For many of you blacksmithing reminds you of your father or grandfather, it takes you back to the smell of the coal forge and the hum of the blower pumping oxygen into the nest of the forge. I’ve met many of people who are interested in blacksmithing, mainly for fun and to make Christmas gifts for their loved ones. Not many of these people actually obtain a forge and anvil and use it. Many of people have their grandfather’s anvil sitting unused in their shed or barn. My father has been blacksmithing for the majority of his life and has passed the trade down to me. The trades that can be expanded into after the basics of blacksmithing are many, from knife making, to fabrication, and tradition tool making are just a few of the trades that can be expanded into.
In the first years of my father’ blacksmithing, he used a old, rusty elevator weight as an anvil. Anvils today are sometimes few and far between, I recoil in horror every time I see Wylie Coyote try to drop a anvil on Road Runner. The anvil is one of the most important pieces of the blacksmith’s tool set. There are many brand of anvils that were once produced. Two of renowned anvils made were Peter Wright and Hay-Budden. A person can purchase a brand new anvil from a farrier supply company, of course those can cost in upwards of $300. Then again a Hay-Budden can cost $7 per pound! At a 150 pounds that would be $1,050. If your lucky you can find someone who does not know what they have and pick it up for $200. I am sure that many people through out the years have used something other than a anvil, such as my father and the elevator weight. A piece of railroad track would work great in a TEOTWAWKI situation. If you insist on having an antique anvil then there are certain things for which you should look. The recoil test, a good anvil should have some recoil to it, meaning that when you drop a ball bearing on it the bearing should bounce up and leave the anvil with a ring. An anvil without this quality has either been modified or lack true quality. Look at the markings on the anvil, the markings are so many that a person could write a book on it, I highly recommend that you do research on this aspect of anvils. A book concerning the types and manufacturers of anvils is Anvils in America by Richard Postman. Another thing to look for is gouging or other intended harm done to the anvil.
The second most important tool to the blacksmith is the hammer. In a TEOTWAWKI situation a basic claw hammer could be used to push metal around, but a more blacksmith designated hammer would be more beneficial. A person can pick up a blacksmithing hammer at a farrier supply center. Ball peen hammers also have their place in a blacksmith’s arsenal, I mainly use them for shaping ladles and spoons but they can be used as a general hammer. Most people overlook the importance of how to use the hammer. I use a push and pull method, which means I push the metal forward and pull the metal backwards, using firm but not overly brutal strikes to the metal. Many beginners make the mistake of striking the metal so hard that they punish themselves. Another item that is just as important as the hammer is a pair of gloves. A good pair of leather roping gloves made of goatskin, are for me, the most comfortable. The third piece of equipment for the blacksmith is the forge. There are many antique forges on the market, but there are also many do it yourself alternatives such as brake drum forges. Brake drum forges are a excellent entry level forge for beginners. It uses a basic forge design, using a (You guessed it!) a brake drum and some sort of fan, to provide oxygen to the nest. I use a simple rivet forge for my small needs such as S-hooks, spoons, nails, and knives. One thing to keep in mind when choosing a forge is how hot it gets. My rivet forge will sometimes reach temperatures in excess of 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit. Now that is hot enough to smelt metal. Another thing to consider is what are you going to burn in your forge? I have been struggling to find coal for some time now. Our wonderful Government has decided to put even more restrictions on some of the coal mines. Even the mines with permits are selling their coal to China. You can still find coal today at some farrier supply centers, though it is low in quality it is still coal. I burn a 5 gallon bucket in two days of heavy blacksmithing, So it really does not take a lot of coal to work on a project.
To go with your forge you will need a blower. A blower is a simple piece of equipment which pumps oxygen into the nest of the forge, it is a vital piece of equipment as it raises the temperatures in the forge by several hundred degrees. Again your blower can be a rare antique or a home brew, do it yourself project. Some of your major blower makers were Royal, Tiger, Champion, and Buffalo were just a few of the many blower manufacturers. On the antique blowers I have seen them run anywhere from $40 to $300 at flea markets. Now as far as home brews go people have converted squirrel cage fans into blowers as well as car heater fans. You are only limited by your imagination when it comes to building your forge and blower.
A vise is a invaluable piece, it works as a second set of hands and a rock solid anchor point for grinding and welding. If there is a piece of vintage equipment that I recommend you buying it is a blacksmith’s vise. The blacksmith’s vise is designed to be open and closed quickly, so that you spend more time working the metal and less time letting the metal cool. the vises vary in size and price, they usually start right at $50 and go up into the hundreds.
If you manage to collect all the pieces of recommended equipment I highly suggest that you learn how to use them.
Fire, as most preppers are familiar with, is a simple task. A coal fire is slightly different, one must first start with tinder (I generally prefer newspaper, as it holds a flame longer) and kindling in the nest of the forge. Get a small fire going, but not blazing. Before it is blazing you must pile coal or coke, the byproduct of burnt coal, on the kindling, make sure there is enough on to absorb the heat, but not too much as to smother it. Keep supplying a large amount of oxygen to the fire via the blower and voila you successfully crafted a coal fire.
The one thing people ask me a lot is, “Where do I get the steel?” There are quite a few commercial steel yards across the U.S. One of the major ones is King Architectural Metals. Of course if the balloon goes up you won’t be able to run out to the store and get whatever you need. Scrap yards are a fantastic place to go and find steel, most of them will sell you useable steel at a little above scrap iron prices. I have seen many fine knife blades out of spring leaf steel. [JWR Adds: SurvivalBlog reader C. Mike recently sent me this: Turning a Railroad Spike Into An Awesome Knife. It shows how even a home barbeque ca be turned into a forge with a brief service life.]
As I stated earlier you must learn to push and pull the iron, much like working clay between your thumb and index finger, your index finger being the anvil and your thumb being the hammer.
There many blacksmithing techniques, so many as I cannot cover them all in this one article, but I will go over a couple of them.
Drawing a point out seems simple, but to do it fast and efficiently is another story. Start out by bringing your round stock to a red hot temperature, which is about 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit. Rest the steel on the far side of the anvil and lock your arm into place. Strike once pushing the metal away from you, rotate the steel 90 degrees and strike again, pushing forward. Rotate back to your first strike and repeat the process. Keep in mind that you should only be striking on to sides of the steel. Repeat the whole process until you come out with a needle sharp point.
Forge welding is a slightly more advanced process, but would be well worth the difficulty in a TEOTWAWKI situation. First start out by bringing the rod to a again red hot temperature and rest it on the face of the anvil. Slightly flatten the steel and and sprinkle a good amount of flux onto the metal. Many farrier supply shops carry commercial flux, but for many years we have been using plain old borax, that is used for laundry. Reheat the metal to a not just red hot, but a glowing orange temperature. When the steel hits the sparkling orange range that opens the window to forge welding. Start the fold over on itself and proceed to strike the steel with force, but not with brutalizing strength. Through this process Damascus steel can be made, fire pokers can be crafted, and metal mended. With these simple tools and equipment you can start blacksmithing on your very own.