Traditional Skills: What Value are You to Other Preppers?, by Blacksmith Tom

Prepper communities and compounds rely on each members worth to their group, cooking, sewing, carpentry, leatherwork, gardening. There is one skill that cannot be over looked as one of the most valuable skills/trade for a prepper to possess.  Blacksmithing.  All other crafts and trades will require once again the skills of a blacksmith to replace stolen, broken tools.  In addition to making these tools a blacksmith can also make weapons, swords, axes, daggers, spears, arrow heads. 

But how would one go about obtaining these skills?  Look in your local areas for classes offered, some community colleges are now offering blacksmithing courses. Look for a local blacksmith group, a living museum that has a working blacksmith shop can help locate a blacksmith that’s willing to teach the basics. After taking the lessons or classes, it’s just a matter of practice before you’re looking for more complicated projects. A blacksmith with even the minimal skill set will be of great value, even if all they can do is make a simple knife, tomahawk or even a hinge. 

Once you’ve gotten the basic knowledge of blacksmithing practice is very important, for you to learn how to not burn your metal. (Yes metal will burn if heated too hot.) So you need to practice, how you’re asking, what next?  Build or purchase a forge, while a gas forge is great because it’s harder to heat the metal too hot in a gas forge, if TEOTWAWKI occurs, it won’t be long before propane or natural gas will become more valuable than gold.  So by all means use a gas forge to increase your skills, but also look at the many plans online to build your own coal/coke forge.  Even if you don’t have a supply of coal or coke you can use charcoal that you can produce yourself.  I believe the winner of round 42 of this contest is about making your own charcoal.  Tools, you can find blacksmithing tools at most flea markets, trade days and even on craigslist, or you can make your own tools.  Something most blacksmith will usually do when they want a specific tool for a job. That’s why when you see a picture of a blacksmith shop it’s cluttered looking due to all the tools and metal laying around. There are companies that also sell the coal forges as well, I took advantage of a sale and purchased a coke fire pot for the forge I built. Coke is coal with the impurities burnt out, coke burns cleaner and hotter making it quicker to heat your metal and finish your project in less time. Again practice is the most important thing in getting better at blacksmithing.

Hammer control is, (IMHO) the best and hardest skill to learn in blacksmithing.  Take a piece of wood and place it on your anvil, mark and X in the middle of the wood, now strike it with your hammer. Now hit it again. Did you hit the mark twice? Were you off the mark on the first and on the second? Or were you able to hit the mark twice in a row? Continue practicing this till you can hit the X every time, or until the wood splinters for your kindling.  Hammer control will allow you to finish a project in fewer hammer blows.

A source of metal is something else you’ll need, at one time I had several thousands of pounds of metal stored. When I was forced to sell out and move back into town, I sold most of it to a scrap yard. The one thing to be careful of is galvanized metals, the gas put off from heating galvanized metal is very toxic and can kill you if you breath it in. Zinc, the metal that galvanizes is the metal that creates this deadly gas. So again, classes, reading everything you can find on blacksmithing may save your life.

Speaking of heating metal to white hot, this is the perfect temperature to work metal, you want to push the metal around with your hammer. Make hard confident strikes, practice, practice, practice. Make nails, when you can make a nail in less than three heats then you’re doing fantastically well. The trouble I see most newcomers to blacksmithing is having a timid hammer strike. Once the metal cools to almost a dull red, put it back in the fire. If you see sparks, you’ve gotten it too hot. Once the metal has burnt, it’s not worth anything and after you heat it back up, cut the burnt piece off.  Remember, strike it while it’s hot is more than an old saying our grandparents used to say.

A lot of the old equipment was ran off a steam powered system or a system powered by water, they used belts and pulleys to power the equipment. If you’re homestead has the means for something like this, it will make life easier as a blacksmith to have the better equipment.

Being a blacksmith has been a great experience, you can learn a lot about life from blacksmithing. Blacksmithing as in life, you will get burned. Some will be minor irritating burns that are forgotten the next day. Some will be second or third degree and will leave a scar, a gentle reminder of a lesson learned at a price. The burns will heal, most of the scars will fade, but taking a cold hard piece of metal and heating it white hot, then molding and shaping it into something useful, there’s no greater thrill than seeing something you’ve created work like it’s supposed to.  The pride you’ll feel when someone oohs and aahs over a sword you’ve made.

Blacksmithing at one time was a common trade, many farms and ranches had a blacksmith shop for creating tools, repairing equipment, and many other tasks. In old Sears and Roebuck catalogs a complete blacksmith kit would cost less than $20. Now you’re lucky if you can find a single tool for that price. Blacksmithing as a prepper, you will gather your tools and supplies and build a nice stockpile of them. You never know when someone will come up and request a certain tool and you don’t have a piece of metal big enough to do the job.

Imagine making a hunting knife with which you can trade a hunter for two deer.  A chisel to a carpenter for a tool chest. A candle holder to someone for twelve jars of canned vegetables. The list goes on and on the things you can make and barter for.  An additional thing a blacksmith can do is create bolts for doors, hinge straps to re-enforce a door, metal for the corners of a wooden box. Just remember when you barter, you are the one that has what they want, and if they want it, they’ll make a fair trade. If not it’s up to your judgment on how to proceed, will not giving in create a hardship for you your family, will it put you in possible harms way. Unfortunately when TEOTWAWKI is gone, there are going to be people out there who won’t think twice about hurting you or your family to get what they want. A blacksmith is going to have many things that people want. Trust your instincts.

While the government may track down and take the guns away from the registered owners, they’ll overlook the knives, arrow heads, spear heads, thinking they’re just pretty flea market items. If someone breaks into your house and all they’re armed with is a small knife or club, pulling a sword or spear on them will make them change their minds quickly.  As will a crossbow with a sharp arrow head you’ve put the finishing touches on. England defended many invaders with nothing more than swords, axes and spears. If I can make a nice stockpile of weapons that don’t have to be registered with the government to keep my family safe, then light the forge and heat the steel, it’s time to increase my value.

A great place to start is with the Artist-Blacksmith’s Association of North America (ABANA), you can locate local smith’s, classes and even find a few projects to try. Another good place is, with loads of useful tips and projects. Last but not least is The Blacksmith’s Journal, they publish a small booklet that contains new projects and tips each month that will be mailed to your house each month, you can also purchase past issues as well.

Remember, while you have the chance to enjoy this wonderful craft, do just that, enjoy it. Because when it’s no longer a hobby, but a matter of putting food on your table for your family, or protecting them. There won’t be many days you’ll be able to remember to enjoy it. Don’t be afraid to contact a blacksmith, most are eager to share and pass on their trade especially if they’re doing it mostly as a hobby. It’s a little harder to get someone to share their knowledge when it’s what pays the bills.

Blacksmithing can be enjoyable, profitable and useful. It’s never too late to learn, and you can start out with simple equipment like a piece of railroad rail, hammer and a long handle pair of pliers for tools. I hope this helps put a spark in your life and will help create a few more blacksmith’s in the world.