. Make sense? ANNEALING is primarily to make the metal soft and workable. Most new metal comes in the annealed state so it can be machined etc. Steel with enough carbon content that is hardened usually is brittle. TEMPERING is the process of heating the steel to temperatures typically much lower than hardening temperatures. Tempering takes some of the brittleness out of the hardened steel. For example, a knife made of plain carbon steel may be tempered at 425 degrees F for an hour in the kitchen oven. Then it will be soft and strong enough to bend and not break, yet hard enough to hold a good sharp edge.
49. What are the ways to protect the finished metal from the elements?
(LT) For interior there are the traditional linseed oil and wax combinations of various formulas. There are also clear coats and a lot of combinations with other products.
(CB) What I use is a combination of Johnson paste wax, linseed oil, beeswax, turpentine, Japan dryer and mineral spirits. I put a piece of metal with this on outside and it has not rusted in over a year.
(CH) I use paste wax, a little turpentine and beeswax mixed together and then I smoke it on a green coal fire.
(GB) I clear coat some. I use beeswax at black heat-cool and wipe- especially when I do demonstrations.
(DT) Prime and paint for outside. I’m not in favor of using epoxy paints, there toxic and I’m not so much in favor of power coating. I don’t think you can get down the cracks and crevices.
50. What are the hazards associated with Blacksmithing?
(LT) You can burn yourself or your clothes. The air can be contaminated from smoke and dust. Your eyes can be damaged from staring into fire too much or from flying scale. Power tools and grinders must be used with safety in mind. The same goes for using torches. Not only is your safety important but also you must be safety minded to protect your shop from fire.
(CB) Being burnt is number one, flying metal, smoke, hearing, eyes
(CH) Burns, hitting fingers or bones, the eyes are the worst.
(GB) Main thing is getting burned
(DT) Burns, getting smashed, dust, depending on what you are working with some things produce toxic fumes.
51. How would you draw out a piece of metal 1” square to 1/2” square? Not using a power hammer. In others words what kind of hammer, what part of the hammer do you use, where on the anvil do you place the bar?
(DT) I draw it as hot as I can over the horn of the anvil
(DN) This is a subject that is best demonstrated, but here goes: To draw the bar out efficiently the metal first needs to be hot. The hotter the faster it will move. Then it needs to be in some fashion squeezed or pinched with something across its length such as if it were pressed or hammered between two round iron bars. Think of a top bar and a bottom bar of 1” in diameter. The hot iron to be lengthened is between the 1” bars and at 90 degrees to the 1” bars. This is done so that only the length will be increased and not the width. If we wanted the hot bar to become wider and not longer, we would have place the 1” bars parallel with the hot bar. Therefore when lengthening a bar with the anvil rather than the 1” bars, we need to find places on the anvil that emulate the bottom 1” bar. Common parts of the anvil that act as the bottom round 1” bar are the horn, the anvil edges, or a fuller inserted in the hardy hole. The sharper the part used the quicker the iron will lengthen. Unfortunately, if the part of the anvil is too sharp severe divots are left in the hot iron, which are hard to pound out. Therefore a compromise is needed and the parts of the anvil with less severe corners, parts of the horn, or fullers are used. Typically the iron is hammered over one of these anvil parts, then the divots are hammered out. Then the process is repeated until the desired size and length is reached. To attempt to make the process go twice as fast the smith also uses the parts of his hammer that emulate the top 1” bar. Those hammer parts, if properly shaped, are the pein and the any edge of the hammer face. In contrast to the above process, when a flat hammer face smashes a hot metal bar on the flat face of the anvil, the hot metal spreads out in all directions rather than just the two directions desired. This bar lengthening process is the same process that is used to make leaves, heart finials, and most similar forms (spreading the metal in the direction desired). Spending some time making 1” bars into ½” bars, 4 times as long, is great practice; because if the person has any little lazy bones at all he/she will soon learn not to have any wasted blows.
