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Blacksmithing Shop Basics

Safety


Don’t skip this part!



I know talking about safety isn’t interesting. But you know what is interesting? Not getting hurt or burning down your house. The truth of it is that blacksmithing has plenty of ways to do both. So here are a few very important points regarding safety that you absolutely need to keep in mind.


Fire

There is heat and fire in blacksmithing. This includes both propane and coal forges. It’s obvious, but with that comes the danger of burns and shop fires. No, it isn’t likely, but it is possible. A few simple steps can prevent all of that. It all comes down to fire prevention.


Around your forge, allow space. Hot steel can ignite a large variety of materials in just a few seconds, and because of that you absolutely need to limit the amount of things around the forge. Parts can fall out of the forge, slip out of your tongs, or fly off from the anvil. I recommend putting heat shielding around the forge, such as sheets of corrugated metal. They can be very valuable in stopping potential flare ups.


Another consideration with fire is oil. With a variety of tasks, you will be quenching hot steel into oil, such as bladesmithing. This can potentially lead to flares and fireballs, which can burn not only yourself, but your shop. I know smiths who have had a small amount of ignited oil spill out of their tank, only to have that spread and destroy a part of their shop. Don’t fill the quench tank too much to allow for displacement. Somewhat related: I had an electrical fire spark late at night that destroyed my entire business last winter, and it was devastating. Thankfully, it was a detached shop and the house was fine, but we lost our income for sometime there. Even now we are not fully recovered. So by all means, protect yourself!


All in all, as regards fire you can never be too careful. Keep a charged fire extinguisher nearby. Keep a bucket of water handy. Double up on heat shielding. Keep heat sources away from as many things as you can. Don’t go easy on the safety with fire.


PPE

Yes, personal protective equipment is important. This means keeping your body safe and unharmed. Sadly, there is this warped masculine mentality out there that means you can’t use safety equipment. However, there is nothing masculine about getting a shard of metal in your eye. So bite the bullet and wear safety gear. Here is a list of what I recommend, and would say are absolute necessities in the shop.


  1. Eye Protection (Not sunglasses, but actual safety grade protection)

  2. Hearing protection

  3. Gloves (Unless you’re using a belt sander/drill press/other machine that can grab gloves and pull you in)

  4. Mask/respirator (Keep all that crud out of your lungs)

  5. Apron (Protects you from sparks that burn your skin and clothes)

  6. Strong footwear (Flipflops? In a forge? Come on.)

  7. Whatever else you might think is important

Ok that last part is a cop out but you get the idea.


Weather

This might seem like an odd one for blacksmithing, but I personally think it’s pretty important. Because with it comes a few factors that you may not have thought of. For instance, your propane tank will not function as well in cold weather, and you’ll have to find a way around that. But we are talking about safety so let’s cut the chitchat and get down to it.


If it’s cold and you don’t have a heated shop, then you should be able to guess the basic idea of what we’re talking about. Frostbite and whatnot. But it will also affect how your propane works, and has caused many smiths to accidentally flare themselves with a fireball. Sometimes they struggle to light the forge, so the propane runs for much longer. Then, when it finally does light, it ignites all the gas that leaked out in one huge boom. Watch out for that.


The real issue is hot weather. Running a forge means a lot of heat, regardless of whether it’s coal or propane. Add to that the physical exertion, and you have a recipe for heat exhaustion. Keep cool and drink a LOT of water when you’re forging in hot weather.


This post is a small excerpt from my Ebook, "So you want to be a blacksmith?" Available on Barrett-knives.com for $4.99


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