If you’ve read the first couple of parts of this review, you know I am a beginner to blacksmithing, and that I struggled to keep up in this class. One way of measuring a particular skill is in 4 progressive stages:
- unconscious incompetence
- conscious incompetence
- conscious competence
- unconscious competence
Unconscious incompetence is the first stage of learning, when a person doesn’t know how much there is to learn, has had no introduction to a skill, and has no idea how hard a particular skill truly is to learn. After a little bit of practice and experience, that person moves to conscious incompetence, being aware of how much there is to learn, and having some idea of the basic steps required to perform a certain skill, though not necessarily able to execute it correctly. The next step is being successful through lots of attention and concentration on the task at hand. People who are masters no longer even have to think about doing something correctly.
This class took me from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence. I think people who’ve never tried blacksmithing might be surprised, as I was, how much there is to it. People who are farther along might fondly remember the days when their hands and eyes were dumb to the craft. Others in my class made truly beautiful and amazing things. My tools are crude, as were my methods, but I am farther along than I was before.
Tong Clamp – Made from 1/4″ round mild steel. Hot bend one end to make the first end. heat the middle, clamp in a vise, and twist a loop into it, then flatten. Heat the far end, bend the second end. Used to secure tongs so you don’t have to squeeze the handles continuously to hold your work piece. Very useful, unfortunately mine was far too small to use on the larger tongs, which is where they would have been the most help.
Hooks – Made from Mild Steel. Start with 1/4″ square stock. Draw out the point, bend it over, then carefully tap it down into a loop, which makes the bottom part of the loop. For the second part you can bend the main hook over the horn of the anvil (I did that for one of these), or you can construct a bending jig and quickly just bend it into place (much easier if you’re making a lot of hooks). Evenly heat the middle section of the hook to a red-orange heat, then quickly clamp the hook end in your vise. Use an adjustable wrench or a special two handled twisting wrench to twist up the body. Finish the end by cutting to length with a cold or hot chisel, then smash the eye flat with your hammer. Punch or drill out a hole in the eye to hang with a screw or nail, or shape a spike and bend at 110 degrees to hammer into the wall.
Metal Scriber – Used by metalworkers to draw out lines on steel. A similar tool can be mounted in a wood handle for a scratch awl, used for woodworking. These were our first heat treated tools. Start with a piece of W-1 or 1095 (more or less the same thing), a common tool steel. Draw out a tip. Carefully heat treat… we performed our first heat treating methods on these pieces. One piece we used the ‘put it in the fire and watch the pretty colors move until done’ method, the other we put in an oven for the tempering phase. Both are very hard, I tested these on several pieces of steel around the shop, and yes, they do leave a clear mark.
Center Punches – These are also made out of W-1 / 1095 tool steel. I have two because I messed up the first one. When you are quenching tool steel, it actually contracts, then expands as it transforms, then contracts again. If you heat the metal too far above the critical point, and quench it too hot, it will crack. My first one was poorly shaped due to my inexperience with forging, and I got it too hot so it cracked. The second one (the darker one at the bottom) turned out much better in shape and hardness!
Cold Chisel – The cold chisel was our first foray into oil-quenched steels, this one called O-1. To make a cold chisel, you just smash the tip into a wedge, then tap out the sides to make them flat (mine is probably a little too wide), and follow the heat treat process. Cold chisels are called cold chisels because they are hardened and tempered, and thus intended to cut cold metal only (not hot metal). If I had known a little more about tools and my skill a little greater, I would have made a hot chisel as well, useful for forging to easily cut hot metals. I thought my chisel turned out pretty good!
Tool Handles -We took a sidestep into a useful body of knowledge, how to make tool handles. Basically, you knock the corners off of square stock (or use round if you have it), cut to length (about 8 inches), shape a taper, drill press out a 1″ OD hole, cut a piece of 3/4 galvanized steel pipe, and tap it onto the handle. Then you progressively step drill out the handle to fit the tang of your target tool, and heat the last 1/2 inch of your tang red hot, then tap the tool into the handle with a wooden mallet. This is a more or less permanent mount. Ideally you’d want to pretty these up, most of the people in my class shaped them ergonomically, sanded them smooth, coated them with beeswax / tung oil mixture, etc. I practiced other tools instead.
Woodworking Chisels – These were very difficult to create. We started out with some 7/8ths round stock, some scrap our instructor Dave found that turned out to be 4340, a very hard nickel-chromium-molybdenum alloy steel. It is hard to work, and the stock was big, so we got to use some POWER TOOLS. Namely, a big-ass, scary power hammer and a treadle hammer. I tried to draw out the tang on one of these (the crooked one) by hand, and my skills were lacking. I could obviously have used a straight edge or square! One of those indispensable shop tools… these turned out pretty wide, about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inch wide. I have a chisel set I bought at home, ideally you’d want to shape these to a specific thickness, width, and cutting angle. I did none of these things!
Decorative Spoon – I was most proud of this little thing. It was a present for my baby Charlotte, a little spoon. It is actually shaped fairly well, though not quite wide enough to be useful. Besides… she eats with her fingers! I tried several of these, the first one ended up being the one I kept. I drew out a point, then formed a spiral on the anvil, and smashed it flat. For the spoon part, I just got a ball-peen hammer and banged it out in a little metal cup. I tried several other methods, like forge welding, to get a more prominent spoon shape, but this one ended up looking the best, so it’s a keeper for sure. This is the only thing I made of my own choosing.
Two bits of advice I have for anyone going into a blacksmith shop for the first time. Number one: practice your basic skills first! You must be able to light and mind a fire. You must be able to draw out various shapes of metal with a hammer, anvil, and vise. Secondly, have a plan! It is ALWAYS good to have a plan going into a creative endeavor. There’s a saying among people who shoot: aim small, miss small. This means, if you have a specific target, even if you don’t hit it, you’ll usually get pretty close. The next time I go into the shop, I’ll start by practicing specific techniques, and have a plan for the items I want to create!
I also took home a large pile of scrap pieces, mostly failed attempts at making things like tongs or spoons. Not all of it is worthless, and as soon as I can construct some kind of forge and acquire an anvil, I’ll be getting started hammering again.
Finally, many people in my class made beautiful and useful things. I wish that I had gotten some pictures during the final craft show, but my baby had just started walking and I wanted to get home, and truthfully I was embarrassed to show my crude implements next to the artistry of my classmates. They made flux spoons, coat racks, large engineering implements, steel cutting tools, an adze, various woodworking chisels and scrapers, repose and chasing tools, and other great stuff.