52. What is a good way to help smooth or level out my old anvil?
(DT) Belt sander works
(DN) If the anvil is not too hard and the sway is not too deep, it is possible to use just an angle grinder and belt sander. It might take several (10 + or -) expensive belts if the anvil is hard. Some anvils are too hard for a belt sander even if using the newest available high tech belts. Many, but not all, modern machine shops have the cutters to flatten the top of most anvils (if they are willing to do it). If a machine shop is used, have them flatten the base first to be sure it is flat and on the same plane as the face. Typically, machine shops are not inexpensive. The relatively rare industrial shop with a Blanchard type grinder may be able to flatten a top. An anvil may or may not be worth it. It is possible to fix? An anvil with a sway by filling in the sway with a welding rod that after welding will end up being RC 56 or harder. This is usually a lot of hard work, the rod is fairly expensive, and generally not worth the effort. The longevity of the anvil then depends on the quality of the welds, the thickness of the weld, the type of rod used, and the expertise with which it was applied. Not only will the sway need to be filled with the rod, but usually the rest of the anvil face will need the hard rod also, as the heat of welding will take the temper out of the entire face. This process may also help loosen the high carbon face from the base of the anvil (which is not good). After welding, an angle grinder can be used to grind the face smooth if care is take to keep the face flat etc. Finish with a belt sander or take it to a machine shop.
53. Should I correct the bow in the middle of my old anvil?
(DT) If it is bad take some of it out but a little bit does not hurt
(DN) Many an ancient or just blacksmiths of the old days produced beautiful work on anvils that were not very flat. Typically they were swayed in various places from heavy use. The sway can even be useful at times. Usually, it is very acceptable to use the anvil, with the sway. A better anvil can be acquired. If the smith uses a swayed anvil enough he may grow to like it. Also, dents and dings in the anvil face are not much of a problem since, when forging, the iron is not held in the same spot very often so the indentations etc. in the anvil do not usually show up in the iron. If they do, the look is that of old forged iron.
54. Is the ringing of the anvil with a hammer a sign that it is a good working anvil Does it tell you anything?
(DT) Just about all anvils ring but if it want ring it is usually a sign that something is dead about it and probably the steel plate is gone or the weld is loosing up and just is not working right
(DN) Not a reliable method of determining quality. A high-pitched ring might mean a hard anvil, but that is not a guarantee. An anvil that doesn’t ring at all might mean a cheap cast iron anvil (not a good anvil) or an older cast iron anvil faced with a high carbon plate (might be a good anvil). Most anvils that are not tightly fastened to their stump/base can ring loudly. The same anvil fastened down tightly, might not ring much at all. By tightly fastening the anvil, ring is greatly diminished, but also hammer blow efficiency is greatly improved. The better the anvil bottom surface mates to the top of the base, the more the ring is diminished. Sometimes a sheet of leather, lead, or a layer of silicone is placed between the anvil and the stump/base, before fastening the anvil.
55. In looking at a used anvil what are you looking for? Is there a way to check it?
(DT) Conditions: does it have a lot chips in it; pit mark in it from being left out in the rain; is anything broken on it; is it something that you can repair with minimum amount of repair with the tools that you have.
(DN) There are several things to look for. Is it big enough? Usually an anticipated lifetime anvil should be 150 lb. or larger. Is it broken, chipped, cracked, or swayed? Some chips can be expected along the edges. If there are few or no squ are edges, though, you might pass it up. If the face is swayed, you might pass it up. Is the face hard? Use a file to determine the hardness. Try a new file on several anvils so you know how the file slides off hard anvils and cuts into soft ones. Probably not as good as the file test, but still a good test is the bouncing ball/hammer test. Bounce a round ball bearing off the sweet spot of the anvil. The higher it bounces the harder the anvil. The best anvils will bounce a bearing 90% to 95% of the dropped height. Example: If a 1” ball bearing is dropped from 10" and it bounces back up to 9”, it is bouncing at the 90% level. The sweet spot on an anvil is centered on the face of the anvil over the place where most of the mass is located. A hard smooth faced hammer can be substituted for the ball bearing (loosely hang on to the handle).
56. One in nine males have an inherited flaw and that is they are color-blind (red/ green color deficient). We don’t know what you see. The color charts are not much help to us when tempering. What do you suggest we do?
