The Gear You’ll Need
If you've been following the blog, you've got the intro stuff, including safety tips. If not, go check it out. For now, let’s get into the gear you need to look out for. First, I’ll include the basic setup you’re going to be looking for, and then later we’ll talk about some misc gear you can get. Real quality of life stuff.
The basics are as follows: You need something to heat it, something to hit it, something to hit it on, and something to hold it while you hit it. First, let’s go over the big mama: The Forge.
You’ve got two basic options for forges: Coal and Propane. It’s up to you which one you start with, and it depends on what you like and on what’s available in your area.
Propane forges run off of, obviously, propane. You buy at least a 5 gallon tank, fill it up wherever propane is provided in your area, and hook it up to your intake for the forge. It produces a very clean, even heat. However, there are benefits and downsides.
Pros and cons include:
-Pro: Clean, even heat (As mentioned)
-Con: (Cannot always get as hot as coal)
-Pro: Very easy to learn (Plug and play)
-Con: Very loud compared to coal
-Pro: High accessibility (Almost everywhere has a propane spot)
-Con: Higher risk of flares and explosions (If used improperly)
As for where to get one, look on Ebay, Amazon, or even Etsy. They all have single propane burner forges for (usually) under $100. A small amount for their ability. Literally search “single propane burner” and you’ll have numerous options. A side point is that they are not too difficult to make if you know how to do handyman stuff. Buy a 5 gallon air tank and empty it out, use an angle grinder to cut off one side, then drill a hole and port a pipe into it. Hook that up to propane fittings, and make sure you put fire bricks inside. Maybe even consider coating the inside with refractory cement. Then you’re good to go. Here is a terrible drawing to give you an idea of how to do it.
Coal forges are more aesthetic of the ancient blacksmith, and are extremely useful. They pretty much consist of a large dish filled with coal, and a port to allow air flow for the flames. A great option, but may take a little more figuring out in order to do well. Pros and cons include:
Pros and Cons include:
Pro: Can usually get hotter than propane
-Con: The hotter capabilities lead to many smiths accidentally burning/ruining their steel from time to time. Pay attention
-Pro: Much quieter than propane
-Con: Doesn’t burn as clean as propane (Need good ventilation)
-Pro: Less change for flares and explosions
-Cons: Coal may be harder to come by in your area (Depends)
A coal forge may take more time to learn, as you need a good balance of fuel and air to maintain a good steady heat. Also, it may or may not be harder to get coal in your area, but that all depends on what is around you. Lastly, as mentioned above, make sure you have a lot of ventilation, as coal forges put off a lot of fumes. Both types do so, but coal is usually more. Don’t let that scare you away, though, as a coal forge is a highly effective and versatile forge. Check online again and just search for coal forges. There are small set ups that are around $250 or so, or you could build one. I did, and it worked just fine. Here is a diagram that you can follow for a cheap, easy build.
Closing comments for forges:
Choose whichever is best for you, and don’t be afraid to be a little creative with it. It will take some figuring out, but that is all part of the fun.
Now that you have something to heat the steel with, you need something to hit it with. The true and faithful, ever present in the hands of a blacksmith, the hammer. Keep in mind that pretty much any hammer could do the trick, but I strongly recommend getting a blacksmith specific hammer. Why? A few reasons.
You can take a carpentry hammer and use it to forge, but it won’t do very well. It simply isn’t heavy enough. Most of the time, your hammer blows will be striking straight down, unlike many carpenters' work. They need a lighter hammer for swinging at odd angles all day long. But try a 20oz hammer for blacksmithing and you’ll find that it isn’t enough to move material. A good, general use blacksmithing hammer is about 3lbs, give or take. That is 48oz, much more than a typical carpenter's hammer. And as far a blacksmith hammers go, 3lbs is somewhat on the small side, depending on what you’re doing. It can move plenty of material, though, and is best for blacksmithing.
Many hammers have rough strike plates, such as waffled ones. However, any mark on the strike plate of a hammer will transfer to your material as a blacksmith. Even small indents or sharp edges will impact your work, causing deep gouges that have to be worked out if you want your products to look good. Typically, you’ll find that blacksmith hammers have smooth, rounded surfaces. This will move material without causing marks in your steel.
Search similar sites online for blacksmithing hammers, but if push comes to shove, just look for a basic cross pein hammer at your local hardware store. Anything around 2-3lbs with a smooth face and you’ll be set up for blacksmithing.
Ok, we have something to heat it, something to hit it with, and now we need something to hit it on. The anvil is possibly the most universally known piece of equipment when it comes to blacksmithing. Heavy blocks of steel with specific features and designs for a variety of applications. Here is what to look for, and where you might find them.