(DN)If tempering is done in the kitchen oven, the smith doesn’t use his eyes much and colors do not make any difference. Tempering in the kitchen oven, in combination with an accurate but inexpensive thermometer, is much better than using color charts, anyway. Colors on shiny metal are only oxidized surfaces and sometimes do not accurately indicate the internal temperatures of the steel. In addition, tempering is much better when occurring over time such as an hour per inch of thickness. Holding at temperature for an hour is practically impossible with the color tempering method. If the kitchen oven isn’t convenient, find an old oven of some type and put it in the shop.
57. What do I look for to buy a good hammer? Or what is a good hammer? Or does it matter?
58. If a piece of metal gets burnt some, can it still be forge welded?
(DT) A few spark yes but a bunch no
59. In my pole vise or vise, should I make x’s in the jaw to hold it better? Or what should I do to make it hold better?
Do you use anything in the vise to help hold the metal?
(DT) As far as holding the work goes, using vise spacer to keep the jaws parallel will help, always try to put something dead center into the vise, I use jaw guards made of mild steel sheet metal that will help in holding plus they are rounded all the way around so that I can hammer metal without causing scratches and dent and cold shunts to form
(DN) Jaw covers are easy to make and can be made of aluminum or copper. Both are soft enough to help hold iron. Keep several iron jaw covers handy but not necessarily for holding. They are great for bending in the vise. Each pair should be made of a different thickness of sheet metal (1/16” to 3/8”). The thicker the sheet metal, the bigger the bending radius. Jaw covers are made so they can be picked up and taken off instantly. They are made out of a square or rectangular piece of sheet metal such as 6” square for a 6” post vise. For ½ of the pair, heat the piece, clamp it in the vise with one edge at the bottom of the vise jaw, then hammer the part that sticks up back over onto the back curved part of the vise jaw.
60. What is the best electric blower for a forge? What is the best old crank blower? Or does it matter?
(DN) Best electric blowers: Beginning and recreational smiths can use an inexpensive and easy to find squirrel cage blower as long as it produces 400 – 600 cubic feet per minute. These blowers are able to create a fire capable of burning iron and therefore can be used for blacksmith forging including forge welding. Squirrel cage fans/blowers are not capable of pushing air through deep packed coke fast enough for quick heats in heavier metal or when welding without flux. The serious or professional blacksmith typically will want a blower with a fan capable of producing high pressure typically achievable only with a radial or paddle type fan. A good example of this type of blower is the Centaur Forge # PB50VS www.centaurforge.com. A blower of this type is preferred when time is money because it is capable of quick fast heats even in larger pieces of metal. This type of electric blower is a requirement if the smith forge welds without using flux such as they do in England (and some English trained USA smiths ie. Master Smith Tom Ryan of New York City).
(DN) Best hand crank blower: All of the older manufactured hand crank forge blowers have radial or paddle fans. They are capable of producing the necessary pressure for most any blacksmith work.(if there is someone who wants to run the crank). They were made in various sizes and any but the smallest sizes will usually work well. With this type of blower the smith does not have to worry about burning up the iron left in the fire when he is away from the forge, because when the crank stops turning the fire dies down. Blowers with ball bearings have a longer life and are sometimes easier to crank. Repairs are sometimes difficult, but not impossible. If overfilled with oil, the oil runs out on the floor. Thin oils sometimes run out of old seals etc. Thick oils make them harder to crank particularly when it is cold.
(DN) Which is best a crank or an electric blower? A serious or professional smith will usually want a powerful electric blower so he can keep 2 or 3 irons heating in the fire at all times and heat the iron quickly, when possible, and no one has to crank to keep them hot. A new smith might have problems burning up the iron in the fire if he/she is away from any iron in the fire - therefore a hand crank blower takes one complicating factor out of the blacksmithing equation.
(DT) The best crank forge is the Champion 400 with the electric blower you want something that produces a lot of lot of volume of air but not a tremendous amount of pressure
61. Should the hot coke in the firepot be packed down or kept loose?
(DT) You want coke underneath what you forge but if it is too tight you will need to break it up with your poker
(DN) The more packed the more it will help burn up the oxygen in the air blown by the blower. Francis Whitaker insisted his students, each time before placing their iron back into the fire, pack or push down the coke with it. This is even more important when forge welding. Some weak blowers might not have enough pressure to push air through tightly packed coke so a compromise might be necessary.
62. How high should the coal be around the fire pot when making coke?
(DT) About 4 inches
(DN) In talking to the offspring of the old blacksmiths in this area, most have said that their dad would start the fire in the morning with a bushel of coal on the forge. Coal is such a hard commodity to come by in this modern world, that the tendency is to use as little as possible. Using too little coal is a compromise that makes it harder to be efficient at the forge, but of course saves money or coal. I usually like start the day with a pile of green coal about 8 inches high on both of the long sides of the firepot (coke only in the firepot). At the end of the day when finishing a few small pieces, and using the fire to heat the metal for the wax finish, there might only be coke left on the table. If that is the case, then before closing the fire down, I make a little more coke with which to start the fire the next day. Even though I seem to have more coal on the fire than some, I’ve had instructors such as Master Smith Michael Saari instruct me to put more coal on the table.
63. What equipment do you recommend to keep near or on the forge to work the fire with?
(DT) Straight poker, poker that has curved end on it so that you can poke coke down into the fire, I also use an ash rake to move coal around into the fire.
(DN) The tools I use 95% of the time are a short handled coal shovel (shovel pan approx. 4 ½” X 5 1/2”) and a fire rake with 3 ½” of the end flattened and bent 90 degrees. The flattened end is 1 ½” wide and cut so it is pointed. The shovel is used to place the coal on the table and to push the 2 green coal piles toward the firepot in the coal making process. I also have a water dipper (soup can) on a handle, and a straight fire poker (which I don’t use much).
64. Besides tongs, anvil, vise, hammer, quenching tub, forge what other equipment do you recommend a beginner have?
(DT) A set of bottom swages
65. What is best way to remove scale from metal and how do you prevent it from building up on metal?
(DT) You can’t prevent all of it. But what you can do to reduce some build up is to work your metal in a reducing fire, keeping your iron covered so oxygen does not get to it. When you heat the metal up it is going to scale. The best thing you can do is to keep removing the scale with a steel brush before you start beating on it and that will remove a lot of it plus there is something else the colonial ruling where it says “forge hot and finish cold”. This does not mean what most people thing it means. It means forge it up in the welding temperature and you continue to work it until it gets down to the black heat and at that point it will pop a lot of the scale off of it and cleans your metal.
(DN) Scale forms as soon as iron is heated over approx. 1400 degrees F (dull red). It falls off easily when the iron is over 1700 degrees F (orange). The more oxygen in the fire the more the scale will build up. The more oxygen that is burned up by a deep and compacted bed of coke , the less the scale will form. Many blacksmiths remove scale by using a wire brush frequently when the iron is over 1700 degrees F. However, that is not the only way - Peter Ross says wire brushes were not available until recent times. He never uses a wire brush and his finished product is without scale. He does several things to eliminate the scale.. He doesn’t heat the iron any hotter than necessary, thus minimizing the amount of scale. He works fast and doesn’t put the iron in the fire any more times than necessary, which minimizes scale. His projects are made in sections or isolations. He finishes each section completely before moving on the next section. He never reheats a finished section again to a scaling temperature. As each section is being finished, he hammers until nearly a black heat is reached for a planished, dark, and smooth surface. Peter Ross’s method is difficult for most smiths because his skill level was developed by making many many items all of the same kind. But, his is a high-level goal for which to strive.
66. If you have a tempered piece of metal and you normalize or anneal a piece of metal what % of its hardness is lost?
(DN) The smith should probably figure that 100% of the hardness is lost. That may not quite happen, but without sophisticated equipment how will we know?
67. Once you quench a piece of metal (for what ever reason), how do you get it back to its normal state or the way it was?
(DT) Heat it to critical temperature and you can let it air cool or put it in ash or lime and let it cool over a period of time.