Honestly, anvils are pricey. A good size can be $500+, but most of us don’t have that laying around to spend on a start up hobby. However, there are a number of ways around it. For one, you can check for a chunk of railroad. They may be more prevalent than you’d expect. I suggest trying facebook, craigslist, or any local buy, sell, trade mediums. It is surprising how many anvils or anvil type things that are laying around in people’s garage. I started with a steel plate laying on a log. That was a bummer way to start, but it worked.
Now, if you DO want to buy an anvil, you want a STEEL anvil. There are a lot of cheap anvils out there, but they are made out of iron. These ones will degrade quickly. Very, very quickly. If you take your hammer and hit the face of the anvil, it will cause a large dent, which would then transfer to your material when you work over it. Ask the supplier what it is made of, and if they don’t know, test it. Take a piece of metal and tap the anvil. If it rings, it’s likely steel. It it’s a dull thud, it may be iron.
Keep an eye out for other features, as shown here.
(Horn, Step, pritchel hole, hardy hole)
Now we need something to hold your material with. Any sort of plier can work, or even vice grips. However, such short handled and limited grip surface tools can make your life very challenging. Therefore, blacksmith tongs.
Now again, you don’t need to buy tongs, but they are such a massive improvement to the work you’ll be doing that I would highly, HIGHLY recommend getting a pair. There really isn’t much to say. Search online for a pair for around $60 or so, and look out for a wolf’s jaw set. In my opinion, that is a very good set to start with.
E. Water Tank
The water tank in a blacksmith shop has a few applications, and while it may not seem like something you can use very much, you may be surprised. Now keep in mind, for mild steel, which means low carbon steel,(aka NOT bladesmithing steel), water is fine. You can dunk white hot mild steel into water and have little to no damage. But if you try that with blade making steel (carbon steel), you can and likely will break and warp the steel.
Ok now that we said that, why have a water bucket? It can be used to cool the material in specific spots to allow you to manipulate it in a very specific way. Or it can be used to drop hot scrap steel, or cool a burn on your hand, or a host of other things. I strongly recommend keeping a bucket of water around.
F. Quench Tank
Now this is more specific. A bucket of oil is specifically meant for bladesmithing, and is intended for quenching. That means hardening the blade. I’ll tell you all about that later on, but for now, get a SECOND bucket and fill it with canola oil. And consider giving it a cap so you don’t get nasty stuff in there. And if you do use it, be very careful. Oil is flammable, and more than a few smiths have dunked hot steel into oil and then accidently spilled it, only to have flaming liquid spill all over their shop or bodies. No good.
G. Misc Other
Ok, now we are talking about random other things you need. I recommend finding a variety of these things, as they will be very, very useful. These include, but absolutely not limited to, vices, sets of files, a variety of pliers, any drifts or punches, a drill press, a band saw, and pretty much any tool or any equipment you can get your little paws on.
Seriously, the more you’re in the game of blacksmithing, the more tools you’ll end up having. And that is a beautiful thing.
What sort of steel do you want? And where do you get it? Well it isn’t as complicated as you might think. We are going for the basic, foundational material and supplies, so it won’t be difficult to find it. So there are two basic steel types you’ll want to start with. Mild, and High Carbon.
Mild steel is low carbon, basic steel. It is ideal for simple things, like spoons, bottle openers, and things like that. It will move easily with heat, and it is forgiving with cooling. Ideal for projects and simple things, but NOT for blades. Without the carbon you need, this will not be able to hold an edge. Like, at all. Don’t do it.
You can buy any mild steel from hardware stores, and they will likely have a host of roundstock and flatstock. However, try to avoid any Zinc in metal, as it gives off a fume and some nasties that you don’t want to be forging. If you put it into the fire and you get an odd color flame from it, avoid it. No use getting messed up from that.
Now this steel is more specialized, not to be used as random projects. It behaves like a completely different material. The carbon in this is specifically designed for blades, as with careful steps, it will be able to hold a strong edge for a long time. We will get into this more later on in this book, so stay tuned for that. Or, you know, just skip ahead.
I recommend going to a site like knifemaking.com and buying a bar or two of 1095, a high quality steel. Start with 1/8th, 1.5” wide, and maybe 36” long or so. Perfect steel for blades.
Alright, nothing special here. A few things to buy and keep in the shop. Keep in mind this is not an exhaustive list, but just a basic guide.
-Sandpaper (Various Grits) -Degreaser Spray (Or any Cleaner) -Paper Towels (Or rags)
-Coal (If you use a coal forge) -Propane (Obviously if you use a propane forge)
-I don’t know, snacks?
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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