(DN) Either normalizing it or annealing it will get it as close as the blacksmith can get to what it was. Annealing will make it softer, but is more time consuming and difficult than normalizing. Most of the time normalizing is adequate. Also, some alloys are difficult to anneal by the blacksmith, as the cooling rate per hour has to be kept so low such as 20 degrees or 50 degrees F per hour maximum temperature drop. Blacksmiths can usually only approach factory annealing, they can not really do it with normal blacksmith equipment. Smiths attempt it by letting a piece cool in a turned off gas forge, placing it in a barrel of vermiculite or wood ashes etc. Often to keep a small piece from cooling too fast in a barrel, the piece is put in the barrel with another large and hot piece of scrap metal.
68. Do you recommend rounding the edges of the anvil? If so, how much do you do it?
(DT) Yea, the part that you use the most should probably have like an eight-inch radius. The part that I use the most is by the horn, generally the back side radius get less and less until by the heel of the anvil it is more of it sharp, still dull, it’s not a cutting edge but it is more sharply put, you don’t want any really sharp edges but you do want places where you can work the corners on the anvil.
(DN) On my anvils both the near and far side edge is rounded from the step of the anvil back approx. 6 inches. It could be ¼ the length of the edge for large anvils to 1/3 of the length of the edge for small anvils. The rounding begins with a 1/8” radius (1/4” circle) next to the step and tapers back to zero radius at the 6” end spot. Fairly sharp edges have always been important to me. The more usage an anvil has seen the harder it is to find square edges which is why I do not like to round off more than necessary. If the shop is set up so you can forge from any side of the anvil, it might only be necessary to round the edge on one side. If a smith starts with the 1/8” radius and he/she consistently wishes it were bigger, he/she can make it a little bigger. It is, never the less, much harder to make the radius smaller.
69. Do you have a recommended stance at the anvil?
(DN) FORGING: feet apart, knees slightly bent, comfortably moving around the anvil as necessary or convenient. When HOT CUTTING a slit in the middle of a bar, it is most often easiest to stand at the end of the horn and cut toward you. The smith can easily see if his/her chisel is in the center of the bar. He/she can easily see straight down the cut and the distance on either side. Using this method, I never have to mark the bar first.
70. Should the anvil horn be on left or right?
(DT) Your own preferance
(DN) Either will work. Right handed European ornamental smiths like the horn on the right. Most right-handed Americans like the horn to their left. If you plan to work in shops other than your own, consider the round horn on the left.
71. Why don’t you want to heat metal with green coal?
(DT) Green coal want really heat metal, the volatiles and the oil in coal really does not produce enough heat plus the sulfur will get the metal and it will keep it from forge welding plus hot green coal sometimes sticks to your metal
(DN) Only coke can get the fire hot enough. Green coal does not produce enough heat. Second, the gasses given off by green coal corrode and scale the iron. I’ve heard Peter Ross say that he knows if a smith is inexperienced if he has green coal mixed into his coke.
72. Is your thumb on the side or top of hammer when forging?
(DT) Should be on the side. If on top you will get a lot of vibration that go right up your arm
(DN) Side of hammer seems to be the norm. The hammer to be loosely held with handle held between the thumb and forefinger. The other fingers are held just tight enough to keep the hammer under control. This loose hammer hold results in the ability to hammer for longer periods with less fatigue and generally has less of a negative effect on the body.
73. Do you knock the edges off and/or corners down on a piece of new metal and, if so why?
(DT) There are two reasons that you want to do this. One, you want to soften it if is a piece that you are going to handle so there isn’t any sharp edges and the next thing is by breaking the edges of the metal which gives it more of a hand forge look and takes the machine look away from it.
74. Some smiths say to watch for sparks (little stars) coming from the fire to tell you if the welding heat is about ready.
Is this burning metal or the filing from EZ Weld /other fluxes? Do you watch for them?
(DT) I don’t like to see sparks come, I judge by the color and the surface of the metal the surface of the metal will look oily and the color is basically a lemon yellow going toward an incandescent.
75. Do you always lay metal straight (horizontally) across the fire and, if so why?
(DT) If you lay it downward the end will burn
(DN) The smith wants to take full advantage of the oxygen burning ability of the well packed coke in the firepot, therefore straight bars are typically placed across the top of the firepot rather than below the top edge of the firepot. Ideally the smith wants 4 inches or more of that packed coke under the iron and 2 inches of coke on top of the iron. In reality that isn’t possible when working on odd shaped iron or iron with many branches etc. In those cases, the smith just does the best he can. He might place green coal or other iron so it is a fire barrier to those parts that might burn.
76. Name some of the most common mistakes made by beginner smiths?
(DT) They don’t heat the metal hot enough, they beat on metal when it to cold, they beat on the heal of he anvil and make all kinds of noise instead of beating on the body part of the anvil, they let the coal get out of hand on the forge, they let to much ash develop so that it not much of fire after awhile.
(DN) Most modern blacksmiths are hampered by their own views on such things as patience, perfectionism, and perseverance. The new smith might feel he/she can not produce a perfect tool, or product, so they don’t’ blacksmith. Peter Ross said that the first year he blacksmithed he threw most of his stuff out the back door into the woods (he wanted perfectionism), but he kept smithing anyway (he had patience & perseverance). The next person that moved into his shop went to the woods, picked up, and sold most of Peter’s rejects. “Not trying” holds back many a new smith. The new smith might think he/she has to have a certain anvil, a certain hammer, a certain piece of steel etc. before he/she can begin, but that isn’t learning. He/she should get busy smithing with the anvil at hand, or going ahead and making that chisel out of an old car spring, or trying to make that forge weld with the borax he/she can get at the grocery store. The smith that wants to learn the trade/craft, should take the time to make their own tongs, chisels, punches, swages, cut off hardy’s, hot cuts, fullers, hammers, rivets, etc. The more tools he/she makes the more skills they will have when they get around to making whatever it is they want to make i.e. art, farm tools, knives, etc. The initial time requirement generally needed to learn the blacksmithing trade is maybe the toughest item for modern men/women to overcome.
77. Do you remember what was the hardest thing for you to learn when you first started?
(DT) Probably making leaves.
78. How do you prevent cold shuts or cracks in metal?
(DT)You cannot always prevent them but what you do is that you take them out after you have made them. Try not to put the metal in such a place that it will pinch. Sometimes you can have a hammer blow that glances off the metal and it will raise a little portion that will fold back over and if that happen just take a file and file it out right then and there. Basically to avoid cold shuts don’t let the metal get to the point that the metal will close on itself.
(DN) COLD SHUTS: Probably can not always prevent them, but cold shuts should be prevented when possible. Sometimes you can grind them out if you get one. CRACKS generally occur when using unsuitable metal, forging too cold, forging too hot, and bending metal that is too cold, or made brittle from quenching.
79. If you have a moisture problem in your shop what do you put on your anvil, tongs, vise etc to protect them? Do you
put anything on your equipment for any other reason?
(DT) I use wd 40 on the steel surfaces sometimes
80. Lighting in your shop. What kind do you have and what do you recommend? Do you wear shades to help you see the
hot metal better? How much lighting is needed in a blacksmithing shop?
(DT) Traditionally a blacksmith shop is keep dim so that you could see the colors of the metal. By dim it means not quite sunlight coming in. you need enough light that you can see the color changes. Too much light will not let you do this.
(DN) Traditionally blacksmith shops were probably dim due not having the opportunity to have modern lighting and windows. A dim shop does allow the smith to see color in the metal that he would not see in a brighter light. Never the less, the modern smith usually can acquire good lighting which allows him/her to see well. To do good work, a smiths needs to see what they are doing. Some smiths swear by incandescent lights, some by fluorescents. Any kind of light will work once the smith gets use to it and the way the heat colors look on the metal. Some smiths forge in full sunlight and get use to it. It is a good idea to have a dark spot near the forge in order to see the dimmer heat colors. The anvil, the filing area, etc. should all be well lit. The older smith usually needs even more light than the youngsters. Most blacksmiths do not wear shades, but a few do.
81.Do you think a dirt floor or a cement floor is better for a blacksmith shop?
(DT) If you have a dirt floor you have dust if you have a cement floor it’s hard on you feet. I have a cement floor and I like that but Francis Whitker swore by a dirt floor.
82. If you sell your hand forged blacksmith items, how do you price them?
(DT) You have to value your time and really have a total understanding what it actually takes to make something. The beginning is learning to value your time.
83. Please explain what is meant by cold roll and hot roll steel? Do you use cold roll steel and if so why?
(DT)Cold roll is better quality, more consistent and more expense. Hot roll steel is not a true size so if you want true size use cold roll. I use cold roll sometimes for fireplace screens. Also I use quarter inch cold roll because I cannot get it in hot roll. Any time that I want to guarantee to make my forge weld I will use cold roll.
(DN) COLD ROLLED steel bar, at the mill, is rolled through increasingly smaller dies until it is of a fairly precise size such as ½”, 5/8”, etc. Blacksmiths, fabricators, and machine shops buy it over hot rolled primarily for its precise size. It is more pricy than hot rolled steel. It has .18% to .20% carbon content. The cold roll process causes the outside surface of the steel to be under stress. When heated in the forge, that stress is reduced. Generally it is the only kind available is small sizes such as 3/16”, ¼”, 5/16”& 3/8” round or square. Some blacksmiths say that the cold rolling process and the stressed surface reduces its forge welding properties. Other smiths say it forge welds better because it is lower in carbon than hot rolled steel. It also may be more chemically pure. HOT ROLLED steel on the other hand is hot rolled at the mill and is slightly oversize. It can either be acid descaled or not. It is typically A36 structural steel with from .23% to .27% carbon. It is usually available in ½ “ and over size round and square bars. It is also available in all sizes of flats, angles, tubes, etc. It is slightly stronger than cold rolled and can be heat treat to a very small degree. Because it is slightly heat treatable many short use tools can be made from it. It is the steel most often used by today’s blacksmiths including the kind of iron used for forge welding. Since it is structural steel it is designed for its strength and low cost, not purity of metal. It does have other minor alloying elements. It is usually made by melting old iron such as automobiles and can have harder and softer spots often noticed when drilling holes and sometimes when forge welding, but typically not when forging.
84. What are the hazards of using some junk metal that you don’t know what it was used for? What kind of metal do you recommend never using?(SAFETY)
(DT) Never use anything with plating on it. If you happen to pick up something has cadmium plating, the oxides and stuff it produces is highly toxic. The zinc oxides will do everything from making you sick to kill you.
85. What is the best advice that you can give a beginner to learn this craft?
(DT) Get a notebook and use it. Make notes of what you do. Go to as make conferences as you can go. Join your local blacksmith group. Watch what other blacksmiths do, ask questions and practice.
Will these Questions and Answers help?
It has been said that some of the beginner questions don’t have much to do with how to learn blacksmithing and the analogy was given to that of learning to drive a car. One example, that I remember, that was given: “what does hanging your arm out the window have to do with learning to drive?” Some of you might remember, that many years ago, before we had driving education in high school, parents taught their children how to drive. My father was a very strict disciplinarian. You never questioned him when he told you something to do or you would suffer consequences. He always said: “as long as you are under my roof you will do as I say.” Maybe that is why I question most everything since leaving home at 18. When teaching me to drive, he insisted that I never put my arm out the window even as a passenger (he had a friend loose a arm by doing this), both hands were always on the steering wheel for control, never listen to the radio (it distracts a new driver), and always have the door locked (in a car accident, the door could open). Never have but one friend in the car with you (if you have more, the likelihood of having some “horseplay” going on is increased. Always stay under the speed limit by 5 mph. The question is: was he wrong on insisting on these things to teach me to drive?
Having never seen or been around a blacksmith, I will always remember the first time that a blacksmith was trying to teach three of us some basics. He handed the hot metal to me and said, “Quench it”. I hesitated for a second because I really did not know what to do. I had heard the statement “quench a thirst” so; I said to him: “do you mean put it in the water?” It is my belief that all these beginner questions are important and yes some, “maybe”, are more important than others in learning what we need and how to do this craft.